'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

  1. Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Well-Known Member

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    There’s a moment in the second season of The Wire when a corrupt, but sympathetic, union boss despairingly exclaims “We used to make stuff in this country.” The same spirit of blue-collar decay runs through Stephen Kings 1975 novel, ‘Salem’s Lot. Technically, this is a vampire story: one of the undead moves to a small Maine town and destroys it by turning the population into vampires, but it’s as much a story about the decline of small-town, semi-rural America. If Bruce Springsteen had written Dracula, this would be the result.

    Up against Barlow the vampire and Straker, his assistant, are Ben, the (inevitable?) writer hero, who has returned to the town to put his own ghosts to rest, and a small group of other townsfolk, struggling almost against their own disbelief as much as the monsters coming to get them. As the population dwindles, they are forced to band together and take Barlow on – but there will be many deaths before they’re through.

    Firstly, this is an excellent suspense novel. It moves at considerable pace, and King jumps from character to character skilfully. There’s a speed and efficiency here lacking from a lot of modern novels. Almost every scene deepens the setting and moves the plot forward. Also, the sense of creeping decay is very well conveyed. King provides periodic updates on the town in general, and charts its gradual move from sleepy to undead. These contrast well with the zoomed-in, suspenseful scenes where the individual vampires are dispatched.

    Unlike, say, Clive Barker, King doesn’t seem to revel in his monsters. Barlow and Straker are very obviously baddies, and their fancy city ways seem almost camp. King has no affection for the vampires, and they don’t even get to make much of a case for themselves. Barlow clearly fancies himself as a Dracula-style “lord of the night”, but is ultimately just repellent. Also interesting are the newer undead, who go through a zombie-like stage of sluggish hunger when first created.

    In fact, the story owes almost as much to Albert Finney’s The Body Snatchers or George Romero’s zombie films as it does to Dracula. Like Finney, King seems to be appalled by the collapse of normal, decent life. Where the book’s strength lies, and its warmth, is in the depiction of the town. ‘Salem’s Lot feels like a lament for towns that were more than just dormitories for city workers. Folks just ain’t friendly any more. This could become twee, but King isn’t sentimental about the Lot. It contains some very ropey people. But for every wife-beater and baby-shaker there are dozens of decent folks – and even the human villains don’t deserve the miserable existence that Barlow gives them.

    One thing that interests me a lot about 'Salem’s Lot is the undisguised equalling of outsiders with evil. This is a very unfashionable outlook. Modern critics, especially those looking to read a deeper meaning into the novel, may be appalled by this (out of interest, the concept of Barlow and Straker as a gay couple is briefly raised, but only as an instantly-dismissed joke). In one of the best speeches in the book, the town sherrif expresses a fear of what the undead represent: a kind of sophisticated callousness where the values of the small town mean nothing. "He'll make a good vampire" the sherrif remarks chillingly of another resident.

    ‘Salem’s Lot is about as far from the goth wish-fulfilment of Anne Rice as you could get. It is a genuinely frightening book, not so much for its events as for its atmosphere of decay shot through with paranoia. It expresses a fear that I suspect is quite commonplace but very hard to express: that things in the first world are changing out of recognition, especially if you are poor, and that the world you once knew is dying fast.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
    MWagner, BAYLOR, akeleven and 2 others like this.
  2. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    Ive read it , I thought it a very effective Horror novel and one the best vampire novels I've ever read. Of the two miniseries adaptations the second one with Rutger Hauer is closer tot he book the1979 Tobe Hooper version. I like the Hooper version best. :)
     
  3. J Riff

    J Riff The Ants are my friends..

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    Yep, read this right when it came out and thought: Well this guy is pretty dang good. His first few books are still his best, I reckon, too bad he got so monstrously huge and had to formulize for the masses. Was it David Soul who played the MC in the movie? That was not so creepy/great. *
     
  4. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    It was indeed Davis Soul actor James mason was in the miniseries too.
     
  5. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    Love the book, love the film.
     
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