Cujo (Stephen King)
Plot Summary (Highlight to Read)
Cujo is the story of the Trentons, and the Cambers. When Vic Trenton is out of town for work, his wife, Donna, and child, Tad, go to the Camber's place to get their car repaired. However, they do not realize that Cujo, the Camber's dog, has gone rabid and killed his owner, Joe. The other members of the Camber household are out of town, and their house is isolated from the rest of the community. Donna barely manages to get the car into the driveway, and when she does, it promptly stalls. Cujo then terrorizes them over the course of three days as Donna and Tad are trapped in the car, without food or water, and in intense heat. The local sheriff comes up to investigate, but he is killed. Finally, Donna, in her desperation to escape, jumps out of the car and uses an old baseball bat to kill Cujo, just as Vic is pulling into the Camber's driveway. He has returned from his trip to find her, initially believing she was kidnapped by a man she had an affair with weeks prior. The Trentons discover that their son has died inside the car, and the novel ends with the Trentons trying to put their lives back together.
The premise of the novel, getting trapped in a car by a rapid dog in the middle of the summer, is a very realistic premise that makes this a much more relatable and therefore more frightening book than many other horror stories. There are several problems with the plot, however. Firstly, Stephen King weaves in several sub plots, but none of them are really interesting. There is the story of the Joe Camber's wife and son taking a trip to visit their family in Connecticut that goes absolutely nowhere. There is Vic Trenton's business trip and related concerns involving his job, slightly more interesting, but still somewhat distracting from the main plot. Secondly, there is far too much exposition (Cujo does not trap the Trentons until page 148 out of 304), and an extremely high amount of pointless cut aways once the conflict between Cujo and the Trentons has started. The cut aways involving the detective work and Vic returning home are successful because they help to answer the question of what the police were doing during the three days that the Trentons were missing. However there is a disproportionate amount of time spent with the Cambers, and, even though their story is well written, it isn't particularly compelling, more so when you want to just keep reading about the rabid killer dog.
Characterization in this book is astounding, the author does his best to give every character a unique voice, regardless of if they are one of the key players in the novel or in just a handful of scenes. This is mostly done by having the characters reminisce about their former experiences and things of that nature that help flesh out their back stories, but stream of conscious writing and character interactions also play a big part in making every character come alive. The author also plays a great trick by making you initially hate most of the adult characters (to various degrees) but then putting them in such an awful, sympathetic situation that by the end of the novel you don't really care that they cheated on their husbands or are hopelessly stupid-you still feel bad for them. Special note must be made of Cujo's characterization, he is portrayed as being the typical good dog, and point of views after he gets bitten by a rabid bat put his decline in a very tragic light, he isn't simply the big dumb killing machine that he could've easily been wrote off as, even he has depth and emotions in this novel.
The prose is fairly basic, there are some nice riffs and eloquent passages here and there, but mostly it is just functional. The author also uses pop culture references to (I presume) add yet another living touch to the story, and this works reasonably well. The references aren't piled on in such a way that it bogs down the flow of the writing, and even if you don't understand every reference, they are fairly easy to figure out using context clues. The imagery is very vivid, the author leaves little to the imagination when describing a setting. Character descriptions are no different, and those involving Cujo and his victims are particularly well done, most notably his description of Donna at the end of her three day endeavor.
Relatable and well written, Cujo is a book that tries to be a bit deeper than its premise may lead you to expect, and is only somewhat successful, with its various sub plots subtracting far more than adding to a very chilling, realistic story.