In traditional Stephen King fashion, a small town becomes a central character in a story of growing isolation and darkness, with a sinister presence becoming more malevolent and evil than town residents could ever imagine. It's this that becomes the springboard for 'Salem's Lot, a small town in Maine, known formally as Jerusalem's Lot, and where Ben Mears returns to his boyhood home to conquer his old nightmare of one particular house. The Marsten house, so named because of a murder/suicide that ocurred in the 1930s, hasn't been inhabited for decades until Straker and Barlow arrive one day to open an antique shop. While Straker is an odd man, tall and skinny with long fingers and white bald head, Barlow's absence is explained away with an antique buying trip in New York.
Ben Mears' return to 'Salem's Lot is simply to pursue his demons and exorcise a terrifying childhood event from his memory of the Marsten House. He's a young writer with a few small novels published, and his hope is to write away the awful moment he can never seem to rid his nightmares of. He certainly didn't anticipate what he was returning to, since after all, the world of evil is never really gone, only waiting for another chance to rise. I sort of think it trembles in a half-sleep.
And while the town begins to feel the breathing underbelly of terror, beginning with the disappearance of Ralphie Glick and the death of his brother, Danny, a cast of characters flesh out the novel that at its core include the newly returned Ben; Matt Burke, a soon-to-retire high school teacher; Jimmy Cody, the town doctor; Father Callahan, the Catholic priest struggling with his faith and the bottle; and Mark, the twelve-year-old boy whose combination of bookish intelligence and street smarts leads him to beat the bully on the blacktop at recess. The realization of what wakes up only at night in 'Salem's Lot bands this core team to roust out the evil to try to save the town from it, and sometimes, from themselves.
My childhood started in the early '70s but I was a product of the '80s so imagine my thoughts of the previous decade: The early 1970s America sees the coming end of the Vietnam conflict, the Manson murders, and is just now taking seriously that doors really do need to be locked. It seems to be a world primed for the acceptance of true horror in movies and books, not just gory slasher flicks. Stephen King, in his newly found fame with his only ever other published book to date at the time, Carrie, releases another horror story centered around a "what if." What if the villain of Bram Stoker's world came to modern day America? And with the help of his wife's suggestion of a vampire not arriving in a thriving metropolitan city, but rather in a sleepy little town in New England, Stephen King's imagination began to take over. And his vampire isn't charming Dracula, slowly sipping at a victim's veins, as he describes it in his Afterword; instead it is mindless and brutal, the stench announcing its presence far sooner than the literal image before you.
While this is an expertly refined horror story, it's one that must also be remembered for King's incredible writing. This version includes an excellent Introduction and Afterword by King, along with the inclusion of deleted passages, which I enjoyed. The story itself is a long one, and on my Nook it reached almost 500 pages (screens?), so I can imagine what actual printed pages might amount to but never once did I wish it would hurry along. Never once did I think towards the last fifty or so pages that "it's good but it feels like it's never going to end," as I can sometimes do with a chunkster of a book. There are newspaper clippings sprinkled at the beginning and at the end, along with diary entries and letters, but the meat of the story is its action and emotion with the core team and the rest of the townspeople. It's King's storytelling of the average and regular day of random residents that make this story tinge on the possibility of reality. Not only can he evoke the spine-tingling shiver of the image of darkness, but he can also make my heart heavy when reading of certain characters' passings. I gripped the pages with sadness towards the end for a character I would probably call a friend had I known him in real life, and as he boarded a bus to leave the town never to come back, I thought long and hard how he may have fared.
And yes, Stephen King draws on the fear that children will have. Often debated by experts that a child's fear is based on their imagination because they don't know any better yet, others hold firm to the belief that children have a fear of the things that go bump in the night because their innocence has not yet been tainted by the cynicism of adulthood. It's this naivete that makes them more aware of what could be real, more knowledgeable, of the very things that we as adults shrug off and explain away with what we think is more logical.
I would imagine that by now it's clear how much I recommend this book. But if it's not, below I leave you with some of my favorite passages, further evidence of King's magical pen. Horror he may be known for, but it is his writing that will truly be his legacy:
(Nook, location 193) Maybe they were peering out at you with yellow reptilian eyes. And maybe one night watching would not be enough; maybe some night that splintered, crazily hung door would be thrown open, and what you saw standing there would drive you to lunacy at one look. And you couldn't explain that to your mother and father, who were creatures of the light. No more than you could explain to them how, at the age of three, the spare blanket at the foot of the crib turned into a collection of snakes that lay staring at you with flat and lidless eyes. No child ever conquers those fears, he thought. If a fear cannot be articulated, it can't be conquered. And the fears locked in small brains are much too large to pass through the orifice of the mouth. Sooner or later you found someone to walk past all the deserted meetinghouses you had to pass between grinning babyhood and grunting senility. Until tonight. Until tonight when you found out that none of the old fears had been staked - only tucked away in their tiny, child-sized coffins with a wild rose on top.
(Nook, location 277) Before drifting away entirely, he found himself reflecting - not for the first time - on the peculiarity of adults. They took laxatives, liquor, or sleeping pills to drive away their terrors so that sleep would come, and their terrors were so tame and domestic: the job, the money, what the teacher will think if I can't get Jennie nicer clothes, does my wife still love me, who are my friends. 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. There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community social services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach. The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.
(Nook, location 339) At three in the morning the blood runs slow and thick, and slumber is heavy. The soul either sleeps in blessed ignorance of such an hour or gazes about itself in utter despair. There is no middle ground. At three in the morning the gaudy paint is off that old whore, the world, and she has no nose and a glass eye. Gaiety becomes hollow and brittle, as in Poe's castle surrounded by the Red Death. Horror is destroyed by boredom. Love is a dream.About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty novels, including The Stand, The Dark Tower, It, The Shining, oh...what more can be written that one doesn't already know? So here you go, click here to visit this cool author's official website.
One more thing, ladies and gents: He has a new book coming out November 8, 2011. Click here to pre-order 11/22/63 from IndieBound. The lead off for the book is: "The day Kennedy was shot...the day that changed the world...what if you could change it?"