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Thursday, February 23, 2006

‘Salem’s Lot — Book Review

The recent re-release of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot finally got me to pull my copy off the shelf. I bought it years ago as part of a three-in-one volume, which included Carrie (the book this aspiring author wanted to read after learning it was King’s first) and The Shining. Carrie and most of King’s short story collection Everything's Eventual : 14 Dark Tales had convinced me that I’d read enough of King. While Lot was a little better than the rest, my opinion of the horror writer only changed minimally.

Ben Mears returns to the town of Jerusalem’s Lot to conquer the nightmares that have persisted since he entered the storied Marsten House on a childhood dare. Instead, Mears learns that something truly sinister is going on in the town, and ends up becoming part of the last line of defense for the small town in Maine against a vampire.

Unlike most of what I’ve read from King, Lot presents a decent story — assuming the reader doesn’t minding suspending disbelief — that is given a full ending. My experience with the stories (of which I did not read all) in Everything’s Eventual was that the “king of horror” would take a promising story and ruin it with out-of-nowhere violence that merely ended as opposed to concluding the tale.

Horror fans will not be disappointed, though. While my copy lost what I’m sure was a particularly gruesome and apparently symbolic killing of a dog to poor production, there was plenty other chances for me to be horrified and reviled. This, of course, is a compliment to King. At least once or twice while reading late at night with no one else home, I’ll admit to hearing a few more house-settling noises than usual.

The story, after a mildly slow start, keeps you reading at a good rate. It’s more event-driven than literary folks looking for character development might want, but it works.

Unfortunately, King’s overzealous storytelling and desire to be a literary author trips him up every now and then. For example, at one point a member of Mears’ vampire-killing-crew must escape being tied up. King oozes with childlike excitement describing a technique for escaping such predicaments the kid (and no doubt King, as a kid) had read about in a book. At another stage, and this might be too picky, Mears is said to shrug in the midst of an otherwise horrifying scene. I just felt like there were moments, even within this solidly entertaining story, that I was tolerating a story from an energetic kid looking to impress.

The main reason it takes some effort to get into the story is that King’s attempt to give his readers a real sense of the town is overdone. He almost loses the reader as the main characters take forever to emerge. His use of fictional newspaper clippings, which is also found in Carrie, doesn’t work well either.

Even if you’re not a horror fan, ‘Salem’s Lot merits, just barely, being worth the read. It has at least boosted my opinion of King enough to know that I will pull the volume off the shelf again to finish the set with The Shining, though I admit the performance of Jack Nicholson in the film — which is apparently vastly different from the book — has a lot to do with that. (I do not recommend the three-books-in-one publication; it’s bulky as hell, and the production at least on mine was poor.)

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