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First edition cover
|Publication date||September 8, 1981|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Stephen King discusses Cujo in On Writing, referring to it as a novel he "barely remembers writing at all". The book was written during a period when King was drinking heavily. Somewhat wistfully, King goes on to say that he likes the book and that he wishes he could remember enjoying the good parts as he put them down on the page.
The story takes place in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, the setting of numerous King works, and revolves around two local families. The narrative is interspersed with vignettes from the seemingly mundane lives of various other residents. There are no chapter headings, but rather breaks in between passages, which indicate when the narration switches to a different point of view.
The principal characters are the Trenton and the Camber families. The middle-class Trenton family have recently moved to Castle Rock from New York, bringing with them their four-year-old son, Tad. Father Vic discovers that his wife Donna has recently concluded an affair. In the midst of this household tension, Vic's fledgling advertising agency is failing, and he is forced to travel out of town, leaving his wife and son behind. The blue-collar Camber family are longtime residents; Joe is a shade-tree mechanic who dominates and abuses his wife Charity and their ten-year-old son Brett. Charity wins the state lottery, and uses the proceeds to inveigle Joe into allowing her to take Brett on a trip to visit Charity's sister, Holly, in Connecticut. Joe secretly plans to use the time to take a pleasure trip to Boston.
His large, good-natured St. Bernard, Cujo chases a rabbit in the fields around the Cambers' house and gets his head stuck in the entrance to a small limestone cave where a crazed bat bites him on the nose and infects him with an especially virulent strain of rabies, the disease which makes Cujo mad in one day. Soon after Charity and Brett leave town, Cujo attacks and kills their neighbor Gary Pervier at his home and Joe from calling authorities for help.
Donna, home alone with Tad, takes their failing Ford Pinto to the Cambers' for repairs. The car breaks down in Camber's dooryard and as Donna attempts to find Joe, Cujo appears and is ready to pounce. She climbs back in the car and Cujo starts to attack. Donna and Tad become trapped in their vehicle, the interior of which is becoming increasingly hot in the hot sun. During one escape attempt, Donna is bitten in the stomach and leg, but manages to survive and escape back into the car. She considers running for the Cambers' home but is afraid the door will be locked and she will be subsequently killed by Cujo, leaving her son alone, and abandons her idea.
Vic returns to Castle Rock after several failed attempts to contact Donna and learns from the police that Steve Kemp, the man with whom Donna was having an affair, is suspected of ransacking his home and possibly kidnapping Donna and Tad. In an effort to explore all leads, the state police send Castle Rock Sheriff George Bannerman out to the Cambers' house, before Cujo attacks and kills him. Donna witnesses this and knows Tad is dying of dehydration, she faces Cujo down with a bat, breaking it over his head and fatally stabbing him in the eye with the broken end. Vic arrives immediately afterwards, only to discover that Tad is dead. Donna is rushed to the hospital, Cujo's head is removed for a biopsy and his body is cremated.
The novel ends several months later with both the Trentons and the Cambers trying to go on with their lives: Donna has completed her treatment for rabies and survived her marriage with Vic. Charity giving Brett a new, vaccinated puppy named Willie, and a postscript reminds the reader that Cujo was a good dog who always tried to do the right thing by his owners, but the ravage of rabies drove him to violence.