Cujo: A shaggy dog story gone bad

The front dust jacket of Stephen King’s Cujo puts the story in one image: It’s about a vicious dog.

Cujo cover features a snarling, slobbering rabid dog
Where’s Atticus Finch when you need him?

At nearly 200-pounds, Cujo, a Saint Bernard, is a gentle giant.

Out chasing a rabbit, Cujo is bitten by a rabid bat. The rabies virus turns Cujo into a killer.

King pads his page count with some subplots , all of which are resolved by the dog’s death.

King has one subplot about four-year-old boy who sees monsters in his closet. Tad’s terror is so real that his father starts imagining he see things in the closet, too.

That’s scary.

Tad’s mother, afraid of losing her youth in backwoods Maine, has had a brief fling with a transient poet/cabinet maker. When she breaks it off, he sends her husband a letter about her infidelity, then trashes her home.

The poet/cabinet maker is scary.

Cujo’s owner, 10-year-old Brett Chamber, and his mother are away visiting her sister. Charity Camber is debating whether to divorce her husband. Joe Chamber is as nasty a redneck as ever beat a wife.

Joe Chamber is scary.

On the whole, I found the men in the novel far more frightening than the dog.

Maybe you just had to be there.

Cujo by Stephen King
Viking Press. 1981. 319 p.
1981 bestseller #3. My grade: C+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

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Firestarter is a nonstarter

.Firestarter cover: gold type on basic black.
This copy of Firestarter had no dust jacket.

On the opening page of Stephen King’s Firestarter,  Andy McGee and his daughter, Charlie, 7, are rushing up Third Avenue in New York City at 5:30 p.m.

A green car is following them.

Andy grabs a cab, tells the driver he’ll give him $500 to take them to Albany airport. Andy gives him a dollar, which the cabby accepts as a $500 bill, and they’re off.

The pair have escaped for the time being.

Unlike King’s 1979 bestseller The Dead Zone, which develops from a single premise that readers must take on faith, Firestarter requires readers to accept a whole series of assertions each of which requires a significant suspension of disbelief.

 Girl's haunting eyes seen behind a flame of fire.
Dust jacket that was missing from my copy of Firestarter

Readers learn, for example, that Andy and his wife developed psychic powers after participating in a government-funded test of a hallucinogenic drug while they were college students.

From infancy, Charlie displayed pyrokinetic* power.

The government is now after Charlie.

The feds apparently want to use her instead of nuclear weapons.

Charlie, apart from her psychic powers, acts more like of 21 than a child of 7.

All those elements strain credulity.

But mainly I can’t believe a New York cabbie mistaking a $1 bill for a $500 bill under any amount of psychic push.

Firestarter by Stephen King
Viking Press, 1980. 428 p.
1980 bestseller #5. My grade: B-

*Stephen King coined the word pyrokenetic.

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Dead Zone is superb storytelling

Cover of "The Dead Zone" features photo of man's face partially concealed by a wheel of fortune.
The wheel of fortune sets the novel’s action rolling.

Stephen King begins The Dead Zone with a very ordinary American boy, Johnny Smith, in a small New England town.

Johnny is learning to ice skate in 1953 when he falls, knocking himself out.

Johnny comes to muttering, “Don’t jump it no more” to Chuck Spier, who the next month will lose an eye jump-starting his car.

Years later, Johnny is a high school teacher.

An accident on the way home from taking his girl to a carnival puts Johnny in a coma for four-and-a-half years.

When he awakens, he has months of excruciating physical therapy.

He also has occasional, intense, and unwelcome psychic perceptions.

Johnny unwittingly becomes a target of gullible people seeking answers.

He also becomes the target of skeptics who assume he’s a shyster out to bilk the public.

His teaching contract is withdrawn because he’s too controversial.

His widowed father, who should be retired, has to go back to work just to feed them.

Then one day Johnny shakes hands with a congressional candidate and sees the man’s evil agenda.

Even if you can’t believe a crack on the head in ’53 triggers psychic experiences, you have to admire the skill with which King builds his story.

This is superb storytelling.

The Dead Zone by Stephen King
Viking Press, 1979. 372 p.
1979 bestseller #6 My grade: B+