A couple weeks ago, I introduced you to a new blog feature where each month we’ll take a little tour of libraries around the world. Well, what better way to compliment that than to have another new blog feature to show off a book or two you might find in said libraries? I know, genius, eh?
AND NOW…BOOK OF THE MONTH (OR WHATEVER): SALEM’S LOT
My obsession with Stephen King books may be partly to blame on genetics. My father devoured all of King’s books when I was a kid and the presence of the creepy Mr. King was all around – not-yet-read books on the shelves, in-the-process-of-reading books on the couch, and finished books tucked away in the spare bedroom. When my reading progressed from horse stories and teenage detectives it was only natural that I pick up a Stephen King book. I’ve been a fan ever since.
I have to admit when I started down the King road I mainly stuck to his collections of short stories because damn that dude knows how to kill trees. Looking up at my collection of his paperbacks very few are less than two inches thick and I know the insides are full of words in 10 point font. Reading King sometimes can be more of a commitment than marriage.
As an aspiring writer working like a slave to get a first novel published I’ve been delving into some of my favorite authors’ first books. Naturally I picked up Carrie – Stephen King’s first published novel (lucky bastard). Honestly, I don’t know what his publishers were smoking – it was the seventies after all – because I couldn’t stand it. The characters annoyed me and after only twenty pages of bland exposition I put the book down thinking, “This guy is a multi-million dollar best-selling author and I’m not?”
But I needed to see what King had in his early career to wow the public so I trudged on and picked up book number two – Salem’s Lot. There it was – the captivating writing, ease of reading, and compelling storyline that I and so many other authors dream of achieving.
Salem’s Lot is set in a small town (actually called Jerusalem’s Lot but the publishers thought that had too many religious implications for a title). The town’s in the process of some new residents settling in. First is Ben Mears who has come to the Lot to research his next novel. He grew up in Salem’s Lot and feels the creepy house on the hill’s history is excellent fodder for a story. Also appearing are Mr. Straker and Mr. Barlow. We don’t actually meet Barlow until well into the novel but his reputation is continually built up. One note here, if anyone has read Dracula (totally recommended by the way, it’s a fascinating read that is far scarier than any of the movies) you will notice VERY striking similarities in the beginning as Straker prepares for Barlow’s arrival.
Ben meets the town cutie, Susan, they hit it off, and it’s a cute side plot even if their dialogue sounds utterly ridiculous at times. Then the weird things start happening. Dogs are impaled, children disappear, and people start having flu symptoms while wanting to sleep all day. In an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario the town slowly starts to reject the day although no one can figure out why. The town’s teacher has his theories but those who listen write him off as the nutty old guy – until Ben and his new buddy Dr. Cody go to make sure one of the recently “dead” bodies isn’t waking up at sunset. Oh damn, it is and they have to believe and fight for Salem’s Lot.
Besides Ben and Susan’s dialogue the only other part of the book that made me laugh and wonder how King got away with something so ridiculous is when the newly wakened vampire bites Dr. Cody. Of course this is one of those vampire stories where just one bite turns the bitee into a vampire (after a few days of flu-like symptoms, of course). Dr. Cody is naturally worried he’s now one of the damned (being a vampire is bad in this book, as opposed to the trendy vampirism of Twilight). What’s the solution? He flushes the bite with saline and gives himself a tetanus shot. Who knew not becoming a vampire was so easy? No worse than stepping on a rusty nail.
All kidding aside, Salem’s Lot excels as a great story of good versus evil. It’s definitely a page-turner as you root for Ben and Company to battle the vampires and eventually the big baddies themselves: Straker and Barlow. I won’t give too much away, but only two people survive out of a big cast of characters.
The other great thing about Salem’s Lot? It’s short. If you haven’t read King and want to sample some of his writing this is a great place to start. Rather than committing to a 1000-page novel, this only runs about 300 pages of gruesome excitement. Stephen King’s fabulous follow up was The Shining where he really finds his voice that carried him through years and years of great stories.