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Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Well, 2016 is getting off to a rollicking start for yours truly. First I had my less-than-two-years-old car battery die on me when I was at a bus station. Then I reached the day that I realized I can't pretend to be in my mid-30's anymore. And then, a day late, I learned that the Thin White Duke died. On my birthday.

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.
Vic was a bit harder. Handsome, but nerdy, he's described as being 31, and I had a hard time thinking of nerdy-looking actors that weren't too screwball-comic or too old. I didn't feel like an A-lister was needed here, because while he's called upon to carry the B-plot, this is really Donna's story. So I went with Sam Huntington. At 33, he also is close to too old, but he's got a baby face.
Steve Kemp is a fascinating character. A total monster, with zero redeeming qualities besides being handsome, it struck me that this was likely the King avatar in this story. You know how King likes to make his protagonists writers of some kind or another? Well, here, Steve's the writer, a wannabe poet, in fact. And his name is three letters off from Stephen King's own. Knowing what state King was in when he wrote this, I wonder if this wasn't caused by a bout of self-loathing? Kemp is described as being tall, muscular, tanned, handsome and bearded. He's 38 and going grey (trying not to think about how old I just turned...) An image immediately formed in my head, and it looked like Joe Manganiello.
Roger Breakstone, Vic's partner, might very well be the first fat character King has written about that we're not supposed to either loathe or pity. If anything, he's the real driving force behind Ad-Worx, his and Vic's company. His fatness even plays into his ability to make clients instantly trust him. But he's not just Vic's partner, he's his best friend. I pictured him played by portly, lovable Anthony Anderson.
Then there's Joe Camber, the stereotypical redneck. Does anyone play rednecks better than Kevin Rankin? He just fits right into the part.
I had a harder time casting his wife, Charity, a sympathetic character who I pictured as looking like a dowdy housewife but no actress would come to my mind. Finally I went with Robin Weigert, who's known for playing decidedly non-glamorous characters. She's a bit older than Rankin, but then, Charity's supposed to look several years older than she is, having lived as a housewife to an abusive husband.
A side character is Gary Pervier, neighbor to the Cambers and Joe's best friend. He's not in the story very long, but makes an impression. He's old, getting fat, a total drunk and no longer cares about anything. Jeff Garlin could play this role in his sleep.
Finally, there's Sheriff George Bannerman, who comes into the story rather late, but it was his presence that made me feel like this story needed to be part of the SKCU. WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. See, we're not done with Castle Rock. Not in the slightest. And Bannerman's absence from future stories needs to be addressed. So, come on back, Chris Bauer, and play Bannerman once more.
Let me please advise you to keep some tissues handy should you decide to read this, assuming you haven't already. I found myself a weepy mess several times toward the end, especially in a scene that involved playing with ducks. I also need to caution animal lovers; this is not going to sit well with you. But all in all, I am really glad I read it. I admit, I kinda avoided this one for years, because it sounded like it would be tedious and not at all scary. I was younger back then.

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's gonna get Dark.

Next Up: The Running Man!


  1. Nice and well-timed shout-out to David Bowie. I'm not sure I'll ever want to read this book, but I didn't realize at first who you were casting Chris Bauer as, having only read Needful Things and The Body among the Castle Rock books (and a couple of short stories that I don't think featured the sheriff). That's an excellent choice. A thousand times yes. My only other feedback would be that I think Anna Kendrick actually looks quite a bit younger than J-Law, who was pretty convincing as significantly older in American Hustle. Not that I object, but I'm sure there are multiple female roles either could play.

    1. I didn't have the David Bowie shout-out planned. But once I thought of it I had to do it.

      George Bannerman only appears in this book and The Dead Zone, but the next Castle Rock story introduces a new sheriff, and this is the book that tells you why that's necessary.

      I do recommend this one. I admit, I only read it because of my Mission To Read Everything, and I had no plans to blog it when I started. But I was hooked early on. It's a simple, fast-paced read with an absolutely heart-destroying ending.

  2. I thought of that right after I read it. I remembered the Needful Things sheriff is Alan Pangborn or something like that. Bauer is still a good choice for sheriff, though.

    The heart-destroying thing is what doesn't appeal to me about this book. You and I share the same affinity for kids.

    1. It's hard to read, I agree. I have to give myself moments to recover after I read stuff like that.

      Pangborn first shows up in The Dark Half, I think.

  3. I think it might work even better if you flip-flopped Huntington and Manganiello. Have Donna be cheating on him with the guy you WOULDN'T expect, and it becomes more interesting.

    I'm a fan of the original movie. Dee Stone is phenomenal, and the work done by the animals and their trainers is even better.

    Weigert for Charity is genius. I'm a big fan of those subplots in the book, too, by the way; King is so good with characters that they don't even feel like subplots to me, they feel like the whole reason he's writing the book at all.

    1. I see what you're going for there, but I'm not sure it would work in context with the film.

      After reading your ranking of Stephen King movies, I thought this movie sounded pretty good. Other places I've gone say it's terrible. I'm inclined to believe it's more good than bad, but it's weird how everyone involved with it were rising stars at the time and absolute nobodies now.

      And you're right, they're not subplots. How Stephen King managed to make them so interesting, though, is incredible.

      Almost done The Running Man, stay tuned for a post ASAP!