Spotlight: Maggie Stiefvater

I don’t often do this. In fact, I never have. But I want to take a moment and talk about an author that I’ve developed quite an appreciation for. This may become a regular thing… like an author spotlight or something… But for now, I’ll just gush about my latest author crush.

Maggie Stiefvater

maggie stiefvater raven boys

Her books preceded her. I heard about “those new werewolf books” (The Wolves of Mercy Falls) several years ago but refused to pay them any attention. In fact, I didn’t even associate her name with the book series because I forced myself to be THAT uninterested. It was probably because I was too turned off of teen paranormal romance at that time. Thanks, Twilight. Then as one of the first choices for a book club that I joined, we were tasked with reading The Raven Boys. I found the audiobook available on Overdrive and started listening.

Loved it. I’ll spare the premise, since I’m focusing on Maggie, here. But it’s awesome. Go read it. In fact, read all of her books. Cuz I pretty much have, now.

Maggie lives in Virginia – SCORE
After I moved away from the Bahamas, I lived at a boarding school in Virginia, went to college in Virginia, and ended up living there almost 10 years. Virginia has always been my home away from home. Maggie has written several of her books set in Virginia. The Raven Boys, specifically, is even about guys in a boarding school. Without needed to say much more, it was so incredibly easy for me to relate.

Maggie is an artist – AWESOME
I’ve always loved art. When I was little, I toted around a stuffed Crayola Bunny that had a pocket in its overalls to hold a few crayons. I was so obsessed with those color names too. In fact, at my primary school, I identified my peers to my parents by what color their skin was by Crayola standards: peach, tan, brown… And I was so confused when people said they were white or black, because THEY DIDN’T MATCH THE CRAYON!  My love for art continued throughout my high school career, expanding my craft into dark room photography, which I ultimately majored in when I went to college.

Maggie is a musician – OMG
For many years I played piano. I really enjoyed it, until I had to start composing my own pieces for these examinations… then I felt burnt out. Though I never practiced at home, my teacher said I showed great talent – and just imagine what I would be like if I DID practice at home! It’s been years since I’ve played, but it’s one of those things I hold dear and have such an appreciation for.

Maggie is a race car enthusiast – SERIOUSLY
Okay, so I don’t have much to say about this point, besides race car being a fun palindrome. But come on, guys… how many people do you know zip around in neat cars with custom license plates (cuz it’s so darn cheap in Virginia!) and graffiti their car in 3.5 minutes?? Seriously, check out the video on her website.

Maggie writes some seriously fantastic books – DONE!
After breezing through The Raven Boys, I decided (with some hesitation) to try out The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, then Scorpio Races. Most recently, (cuz I have to do all of these in audio now) The Dream Thieves. For a typical contemporary Young Adult author, her stories are remarkably fresh and original. The bits of romance in WoMF were tender, honest and realistic. Scorpio Races was enchanting — come on, a girl enters the ‘wild & crazy water horse’ race to save her struggling family? Who comes up with this stuff? This chick does. Oh, and she also composes and performs the music for the audio books.

Done, done, done! Subscribe me +1000 times! Fav, retweet, blast that out.  Maggie Stiefvater is a rock star. I told her once. She proved it:

twitter maggie stiefvater

Have I said enough? For an author that wasn’t even on my radar, she has sprung up out of nowhere and completely captured me. Like a bear trap, actually. Or a snake with big fangs. But a nice snake. A colorful, cheeky, magical snake. She has sunk her sharp and witty teeth in to my unsuspecting self and pumped in her intelligent prose and beautiful imagery. So read (or listen) to her books. I’m going to pine over her Tarot card illustrations and maybe dance to a tribal summoning song  and hope she comes out to Western Mass one day. Hey, there’s a thought…

 

 

Down With Dystopia: The Rise of the Royal Court

When I tried describing a book to someone last week, I realized that I was mixing up characters and plots, pulling from multiple titles I had recently read. Finally setting aside some time, I decided to look into these books a bit more, and then I fell down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, I’m not seeing dystopian books a-la Hunger Games and Divergent anymore. Now, books about princesses and kingdoms (and magic – ooo!) have taken the floor and are proudly waltzing by.
dystopia royal court princess

Is anyone else noticing this? Does this mark the end of depressing dystopian worlds? Is historical fiction donning a fancy new Y.A. get-up? We still have strong female characters completely dominating young adult literature; however, rather than the run-of-the-mill dystopia once dominating popular books, our heroines are now featured in the high courts of fantasy realms and fairy tale retellings.

I’m not saying this is a problem, but, does my observation carry greater meaning when I point out that many…most… of these books are written by debut authors?  I get that these things come in waves, but this seems more like a tsunami. Below are a number of recent, and soon-to-be books that include some aspect of royal courts:

  1. Red Queen (et al) – Victoria Aveyard
  2. Shadow & Bone (et al) – Leigh Bardugo
  3. Girl of Fire and Thorns (et al) – Rae Carson
  4. Graceling (et al) – Kristin Cashmore
  5. The Selection (et al) – Kiera Cass
  6. The Healer’s Apprentice (et all) – Melanie Dickerson
  7. The Jewel (et al)- Amy Ewing
  8. Deception’s Princess (et al) – Esther M. Friesner
  9. Princess of the Midnight Ball (et al) – Jessica Day George
  10. Seraphina (et al) – Rachel Hartman
  11. Cruel Beauty (et al)- Rosamund Hodge
  12. Princess of Thorns – Stacey Jay
  13. Stolen Songbird (et al)- Danielle L. Jenson
  14. The Queen of the Tearling (et al) – Erika Johansen
  15. Grave Mercy (et al)- Robin LeFevers
  16. Winterspell (et al)- Claire Legrand
  17. Stitching Snow – R. C. Lewis
  18. Throne of Glass (et al)- Sarah J. Maas
  19. Cinder (et al)- Marissa Meyer
  20. Suspicion – Alexandra Monir
  21. Legendary (et al) – L. H. Nicole
  22. Queen of Hearts: The Crown (et al)  – Colleen Oakes
  23. Snow Like Ashes (et al) – Sara Raasch
  24. Camelot Burning (et al)- Kathryn Rose
  25. Legacy (et al) – Jesikah Sundin
  26. Stray (et al) – Elissa Sussman
  27. A Wicked Thing (et al) – Rhiannon Thomas
  28. Crown of Ice (et al) – Vicki L. Weavil
  29. Storm Siren (et al) – Mary Weber
  30. Illusions of Fate (et al)- Kiersten White

That’s well over a two dozen titles, not including the respective continuations and sequels, e-book prequels or e-book short of some kind. (Those marked by ‘et al’ indicate some continuation in their series or intended series.) Of the authors that I’ve pulled into this list, there are only three that do not explicitly note a continuation of story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see more than just one entry in these remaining three all the same.

So what’s with this sudden spike in popularity? Here are some observations:

Women authors — At least in this genre, it seems as though unless your name is George R.R. Martin, most fantasy books are being written by women. There are a few men that are writing for young adults: John Green, Rick Yancey, Patrick Ness, Scott Westerfeld, Rick Riordan… but they’re not necessarily explicitly ‘fantasy’ authors. Where is the new blood? Where are the male debut authors? And where are the male debut fantasy authors?

Princesses — I don’t think I need to point out the dream every little girl (and some boys!) have of growing up to be a princess. Rags to riches, coming of age, reluctant hero(ine)… and other themes are common in such princess fantasy stories. Also present are kings, queens, princes, duchies, nobility, lords, ladies, and the like. Everyone loves to play dress up. Everyone also loves coming from modest beginnings,  and not necessarily entitled to the fame and fortune, but, of course, deserving. Humble = likable.

Gossip — I really, really don’t want to go there, but there’s also a clear connection between certain elements in this genre (such as spies, assassins, espionage…all of which boil down to gossip, lies, and general underhanded-ness,) that are present in many stories with women characters. Perhaps it’s simply an aspect of the everyday feminine culture that is handled in different ways from book to book, but it is undeniable that gossip is a common thread.

**NOTE: There’s much hesitation, self-awareness, and self-censorship I exercise in writing this entry. I feel like feminist readers of my blog will tear me to pieces… but these aren’t meant to be pokes or jabs at the nature of feminism or female culture. I’m not criticizing these points I bring up, but rather I seek to open a thread of conversation to be had with a purity of motive.**

~    ~   ~

At this year’s Horn Book Awards Colloquium, held at Simmons College (Boston, MA), there was an interesting panel held on the diversity of literature for children and young adults. This was headed by individuals in the publishing world, all of whom claim to scour for talent every day trying to find diverse books to publish. Unfortunately, without the talent… there’s nothing to publish.

So much of this time I had been blaming the publishing world. I’d thought, well, of course they are the reason there is not more diversity in books – because they want to take something popular that makes them money and drill as far down into the well as they can… Further illustrated by my list above. Or is it? Are books like these getting published because that’s just what the writing talent is currently producing? Is it because these books are easily marketable to the established audience? Are there writers out there producing diverse literature and the work is just ‘not good enough’ yet to make it to print? I think it’s unfair to place the blame on any one faction of the book world. Everyone simply has to work harder to produce and promote diverse literature.

My final question is this: Does the list above demonstrate the diversity we are all working so hard for?

Dirty Bird

 

 

 

Y’all knew my break from reading Stephen King wouldn’t last long! This may be my last King book for the year — it’s certainly the one on my to-read list for this year… there’s only a few left now! Next up is Misery: about a writer that is held captive by his #1 fan. Popularized by the film starring Kathy Bates, I was excited to work my way through this one. I also rented the movie (because why not?) to compare. King’s work has always stuck with me, and I’m glad I finally read Misery. It might not be my favorite, but Annie Wilkes is a stand-out, unforgettable character.

 misery, stephen king, kathy bates

 

Many already know the story, but to recap for those that don’t, Misery is about a writer, (as so many King books are) Paul Sheldon, who has a car accident while driving in a snow storm and is saved coincidentally by a big burly woman, Annie Wilkes, who happens to be his number one fan. She also just happens to be cockadoody crazy. Annie nurses Paul back to a some-what better health than before. As a kind of sick payment, she forces Paul to write a sequel to her favorite book series he wrote. In the meantime, she’s got him hooked on pain killers and confined to a single room.

I love books that get a reaction from me, and I found myself really cringing at some parts: especially the iconic *SPOILER* axe-to-the foot *END SPOILER* scene. Also appreciated was the background on Annie through her scrapbook. In fact, I would have loved reading even more, especially with her family, her college days, knocking off all those people in the hospital, her marriage… Long illness, short illness, whatever the case, Annie is one dirty bird that I can’t get enough of. Can there be a prequel please?? Yes, the premise of the book is interesting, but I find it to be more of a character study on poor Annie here. How often do you read a book that’s like a moving portrait of a person?

This book made me think about those times I’ve blathered on in front of authors I’ve met. Honestly, hanging around someone day in and day out for nearly a year like in Misery would tarnish their image for me. Once you realize authors, (celebrities, etc) are really just people, and they live boring lives just like the rest of us, it’s just not as exciting anymore. So let’s keep things exciting! Let authors roam free!

Verdict: READ THE BOOK. Though the movie was good in its own way, this is yet another Stephen King book that lives a better life on the page than on the screen. Absent from the movie are the cut-a-ways to Paul’s in-progress novel, Misery’s Return, which I found oddly fascinating. And what happened to the axe? Instead it’s a sledgehammer? Hey, at least Annie Wilkes is still cooky, somehow lovable, yet despicable. Kathy Bates made the movie.  I don’t often say this of adaptations to the screen, but Misery the movie was a very watered down version of the book. It’s like weak tea. It’s still tea, you still get the smell and taste of tea, it’s just not as flavorful. Misery the book ranks high on my most-liked King book list. The movie… needs to be steeped longer!

That’s all for now folks! 🙂

PS
Technically I listened to this book, and the audio is amazing. Brilliant job!

A Fever in my Blood

 

Boy, this took me long enough! I finally, finally, got around to reading Rebel Heart by Moira Young, book 2 in the Dustlands trilogy. I happened upon Blood Red Road (book 1) while I was in Canada one summer. Without having heard much about it before, I picked it up, because I couldn’t leave a bookstore empty-handed. Honestly, I didn’t begin reading it until a few months later, but once I did, I flew through the pages. Once I realized there were to be two more books following, I pre-ordered the titles as soon as they became available. That was a few years ago now, and since I loved BRR so much, I wanted to be sure Rebel Heart made it on my list of books to read this year.
Rebel Heart, Blood Red Road, Dustlands, Moira Young

 

The first thing you’ll notice about the Dustlands trilogy is the way it is written. That may sound sort of generic, but flip through the pages and you’ll see there are no quotation marks indicating speech. It is also written in the vernacular of the world. G’s are dropped from words ending with ‘-ing,’ instead of ‘for’ it’s ‘fer,’ rather than ‘afraid’ it’s ‘afeared,’ ‘can’t’ is ‘cain’t,’ etc. Honestly, it felt really odd for the first 40 pages or so, but soon you find yourself in the rhythm and you don’t even notice. Sometimes, the line spacing even makes the prose feel like verse… which may sound weird, but it works!

Moira Young does a marvelous job of supplying the reader with just enough detail. Sort of like a watercolor painting, her words suggest description while leaving us to fill in the specifics with our own imagination. It’s remarkable how liberating that feels… but I didn’t realize it until after I was through reading the book. It’s not like other writers that will ramble for pages about the bark of a tree.

Rebel Heart starts with a shift in perspective – we hear from another character’s point of view. Immediately I thought about Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, wondering if this book would follow the same pattern: book 1, one perspective – book 2, two perspectives – book 3, three perspectives. In this case, the shift serves as a prologue. The book picks up pretty much where the first left off. (I’m purposefully leaving out characters and plot points for spoilers — Yeah, I’m being nice this time. You’re welcome.) Again, it took me a little while to get into the stylized rhythm, but I adjusted. The character names were all familiar, but I had to remind myself who was who from the previous book.

Saba, the protagonist, is the same as she was – stubborn, fierce, and unrelenting. After the events of the first book, it’s rewarding to see her struggle and develop through this next installment. She’s not perfect. Often I feel as though these strong-female-protagonists-in-a-post-apocalyptic-dystopian-world-for-young-adults all start to blend together. Not so with Saba. Her inner conflict is so… I wanna say textured, but that sounds weird… It’s pebbly and rocky, if that makes sense. And a few times, her decisions made me go “what?!” — and THAT’S what makes her such an interesting read. Saba is easily my favorite protagonist in this genre so far.

Oh, and speaking of genre. Something I should mention: this is very much a Western. That may shock you readers, but I urge you to give it a try. There are a lot of John Ford and John Wayne influences… In fact, does anyone remember The Searchers (1956 film)? If you liked that, you’ll definitely like this series. Now that I think about it, I suppose book 1 sort of follows along that same kind of story too.

Hopefully it won’t be another 3 years before I read the final book, Raging Star!

 

No Awful Books – EVER!

A few months ago, I found a new website through Twitter called Blogging for Books. Immediately, I registered. The premise is simple: Choose a book, read the book, review the book. As someone who is desperately trying not to purchase any more books, I’m thankful for this little loophole of a website. That said, in my new job, I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to actually READ rather than LISTEN to books. Hopefully this doesn’t disqualify me from my review, but I happened to find the audiobook version and got through the book that way, since I was having a difficult time paging through it. So here we go: my review of Mother, Mother.

 mother, mother koren zailckas

Touted as “Mommie Dearest” and “Psycho,” I had hopes this book would be thrilling and emotionally charged, perhaps cultish. Unfortunately, by the time I finished, I was still waiting for a crazy murder scene. I will say that there was a lot of emotional manipulation, but the twist was a smidge predictable… but that’s just my own impression! There are lots of people that wouldn’t pick up on it! I still enjoyed this book and would recommend it — in fact, I have recommended it.

We’ve got a mother and father, both of whom are very concerned with her public appearance. The father is a closet recovering alcoholic. Their eldest daughter has run off and has pretty much been disowned. The middle daughter has been blamed for harming their younger autistic + epileptic brother. So as the story chugs along, we eventually discover that (kind of spoiler🙂 the eldest daughter had gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Middle daughter is in hanging out in a mental institution getting post cards/letters from eldest daughter. Little brother is being coddled and soothed by mom. (Oooh… maybe that’s where the Psycho-Norman-Bates reference comes from.) Every chapter alternated viewpoints between middle daughter and little brother. I’d say most of the story progression happened with the daughter’s chapters, while the son’s chapters provided vignettes illustrating the mother’s behavior… which is in many ways repeated in the daughter’s chapters. I’m not saying those chapters weren’t necessary, but the son didn’t really provide us with anything we couldn’t gather from the other viewpoint. Furthermore, he didn’t experience any character progression like the father and daughter did. But that’s being really picky… and I feel criticizing a character that has a disorder like that… He just felt a little one-note.

Sparing you any more spoilers, secrets are revealed, and most characters meet their appropriate ending. Reading through this again, I really don’t mean to be so critical. I did enjoy the book. I blame the blurbs and marketing for this book — I was expecting something more scary. So my expectations were a bit skewed… that’s all.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

A Hero’s Impact

Why didn’t I read this when I was younger? I had to go back through my old Amazon.com orders to remember when I purchased this book, and it turns out it was part of one of the last orders I ever made when I was still living in Richmond, Virginia. I ordered this book along with The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard, the Enchanted DVD, and a Pokemon graphic novel — a pretty odd assortment, yet strangely appropriate.

hero perry moore

 

Of the sixteen books that survived my Gauntlet, this was actually one of the first I finished. (My hold for the audiobook version came in before some of the others, which was remarkably well done.) Also of the ones I’ve read from the list, this may be one of my favorites… and it is so bittersweet. I think I said bittersweet in one of my last reviews… it is so tragic.

Hero is about a teenage boy named Thom. His mother is presumed to be dead. His father is a smidge gruff  and stern, but still lovable.  They live in a world where Superheroes exist. !n fact, his father is a Super, but has become estranged from The League. Like many teenaged boys, Thom is trying to live up to his father’s expectations… but also hide some pretty big secrets: 1) he has superpowers and 2) he is gay. Throughout the book, Thom struggles with acceptance, fitting in, dating, discovering who he really is… which is all quite typical in my opinion. So what makes this book so appealing?

First, superheroes are awesome. The cast of characters in this novel are incredibly memorable. Thom has to go through an initiation of sorts at The League’s headquarters and is assigned to a team of similarly skilled budding new Supers, including Typhoid Larry (walking CDC nightmare), Scarlett (flying, fireball-throwing pizza delivery girl), and Ruth (chain-smoking, future-seeing old crone).  Oh, Thom’s power is being able to heal things. The team is sent out on little missions and things, and start to uncover conspiracies within The League… all really solid elements. Good good good.

Second, and I point this out second because it’s not the main part of the story, Thom’s sexuality, accepting himself for not only being a Super, but for also being gay, and discovering a bit of romance. There is a tenderness to Thom that makes him so likable. He is also self-deprecating in an endearing sort of way. (Because what teen isn’t a little self-deprecating?) There are so many wonderful passages in Hero… the prose is not only elegant, but also witty. I want to paste oh, so many of them here… but instead I’ll tell you to go read the book.

As for the tragedy: Perry Moore died of an accidental drug overdose in 2011. He was the executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia film series (2005 – 2010). He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, he graduated from Norfolk Academy, interned at the Virginia Film Fest… And I knew none of this at the time I purchased the book. Moore was working on a sequel to Hero sometime before he died. Thankfully, I don’t think a sequel would be necessary, but it would at least satisfy everyone’s questions of “what next?” Hero was wrapped up pretty well. There were a few surprises that spurred on some tears, but I attribute that to the impact of the audiobook.

And so, Hero entered my life some four years ago in a rag-tag Amazon order, in the author’s hometown (that I will always fondly think of as another home,) and made the journey with me to forge a new life, where I “became more and more of who I really was, and less of this person I thought wanted to be.”

“Once in a while, life gives you a chance to measure your worth. Sometimes you’re called upon to make a split-second decision to do the right thing, defining which way your life will go. These are the decisions that make you who you are.”

Thanks, Perry Moore – your Hero made quite an impact on this reader.

 

Mid-year Appraisal

Six months ago I posted an entry detailing my method of selecting the order of what books to read next for this year. Now that it’s June, I thought I would do a quick tally of what I’ve read so far of that list, and what’s in progress. Again, strikethroughs represent finished entries, bold represents currently in progress, and asterisks* represent e-books.

  1. Reached
  2. Insurgent
  3. Cujo
  4. Dogs of Babel
  5. Hero
  6. Ten*
  7. The Brothers Bishop
  8. A Year in Provence
  9. Rebel Heart
  10. Beautiful Darkness
  11. Will Grayson, Will Grayson
  12. In The Line of Beauty
  13. Misery
  14. Better Nate Than Ever*
  15. PTown
  16. Little Children

I’ve tried to keep things in order, but after reading Cujo, reading another book about a dog turned me off a bit. I got about 30 pages into Dogs of Babel and had to switch over to Danielle Paige’s No Place Like Oz and Dorothy Must Die. (Those will have their own blog post!) Now I split my time between Ten, since I can now read in bed at night, thanks to my Kindle Paperwhite, and Dogs of Babel. Admittedly, looking back along this list, I believe all of the books I’ve finished were in audio format… which could explain why it’s taking me so long to get through Dogs of Babel. Try as I might to get a hold of the audiobook copy, the only one in my library system I could find was at a school for the blind, and my librarian said they couldn’t request it. (Why not?? Ugh…) There is a rhythm to Dogs of Babel’s chapter structure that I am finally getting in to, and I am really surprised by how much I appreciate Parkhurst’s writing style. Her dialog between characters seems so natural and ‘real-worldy’ that I am easily able to imagine illustrious scenes as I work my way through the narrative. That’s the whole point of story-telling anyway, right?

On the other hand, Ten is not as exciting as I hoped it would be… I had high hopes, but I suppose there really is little sense in recreating Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Why bother sticking modern day teens on an island and have a power outage? There hasn’t been a desperate attachment to technology that has been built upon to make the power outage worth sending the cast into a frenzy over. I’m about a third of my way into it and nothing is blowing me away… But I’ll save the rest of my judgement until I finish. Every time I sit down to read it, I’m compelled to go ‘home’ on my Kindle to try and read something else, like The Madman’s Daughter or Better Nate Than Ever, but so far, my willpower has been steadfast. Not all hope is lost… yet!

 

Besides this list, I’ve made my way through many other books, all listed on the Unmentioned page, which has just been updated. With all of the new ARCs from BEA this year, I’ll have to take another stab at that separate page… I may just combine them all together  and use a different symbol to differentiate them, similar to the e-books. Oh, I can’t wait to read those!

 

As always, stay tuned! Thanks for reading!

Strike from the Record

Today marks a big day for my Sickness. With the recent acquisition of all of these books from BEA, and little room on my new shelves, I decided it was time to say goodbye to some old friends. Taking books to the library to be donated felt like abandoning a beloved cat on the stoop of an animal shelter.

Okay, so that’s a bit over-dramatic… especially since the books I donated mostly had uncracked spines – meaning I listened to them through audiobook instead – but all the same, I can remember where I got each of those books. Some came from school classes, others from Christmas and birthday gifts, some from bargain racks…

Let’s take a moment to remember those donated today, and hereby strike the following entries from the record of my master list.

 

Taking on the Big Boys – Ellen Bravo
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
The People of Sparks – Jeanne DuPrau
The Prophet of Yonwood – Jeanne DuPrau
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith
The Girl on the Fridge – Etgar Keret
Comfort Food – Kate Jacobs
The Friday Night Knitting Club – Kate Jacobs
Knit Two – Kate Jacobs
Knit the Season – Kate Jacobs
The Cobra Event – Richard Preston

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

P.S.
Right, you thought there were going to be a lot more than that, huh? One step at a time here, people! Sheesh!

They Will Not Go Unnoticed

After updating my master list this month, and feeling a bit discouraged with my progress, I decided to create a separate page for The Unmentioned titles that I finish in between the books I own. I don’t want anyone (especially me!) to think that I’m slacking off over here. There is almost always an audiobook on my smartphone and discs in my car’s CD player. Seeing the list also makes me feel pretty darn accomplished. This new list is also a way of reminding myself that I can blog about books outside of my own shelves… Because I’ve come across some nice gems WITHOUT having to purchase them! WIN!

The Unmentioned

Always Trying to do the Right Thing

 

Book number three from my bracket is Cujo by Stephen King, in which a rabid dog kills four people and terrorizes a mother and young son trapped in a broken-down car.

cujo

Growing up, Cujo was one of those books (and movie) by Stephen King that was considered too graphic for my young disposition. This was, of course, before my grandfather decided to sit my little sister and I down to watch Pet Semetary one day. All I remember about Cujo is that it was about a big scary dog, and I shouldn’t watch it because we had dogs and there was no need to be afraid of them. Now that I’ve finished the book, I could maybe see how this would have left a lasting impression on me when I was young.

As with most of King’s work, I fall right into his rhythm of storytelling. I so appreciate his attention to flesh out small details that other authors would simply pass over to plow ahead with the action. This depth and nuance is what brings me back to King over and over again.

While writing Cujo, from what I understand, King was in a bad spot. Drinking heavily throughout most of the process, King allegedly does not remember writing much of the story, which then left him wide open for negative criticisms. Some have said this was one of King’s laziest works, others say it was just filler. I disagree, and rather suggest Cujo be looked at again for further consideration.

On the surface, it’s a sad story about a boy’s dog that is infected with rabies and goes on a bit of a killing spree, with an unlucky mother and son being caught in the middle. I suppose there’s something to be said about the mother’s infidelity, but I find her dedication to her son redeeming in many ways. What I find curious (SPOILER) is that the son dies slowly from dehydration, yet the mother survives. Ultimately, she and her husband reconcile their differences and the loss of their son somehow stitches their marriage back together, rather than tearing it apart… but what does that have to say about King’s thought’s about her character? Is this her punishment?  I was totally surprised that the son died in the end, alone, in the car that he was stuck in for over two days. Poor little guy…

Right at the end, King enters a post script about Cujo:

“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.”

If free will is not a factor in the things we do… how can we ever be held accountable for our actions? Are we all propelled through our lives without any choice in the matter? (Do all roads lead to The Tower? Do we all serve The Beam?) Perhaps trying to always do the right thing is all we can do to convince ourselves that we are autonomous. Or maybe it’s just an excuse.