Published by Signet on January 1981
Also by this author: Doctor Sleep, Pet Sematary, Mr. Mercedes
Cujo is a two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard, the beloved family pet of the Joe Cambers of Castle Rock, Maine, and the best friend ten-year-old Brett Camber has ever had. One day Cujo pursues a rabbit into a bolt-hole--a cave inhabited by some very sick bats. What happens to Cujo, and to those unlucky enough to be near him, makes for the most heart-squeezing novel Stephen King has yet written.
Vic Trenton, New York adman obsessed by the struggle to hand on to his one big account, his restive and not entirely faithful wife, Donna, and their four-year-old son, Tad, moved to Castle Rock seeking the peace of rural Maine. But life in this small town--evoked as vividly as a Winesburg or a Spoon River--is not what it seems. As Tad tries bravely to fend off the terror that comes to him at night from his bedroom closet, and as Vic and Donna face their own nightmare of a marriage suddenly on the rocks, there is no way they can know that a monster, infinitely sinister, waits in the daylight, and that the fateful currents of their lives will eddy closer and faster to the horrifying vortex that is Cujo.
Stephen King has never written a book in which readers will turn the pages with such a combination of anticipation and dire apprehension. Doing so, they will experience an absolute master at work.
‘It would perhaps not be amiss to point out that he had always tried to be a good dog. He had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor.’
Cujo is a seemingly simple story minus all the supernatural thrills that are usually present in King’s stories. It’s about a gentle dog named Cujo that one day chases a rabbit into a hole, encounters an infected bat, and that gentle dog slowly transforms into a horrid nightmare that the town of Castle Rock will never forget.
The story was a surprisingly heartbreaking one as we’re given brief glimpses of the transformation of Cujo and his inevitable loss of self control. Before he was infected, Cujo was a good dog who played with children and despite his size never gave anyone any reason to fear him. Unfortunately, his owners just never took the time to get Cujo his necessary shots. As the story progresses Cujo becomes more and more helpless to stop the virus from taking control, but this sense of helplessness isn’t limited to Cujo. There are three separate storylines that all have that same sense of helplessness.
While the focus of this story is obviously Cujo, you quickly find yourself wrapped up in the lives of these people just as much. The main storyline is of course the unfortunate circumstances that caused Donna Trenton and her four-year-old son Tad to become stuck in a driveway in the middle of nowhere during a terrible heatwave with a rabid Saint Bernard keeping them from going anywhere. Donna attempts to make the drive to their local mechanic, Joe Camber, in order to get her needle valve fixed on the carburetor. She makes it the whole way only to have her car die in the driveway yet her sigh of relief is short-lived as Cujo makes his presence known. The second storyline deals with Vic, Donna’s husband and Tad’s father, who is at risk to losing his ad agency after his biggest client seeks to drop them. Finding out the night before he leaves for New York that Donna has been having an affair only adds to his worries yet he still leaves as their livelihoods all hinge on him keeping his company. The third storyline is regarding Joe Camber’s wife, Charity, and her fear that their boy Brett is going to turn out exactly like his father. In a final attempt to help prevent this she plans a vacation for the two of them to see her estranged sister and her family after Charity wins $5,000 in the lottery. Shortly after arriving, a few things occur that leave her convinced that she’s already too late.
While these storylines all seem to be of little consequence there is one scene in particular that sets in motion everything that is to occur. As Brett and his mother Charity are preparing to leave, Brett notices Cujo acting strangely. He tells his mother but she demands he stay silent. She knows if he were to tell his father he would demand the boy stay home to care for his dog. They leave not telling anyone, being completely unaware of the devastation they could have possibly prevented that day. This only goes to show that seemingly small decisions can truly have vast consequences.
One of my favorite things about stories is learning about the inspiration behind them. King had read a news article about a boy in Maine that had been killed by a Saint Bernard. King’s motorcycle had stalled out and he just barely got it to the mechanic before it died. That same mechanic had a Saint Bernard that looked as if he would attack King until his owner got him under control. King and his wife drove a Pinto that also had a sticky needle valve on the carburetor. All of these real life issues came together in a terrifying way to become ‘Cujo’.
This story is an incredibly realistic horror that is easily imagined. While not supernatural, there is a comparison made to Cujo being of the same evil to Frank Dodd, a local serial killer. That comparison generates the theory of evil being a deep-rooted thing that is always there and is all the same. Whether Cujo is truly evil or not, his story still succeeds in leaving you with an exceptionally uneasy feeling when you consider just how easy this all occurred. And it makes you consider with a sudden horror whether your lovable pet is up to date on their shots.