Book Review – Stephen King: Cujo

Stephen King 



Publisher‏: ‎Hodder Paperbacks; 0 edition  

Paperback: ‎432 pages 

ISBN-10: ‎9781444708127 

ISBN-13‏: ‎ 978-1444708127 

June, 1981. 

For the all of the interceding forty-plus years, it’s safe to say that Stephen King’s seventh full-length novel, Cujo, has not succumbed to the vagaries of time. Taut, tense and as deeply disturbing as it was back in 1981 – when The Human League and their fellow New Romantics were dominating the charts – Cujo further solidified King’s name as the Master of Horror, the Senator of Suspense, just ten years on from his debut outing, Carrie. 

Cujo is a huge Saint Bernard dog, the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. Then one day Cujo chases a rabbit into a bolt-hole. Except it isn’t a rabbit warren any more. It is a cave inhabited by rabid bats. And Cujo falls sick. Very sick. And the gentle giant who once protected his family becomes a vortex of horror inexorably drawing in all the people around him. 

The thing with this novel, unlike those which preceded it – with the exception of the eponymous debut character, that is – is that for the first time the antagonist is not a creature of evil.

In fact, if anything, it is the protagonist, the ensnared Donna, who’s dastardly deeds are seen to receive their comeuppance.  

Then there’s her cuckolded husband, Vic. Struggling to keep his business afloat and distracted by lesser demons that have grown large in his mind, his decision making can be said to be a forgivable flaw, even when he comes across as more reactive than proactive.

This is not a tale of good dog turned bad. No. This is a tale of the so-called American Dream turning sour. So rotten, in fact, that no matter where one might turn in order to placate its calling, only isolation and fear and danger lie ahead lurking in the shadows … waiting to pounce. Charity and Brett Camber, the dog’s owner, are similarly trapped, while their patriarchal husband and father, Joe, is held hostage by bitterness and the bottle. 

In Cujo, the metaphorical zoomorphism of all the Trentons’ and Cambers’ dreams and nightmares come real in the shape and size of a two hundred pound, insanely rabid St. Bernard. In reality, however, those of us who may wish to read between the lines will do well to understand working to live, rather than living to work, is the far more rewarding option. 

With terrific plotting, descriptive prose for which to die, delightfully dynamic dialogue and a cast of characters with more deliciously flawed traits than a whole host of rabid bats, Cujo remains an ageless foreshadowing of King’s burgeoning greatness, and a stark warning that all that glitters may not necessarily be gold.