Saturday, May 28, 2011

Book Review: Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Stephen King's second novel Salem's Lot reimagined Bram Stoker's Dracula by setting the story in 1970s America.  The novel set the formula King used for many of his other big novels, a small town is under threat from sinister forces, but as is often the case the people tend to be their own worst enemy.  The darkness underlying the reality in most small towns is fertile ground for great fiction and King is the master at tapping into that darkness.  Salem's Lot has its share of scares and social commentary, but suffers from an assortment of minor characters that slow down the story.

Ben Mears is the protagonist in Salem's Lot, a succesful young novelist that returns to his childhood home to research his new book.  Along the way, he begins a romance with a young artist Susan and eventually discovers that Jerusalem's Lot is infested with vampires.  King sketches out several of the locals from Salem's Lot, some join Ben in his fight against the vampires. Another key character is Tim Petrie, a perceptive child that sees the vampire threat.  Another fascinating character is the local priest Father Callahan, who is an Irish version of the Exorcist.

In his updated preface, King writes about his struggle in creating a vampire story in post-Vietnam America.  The villians are Nixonian: they rarely appear and tend to work in the shadows.  In many ways, the story owes more to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, rather than the classic Dracula story. The novel has bleak conclusion where the forces of evil prevail adds to the novel's power.  King takes awhile to develop the story so the middle is slow, but the final 200 pages are spellbinding.