Salem’s Lot By Stephen King
This happens to be my first Stephen King book (the first that I’ve completed anyway.) I’d picked this book on several occasions but always ended up abandoning it because it started off so agonizingly slow. The thing I’ve realized with King is, that he really develops his characters and setting. I don’t know if he’d always written this way. But becoming an established author, he knows his readers believe in him; believe in his ability to churn out horrifying tales. Which is why he seems to take their attention for granted and dedicates dozens of pages outlining side characters.
I won’t lie, it gets a little boring. But it’s definitely worth it. So this time when I picked Salem’s Lot, I refused to put it down. I breezed through the long descriptions of the characters and the places, eating up the details but not stopping at them. And then the good stuff began.
The book’s got all the right things to make it an entertaining read. A creepy old town? Check. A haunted house? Check. A darkness that threatens to choke you? Check. Something inhuman crawling through the night? Yup. It’s all there. This time when I started reading it, I read the introduction/foreword first. King says he was inspired by Dracula, and that this was, in a way, it’s modern-retelling. I was extremely intrigued since Dracula happens to be one of my favorite novels.
Salem’s Lot was obviously not as good as Dracula. I mean, c’mon! Dracula is the real big daddy of Vampire Fiction. Can anyone ever compete to that? However, King wasn’t necessarily trying to compete. He just brought the idea of a weird old man living in a weird old mansion, having a weird assistant to an American setting. And boy does he do it well!
What you’ve got to hand to him is how well he breathes life into the most mundane characters ever. He easily handles over a dozen characters, giving each of them a specific history and a well thought out personality. They don’t feel like characters in a book. They seem like the kind of people you pass by on the street. And that, my friends, is real talent. It’s a skill that most writers have yet to master.
I also liked the narrative techniques employed by Stephen King. It’s mostly written in the 3rd person narrative, but the way the chapters are arranged is great. It’s such a well-plotted book! The book has 3 big parts and an awfully long epilogue. Each part contains a couple of chapters. Each chapter contains several mini-chapters/scenes. There are chapters that specifically revolve around a character. There are chapters dedicated to the whole town, describing what’s going on at different places at different times. Then there are parts where he describes the life force or the darkness that slithers through this town. Sometimes Stephen King describes how autumn creeps in, or how the darkness settles. And those are a real work of art—beautifully written prose, almost poetic in nature. This book keeps treading the boundary between horror and aesthetic prose.
Coming to the crux of this Stephen King novel—the horror story aspect. Some of the scenes are downright chilling. Not in an obvious kind of way. It’s all very subdued, and that’s where its beauty lies. You’ve really got to settle into its atmosphere and let the book guide you. That’s what I let it do. And it was so good. I usually read the book late at night and sometimes right before I went to sleep. It is obvious then, that the horrors between its pages visited me in my dreams. It wasn’t bone-chilling, but it definitely made your heart beat a little faster. It’s the kind of book you should read during the winter, cooped up in your blanket.
Salem’s Lot: 3.5/5
Why 3.5 stars and not higher? Well, I suppose I was expecting more. The climax didn’t really feel like the climax. There were places where I wanted the book to draw out the plot, to move a little slower, to let the horror of it all seep into my bones. But the book rushed on in some of those places. This is highly subjective though. There are no real flaws in here. For someone else, this book would be a solid five stars. So, should you read it? Yes. I’d definitely recommend it. Though readers need to be a little patient and let this book work its charm. Happy reading!