‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
The town knew darkness...and the awful, heavy silence of terrifying images grotesquely dancing in and out of the shadows...and stark white faces, huge empty eyes and long gnarled hands that reached out with lustful insistence...and the paralyzing fear of a diabolical corruption and a hideous peril more dreadful than death.
But no one living in ‘Salem’s Lot dared talk about the high, sweet, evil laughter of a child...and the terrible sucking sounds...
Aside: It's about that time again, when Wren and I pick a book / movie combo to review. This month (we seem to have fallen into a monthly habit) we give you our opinions on this "classic" vampire tale. So sit back and enjoy.
Guess what? ‘Salem’s Lot is the first Stephen King novel I’ve ever read. I bet you’re all gasping in surprise right now at how I could have avoided reading King until my mid-20s, but there you have it. I guess it goes hand-in-hand with not having read Interview with the Vampire until a couple of months ago.
Onwards, then, to an actual review, which is what you’re here for, right?
Part of the reason for reading this book, aside from filling in some of my fiction blind spots, is the vampire thing, which you all know by now is part of my studies. I have to tell you – there are no vampires in this novel until something like 150 pages in (your number may vary depending on edition). Up until that point, there are many descriptions of the people that live in this town – ‘Salem’s Lot – and some vague hints at a possible ghost story. If I hadn’t known going in that it was a vampire novel, I probably would not have picked up on that for a good long while. Reading about all of these different townspeople wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea. To be honest, until people started getting killed I was pretty bored and wishing that the story would get on with it. There was a lot of pontificating on the evils of society and the slow crumble of the moral fibre of the younger generation. Boring. The only upside to this long introduction is that when people die, and they die, believe me, their deaths have more impact on the reader.
The vampires were appropriately scary and not at all romantic or sexy, which was nice, but expected from everything I had previously read about them in my research. Barlow (the main vampire guy) didn’t scare me too much, but the child vampires are terrifying (all child vampires are, trust me). Nothing creepier than a little kid ready to rip your throat out. Little monsters. It was refreshing to read what I would consider to be proper vampires that don't sparkle and make it their life-mission, umm death-mission?, to make humans suffer. Barlow was not a nice guy, even if he didn't scare the pants off me as I had secretly hoped he would.
And now I’m going to be a bit of a hypocrite, so please excuse me. I really didn’t like how much the main character, Ben Mears, made me think of King – tall, dark-haired writer guy. It was one of the things that really bothered me about the novel. Why does this make me a hypocrite? Well, because I read plenty of novels where writers write about pretty much themselves and I enjoy them (The Bell Jar, The Red Tree, etc.) but I didn’t like it here. I suspect my dislike stems from Ben Mears becoming a hero, which seems too much like self-satisfying fantasy. You’re supposed to more or less like Mears, whereas I don’t think you can truly like Esther Greenwood or Sarah Crowe; they are not heroic in the least. Mears needed flaws to make him a likeable and believable character, and aside from having gotten into a motorcycle accident he just wasn't measuring up in the flawed human being department. I much prefer self-centered navel-gazing to self-centered hero-creation I guess.
Something I did like is that King isn’t squeamish about building up characters and then killing them off. I mean, it’s pretty obvious from the prologue that not a whole lot of people survive Barlow’s move into ‘Salem’s Lot, but knowing that and seeing it unfold are two different things. Which isn’t to say that I necessarily had a strong emotional attachment to any of the characters. Still, a couple of deaths were surprising to me (regardless of the prologue) just because they felt counter to what you’re used to reading these days in vampire books. Interestingly enough, the characters who survive are the ones I cared the least about – go figure, right.
Overall though, I have to say that ‘Salem’s Lot is worth reading if you’re interested in the vampire genre and if you want to read something that doesn’t romanticize the bloodsucking undead. While the book did feel like it was dragging with all of the different glimpses into the lives of the townspeople in the end there was quite a bit of action and vampire-hunting that mostly made up for the earlier slowness. If you can get through the first 200 pages without putting it down you get a pay-off at the end.
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