'Salem's Lot (Book Review)

Title: 'Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday
My Rating: 3 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: A very serviceable vampire tale set in rural New England where the vampires are evil animated corpses not emo romanticized creatures of sympathy, and the characters who battle them well-developed and human

There is a lot of garbage vampire-themed fiction out there, in fact, almost all of it is garbage, so full credit goes to Stephen King for penning a good one that is full of suspense, horror, good characters, and above all vampires that actually are evil and vampiric. I give it three stars as a definite page turner but I can't give it higher than three stars because it wasn't really more than that. It brushed with greatness but left important plot points unresolved and lacked any higher philosophical point. It seemed more like a high quality slasher work.

The novel takes place in the town of Jerusalem's Lot A.K.A. "'Salem's Lot", Maine (population approx. 1000) circa 1975. The main protagonist, Ben Mears returns to his home town to write a novel. At the same time the mysterious Kurt Barlow and his associate Richard Straker arrive. Deaths ensue and Ben quickly comes to realize that vampirism is the cause. He joins forces with an interesting cast of characters. The characters are definitely a strong point of the work -- even minor characters who exists only briefly to fall prey to the vampires are well done and very human. I have to complain that I thought the characters were, by and large, a bit too dramatically immoral peaking the work somewhat of a cross between Peyton Place and Dracula.  To King's credit, he does not feel the need to graphically describe the various character indiscretions and tactically cut scenes, but it all felt a bit much. Although I suppose it underscored the theme of how 1970s American society was disintegrating. I tend to think that people are generally not that bad.

My biggest problems were how Catholicism was portrayed. I do believe Mr. King attempted to show it in a positive light, and it was of interest that Catholic items seemed to be all that was capable of stopping vampires but it was also portrayed as if Catholic holy items are mere talismans that can be given to anyone just so they can fight vampires. The vampire hunters all confess their sins to the priest, but absent any actual conversion of even professed faith in God. There are some truly grievous errors concerning Catholicism that minimal research would have avoided such as having an old Mexican priest break the seal of confession in the prologue. Such superficial treatment, besides being wrong an offensive, weakened the story because it leaves one wondering why these Catholic items "work".

The plot moved at a good pace and offered a good mix of character development, scene setting, and suspense. There was really very little action as such, but Mr. King does an excellent job of creating terror and suspense. As suggested above, the vampires were appropriately evil although their powers felt ill-defined and it was unclear why some physical attacks worked on them and others didn't.

It must be noted that I actually listened to the audio book, purchased from Audible.com. The version I listened it was narrated by Ron McLarty who did an excellent job and really helped to bring the characters to life.

1 comment:

Sophia's Favorite said...

I agree about the townspeople being a bit too immoral; it is Stephen King, though. He once said "If I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out." One kind of gross-out is as good as another for his purposes.

Given that vampires (the original name for which, in Latin, French, and post-Norman Conquest English, is "revenant") are created by the resentment of the wronged dead, making them somewhat sympathetic is actually entirely faithful to the folklore. People don't generally curse the world hard enough to become the curse they lay on it unless they're pretty badly treated. Of course, you have to abandon the post-Stoker "contagion" model of vampirism.

It also bears pointing out that the brooding attractive emo vampire is one of the oldest portrayals in Gothic literature—Polidori's Lord Ruthven was based on Byron (whom Polidori knew personally), and that was published in 1819. Dracula was in 1897. (The lesbian vampiress is also older than Dracula—Le Fanu's "Carmilla" was in 1871.)

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