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Cujo (book)

A book by Stephen King.

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A Dog Gone Nightmare (3.5/5)

  • Oct 2, 2009
Stephen King has a vast library under his belt.  With well over fifty novels published and over 250 short stories, it means King is by far one of the most productive writers of our time.  Even after his accident in 1999, King can still churn out a lot of books.  He's an interesting author.  There are some books that can really blow your mind (The Shining, The Stand), some that can really challenge you (The Dead Zone) and others that are just good stories (like Christine).  On the other hand, with such an enormous body of work, you're bound to find a few stories that just aren't as fulfilling.  Cujo, like many of King's works of the 80's, is often listed among the best of his works by several fans.  And in some ways it's not hard to see why.  King took something simple, like he always does, and made it a nightmare.  On the surface, Cujo is an excellent idea.  It's terrifying to think about and the book even has some unsettling moments.  Yet it's hard to admit that it's just not nearly as strong as several of his other books.  Cujo isn't bad by any means, it just isn't as exciting as many of King's other books.

Anyone who has read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft knows that King's ideas usually begin as a what if question and are drawn from life.  Every author has a means of inspiration.  NIcholas Sparks uses his family, Jodi Picoult uses the newspaper and meticulous research.  Chuck Palahniuk is often a participant in bizarre things.  King often draws his stories out of real life experiences.  In the Spring of 1977 he took his Bike to a mechanic and this Saint Bernard came out.  King tried to pet it and the dog snipped at him.  The owner told Mr. King that the dog had never done that before.  "I guess he just doesn't like your face," the guy said.  That was all it took for King.  There came that what if question.

Cujo was originally published in 1981.  This was during King's drug addiction era.  As a result, King has stated that he doesn't actually remember writing Cujo because he was so doped up.  "That's sad," King said in his memoir, "because I really like that book.  I wish I could remember the good parts as I put them down on paper."  Indeed, Cujo has some good moments, but if there's any example of some of King's faults as a writer, they're found within Cujo.  Thankfully, Cujo isn't the worst of works.  Far from it.  And while it suffers from some problems they aren't nearly as big as the likes of some of later books.  Yet it still showcases several of his strengths.  There's hardly anything wrong with Cujo's technique.  Nope.  In terms of Cujo's problems they're almost all story related rather than King writing.

Cujo begins as an innocent story.  It starts by recapping some of the events that have come to pass in Castlerock, Maine.  King's fictional small town.  For those who read The Dead Zone, Cujo's opening pages are a treat.  It's like revisiting a friend.  It recounts Frank Dodd, a guy who killed a few people before he killed himself.  The novel even gives a shout out to Johnny Smith who was able to find Frank Dodd in the first place thanks to a special gift.  But to some, Frank Dodd is still haunting them.  A young boy named Tad Trenton has nightmares about a monster in his closet, and his father Vic and mother Donna are often trying to tell him it's nothing.  That he's merely scaring himself.  Tad is such a little trooper, but he has loving parents.

Not everything with the Trenton family is all sunshine and butterflies.  For one, Vic works for a cereal company that's having problems in which people are getting sick and vomiting thanks to the dye in the cereal (you ARE reading a Stephen King book, guys, but that's not where the terror comes in).  Even worse, the car--a beat up Pinto--is in pretty bad shape, and Donna is having an affair behind Vic's back.  As the story begins King is sure to lay this all on the table and demonstrates why his characters are so good.  Even within Cujo--a book which doesn't have a cast of memorable characters in the slightest--King still manages to build them up rather well.  In fact, much of the first few portions of the book are dedicated to building up these characters.  In spite of what Donna does, she's still likeable because she's still overall a good woman.  She takes care of Tad and she makes sure to do her part. 

The Pinto, however, is what leads the family to their biggest problems.  Because of what's happening to the car they decide they've got to take it in to a repair shop.  When they get there they meet Joe Camber and his dog: Cujo.  A loveable Saint Bernard.  While Joe tells the Trenton's what should be done about their car, Cujo runs off, chasing a rabbit into a hole that's filled with bats.  And they end up scratching Cujo's nose pretty badly.  Eventually the dog begins to go rabid... and crazy. 

Days later Vic ends up having to leave town, while Donna does her part to be a better woman... for Tad.  A broken family can be healed.  But there's still that Pinto to fix.  So while Vic is out of town Donna takes the car up to the Camber's to get it fixed.  But it's doing a lot worse.  It's a miracle she was able to start the car in the first place.  As a result when they get to the Camber's it breaks down... and no one is around.  No one except Cujo, that is, and the dog has gone mad.  What unfolds is a mother and son, trapped in their car with a rabid dog outside that is waiting for the moment to strike.

The story also has a parallel plot in which Vic helps the cereal company he's working for straighten out their problems.  And this is where Cujo becomes a letdown.  The parallel plot in which Vic fixes his problems... is far more interesting than watching Donna and Tad being trapped in a car.  There's none of this "Nothing's happening," feel, but it is this arc of the story that just isn't nearly as interesting.  There are some thrilling and terrifying moments--and the book is really short to boot--but watching Donna and Tad survive in a car with all the factors surrounding them (it's very hot, they need to be able to go to the bathroom, no food and of course, Cujo).  King keeps the tension going by having convenient excuses for why no one actually comes by and finds Donna and her son stranded.  It's a very well crafted book.  The writing is spot on, moving at a fairly good pace with characters that are likeable in their own right.

Yet the suspensful moments aren't that thrilling in Cujo.  In many instances where we flash back to Donna and Tad they're just killing time.  At some points it's as if King is saying, "Don't forget about Donna and Tad!"  We don't.  We want to know what happens to them, but in many moments when we're looking at them you get the sense that King himself was unsure of what should happen next.  Even weirder, some of Vic's moments are much longer.  What I'm getting at, is that the big situation King sets up... doesn't actually get much attention.  At 300 pages or so, Cujo is short, but much of that time isn't actually spent focusing on Cujo.  It's interesting and all... but a lot of the excitement isn't there because King focuses so much more on external conflicts and characters more so than those who are trapped.

This brings about King's pacing.  It's a short book, but much like he often does, he still gets off to a slow start.  In some of his books that slow start is often what makes it great.  Cujo isn't like that.  It does a good job of getting things into place, but once Donna and Tad are actually trapped the book doesn't pick up much.  The heart pounding moments of worry and suspense don't hit as hard because there's so much more going on in the story than just Donna and Tad.  The ending is quite a surprise, though.  But I'm sure it'll really piss off a lot of people.  Let's not spoil it, but let's just say that for some it'll leave you feel depressed as hell.

It's hard for me to criticize King's style.  There's not a whole lot he does that is annoying with how he writes.  If anything he has a tendency to get lost in the details of his own story.  But he often has a good tone and his books are easy enough to read that they're okay. 

Cujo just isn't the strongest of his books.  It isn't bad by any means.  It just seems to be missing some kind of special King touch.  He's a good writer, but Cujo doesn't showcase his strengths. 

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October 02, 2009
excellent take and thanks for throwing in that info about the thing about King being doped up. I actually didn't know that little information that this was one of those books. It has been many years since I read this book, now I just pick up the movie whenever I wanted a refresher. What'd you think about the film?
October 04, 2009
I might've had my expectations up for this one, though.  Almost all my friends who are King fans ranked this among his best.  I figured I'd give it a try because all the other ones they really loved (The Stand, It, The Shining) really were spectacular, but with this one I just wasn't feeling it like I did his other works.
More Cujo (book) reviews
review by . December 18, 2009
The monster in the closet is real and it's name is Cujo.
The story is a tale of two families, the Cambers and the Trentons.  The Cambers are a poor working class family whilst the Trentons are from a more well-to-do middle class. Cujo is the name of a St, Bernard dog that the Cambers own.  Young Tad Trenton has been having nightmares about a monster in his closet.  His dad Vic tells him that there is no such thing and even writes him a chant call "The Monster Words" to say whenever he thinks the creature in the closet is awake.  …
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
It's amazing how Stephen King picks up simple ideas and makes an interesting novel. I never read something exagerated from him.
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
One of my favorites.
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
not one of his creepyist
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
If only I could hear my dog's thoughts!
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2010
Quick Tip by . June 19, 2010
This is yet another novel by King I haven't managed to enjoy. It just wasn't interesting or scary.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
another great book
review by . November 11, 2006
I can't think of a better word that everyone else hasn't used yet. This is the master of Horror at his best!
review by . February 17, 2001
I had never read a Stephen King book before. Horror/mysteries usually are not my bag. However, I had to try him once and let me tell you, Stephen sure knows how to tell a story. Yes the central theme is about the rabid infested dog Cujo terrorizes a sleepy Maine town. The descriptions of the terror that Cujo is so vivid that you are hooked from the get go with every leap of his crazed dog to each blood letting bite. The side bar stories of the two maritial couples in distress are also quite captivating. …
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Cujo is so well-paced and scary that people tend to read it quickly, so they mostly remember the scene of the mother and son trapped in the hot Pinto and threatened by the rabid Cujo, forgetting the multifaceted story in which that scene is embedded. This is definitely a novel that rewards re-reading. When you read it again, you can pay more attention to the theme of country folk vs. city folk; the parallel marriage conflicts of the Cambers vs. the Trentons; the poignancy of the amiable St. Bernard (yes, the breed choice is just right) infected by a brain-destroying virus that makes it into a monster; and the way the "daylight burial" of the failed ad campaign is reflected in the sunlit Pinto that becomes a coffin. And how significant it is that this horror tale isnotsupernatural: it's as real as junk food, a failing marriage, a broken-down car, or a fatal virus.--This text refers to theMass Market Paperbackedition.
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ISBN-10: 0670451932
ISBN-13: 978-0670451937
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Viking Adult
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