Stephen King,
'Salem's Lot
(Doubleday, 1975; Signet,
1990; Pocket, 1999)

I don't think many people would argue the fact that 'Salem's Lot is the best novel produced in Stephen King's "early period." In some ways, it was a gutsy novel for King to write. For one thing, his editor warned him about becoming viewed as a "horror writer" (as opposed to a "real writer"). All great writers write what they have to write and don't care how it is viewed, so this book really made a statement that this young author loved to write and was going to do it his own way. For another thing, it is a great challenge to write a vampire novel that does not just sift through the ashes of millions of pages already consumed by the public.

I wish I could read this book today without knowing so much about it (having first read it many years ago, having seen the miniseries, and having heard and read so much about it since then) -- I wonder at what point the wide-eyed reader actually understands that vampirism is responsible for the Evil overtaking Jerusalem's Lot.

Literally hundreds of readers have already reviewed this book in various media, so I am sure anything I say is just a rehash of what has already been said. I will mention the fact that this novel is quite different from Carrie, its immediate predecessor. Where the events of that book were somewhat disjointed, this story unfolds quite smoothly. The characters in this book are much more "real" than those in Carrie. Rather than jumping from one viewpoint to another, King's prose now allows itself to take root and grow, yielding a bumper crop of complex, realistic, knowable characters. While I felt as if I were watching the events taking place in Carrie, I felt much more like a character myself in 'Salem's Lot.

If anyone out there has yet to read Stephen King, I would recommend reading this novel as your introduction to his work. The blood and gore is there, as it should be, but most of the horror is below the surface, always present and ready to spring out whenever King's imagination bids it to do so. It is a wonderful reading experience. I can picture King saying to his readers the exact same thing that the vampire says to Father Callahan: "Taste my communion." Millions of us have tasted it, and we have been held under the sway of our master ever since.

by Daniel Jolley
24 September 2005

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