'Salem's Lot

I can't quite remember which of Stephen King's novels I read first as a teenager, but I would say that 'Salem's Lot was one of the very first. As you know, I've been revisiting many of King's early works to see how well they've aged over the years. And I was surprised by how "timeless" this one turned out to be. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it's mostly about vampires and small towns, two things that haven't changed that much since the 70s? Hard to say. Yet this novel is nearly as good now as it was then.

What shocked me the most while rereading 'Salem's Lot as an adult was the fact that King was only twenty-three years old when he wrote the book. It's not perfect, mind you, but it shows an amount of depth that is seldom seen in one so young. It's got heart and soul in abundance. In short, it showcases a young man brimming with talent and imagination who was about to become one of the most popular authors in the world. Rereading these novels allows me to see the evolution that catapulted King to superstardom and that's a pretty cool experience.

Here's the blurb:

'Salem's Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in 'Salem's Lot was a summer of home-coming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to 'Salem's Lot hoping to cast out his own devils... and found instead a new unspeakable horror.

A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.

All would be changed forever—Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of 'Salem's Lot.

While King was teaching a course on fantasy and science fiction, one of the books covered in the class was Bram Stoker's Dracula. While discussing the novel over dinner, King and his wife wondered what would happen if Dracula came back in the twentieth century, this time to America. They quickly realized that it wouldn't work in a metropolis like New York City. It was Tabitha who suggested a rural setting for the story. The author's mind kept returning to this idea in the following days. He wondered what would happen if a vampire suddenly showed up in a sleepy little country town. Unable to suppress the urge to find out, King wrote 'Salem's Lot. The original title was meant to be Second Coming, which was changed because it sounded, according to his wife, like a bad sex story. Jerusalem's Lot was then shortened by his publisher who felt that it sounded too religious.

Stephen King said 'Salem's Lot is one of his favorite books mostly because of what it says about small towns. In a way, 'Salem's Lot and the men, women, and children who make it their home are the main backdrop of this tale. This small New England town, with its idiosyncrasies, is what drives the story, not the vampires. And it's probably the one thing I didn't get about this novel as a teenager. This tapestry of POVs and relationships truly is the heart of the story. It's what makes it come alive.

Though the book is comprised of multiple points of view, the four main protagonists are Ben, Susan, Father Callahan, and young Mark. Back in town to exorcize his childhood demons  by writing a new novel set in 'Salem's Lot, strange events will soon make Ben realize that something wrong is occurring. As everything begins to unravel, with his new girlfriend Susan, Ben will seek help from an old high school teacher and the local Catholic priest to drive out the ancient evil that is rapidly consuming 'Salem's Lot. Young Mark will become an unlikely ally, though he will pay a heavy price for his involvement. In typical King fashion, this disparate group makes for a great cast of characters.

The structure of the novel is interesting, if a little puzzling at the very beginning, what with the story starting after the events that saw 'Salem's Lot become a ghost town. Then King takes readers back into the past, at the time when Ben Mears returns to his childhood home to write what he hopes will be the novel that relaunches his career. The bulk of the tale recounts the town's downfall, though certain scenes take us back to the future as Ben ponders what to do next. The epilogue brings a satisfying sense of closure, even though it's an open-ended sort of finale. The short story "One for the Road" takes place three years following the events of 'Salem's Lot and shows that danger still lurks in that part of Maine.

Definitely one of King's signature works!

The final verdict: 8/10

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