Fiction Review: 'Salem's Lot
The town knew about darkness.
It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when roatation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul.
- 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King, Chapter Ten
There's a point of view that one should only read a book once. After that, why read it again, you know what happened.
Truthfully, for some books, most even, that's definitely the case. But for me, there's certain books I read over and over again over the years. Not to find out what happened, but to experience the book again. And to take away something new from it. The best books don't give up all they have of value on the first read. I mentioned a few posts back 1984 is a book I tend to read once a year or so. 'Salem's Lot is another book that finds its way to me multiple times.
Set in the then-contemporary early 1970's, 'Salem's Lot is the story of a vampire infestation of a small Maine town. But it's more than that. King brings the town of 'Salem's Lot to life for us. We get to know its inhabitants and its visitors, to care for them and to hate them. The somewhat crooked real estate agent and politician. The compassionate yet alcoholic Catholic priest. The writer returning to the only real hometown he ever knew, attempting to banish demons in his past. The high school dropout mom who abuses her son. The wise teacher. The young adult daughter seeking independence from loving but overbearing mother.
Once we get to know the town, King then allows the vampires loose. In the introduction to more recent printings of the novel King explains that he fully intended for the vampires to have a complete victory. Yet the protagonists he created refused to give up. And while many (if not most) of them die, they do not go easily and they never give in. While it would be difficult to say the novel ends happily, it does not end with the outright vampire victory King had planned. (Hopefully I've been vague enoug for those yet to experience this work.)
I'd not label the novel as perfection. The vampire "lifecycle" King creates is one that rapidly creates a scorched Earth, with people slain by vampires all coming back as vampires. It's difficult to see how vampires could sustain themselves in such a way - unless of course one assumes the bulk of new vampires don't last particularly long. There's also a few tropes common to Stephen King works that might drive one a little bonkers. For example, one of the protagonists, Susan Norton, finds herself in conflict with her mother in a way that bears more than a little resemblance to Susan Delgago's conflict with her aunt in Wizard and Glass. Ben Mears is one of many writer protagonists that King will create. Single 60-something teacher Ed Burke would get along rather well with single 60-something caretaker John Cullum in The Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower.
Am I suggesting it's a bad book? Not even close. Truthfully, it's one of my favorite novels and one I've read a number of times. I'm getting an itch to read again right now as the days continue to grow shorter, the leaves begin to fall, and Halloween approaches. More importantly, I'd like to make the acquaintance of the inhabitants of the Lot again.
I like the way King himself says he thinks his mom would have described the novel:
The woman who brought me Dracula from the Stratford Public Library never saw ’Salem’s Lot. By the time the first draft was completed, she was too ill to read much—she who read with such enjoyment over the course of her life—and by the time it was published, she was dead. If she had read it, I like to think she would have finished the last hundred pages in one of her marathon chain-smoking readathons, then laughed, put it aside (not without some affection), and pronounced it trash.
But maybe not bad trash.