Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Thank Gan I had some Stephen King to read. (My car is fine now, by the way, and I've made peace with getting old.)
I'll confess, I waffled on this one. I wasn't sure, until probably the last 20 pages or so, whether or not this one was getting its own post or if it was going on the "skipped stories" list. But I decided Dear Departed David would want me to. Actually, I realized how closely tied to The Dead Zone this book was, and that if I'm doing one, I gotta do the other.
So, without further ado, Let's Dance.
As many of you I'm sure already know, this book has been adapted to film before. I confess, this is another adaptation I have never seen. I've heard both wonderful and horrible things about it, some from the same people. Could this one stand to be updated? I don't know. Time may change it, but it can't change time. But while Cujo's film version might not completely supplant the novel like Kubrick's The Shining did, the name "Cujo" has become synonymous with "big scary dog" over the years, so much so that I don't think a big scary dog has appeared on a television show since the early 80's without someone on the show making a "Cujo" reference.
I'd never read this one up until now. I still don't know what I was waiting for, and my time was running wild. Several things struck me about it. First, from what I've read about it, Stephen King wrote this while so wracked out of his mind on drink and drugs that he swears he hardly remembers writing it at all. The result, however, is a pretty lucid story. It is very strange to think of a man out of his mind on mind-altering substances writing something so coherent. I mean not one plot thread is left hanging, nor does anyone suddenly have a bizarre out-of-character moment. The only truly strange aspect of the novel is that there are no chapter breaks. There are scene changes, but no chapter breaks, or page breaks of any kind. Each page was a wall of text, with only the occasional blank line to let us know the scene had changed. It was kinda...weird, at first, but I got used to it.
Another thing that struck me was how much I cared about the B-plots. Get this: the husband in the main protagonist couple, Vic Trenton, is an ad-man (continuing King's habit of making his protagonists creative types) whose livelihood is in jeopardy due to a cereal company he does ads for using a red dye that, due to an error, not only looks just like blood when in liquid form but also doesn't break down, causing a rash of panicked parents who think their kids are bleeding internally. As you might imagine, this is causing some trouble for the company, but especially for the ad-men in question, Vic and his partner. See, they came up with an ad campaign featuring an old professor talking about how healthy these cereals were in addition to tasting good. His catchphrase is, after taking a bite of the cereal, "Nope, nothing wrong here." Except now he's saying that about a cereal that appears to be giving kids bloody stool.
It's hard to believe how much I cared that Vic and Roger not lose their account. But that's not the only B-plot I cared about.
Cujo's owners are a pair of Maine rednecks, Joe and Charity Camber, and their son Brett. Joe's a mechanic and after he does some fine work for cheap on Vic's car, Vic's wife Donna is quick to remember them when she needs her needle gauge looked at. This sets up the main plot. We meet Cujo early on, when he's a friendly dog, and Donna and Vic's son, four-year-old Tad, falls right in love with the huggable old pooch. That only makes what happens later all the more heart-rending, but we'll get to that in a minute.
See, the Cambers aren't just there to introduce Cujo. They get their own plot where it turns out that Joe is abusive, mainly just because he doesn't know another way to treat a woman, and Charity has just won the lottery, seeing this as a great way to get away from Joe for a bit, possibly forever, and bring Brett out of Joe's influence. I truly cared about all this as well.
But for some reason I'm talking about B-plots when I haven't explained the A-plot yet. And you might not even know it, even if you think you do.
Everything starts off with Vic hearing his baby, crying hard as babe could cry. What could he do? Actually, Tad's not a baby, he's four, and he's convinced there's a monster in his closet. In what might be the most ambiguous case of "maybe magic, maybe mundane", King hints that, while there's not really a monster in there, All is Not Well with Tad's closet. There's also multiple hints that the murderous, and dead, Frank Dodd, from The Dead Zone, might not have entirely left Castle Rock.
Vic Trenton and his business partner Roger Breakstone recently split from a big New York ad company in order to start their own business, settling it in Maine. The move is good for Vic's business, but not so good for Donna, his young wife, who does not take to the small town of Castle Rock. She starts to feel like her life is going off the rails...well, there's a lot of reasons for her to do what she does, and frankly, there's no reason that, to me, can make it sound okay.
This is sorta spoiler territory, though it's revealed in the first fourth of the book, so it doesn't really spoil too much. Donna, wanting to still feel young and free, starts innocently flirting with Steve Kemp, a local guy who owns a furniture finishing shop. Soon that "innocent flirting" explodes into a full-on affair. Steve turns out to be an utter jerk, and reminds her that she really loves her husband, so she breaks it off.
Now, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for cheaters. I'll let you decide why. But King does manage to, eventually, bring even me around to hoping she doesn't die. The plot really kicks in, you see, after Vic leaves on his business trip, hoping to use that time to decide what he wants to do concerning his marriage. Vic is probably one thing King could have done a little differently; Donna's reasons for cheating are flimsy as it is, though I'd argue there are no strong reasons, but on top of that, Vic is practically a perfect man. He's a wonderful father, a loving husband and if anything, the only real issue with him is he's a bit of a nerd. Perhaps in a film adaptation, something like a porn addiction or unthinkingly making Donna feel abandoned with all his business trips could be added. We're supposed to like Donna, after all, and it took me a while before I did. I'm honestly not sure I ever really liked her, just hoped she wouldn't die, because if she does, Tad does.
And then there's Tad. (stops blogging for a while so he can have a good cry). Sorry, what was I talking about?
Parents, you're gonna have a hard time with this one.
But while Vic is gone, Donna has car trouble, and, thinking it will just be a quick fix, drives over the Cambers' place with Tad in tow. She has no idea that Charity has gone on her trip without realizing that lovable old Cujo has been bitten by a rabid bat, and is slowly growing murderous. Joe has already found that out firsthand, as it were, and no one is waiting now at the Camber home, out in the sticks, except a dog determined to kill the next human he sees. Donna's car promptly dies after successfully arriving in the Cambers' driveway, and from there it's a case of watching some good friends scream "let me out!"
Now to casting. As always, I won't be casting the kids.
Donna is the true main character, here, so I wanted an actress who audiences already like and who has carried several films herself, and yet was young enough to play a 29-year-old mom. Being a likable actress would also help audiences forgive her extra-marital dalliance. Jennifer Lawrence is 25 and America's Sweetheart, so she'll have no trouble getting everyone on her side. I actually pictured Anna Kendrick in the role, but Kendrick is already 30 and might age out too quickly.
Coming up in the next short while here; another Skipped Stories post and a new take on an old Schwarzenegger movie. I don't know what order I'll do those in.
And after that...it's gonna get Dark.
Next Up: The Running Man!