#4: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Lesson learned: King always needed an editor with a heavier hand. I'll throw it out there right now. I never had any intention of finishing this book. I had tried numerous times in the past to slog through it, and never made it past the fifty page mark. I thought it was boring, overwritten, under-planned garbage not fit for kindling to start a fire. I only read it now because of the IMDB Horror Board Book Club, which I believe in so much that I'd suffer through just about anything to see it stay afloat. Three guesses which set of responses were mine. 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King is a melting pot novel: throw in some Shirley Jackson by way of The Haunting of Hill House; over boil for 300 pages (I read from the 629 page library bound edition, which is apparently rare nowadays) to ensure total confusion, boredom, and anger; sprinkle liberally with Stoker's Dracula; separate out all traces of Hill House because they have been rendered inedible; and saute over a slow burn for a final 100 or so pages of masterful suspense. For those out of the loop, 'Salem's Lot was Stephen King's second novel about a quaint little New England town overrun by vampires. Should I consider that a spoiler? Technically, yes, since there is barely anything to indicate that vampires exist in the novel until the halfway point. This is where King's characters begin to mock the ideas presented in Jackson's ...Hill House, claiming buildings cannot be evil and ghosts aren't real. Vampires, however, must be taken seriously. After reading the book, I feel there may actually be a halfway decent novel buried in the text. It's like the Da Vinci Code, only well written and unintentionally hiding an arguably rewarding secret. I can't fault the writing of the novel at all. It's solid. The descriptions are lovely. The characters are creative and well defined. Even the scare moments bring the blood and violence without seeming gratuitous. Is King a little heavy-handed on the thematic concerns? Absolutely. But what younger author isn't? I overplay my hand all the damn time, and I sure as heck don't have a book deal at this point. So where does my disappointment stem from in this novel? It's simple, really: editing. I feel half of this novel could be torn from the book and be slightly restructured into something magnificent. Do we need a twenty page interlude describing every building in the town right after our Jonathan Harker figure meets up with his Mina Murray, stopping the plot in its tracks? Of course not. That kind of description could be integrated into the plot smoothly without sacrificing necessary details. King stops to describe the pattern of shadows in the park that is never seen again in the novel. Or the exact size, shape, and coloration of a particular rat in a town dump overflowing with them. He even describes the style of binoculars held by the obese shut-in spying on everyone in town. They're not brief diversions, either; no. These passages go on for pages and pages. It's like someone planned a freeway, and put a stop sign with tire hazards in the far left lane: there's no real reason to make the driver slow down, yet they can't risk destroying their car just to avoid the extraneous pauses. There is one other concern I have with the novel. That little kid character is annoying. King likes empowering children, I get it. But could he empower a child that isn't more annoying than me trying to defend an experimental foreign indie horror film to people who don't understand why the murderous clown must have a pink bow on his forehead? I doubt it. The little kids are why I can't make it through The Shining or IT. It's only fair to admit that I really do not like the vast majority of vampire literature. It does nothing for me. Some are better written than others (even with my complaints, I'd say 'Salem's Lot falls into the former category), but I just don't find it scary or compelling. Oh, the drawing of blood from the neck or the breast is sexual. Vampires are our repressed animal instincts, pipe dreams, and sexual ambitions combined into a tall, dark, charismatic figure of ambiguous foreign origin. Only the purest of the pure can ever vanquish them, giving hope to humanity that the righteous shall triumph in the end. Does nothing for me. At least King spiced it up by making his vampires so vile and disgusting you longed for a bottle of holy water to burn their flesh and make them squirm. Up next: a reread of Stoker's Dracula On Deck: Tananarive Due's My Soul to Keep Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look No the conclusion of The Dark Chamber by Leonard Cline

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