When I first started down this road of reading all of Grant's horror fiction (just two months ago now), I had initially just wanted to read what other readers determined to be his best work. The Pet was one of the books that had the highest ratings and praise, so I've been looking forward to reading this novel.
The story is a good one, and it's pretty different from Grant's previous novels. For one, the protagonist of the story is hard to pin down. Don is a teenager who's being unfairly singled out by his teachers, parents, and classmates, enough so that he starts fantasizing about revenge. His fantasies begin to take form in reality, though not necessarily due to his own actions. He starts off as being a sympathetic character, but then he starts seeing persecution from all angles, even when it's not there, and he slowly shifts over to being an unsympathetic character, but then he regrets what he's wrought, so he becomes sympathetic again. . . . It jumps back and forth in this style, so it's hard to get a handle on the character. Are we supposed to care about him, or is he just another whiny teenager?
This isn't a criticism, necessarily; Stephen King did the same with Arnie Cunningham in Christine, to good effect, but where Arnie wound up just being one of the antagonists, Don is someone dealing with something out of his control. I actually found Don to be a more complex character than what Grant created in his previous novels. It was just difficult to figure out where the heart of the story was, since it was difficult to pin down who the protagonist really was. I would have bet that Tracey, Don's romantic interest in the story, was the one, but the focus of the story remained with Don more than anyone else.
Grant drops his atmospheric style with this novel, like he also did with Stunts (and Night Songs and The Tea Party), making me wonder if he intended for his non-Oxrun books to be more traditional horror stories. Even though the story is less atmospheric than his Oxrun Station books, there are still bits and pieces of that style peppered throughout the book:
"He liked the autumn nights, the way the air felt like thin ice on a pond, crisp and clean and ready to shatter as soon as you touched it. . . ."
And he continues to adeptly draw a vivid scene with as few words as possible. His settings are so succinctly, completely described that it makes me jealous.
I can see why this is considered to be Grant's best work (based on what I've read so far, at least). It has a good pace and plot, combines his atmosphere (such as it is) with a more traditional story, and it's engaging. The menace works well, and Grant does a good job of capturing the wavering Don feels between wanting revenge and wanting to regain control of it. I can't say for certain if I would have been able to appreciate it as well without having read all of his other fiction up to this point, though.