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Book: ‘Salem’s Lot

February 13, 2008
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I love this original cover to the book… my edition from the library is this, only reversed (white paper, black lettering). You can’t really see, but in the “O” is a very calm painting of a small town (with a big ominous house on the hill — doesn’t every small town have a haunted house on a hill?). I love this because it represents what the book is about: basically, a small town (and the evil that can happen in these small towns).

I read this book in college (I think) and remember being very scared. I wasn’t so scared this time around, probably because I already knew what happens. However, that did not affect my enjoyment of the book one bit. This is Stephen King’s second book (which is amazing to me for some reason) and the writing is so good, I was really surprised. As happens with so many authors, his later books tend to be not as good (Needful Things comes to mind, what a waste) but his early books, this one included — so terrific!

Brief synopsis: Good man comes back to hometown to write book about scary house. Scary house is bought by creepy man. Strange things start to happen. Good man falls in love with good girl. More strange things. Vampires are created. Good girl becomes vampire. Good man and other good people band together to kill bad vampires. Discuss.

As a vampire story, it’s pretty straightforward. Vampires are bad, don’t invite them in. Got it? The magic of Stephen King’s writing (his good stuff) is how he illustrates evil in everyday life — the dirty everyday details of modern life (particularly small-town life) that will kill you if you let it. A teenage mother who beats up her baby. A priest who has lost his faith. The monotony of same boring job, same boring food, same boring wife, same boring TV day in and day out. I had forgotten how gritty and folksy and uncomfortably familiar some of his writing is. It just makes me feel bad (but in a good, interesting way — after all, that’s why I read the books). It’s hard to look at these things, presented in such a matter-of-fact way.

The vampire didn’t kill the town — the town was already dead. It just didn’t know it yet.

What I love, also, is how his wonderful descriptions (never flowery, always folksy and real) paint the background so well — the town, the people, the everyday happenings, the beatup pickup trucks and the old men sitting at the bar — and his main characters come springing forward from that background with such life and vitality. They are always complex — never simply good or bad — usually conflicted in some way. But always reachable, real people. Sometimes quirky, but never unbelievable.

The scary stuff in the book is scary enough — great suspense, not too much gore, just enough to get the point across, some deep childhood fears brought to the surface. One of the scariest parts, for me (dredging up childhood fears as it did), was when the priest remembered his own childhood monster: Mr. Flip. Mr. Flip stayed in the closet all day, only peeking out when the little boy’s mother had tucked him in. And then, the closet door would open slightly, and he could see the white face, the mocking grin, the fingers creeping around the door. I love the name, too: Mr. Flip. Creeeeepy. The fall of the priest was one of the more powerful themes in this book, I thought. Disturbing.

So… not the scariest book on record for me, after all. Scary enough. Great book. Excellent writing. Totally worth re-reading. Affecting in many ways. But I didn’t have to turn on the lights to go across the hall to the bathroom. And I slept fine. Although the first time I read it, I was pretty spooked. Maybe I’ve read too many vampire books in the time between the first time and this time.

However, I can say that I really enjoyed re-reading it. A good, solid read. Thanks, Mr. King.

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