‘Salem’s Lot (Book) (1975) Review

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‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King’s book about vampires. Well, more or less. In a roundabout way. Which are ways of saying not really. It’s about vampires, in particular a single vampire. The thing is though, vampires are secondary in this novel. You could even say they’re third, fourth, fifth, and keep counting. We’ll get into that in a minute. This novel disappointed me. We’ll get to that in a minute as well. The same minute because they go hand in hand. I know as a general rule, my reviews are positive. I have written a negative review. Now I suppose I’ll have written two, though there is a positive note or two here. I’ll explain my expectations, and how this novel failed to met them. Maybe some of you agree with me, and some of you don’t. It could be me, who knows.

Perhaps its my fault for reading The Talisman first and wanting another Stephen King novel to read. I don’t know what could have followed it. I loved the book, the places, and most of all the characters. None of these elements was present in ‘Salem’s Lot.

For a Stephen King novel, this is a short one. The version I read might have been a first edition. It totaled 439 pages. Several times during this novel I debated on putting it down and going on to something else. It took about 300 pages until there was any action and this novel built to something. Before that there was one scene, a small paragraph at the end of an early chapter that grabbed me. It was a black scene. A morbid scene in a cemetery. I loved it and thought the pace would quicken. Alas dear friends, it was a tease. That was page 85.

Vampires. I thought that was what this book was. I’d never read the book before, or seen the movie, just the movie cover. Here was my disappointment. This is a book about vampires. It is, and it isn’t. In a roundabout way its a tale of a single vampire. In all honesty, this is a book about a small town in Maine, Jerusalem’s Lot. The town, the cast of characters that call it home, and a creepy old house.

In particular the story revolves around a single house that overlooks the town. The Marsten House is so central to the story, not only the specific story of the main character, but the general story of the town itself. The way it’s talked about, focused on, and described makes it so much more. It becomes an entity all its own. Yes, it is the proverbial “creepy old haunted house on the hill above town.” In a strange way the house becomes more than a building, more than a setting. With all we learn about the house, its past and present, it feels more like a character. I found it more interesting, more intriguing than any of the other characters, with an exception.

The only character I liked was the main vampire, Kurt Barlow. He’s a mysterious guy. We saw brief glimpses of him here and there. He doesn’t show up much at all until the last 100-150 pages or so. His tooth marks are firmly sunk into the novel. Yet, we never find out much about him. He shows up here and there, most of the time its a mention of his name. The name appears so infrequently compared to the other main, and even lesser characters its as if sometimes its thrown in so we don’t forget about this poor fellow.

My main disappointment was that the vampire was not the lead figure, nor main ingredient. I thought I was going to read a vampire novel about vampires, a modern-for-the-time Dracula. Perhaps if King droned on about mundane things with the vampire as he did with the others, I wouldn’t care for him either. The mystery shrouding Barlow made him more interesting, yet I would have rather immersed myself in his backstory than that of the guy who runs the local dump. We learn so much about every other member of the town, many times to the point where I felt like the guys in The Holy Grail screaming, “get on with it.” In telling of the background of everyone involved, the story suffers. It drags on, and for much of the novel there isn’t a lot of action. When we get a sliver of hope that we are going in the right direction, as I said before, its a tease.

Now, let me end on somewhat of a positive if I can. I liked the ending, the first one in particular. In a way there are two endings, and neither one I wish to spoil. One is a specific ending which sets up a more general ending for the finale. If you can make it to the final vampire scene, its worth it. That’s where all the action is. To be honest, this novel has one true ending, then when the novel is over the ending is incomplete in a way. It could go on, and I’m glad that it didn’t because we had so much down time. The ending set up a continuation. A sequel could have come along to put all the finishing touches in place. To tie the central story up so that we get an actual conclusion. At the end of the novel we have an actual ending, but we also get an end that looks like a new beginning.

As I said, maybe its just me. Stephen King has said a few times this is his favorite novel of the ones he’s written. As for myself, I went in thinking this was about one thing, and expected to get something along those lines. In a way it was, and I did. As I said though, in a roundabout way. I would have liked more on the actual vampire, and less on the daily lives of the townspeople. Their individual tales litter the novel, going from one person to another and back again. From the small offerings on Mr. Barlow, I would have much rather found out more about him. I would have liked to have found out in more detail how this vampire, this one “creepy old haunted house on the hill above town,” and the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine meet. We get brief snippets, but there’s so much in depth information on everyone else I feel cheated we aren’t given the full backstory on this triangle.

Copyright © Drew Martin 2015

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