Cujo was a good-natured St. Bernard with a family who loved him. But a bite on the snout from a rabid bat changed everything for him in a flash. Now he’s infected with the rabies virus and on the prowl with an unslakable thirst for blood. Donna Trenton and her son Tad, are taking their shitty lemon of a car to the mechanic for repairs, and their mechanic, Joe Cambers, just so happens to be Cujo’s former owner. Unbeknownst to Donna, Cujo already made quick work dispatching Joe but his rabies induced blood lust is insatiable! He attacks them, but they move quickly and lock themselves in the car. Donna hopes to drive away, but her Ford Pinto isn’t in good shape and just won’t start. Now they’re trapped in the car, in the middle of a sweltering summer, with no one around for miles to help. And Cujo doesn’t plan on letting this precious quarry out of his sight.
“It was possible that one of them might call him BADDOG. And at this particular moment he certainly considered himself to be a BADDOG” (King 21).
- Donna Trenton: wife and mother, Donna’s marriage is on the rocks because of a recent affair she had but she’s willing to try to keep her family together
- Vic Trenton: a married man and advertising executive who recently found out about his wife’s infidelity. Vic goes out-of-town for work for a few days and hopes to put the affair out of his mind
- Tad Trenton: Donna and Vic’s young son
- Steve Kemp: hot-headed tennis player Donna had her affair with, he doesn’t take the break lightly and vandalizes the Trenton home afterwards
- Joe Camber: a country mechanic who Donna tries to take her car to for repairs
- Charity Camber: Joe’s wife, who takes her son on a trip out-of-town after winning a decent lottery prize
- George Bannerman: the Castle Rock Sheriff who tries to help Donna and Tad
- Cujo: the eponymous rabid dog who terrorizes and kills everyone in his path
This story takes place in King’s fictional town Castle Rock, Maine. Vic and Donna Trenton have recently moved to Castle Rock with their young son Tad and do not have a happy marriage. Donna started having an affair with Steve Kemp, a local who does not handle the break well. Vic finds out about Donna’s affair and leaves town for work, leaving Donna to worry about how they might possibly amend their marriage. Donna is left with the couple’s unreliable Ford Pinto while Vic is away.
The Pinto gives Donna a lot of grief, so she decides to take it to the mechanic for repairs. The mechanic is Joe Camber, who operates his shop on his home property and also happens to be the owner of one affable St. Bernard. Joe’s wife Charity Camber comes into $5000 of lottery winnings and decides to take their son Brett away on a trip with her, while Joe plans a little pleasure trip of his own after wrapping up a few jobs. Cujo viciously attacks and kills Joe before he ever gets the chance to leave. When Donna shows up at the Camber property with her car she’s attacked by Cujo and barely makes it to the safety of her car. With Joe dead and no one around for miles she tries numerous times to get the car started so they can escape, but it refuses to start.
Donna engages in a days long ordeal trying to plan a route of escape and save Tad, while Cujo watches relentlessly, waiting for his opportunity to strike. It’s a hot summer and the temperatures in the car are stifling Donna and Tad. With no water, and no imaginable means of escape, Donna realizes she’ll need to face Cujo head on if she wants to save herself and Tad.
Most Gripping Moments:
- Cujo’s vicious attack and killing of Joe Camber
- Donna’s desperate dash to the car when Cujo first appears
- Cujo’s relentless attacks on the vehicle, slamming his body into the doors, bashing the windshield, terrorizing Donna and Tad while he tries to gain access to them
- Donna’s hard-fought battle to get her hands on the baseball bat and her ultimate fight to the death with Cujo
- George Bannerman is a character in this novel who also appeared in The Dead Zone. References are made to his most infamous case, catching Frank Dodd a.k.a. the Castle Rock Strangler
- Tad fears that Frank Dodd haunts his closet
- The dog Cujo is also referenced in The Dark Half, Needful Things, and Pet Sematary, the story of the rabid dog that killed is now common Castle Rock lore
I watched the movie version when I was a little girl long before I ever read the novel and I vividly remembered Donna and Tad suffering inside the car. It was an exciting movie to me, back then, I remember being glued to the screen. The book brought it all back in glorious detail. I could smell their sweat and fear filling the car, I could feel Donna’s body radiating terror, and I could picture Cujo’s disgusting frothy face watching them from the barn.
This is a fast-paced read, with no chapter breaks throughout making it hard to stop. King weaves this story together deftly with some of the key characters from The Dead Zone, adding to the Castle Rock canon. King gives us multiple narrative perspectives throughout the story, including Cujo’s. The readers are able to initially sympathize with the gentle family dog who made an unfortunate mistake when he chased that rabbit into a cave, and we begin to fear him more and more as rabies induced madness overcomes him. Donna is not an overly likeable character, but once engaged in battle with Cujo, you have to root for her, you want her to escape.
I heard that King wrote this book during a three-day long alcohol and cocaine fuelled mania and doesn’t even remember writing it. I’m so floored by that. I’m sure the editing process helped elevate the story and refine it tremendously, and even though it’s not a literary masterpiece by any stretch, it’s a highly entertaining and enjoyable read. All of the plot lines are cohesively connected, the characterization is strong, and it doesn’t attempt to toy with unnecessary supernatural elements. It is an entirely plausible scenario that could happen to anyone, and if did, would be absolutely terrifying. I’m not sure many people would have the courage that Donna ultimately does to battle Cujo head-on. A mother desperate to save her child is capable of extraordinary action, there are so many iterations of this theme in fiction and I appreciated King’s understated way of depicting it in Cujo.
Scary Factor: 5/10
An enthralling read that is difficult to put down and gets under your skin. More harrowing ordeal than nightmare fuel. It’s sad when good dogs go bad, and even sadder when someone puts their faith in a Pinto.
King, Stephen. Cujo. New York: New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 1981. Print.