Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books)'s Reviews > 'Salem's Lot

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King
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City folk have a distinct misconception about small towns. We tend to believe that they are tranquil and innocent. That the denizens are wholesome and full of family values. But, we don't see the hidden rot that lurks beneath the sleepy facade.

Stephen King does a lot to shatter that myth with 'Salem's Lot. This a horror novel about a vampire who destroys a town from the inside out. This is a horror story about the darkness that we don't see clearly (or maybe we ignore) about our friends, families, and neighbors.

What was the most horrific part of this book for me? You're going to guess wrong. It wasn't the horror of the vampires. It was seeing a woman punch her ten month old baby in the face because he was crying. Yes, that bothered me more than any of the actual supernatural horror. I say to Mr. King that you know what fears lurk in our hearts. The dark is full of potential evil that can possess us, take over our bodies, and turn us into monsters. But, the truest monsters are the human ones. With this novel, Mr. King showed me both kinds of monsters.

Do you believe that there are no true secrets in a small town? You'd be right if you said yes. You'd be equally right if you said no. The townspeople of 'Salem's Lot know a lot more than they want to know about their neighbors, but they overlook it, ignore it, sweep the sins under the rug until the rug starts to bulge in the middle, and it won't hold those secrets back.

For example, 'Salem's Lot harbored an ex-mobster who had a penchant for devil worship. He lived in a scary house on the top of a hill, the Marsten House. It was a house that haunted Ben Mears after he went there as a nine year old on a dare. He went there, and saw something that was from his worst nightmares, but he believed even in his adulthood to be true. The evil that Hubie Marsten brought into existence never died. The house held it as a battery holds a charge. It was the perfect place for a vampire and his evil minion to set up shop in this little town.

I read the introduction to this story with interest. I love knowing how an author came to craft his or her story. Mr. King was a fan of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and he wrote 'Salem's Lot as an unofficial homage to that classic vampire novel. In my inexpert opinion, I think he did a great job. I feel that Mr. Stoker would probably nod in approval, even if he didn't get all the modern references. Mr. King wrote his idea of a vampire story, and it holds his individual stamp on it. Yet, the aspects that make Dracula such an excellent vampire novel, at least to this vampire aficionado, are clearly represented. Mr. Barlow could give Count Dracula a real run for his money as far as being a completely evil, despicable, and formidable being. His minion, Straker, could give Renfield some lessons in evil. And Matt, Ben, Jimmy, Susan, Father Callahan, and Mark could compare notes with Van Helsing, Harker, Mina, Holmwood, and Quincy. But, if Mr. Stoker would forgive me, I think that Mr. King ramped up the fear level significantly, because his world is not sentimental and endowed with as many basically 'good' people. His world is full of flawed humanity who have really nasty proclivities, although I still feared for their safety and didn't want them to succumb to the evil of the vampire that infected this town.

In this story, we learn about the heights and depths of the human condition. How a person can bounce back from despair, face his/her worst fears, and quite possibly wrap his mind around events that cannot be real to an empirical mind. We learn about what a person's limits are. Can you go into that house and do what needs to be done? Do you have the nerve? Or will you turn away and pretend it's not happening, as some members of this town do, for their own sanity? Can a thirteen- year-old boy show the bravery that a seventy-year-old man in the twilight of his life lacks? Can a non-believer trust in the symbols of a faith that held no relevance to him, in the face of an evil that defies scientific explanation? All these questions are explored in this story, with answers that might surprise you.

I deliberately read 'Salem's Lot during the day, because it is quite, quite scary. Even still, I thought about a pair of red eyes haunting me in the night. Feared for the scratching of a lost loved one against my window pane as I tried to sleep at night. Some part of me hoped that I had not inadvertently invited the wrong person into my home. If that is what makes a successful vampire novel, I'd say Stephen King has succeeded in a big way.
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Reading Progress

February 13, 2009 – Shelved
October 1, 2009 – Shelved as: horror
October 1, 2009 – Shelved as: started-but-put-down
August 7, 2010 – Shelved as: spell-out-september
September 10, 2010 – Started Reading
September 10, 2010 – Shelved as: vampire
September 10, 2010 –
page 63
13.04%
September 11, 2010 –
page 132
27.33% "This is getting really creepy. Dare I continue reading this before bed?"
September 12, 2010 –
page 224
46.38%
September 13, 2010 – Shelved as: favorites
September 13, 2010 – Shelved as: dont-read-after-dark
September 13, 2010 – Shelved as: reluctant-or-unlikely-hero
September 13, 2010 – Shelved as: small-town-slice-of-life
September 13, 2010 – Finished Reading
September 14, 2010 – Shelved as: favorite-or-autobuy-author

Comments Showing 1-41 of 41 (41 new)

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message 1: by Carolyn F. (last edited Sep 12, 2010 09:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carolyn F. This book scared me so much when I first came out. I started imaging red eyes looking through the window.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) I started it a couple of years ago, but put it down when it started getting really scary.


Carolyn F. Good luck Danielle - I'll pray for you (LOL).


message 5: by Nissie Lambert (new)

Nissie Lambert Great review, Danielle! I may have to pull this one out to re-read for October.


message 6: by Werner (new)

Werner Danielle, despite my fondness for vampire fiction, I've never read Salem's Lot. For myself, I think the whole "triumph-of-evil" theme would be too much of a downer, especially when it's continued for hundreds of pages in a long novel --I can occasionally put up with it better in short fiction, like Aickman's "Passages from the Diary of a Young Girl." But you've done a marvelous job in writing a review that brings out the legitimate arguments for reading a book like this!


message 7: by Bark (new)

Bark Great review, as always Danielle. I read this so very long ago. Your review makes me want to check it out again.


message 8: by Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) (last edited Sep 14, 2010 07:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Thanks, Nissie, Werner, and Barkless.

Werner, I don't feel that evil will triumph in this story. I think the ending is optimistic. However, there is the melancholy aspect of the fact that human evil often prevails. I agree with you in that I really dislike 'evil winning' in stories or movies. I think you'd enjoy this one if you read it.

BarkLess, I actually started reading it a couple years ago, and I put it down because I got too scared. I toughed it out this time.


Miss Kim Excellent review, Lady D! I'm moving this one up.


Carolyn F. Lady Danielle "The Book Huntress" wrote: "Thanks, Nissie, Werner, and Barkless.

Werner, I don't feel that evil will triumph in this story. I think the ending is optimistic. However, there is the melancholy aspect of the fact that human ..."


I didn't think there was a triumph of evil either. This book left you thinking they're moving on to your town next.


message 11: by Nancy (new) - added it

Nancy Great review, Danielle. I read some of King's stories years ago and abandoned him for other horror writers. It sounds like I should give this one a try.


message 12: by Werner (last edited Sep 14, 2010 09:48AM) (new)

Werner Hmmm! Well, Danielle and Carolyn, in that case, you've convinced me that I should give this novel another look --as a possible read, at least. Of course, that'd be after I get through some of the 200+ books on my to-read shelf already.... :-)

King wrote a short story, "Jerusalem's Lot," (which I've read) set in a tiny Maine town of that name in the 1850s. I know that the name "'Salem's Lot" in the novel is supposed to be short for Jerusalem's Lot. In the story, though (which has a Cthulhu Mythos theme) the village is already a ghost town. Does King write anything in the novel that would refer back to that story, or fill in the history?


Carolyn F. I can't remember. I read it in the 1970s. Most of the book though has stuck with me since then and had me not reading horror books which at that time were my favorite for a good 15 years.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Thanks, Kim and Nancy. I am not a fan of the slasher/evil human monster kind of killer stories, so King's efforts in that direction don't get my interest. I think he's a fine writer, and when our tastes intersect, I'm happy to read his work.

Werner, I would surmise that Jerusalem's Lot takes place after 'Salem's Lot.'

SPOILER****

The whole town pretty much becomes overrun by vampires. So it is in essence a ghost town. But, lest you fear that evil wins, there are folks who work to prevent the spread of the vampire horde from 'Salem's Lot.' I can say no more.


END SPOILER****

Werner, I'd like to read that story.


message 15: by Beanbag (new)

Beanbag Love Great review, Danielle! You should read King's book about writing. The whole first half is biographical rather than technique oriented and it's very interesting. I can definitely see where he came by his dark tales.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Thanks, Bean. I find King very fascinating. I am looking forward to reading his biography and his ideas on writing. I consider him a bit of an inspiration as a writer, although I don't think I can 'go there' like he does. :)


message 17: by Werner (new)

Werner Danielle, "Jerusalem's Lot" is in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (originally published by Arkham House); I notice you have that one on your to-read shelf, on my recommendation. Another King story you might like is "One for the Road;" it's a spin-off of Salem's Lot. That one is in Young Monsters (Harper 1985); I haven't run across either story in any other collections, but you can check the Short Story Index for them, if your library has it.

I'm thinking that "Jerusalem's Lot" would have to take place well BEFORE the novel, since it's set in 1850. My impression is that the novel is set in the 1970s when it was written. Maybe the two aren't related to each other at all, except that King used a Maine setting and a common place name in both.


Mike (the Paladin) Werner, Danielle,I think there may be some intimation that Salem's Lot has a "dark past" but I'm not sure it hearkens back to the short story. Of course there's always the entire King multiverse theme it could refer to, as in the Jerusalem's Lot in the story is in an alternate universe.

Danielle, have you read Kings "Gunslinger series"? The Priest who flees Salem's Lot shows up in it and is a fairly prominent character for a while. I can't really "recommend" the series (I felt sort of like I was trapped in it...needed to see how he finished it). But that series touches a lot of Kings other works and he sort of Tied them all together there.

Good review Danielle, king even when he wrote this seems incapable of picturing "untainted" life or an untainted hero/protagonist.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Oh, that makes sense, Werner. I did add both books on your recommendation. I was able to find a copy of "Young Monsters", but I haven't gotten the other book yet. I'm keeping my eyes open, though. I would guess that Jerusalem's Lot has a lot of dark secrets. It might be what was called a 'hellmouth' on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. :)

Mike, I read the first Gunslinger book. It's been a long time. Probably need to reread it. I'll keep any eye out for Callahan. I felt kind of bad for the guy.

Mike, I noticed what you are saying about the 'untainted' protagonist. I don't mind a flawed hero, so long as he comes out of the situation better. As far as heroes, I really liked Ben, Matt, Mark, Jimmy, and Susan. I wonder if King wrote anything about Mark as a grown man. He's a very interesting character. I certainly didn't like the girl abusing her baby and the man who was raping his wife (even though she had cheated on him). That was pretty ugly to read about.


Mike (the Paladin) That was my meaning, there is always something very unpleasant or overly sad. For example the novel that brought this to my attention was "IT". The way the group "bonded" as young people troubled me. The Stand is the closest (I'm aware of) to having actual "heroes" other of his books have slightly...I don't know, twisted situations. Then that's my take.

The priest shows up in one of the later books of the series, not The Gunslinger, sorry, my bad. I said the Gunslinger series. I should have said Dark Tower Series. Sorry. He's in one of the later books of the series.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) I got you, Mike. SK does have a twisted imagination. I heard about that in "IT". I might skip that part. :)


Susan The two Lot shorts ("Jerusalem's Lot" and "One for the Road") are both in the collection Night Shift.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) I'm set then! I have that. Thanks, Susan!


message 24: by AH (last edited Jan 17, 2011 03:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

AH Great review, Danielle. I went through a Stephen King phase a long time ago. I remember how this book freaked me out almost as much as the Shining did.


message 25: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Great review Danielle! Someone punches their baby in the face??? I don't think I would have been able to read past that. :( I am a total wuss about those things since I've had kids.


message 26: by Nissie Lambert (new)

Nissie Lambert Catherine, I felt the same way about Pet Cemetery. My kids were about the same age as the little boy and it just tore me apart! We were watching it at the drive-in and I left at the truck part. My boyfriend got out and asked the people beside us if he could finish it with them, but I left and cried all the way home.


message 27: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Your boyfriend was lame! He should have gone with you! I know I watched Pet Cemetery years ago, but I really don't remember it at all. What happened to the little boy?


message 28: by Nissie Lambert (new)

Nissie Lambert Yeah, I thought it was pretty lame, myself! The little boy was hit by a tractor-trailer and killed. I was DESTROYED, I tell you.


message 29: by Catherine (new)

Catherine OMG! I remember now! That was so horrible!

I avoid a lot of the news stories relating to abused/killed small children too. They make me cry. :(


message 30: by Nissie Lambert (new)

Nissie Lambert Oh,me too! My kids are your age now, but I don't think I'll ever get over thinking of them as my babies. I always thought those stories- real or fiction- were horrible,but it just gets much more real when you have kids of your own.


message 31: by ~Vixhen~ (new)

~Vixhen~ King's books are always too long and intense for me to read. I did read Misery, however. Salem's Lot has always been a favorite movie of mine, in fact I really like his movies. I guess watching the movie is much easier than reading the book. Exception: The Exorcist. I will NEVER watch that movie again in life. Talk about over the top creepy...


message 32: by Nissie Lambert (new)

Nissie Lambert The Exorcist is the most frightening thing I've ever seen in my life!!! I don't know why I keep punishing myself by reading Stephen King and watching the movies,but I do. As disturbed as the guy obviously is, I still think he's brilliant. I watch The Shining at least once a year. Old and new versions.


message 33: by Quinn (new)

Quinn Thanks for the review Danielle. I like King's books but there is no way I could choose to read something where a mother punches her baby in the face. I'm sure it's a tiny part of the whole, but that is horror right there.


Tammy Walton Grant Excellent commentary, Danielle! I'm interested to hear what you think of the 2 short stories the involve 'Salem's Lot, as well (the ones from Night Shift).

Night Shift itself has some of the scariest short stories I've ever read in it -- "The Bogeyman" especially.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Thanks, Girls. I hated seeing the poor baby abused! It still lingers in my mind. It's sad b/c I know people who would be great parents but can't have kids, to see others hurt their children that way. I don't think I'm brave enough to read Pet Sematary. I can't watch the movie, either. Child death is one of those places I can't go, even in fiction.

I am looking forward to reading Night Shift. Maybe I will try to read it soon, Tammy.

Chichimo, I read Misery and it scared the crap out of me. Psycho killers are too scary to me--too real! I'd rather read about vampires. :)


message 36: by Susan (new)

Susan I read this years ago and it scared the crap out of me. I was reading at work and someone slammed a door. I think I jumped a mile in my seat :)


message 37: by Jess (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jess I am totally with you on the most disturbing, psychologically scarey part of the story being the mother that abused her own child! You summed up the way I felt about this novel perfectly. Thanks!


Susan well, aren't we a bright ray of sunshine? :>


Jamie It was a long time ago that I read Salem's Lot, but the kid's friend tapping at the window, inviting him and taunting him out is an image that remains with me to this day.

Well played, Mr. King...


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* I think the baby scene was the most disturbing too!


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Yeah that was rough, Erin. And the vampire kids were super-freaky!


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