Friday, December 9, 2011

'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King


The town of Jerusalem's Lot (called 'salem's Lot by the locals) was the closest thing to a childhood home that writer Ben Mears ever had, and Marsten House, a creepy old mansion overlooking the town, was the site of the most terrifying experience in his life.  Until now.  Now, Ben has returned to 'salem's Lot, ready to write another book and face down Marsten House and the terrors of his youth, only to find that--for the first time in decades--the house is occupied.  But who would live in such an eerie place?  And could these newcomers be connected to the such rash of deaths and disappearances in 'salem's Lot? 

What a deliciously scary book!  King's take on vampires is fairly standard--he sticks to the usual lore (though his description of 'killing' a vampire is much more graphic than any I've seen).  The victims, however, are much less standard.  King takes the time to introduce the reader to many of the residents of 'salem's Lot, showing us their lives, their concerns, their joys and sorrows.  It comes as a bit of a shock, then, that these characters are not immune from violence at the hands (or teeth) of nefarious vampires.  When the vampires go on their inevitable rampage, the entire town suffers--even characters we've actually met in some meaningful way, characters we like.  This widespread vulnerability really raises the stakes (heh), and allows us to share in the protagonists' horror at the events going on around them.  These are not just faceless extras.  These are people they know--people we know.  It's a chilling and sickening thought for readers and characters alike.

Speaking of the characters, they are remarkably well-drawn.  King's New England upbringing and intimate knowledge of small town life really shine through in his descriptions of the town and its residents.  'Salem's Lot is, perhaps, a bit seedier than we would like, but King allows some very nice, normal people to live there alongside the drunks and reprobates.  The protagonists in particular are well-developed.  Ben Mears, an author, works as a stand-in for King himself.  The high school English teacher Matt Burke is compared to Van Helsing, and with good reason.  And young Mark Petrie stands out from the get-go, in a sequence reminiscent of the opening pages of Ender's Game.  With a line-up like that (Stephen King, Van Helsing, and Ender Wiggin walk into a bar...), the outcome is bound to be worth reading.  And it is. 

Definitely scary, and not for kids.  And, because I respect you and think you have a right to know these things, I will tell you that a dog dies in this book.  But if you can handle a bit of a fright and have a strong stomach, you could do a lot worse than this book. 

As King himself says in the introduction, it may be trash . . . but not bad trash.

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