‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Rating: 5 of 5

Vampirism at its blood-thirsty best: no angsty teenagers; no forbidden love; and, most certainly, no effin sparkles.

Here’s the gist:

Ben Mears, a widowed author, returns to his childhood home – the rural town of Jerusalem’s Lot, known by the locals simply as ‘salem’s Lot – planning to write his latest novel while living in the town’s infamous, some speculate haunted, Marsten House. But upon arrival he learns the house was recently sold. So, instead, Ben rents a room in the town’s boarding house and soon after meets, and falls for, a local woman, Susan Norton.

Meanwhile, the new owners of the Marsten House – Barlow and Straker – have plans of their own; first, open an antique store in town; second, convert the Lot’s residents, every single one of them. Before anyone realizes the truth behind recent disappearances, deaths, and a contagious illness, the infestation consumes the town. Ben, along with a handful of others who understand what’s really happening in ‘salem’s Lot, must fight for their lives and the town’s survival, or join Barlow’s ranks.

Here are my two cents:

First, full disclosure, I love ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s a 5-star book in my eyes and no one can tell me otherwise. This was the third time I’d read it and still, when I left the safety of my well lit bedroom for a drink or restroom break, I had to cut on lights before entering or passing through each room on the way. Nearly forty years after publication and it hasn’t lost its creepy-crawly grip on my imagination; King’s talent for description and atmosphere being major factors, I’m sure.

The run up the hallway, the horrible scream of the door as he pulled it open, the dangling figure suddenly opening its hideous puffed eyes, himself turning to the door in the slow, sludgy panic of dreams–

And finding it locked (p. 33).

The first time I read ‘Salem’s Lost, in my early teens, Mark Petrie was my favorite character; he remains so after this, my third reading. There’s something deeply affecting about a kid being stronger and smarter than the adults. And all because Mark hadn’t lost the ability to believe in every possibility, not just those seen or proved conclusively. (Okay, his slight obsession with monsters and horror fiction might’ve helped, too.)

Before drifting away entirely, he found himself reflecting…on the peculiarity of adults. They took…sleeping pills to drive away their terrors…and their terrors were so tame and domestic. They were pallid compared to the fears every child lies cheek and jowl with in his dark bed, with no one to confess to in hope of perfect understanding but another child (p.242).

And, perhaps more importantly than strong heroes, the villains were ruthless and cunning. Straker, as the obedient slave, freaked me out almost as much as his master. But nothing surpassed Barlow – old, powerful, and pure evil. He was neither ashamed nor fought against his nature; he accepted and relished being vampire. There was nothing sexy or romantic about Barlow, or his minions.

A shuddering groan escaped him, and he put his hands over his face.

I can’t. I am afraid.

He could not have risen even if the brass knob on his own door had begun to turn. He was paralyzed with fear and wished crazily that he had never gone out to Dell’s that night.

I am afraid.

And in the awful heavy silence of the house, as he sat impotently on his bed with his face in his hands, he heard the high, sweet, evil laugh of a child —

–and then the sucking sounds (p. 165).

Here’s what you might not like about ‘Salem’s Lot:

* No one is safe; every character is vulnerable.

* There is animal violence; first a dog and later rats.

* There are a couple scenes of child abuse.

* Most of the story is told in close third person; however, in certain chapters, King does zoom out to provide a broader view of the town as a whole.

* The novel’s structure. It’s not told in typical linear format. From a chronological view, it starts around the three-quarter mark, flashes back to the beginning (where we’re at for 90% of the story), flashes forward to where we began, and ends at the end (of this story).

* The climax – the direct confrontation of Barlow – happens pretty fast. It may feel rushed to some readers.

* The ending may come too soon for those readers emotionally invested in Ben and Mark.

Final thoughts

For anyone who read Stoker’s Dracula and hungered for more along those lines, I recommend ‘Salem’s Lot. For diehard fans of sexy vampires or sparkly vampires, you should probably skip ‘Salem’s Lot.

[Please don’t misinterpret the above. I’m a sucker (HA!) for certain sexy vamps; an addiction to the Sookie Stackhouse series and HBO’s True Blood are well known to my peeps. But I draw the line at Twilight; vampires should never, ever, sparkle in daylight.]

6 comments

  1. Sparkling vampires. *shudder* Bunch of pathetic whiners.

    You know, I think I’ve been swayed way too much by the campy movies made of the King novels. Your review piqued my interest.

    Now, to add it to my long list of TBRs…

    1. Yay! Be sure to let me know what you think when you get around to ‘Salem’s Lot.

      P.S. My TBR pile is never-ending, but that’s a good thing, right? Goddess knows I never wanna run out of books to read.

    1. I hope you do get to read it this year – you won’t be disappointed, I don’t think. And I still like you even though you’re a Twilight-er 😉 Hell, my own sister liked the books, until the last one, and then she was TOTALLY peeved – ranted to me for at least an hour LOL.

      Anne Rice’s vampires are in my Top 5, no doubt. But the Mayfair Witches are my fave of hers.

  2. A very informative and very well written review, Leah. Impressive. Most impressive. lol Whenever I read these it makes me self conscious about my own writing ability. Stop it. 🙂

    It’s funny that you reviewed this. Salem’s Lot was actually going to be my next book to read, but alas, my craptacular library didn’t have it even though they said it was available. *shakes fist in the air* You’ve succeed in increasing my anticipation to check it out so I guess I’ll have to look for it elsewhere.

    “Stephanie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.” – Stephen King

    1. Yeah, I remember reading King’s remarks, but I think it went deeper. He was talking about the comparison between JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer (Harry Potter vs. Twilight) or something like that. But, hey, I don’t hate on Meyers … too much. 😀 She penned bestsellers and probably banked tons of moolah with the movie rights. So she did her job well in the eyes of her target audience. And for most authors that’s all they care about: their audience, the people they hoped would like their story.

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