‘Salem’s Lot is the second novel Stephen King wrote and, in my opinion only of course, considerably better than his first. I am rather ambivalent about Carrie; I neither liked nor disliked it. I am glad it wasn’t my first Stephen King novel, as my unadulterated love for all things Stephen King might not have been born. Like Pet Sematary, I put ‘Salem’s Lot in the “classic King” category. It’s a solid, scary vampire novel (as vampire novels should be).
Jerusalem’s Lot, vernacularly known as ‘Salem’s Lot, is the quintessentially pastoral Maine town – on the surface. Scratch that surface and you get the usual lies, corruption, prejudice, and bullying. Scratch a little harder and you’ll discover ‘Salem’s Lot hides abuse, violence, and now, something deeply menacing*. One of my favorite aspects of this novel, like many of King’s novel (particularly Bag of Bones, IT, and Under the Dome), is that the town of ‘Salem’s Lot functions as a character as well as place. The collective psyche of the town’s inhabitants is as sordid as any big city, perhaps more so, thus leaving the town vulnerable and oblivious to the current and new residents. This is ultimately their undoing.
At its core, ‘Salem’s Lot is simply a well-paced, well-plotted novel. The book’s ability to make a simple invitation or an errant scratching noise deeply menacing are what make it terrifying (and what better month to read such a novel than October). Moreover, some of the most disturbing scenes have nothing to do with the vampires and are entirely due to the horrifying proclivities of some of the town’s residents. This is not a novel for the faint of heart. It deals with many of humanities darker issues, the ability of an entire town to look the other way, the triumph of evil and the loss of an entire town. See original review in full here.
*On a separate note, I immensely enjoyed the evil nature of vampires in the novel. Originally published in 1975, neither the author nor novel could have predicted the state of vampire literature today. The average vampire novel today is more likely to romanticize and sexualize the bloodthirsty (vegetarian) undead than to make them menacing. In general, I prefer my vampires to be supremely evil (as long as they’re fictional).
For what it’s worth: “Salem’s Lot recently came in at number four on Rolling Stone’s Best of Stephen King list. I kind of agree.
“The basis of all human fears, he thought. A closed door, slightly ajar.”
“But then fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”
“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 meeting houses 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.”
“Thin clouds form, and the shadows lengthen out. They have no breadth, as summer shadows have; there are no leaves on the trees or fat clouds in the sky to make them thick. They are gaunt, mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth. As the sun nears the horizon, its benevolent yellow begins to deepen, to become infected, until it glares an angry inflamed orange. It throws a variegated glow over the horizon.”
“The town has a sense, not of history, but of time, and the telephone poles seem to know this. If you lay your hand against one, you can feel the vibration from the wires deep within the wood, as if souls had been imprisoned in there and were struggling to get out.”
“And she began to be afraid. She could not put her finger on any precise reason, and in that way it was like the fear she had felt before. She was fairly sure that no one could hear her, and it was broad daylight – but the fear was there, a steadily oppressive weight. It seemed to be welling into her consciousness from a part of her brain that was usually silent and probably as obsolete as her appendix. Her pleasure in the day was gone. The sense that she was playing was gone. The feeling of decisiveness was gone.”
08. One / Filter
“Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.”
“Corey Bryant sank into a great forgetful river, and that river was time, and its waters were red.”
“There is no life here but the slow death of days, and so when the evil falls on the town, its coming seems almost preordained, sweet and morphic. It is almost as though the town knows the evil was coming and the shape it would take.”
“…didn’t seem to hurt much anymore; it was only numb. It would have been better if there had been pain. Pain was at least real.”
I was inspired to flip through this novel again as part The Fellowship of the Worms book club.
Have you read ‘Salem’s Lot? Would you rank it in the top five Stephen King novels?