Stephanie Davies's Reviews > 'Salem's Lot

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King
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's review
Nov 21, 11

it was ok
Read from November 15 to 17, 2011

I'm not a huge Stephen King fan, but as this book is on my university reading list I thought I'd give it a try. After all, I thought, it could never be as bad as Carrie. And it's not – I'll give him that. Salem's Lot was more engaging, there was at least a semblance of plot, and fully-drawn characters. But I still didn't like it. He is a brilliant storyteller, but he is not a brilliant writer, and there is a difference. I also had a problem with some of the misogynistic under- (and over-)tones evident in this book, but I'll get onto that later.

To begin with, there are pages upon pages describing what each person in the town is having for dinner. What is the purpose of this? And the whole town smokes Pall Malls, to the point of ridiculousness. Is he being sponsored by the company or what?

The author will often describe something in a half-assed way and then saying “there was just no other word for it.” Yes King, there was. You just couldn't think of one. And why must everything constantly 'wax and wane'? Everything is constantly 'waxing and waning.'

One further point that irritated me, but maybe because I am oddly anal when it comes to suffixes, is that all the characters speak using verbs that end in 'ly.' On one page alone, two characters 'smiled a little defensively,' 'said reflectively,' 'said meditatively,' 'said steadily.' Or my favourite: “Moose shit,” Susan said cheerfully.

Getting into the misogyny I mentioned earlier, King uses a lot of subtle sexism in this text. It's often offhand description like this:

When Callahan pushed the door open, he glanced upward . . . and felt the scream well up in his throat and out of his mouth before he could stop it. It was high, womanish, hysterical.

or simply describing a secretaries 'jahooblies' (two guesses where these are located on the body) or a librarian's virginity as 'book binding' (“a first edition of a different kind, as mint as when she had first entered the world. Her binding, so to speak, had never even been cracked.”), or how he punishes Bonnie, the wife who cheats on her husband.

After he beat her up on that night, he flushed all her pills down the toilet and raped her. And has raped her every night since then.

But my biggest problem in Salem's Lot is with the relationship between Ben and Susan. Ben is obviously King's attempt to insert himself into the story. You know, a writer, writing about the very house, which this book is also centred on. How very postmodern. When you think of Ben as King, he is kind of a dick.

He stopped, amazed. He had made a speech.
“You talk just like your books,” she said, awed.
He laughed. “I never said anything like that before. Not out loud.”
“What did you do after your mother . . . after she died?”
“Knocked around,” he said briefly. “Eat your ice cream.”
She did.

Susan, this girl, is seven years older than he hopes she is when he asks her out, which is creepy enough on its own (a strange man inviting a girl that he meets in a park for icecream). But she still looks at him in actual awe, for f---'s sake, and eats on his command. He has her throwing her virginity at him a few pages later. (We already know King's opinion on female virginity because of the book binding thing.)

“Here on the grass,” she said.
She was looking up at him, her eyes wide in the dark. She said, “Make it be good.”

You finally thinks sisters are doing it for themselves when Susan decides to move out of her parents house and kill the vampire. She grabs a stake and heads up to Count Vlad's lair, but King doesn't let her, he makes a f--king child takes charge of her.

“How are we going to do it?” she asked, automatically giving over the leadership of the venture to him.

Automatically, obviously, because a woman needs a man to be in control, even if that man is in primary school. And hey – spoiler alert – this little boy can hold his own, but poor Susie has to turn into a vampire bride. And because she so generously gave her V-plates to Ben Mears, he then gets to act as her 'husband' when he kills her. Because nothing is more romantic than domestic violence, right King?

“Ben, had you slept with Susan? Forgive me, but –“
“Yes,” he said.
“Then you must pound the stake […] You will act as her husband.”

And later...

“Be her lover,” Father Callahan said softly. “Better, be her husband. You won't hurt her, Ben.”

So he kills his girlfriend, in a weird phallic ritual (the hammer is described as having a “perforated rubber handgrip” and he rams the stake between her breasts, another kind of 'penetration').

But you know what, you will probably enjoy this book. I did for the most part. There is a reason that King is a best-selling author. It's an engaging read, you'll keep turning the pages to see what happens next. But I couldn't get over the disrespect he has for his female characters, or the weird insertion of himself (or the fantasy he has of young women throwing themselves at horror novelists...) into this novel.
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