Tuesday, September 14, 2010

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Salem's LotSalem's Lot by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

City folk have a distinct misconception about small towns. We tend to believe that they are tranquil and innocent. That the denizens are wholesome and full of family values. But, we don't see the hidden rot that lurks beneath the sleepy facade.

Stephen King does a lot to shatter that myth with 'Salem's Lot. This a horror novel about a vampire who destroys a town from the inside out. This is a horror story about the darkness that we don't see clearly (or maybe we ignore) about our friends, families, and neighbors.

What was the most horrific part of this book for me? You're going to guess wrong. It wasn't the horror of the vampires. It was seeing a woman punch her ten month old baby in the face because he was crying. Yes, that bothered me more than any of the actual supernatural horror. I say to Mr. King that you know what fears lurk in our hearts. The dark is full of potential evil that can possess us, take over our bodies, and turn us into monsters. But, the truest monsters are the human ones. With this novel, Mr. King showed me both kinds of monsters.

Do you believe that there are no true secrets in a small town? You'd be right if you said yes. You'd be equally right if you said no. The townspeople of 'Salem's Lot know a lot more than they want to know about their neighbors, but they overlook it, ignore it, sweep the sins under the rug until the rug starts to bulge in the middle, and it won't hold those secrets back.

For example, 'Salem's Lot harbored an ex-mobster who had a penchant for devil worship. He lived in a scary house on the top of a hill, the Marsten House. It was a house that haunted Ben Mears after he went there as a nine year old on a dare. He went there, and saw something that was from his worst nightmares, but he believed even in his adulthood to be true. The evil that Hubie Marsten brought into existence never died. The house held it as a battery holds a charge. It was the perfect place for a vampire and his evil minion to set up shop in this little town.

I read the introduction to this story with interest. I love knowing how an author came to craft his or her story. Mr. King was a fan of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and he wrote 'Salem's Lot as an unofficial homage to that classic vampire novel. In my inexpert opinion, I think he did a great job. I feel that Mr. Stoker would probably nod in approval, even if he didn't get all the modern references. Mr. King wrote his idea of a vampire story, and it holds his individual stamp on it. Yet, the aspects that make Dracula such an excellent vampire novel, at least to this vampire aficionado, are clearly represented. Mr. Barlow could give Count Dracula a real run for his money as far as being a completely evil, despicable, and formidable being. His minion, Straker, could give Renfield some lessons in evil. And Matt, Ben, Jimmy, Susan, Father Callahan, and Mark could compare notes with Van Helsing, Harker, Mina, Holmwood, and Quincy. But, if Mr. Stoker would forgive me, I think that Mr. King ramped up the fear level significantly, because his world is not sentimental and endowed with as many basically 'good' people. His world is full of flawed humanity who have really nasty proclivities, although I still feared for their safety and didn't want them to succumb to the evil of the vampire that infected this town.

In this story, we learn about the heights and depths of the human condition. How a person can bounce back from despair, face his/her worst fears, and quite possibly wrap his mind around events that cannot be real to an empirical mind. We learn about what a person's limits are. Can you go into that house and do what needs to be done? Do you have the nerve? Or will you turn away and pretend it's not happening, as some members of this town do, for their own sanity? Can a thirteen- year-old boy show the bravery that a seventy-year-old man in the twilight of his life lacks? Can a non-believer trust in the symbols of a faith that held no relevance to him, in the face of an evil that defies scientific explanation? All these questions are explored in this story, with answers that might surprise you.

I deliberately read 'Salem's Lot during the day, because it is quite, quite scary. Even still, I thought about a pair of red eyes haunting me in the night. Feared for the scratching of a lost loved one against my window pane as I tried to sleep at night. Some part of me hoped that I had not inadvertently invited the wrong person into my home. If that is what makes a successful vampire novel, I'd say Stephen King has succeeded in a big way.

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