MJ’s American Lit: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

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Do you like scary stories?  No?  Okay, bye!

Just kidding.  ‘Salem’s Lot was one of Stephen King’s first hits. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe he wrote this one before he got sober, so there’s that.  The bottom line: I enjoyed it. Here’s why.

Setting

Holy cow does King knock this one out the park. ‘Salem’s Lot is short for Jerusalem’s Lot, a tiny hamlet located smack-dab in the middle of picturesque Maine (one of the more under-appreciated states from what I’m told). From sight to smell, King places you in ‘Salem’s Lot, which ends up making this story much more terrifying. What I love most about King’s setting is how he uses it as a symbol (the whole story is an allegory, really) for the dying small towns of America. Even though this book was written three decades ago, the social commentary is more relevant than ever. King painstakingly manages to make his setting a bonafide character.

That’s a literary master right there, y’all.

Characters

Let me get this out of the way: there are no Roland Deschains in ‘Salem’s Lot—no samurai-like badasses battling the supernatural. What we get are homegrown, small town folks doing the best they can with what they got. I can dig that, but let’s go on to what King does best: villains.

Holy shit, y’all. Kurt Barlow. That’s it. That’s all you need to know… I’ll tell you more though. Kurt Barlow is a mysterious European who buys a formerly-abandoned home in ‘Salem’s Lot. After he moves in, the town gets less quiet. King builds up this big bad so well that you don’t even want him to show up when he does.

Barlow is the root of all evil. His corruption knows no bounds and the things he does are unspeakable at best. Arguably my favorite part of any horror book ever comes in the form of a letter Barlow writes to the protagonist of ‘Salem’s Lot. If that shit doesn’t send a chill up your spine then you need to get checked out.

Plot

Well, it’s King so… slow.  There is a lot of buildup, which is not a bad thing, but this book (like most King books) is lengthy. That being said, I can assure you the payoff is worth it. To me, Salem’s Lot is a masterpiece. Is it perfect? No—no book is. It’s close though, and that’s what counts.

Brief synopsis: a writer with a sordid past moves back home to ‘Salem’s Lot to finish his latest novel. Writer ends up falling for the local sweetheart. A mysterious foreigner and his faithful man-servant move into a creepy house on the edge of town. Pets start dying, children go missing, and adults lose their minds.

The writer and his rag-tag group of townies band together and eventually stumble upon an unbelievable realization.

That’s when things get really bad.

Overall

If you like horror, this is a must-read, but, full-disclosure, it’s a vampire book. That being said, I am not a fan of vampires, myself. Too commercialized. I’m a horror hipster, y’all. Still though, I enjoyed every page of ‘Salem’s Lot and I even learned some things I did not know about these mythical creatures. Have you ever heard of the unholy communion? If you have, feel free to keep it to yourself. It’s creepy in a super awesome way.

If you like horror even the slightest bit, you should check this book out. Yes, some of the dialogue is dated, yes, it’s a bit long, and, yes, it’s King so the ending might leave you wanting more. Regardless, I’m confident you will have no regrets reading this absolutely essential piece of Americana. Enjoy.

Author: Mat J Author

Author of The Lives of Dogs: An Average Soldier's Tale and Books of the Forgotten. Interests include traveling and blogging. Available for freelance writing assignments and guest blogging.

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