Title: ‘Salem’s Lot
Author: Stephen King
Length: 653 pages
It would be a little obvious at this point in time to review It, as the new movie has just dropped into theaters. Instead, I decided to bring attention to another Stephen King novel that I read over the summer. ‘Salem’s Lot might not inspire media attention on the level of It , but King’s second novel is a fantastic read all the same. Also, it features blood-thirsty vampires, which are way scarier than clowns any day.
I am vaguely aware of the television and movie versions of ‘Salem’s Lot but I have not watched any of them at the time of writing. Judging from the reviews, that may be a good thing. I was inspired to read the book, however, after taking a wickedly delightful trip to Salem, Massachusetts this past summer. As I wandered through the dark and twisting halls of a horror themed wax museum (Count Orlock’s Nightmare Emporium), I unwittingly stumbled upon the terrifyingly life-like figure of a Nosferatu style vampire climbing out of a coffin. The nearby plaque read “‘Salem’s Lot,” and I knew that I would have to find out more about it.
The tale begins after the events of the novel have already transpired, but then quickly flashes back so that the reader experiences the events of the story unfolding in real time. Ben Mears, a writer (because it’s a Stephen King novel, after all) is the main character. He is a bit on the stoic side and he is also wrestling with the psychological effects of a terrible tragedy in his past. He returns to his childhood home, Bethlehem’s Lot, to finish work on his next big novel. The Marsten House, complete with a horrific and haunted backstory, constantly looms over the little New England town as an insidious newcomer to the town and his silver-tongued servant take up residence there.
Along the way, Ben Mears meets up with a clever and pretty girl-next-door named Susan Norton and quickly strikes up a relationship with her that earns him the ire of her sort-of-boyfriend. The story is populated with many secondary characters, the most interesting of whom become part of the vampire hunting team. Father Callahan is a flawed but capable Irish priest, Matt Burke is a cultured and open-minded English teacher, and Jimmy Cody is a tough-as-nails physician. Additionally, Mark Petrie is a precocious, horror movie obsessed teenager who I find to be easy to relate to, as I imagine many readers will. The well-drawn personalities of the characters are a major strength of this story. King makes you care about all of them, some more than others, before all hell breaks lose.
The vampire thread of the plot moves very slowly for the first couple of hundred pages while King sets up the personalities of his characters and of the town as a whole. ‘Salems Lot itself comes across as a living, albeit sickly, organism rather than as a static setting. The pace can be frustrating, but is ultimately worth it because the reader cares much more about the characters by the time the true horror is unleashed upon the town. And, dear reader, let me assure you that the vampiric horror unleashed upon ‘Salem’s Lot is truly devastating. The level of destruction and death visited upon this little town is fairly shocking. No characters should be considered safe at any point in the story. I would love to write more on this point, but it would be to invite spoilers. Suffice to say that it is truly shocking.
If you are in the mood for a terrifying, troubling, and merciless horror story, then ‘Salem’s Lot is a great choice. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is extremely well-written horror. It also mirrors and pays homage to Dracula, which is an added treat for classic literature nerds like myself. It might not have clowns, but it does have a classy and deadly vampire capable of producing hordes of zombie-like vampire minions. That’s my kind of horror.