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[532] Pet Sematary – Stephen King

sematary

” Along the other, he saw some sort of monster emerging from the woods behind the house. He had accepted so much that he did not balk at the idea of monsters, or even of daemons, discorporeal beings of evil from the outerworld which might well take charge of a reanimated body from which the original soul had fled. ” (Ch.44, p.420)

After reading Pet Sematary, my second Stephen King book, it’s safe for me to say that King delivers more than just a masterful handling of conventions in his genre. His books give me pleasure above and beyond the entertainment of a good scare. He knows that we live in an over-stimulated and frightening world, so death, disease, and mere allusion to ghosts would hardly have a grip on our attention. In Pet Sematary, King creates chilling invention out of innocuous object, a cat named Church, that is, not quite a cat anymore.

And, really, it wasn’t—except he knew that now the letter would never be written because the parade has a way of moving on, and tomorrow would bring something new. But he had bought that he, hadn’t he? The rat that Church had brought in, surely clawed to bloody ribbons, its intestines dragging, its head perhaps gone. (Ch.33, p.288)

Into a beautiful old house in rural Maine the Creeds move. Louis Creed is a physician in his mid-30s, the job at the university infirmary has relocated him, his wife, his 5-year-old daughter and his infant son from Chicago to Ludlow. A path at the end of his property leads to a pet cemetery and it’s annex, a swamp that was an Indian burial ground rich with possibility and textured with strength. As a doctor he thinks he accepts death, but it’s an unexamined, shallow-rooted acceptance. What he cannot bear is his wife’s and daughter’s fear of death, a fear precipitated by a visit to the cemetery. When the family cat is killed by a truck, the old man from across the road takes Louis into the woods and shows him the town’s dark secret, a truth that is more terrifying than death itself. When the beast comes back to life, it’s hardly an animal, more a reanimated body from which the original soul had fled. The rest of the story is obvious, but not the least grisly and truly scary at times: Louis Creed will inevitably bring back a person with catastrophic consequences for all.

His screams echoed and racketed shrilly through this house where now only dead lived and walked. Eyes bulging, face livid, hair standing on end, he screamed; the sounds came from his swollen throat, like the bells of hell, terrible shrieks that signaled the end of not of love but of sanity; in his mind all the hideous images were suddenly unloosed at once. (Ch.61, p.545)

Although I don’t buy the idea that Creed would repeat the resurrection of a person given the state in which the beast returns to life—mean and reeked of stench, the book serves its purpose—a straight-up scare that is strong on dark, depressing chills. The end is predictable, but the force behind the mysterious capabilities of the cemetery that plays these people like a harp from hell is never really addressed or comforted. All I can say is that nature’s will and clock shall not be violated.

562 pp. Pocket Books. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

[300] Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

” That is the secret of happiness and virtue—liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny. ” [1:26]

Through genetic design and subconscious sleep-learning, the people who govern the World State in Brave New World seek to control human beings for the sake of social harmony, stability and happiness. They might not be sane, but they are not madmen. Their aim is to take advantage of technology, but not the extreme of science, which is a danger, to achieve stability, in a form of happiness made possible by scientific and empirical truth. From uterus to grace, one’s conditioning has laid down rails along which he’s got to run. The subconscious messages inculcated to babies in designated castes mold lifelong self-image, class conscientious, social outlooks, habits, tastes, morals, ambitions, and prejudices. In other word, social stability and harmony is maintained by cloning, and have no room for individuality.

The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; but they are blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. [16:198]

These civilized people are immune to unhappiness, sadness, and other emotional turmoil because they are overprotected and superinsulated by the society. There exists no familial onligations or intimacy, although sex (promiscuity) is encouraged as a social recreation. What really appalls me is that women and a piece of furniture have the same physical characteristic. In Brave New World, human sexuality has been degraded to the level of a commodity, as “everyone belongs to everyone else.”

The World State prioritizes happiness—a genetic and chemical-induced happiness—at the expense of truth by design. The Authority believes that people (are they even people, or just emotionless clones of flesh?) are better off with happiness than with truth. This truth is such that is raw, unaltered and untainted by soma, a popular hallucinogen that provides an easy escape from the hassles of daily life and is employed by the Authority as a method of control through pleasure. Until the challenge of savage, who grew up outside the World State, the civilized people, who lose their true emotion, morals, values, and dignity under state control, have seen themselves better off than others. The desire for authentic emotion is enough in itself to cause convulsions in a society that adopts John the Savage as a fearful curiosity. But the message from the novel is that there is no escape from anxiety and struggle unless one is ready to forfeit love altogether. These emotions belong to truth and individuality. The technical (biological) aspect at the beginning of the book is somewhat of a slog, but the story only gets better in the middle. I neither dislike it nor do I enjoy it tremendously.

231 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

Reading Notes: Creepy New World

I have never read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a Modern Library’s top-100 novel in the 20th century, even though it’s widely taught in high school and college. Piqued by what George Orwell believed that Huxley derived the book partly from We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, I pick up the book. Huxley was able to use the setting and characters, most of whom inspired by his trip to the United States, from his science fiction novel to express widely held opinions, particularly the fear of losing individual identity in the fast-paced world of the future. The more I read about socially-managed contexts, the discouraged individuality, the subconscious messages to mold child’s lifelong self-image and tastes, the more the book creeps me out. In a sense it’s gradual brainwash, very much like what a religious cult does to its members. I’m halfway through but cannot decide whether I dislike it or just not enjoy it. One bright point is what I get out of the reading: Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Do you ever feel compelled to read something because it’s revered by critics?