REVIEW: SALEM'S LOT
The emperor of ice cream...
I've never read anything by Stephen King before and I didn't think that I'd be a massive fan of many of his books, but SALEM'S LOT is one that I had heard about more recently when Alex from Tall Guy Reads mentioned it in one of his videos and I do like a good Vampire story so I had been toying with picking this up at some point. When Nick Stewart invited his subscribers on YouTube to do a bit of a King buddy read for some of his novels, I jumped at the chance to pick this one up.
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 A gripping sense of atmosphere, characters that felt alarmingly real, and a spooky story that escalates slowly to a chaotic climax all made this an enjoyable read. There were some stylistic things about King's prose (or perhaps just the audio narration) that threw me off a tiny bit, but overall, I really liked SALEM'S LOT and am glad to have finally read something by this famous author.
One aspect of King's writing that I did not expect to live up to the hype was how he handles his characters. I have heard time and time again how real his characters feel, almost to a point where I've wanted to roll my eyes. So, imagine my surprise at how King makes creating authentic-feeling characters in a short amount of time look so effortless. I don't know if all of King's stories feature large casts, but this one definitely did, so I was especially blown away that even the most insignificant of side characters felt so life-like. It was interesting that even some of the main characters like Ben, Mark, Jimmy, and Father Callahan were so deeply flawed in many ways. For some reason though, I will say that I didn't feel especially attached to anyone regardless of whether their role was big or small. They all interested me, but they didn't necessarily make me feel anything and I think that made some of the more dramatic deaths and/or perilous situations feel a little flat for me. Again, I can't really pinpoint what it was, maybe I just prefer characters that are larger than life than those that are especially life-like.
Another thing I hear repeatedly is how iconic some of the settings are in King's books. Again, I must agree, that the fictional town of Jerusalem's Lot (referred to as Salem's Lot), Maine, is a fully realized and deeply memorable place. Partly because of all the townspeople we get to meet, but also because of the strategically minimal descriptions of the town itself, there is is a living and breathing feeling to this town. The spooky atmosphere and distinctly New England vibe were two things I really connected with and this really did seem like the type of place that an ancient vampire might pick to settle down in.
Due to the era in which the story is set, I felt like this had a distinctly old-timey feel to it. I could never quite figure out if I liked or disliked this aspect of the book, but I don't think a story like this would have worked in the age of cell phones and social media, so I think it was a fitting choice overall. There are definitely a couple choice words used that some might not appreciate, but I felt like they were accurately employed for this decade.
For some reason, I went in thinking that things would get weird and gruesome a lot faster than they did. Even though I'd never read King before, I'd somehow come to associate him with faster-paced and more gruesome fiction. While there are definitely some pretty gnarly moments in SALEM'S LOT, I found this to be much more of a suspenseful story that slowly builds up over time. I didn't feel fear in the same way that I might in a scary movie or game, it was more about an ever-present sense of dread and a tension over the unknown. That said, some of the vampiric elements to the story were a lot more typical and predictable than I thought they were going to be. While King is very open about how heavily he was inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula as well as some other vampire stories, I'd expected him to do a little more to distinguish his vampire from those that came before. That's not to say that King's vampire is entirely unoriginal or anything, I was just expecting to be more surprised than I was.
Reading this on Audiobook was a pretty good experience. The narrator was good and provided some nice dramatization for the different characters, but I felt like he also may have been part of the reason that I felt like the book was a little bit on the slower side. Had I read this physically or on eBook, I do wonder if I would have felt a greater sense of urgency and intensity, but reading it on audio did allow me to squeeze this into my current reading plans when I might not have had time for it otherwise. I thought King reading out the Forward himself was also a nice touch.
If you are like me and enjoy a good, spooky vampire story, then I think SALEM'S LOT will satisfy that, especially as a fall read. While there's nothing crazy here in terms of evolving vampire lore, I feel like King saw something that wasn't broken and decided he didn't need to fix it, so I respect that. This book isn't among my all time favorites and it didn't do anything to make we want to rip through King's entire catalog, but I did have a really good time with it and will likely give something else by him a try at some point in the future.
(+) Amazing setting and atmosphere
(+) Life-like characters
(+) Vampire elements were well done
(+) More suspenseful than horrifying/grotesque
(-) I didn't feel as invested in the characters as I wanted to for some reason
(-) Some of the twists and turns related to the vampires were somewhat expected