“Salem’s Lot”- Book Review
Another year has passed, and thus another Halloween has come and gone. This October, I really wanted to sink my teeth into a story that fit nicely into the Halloween spirit. I thought long and hard about which author I’d choose from: Edgar Allan Poe? H.P. Lovecraft? Bram Stoker? In the end, I decided to continue my ventures into the work of the master of horror himself, Stephen King. And since I’ve gotten a taste of King’s past and modern prose, I figured that this time around, I take a look back at one of his earliest novels.
Published in 1975, Salem’s Lot tells the story of Ben Mears, a novelist who returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, after a 25-year absence. He plans on writing a book about the Marsten house, a long-abandoned mansion that sits atop a hill overlooking the Lot (and the site of a traumatizing childhood experience). As he re-familiarizes himself with the town and its residents, something strange begins to occur. A young boy disappears. Another dies under mysterious circumstances. The arrival of an elusive outsider prompts unnerving talk among the community. And that’s only the beginning. A dark cloud looms over Jerusalem’s Lot, and Ben soon discovers the town he once knew is quickly transforming into something dangerous.
Similar to other King books I’ve read (all two of them), the strongest aspect of Salem’s Lot is the writing. No matter how good or how bonkers certain parts of the story are, they’re all structured in such an interesting way that I found myself consistently invested from page to page. King tends to convey his narratives through multiple perspectives- that of main characters, secondary characters, tertiary characters, sometimes even personified environments- and each is fleshed out in extensive detail. As a result, the plot itself feels three-dimensional and the characters more nuanced. It also makes for a suspenseful read, as the slight non-linear quality keeps things unexpected.
King’s technique works especially well here, as it allows the reader to experience the horror and anxiety surrounding the town’s metamorphosis through the eyes of the people living there. The best parts of the book are when it focuses on the community, and less when the focus is purely on our protagonists. Ben Mears and his love interest, Susan Norton, are very average characters. They have solid backstories, and seem good-natured at their core. But as a whole, they were just too bland for my taste. Other characters within their orbit, however- including a young boy named Mark Petrie, the humorous old professor, Matt Burke, and Dr. Jimmy Cody- have far more interesting personalities, and thus are easier to connect with.
The execution of the horror angle is pretty well done. The scares are far less outrageous than the ones in, say, IT, though they’re equally creepy. That being said, there’s not a ton of creativity in terms of how the vampires are portrayed. King sticks with basic concepts of vampire lore- including sleeping in coffins, flying, fangs, stakes, holy water, etc. Not much is added creatively to make these creatures or the main villain stand out. And it’s a shame because I would’ve loved to imagine what a wholly unique Stephen King vampire would be like.
As is, Salem’s Lot was a fine read, and a good fit for Halloween. It didn’t particularly scare me- which seems to be a recurring opinion of mine on King’s work so far- but it still managed to deliver a few effectively creepy moments. Even through the page the town of Jerusalem’s Lot feels lived in, and its residents feel fleshed out and real. The other characters, however, both good and evil, are easily forgettable, and if King’s writing wasn’t so strong, this book would’ve been a sinking ship. Nonetheless, it was a good read, one that complimented the Halloween season.