‘Salem’s Lot marks my initiation into the more contemporary horror genre, as well as my introduction to the works of Stephen King.
I must say, if this book is a good representation of his works, King deserves his reputation as an author. His prose is well crafted, dialogue flows nicely, and the characters are undeniably human—they act and think like real, flawed people. They may suffer from a few more flaws than most, especially the secondary characters, but that seems more of the author’s perceptions of human nature than a flaw on the book’s part.
The beginning, while interesting, was slow because King wanted to introduce his secondary cast before he got to the book’s actual plot. If you’re reading the book at the beginning and it seems boring, at least keep reading until you things move past the initial meet-and-greet with the secondary cast.
This book, despite being in the horror genre, was not scary. I was never afraid while reading this book. Slightly unsettled, at points, but that indicates the book was creepy as opposed to scary. That may be a product of me reading books as a writer, which causes reactions such as surprise to “I see what you did there” or anticipation to “I wonder how [insert author here] is going to play this”. It allows me to better analyze the books I read, but it means that it’s hard—if not impossible—to just sit back and enjoy the ride, and some of the emotional highs suffer because of that. So take my comments regarding them with a grain of salt.
That being said, I had problems with this book. I will readily admit the book is good. However, given King’s reputation I was excepting something great. I’m going to outline why, but I will give a slight spoiler warning because I have to bring up what the featured monster is to do so.
Now, the monsters in ‘Salem’s Lot are vampires. Now, I have nothing against vampires that do not sparkle. I’ll even take vampires that aren’t ravenous monsters and are instead people suffering under a terrible curse—so long as it is devoid of any potential fetishism.
However, I was still disappointed when I realized that King had chosen to use vampires. Horror is dedicated to fear, and one of the strongest fears it can utilize is the fear of the unknown. That sort of fear is not possible with vampires. They vary based upon what mythos they appear in, but even if Vampire A isn’t weak to garlic and Vampire B is, Vampires A-Q are all susceptible to oversized splinters being relocated to the insides of their chest cavities with mallets. Doing something new with vampires has become, for all practical purposes, impossible since Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
And, while that was not my specific problem with the book, it does demonstrate it. Nothing in the book surprised me. This is a work made by the book, and while King is probably a master when it comes to writing style, the actual content holds the work back. Writers need to take risks to make books that are truly great, and ‘Salem’s Lot does not take those risks.
That being said, this book is worth reading. It is not a great book, but it’s as close as a book can get without taking serious risks. I haven’t seen many books crafted with the level of writing skill King seems to possess, and that alone is reason enough to read a book. I just wish there had been a bit more.
- Patrick Johnson