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Book Review: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

SalemslothardcoverBook: Salem’s Lot

Published: 1975

Author: Stephen King. Inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, King wanted to write a vampire story for the 20th century. What emerged was a book that addressed more than the fear of supernatural monsters. In more than one interview “The Master of Horror” has said that out of all his books, Salem’s Lot was his favorite. In 1987 during an interview with Phil Konstantin for The Highway Patrolman magazine he said: “In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it.” While there have been rumors of a sequel, King has pretty much quashed these by saying that a Salem’s Lot story continues through his Dark Tower series, particularly in “Wolves of Calla” (2003) and “Song of Susannah” (2004). The town Is also revisited in the short stories “Jerusalem’s Lot “and “One For the Road”, which are both part of King’s “Night Shift “(1978) anthology.

Characters: Ben Mears, Matt Burke, Mark Petrie, Susan Norton, Father Callahan, Kurt Barlow, Richard Straker. Ralphie Glick, Danny Glick, Mike Ryerson

Plot: Thirty-three-year old Ben Mears is a writer who’s decided to move back to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot after being away for twenty-five years. He immediately strikes up a friendship with Matt Burke, a high school teacher, and becomes romantically involved with Susan Norton, a Boston University graduate who has also recently moved back to town. There’s a reason why Ben has decided to come back to Jerusalem’s Lot though, and it’s not because of nostalgia. Having first moved to the small town when he was nine years old to live with his aunt after his father died and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, young Ben was talked into entering the “haunted” Marsten House by a group of older boys and to steal an object from it. When he enters the house he immediately snatches a snowglobe from the first floor living room, but decides to further prove his bravery by going upstairs. In one of the bedrooms he discovers the body of Hubie Marsten hanging from the rafters. He’s never been able to forget the ghoulish scene, and still has nightmares about it. He’s suffering from survivor’s guilt after losing his wife in a motorcycle accident from which he walked away without a scratch. Having written three novels, and considered a moderately successful author, Ben has decided to focus on the Marsten House as the topic of his next book. Ben is planning to live in it and hopes to purge both his childhood memories and his current grief. His plans go seriously awry when the sinister Kurt Barlow arrives in town and purchases the house for himself and his mysterious business partner Richard Straker. But when young Ralphie and Danny Glick venture into the forest one night and only one of them makes it out alive, Ben, Matt, and Susan realize there are terrifying forces at work here that now endanger the entire town.

That Moment in: Salem’s Lot

Chapter 9: There are plenty of scary and horrifying moments in this book, but there’s one in particular that gives me the chills to this day. It comes when Matt Burke goes to check on a noise he hears coming from his second floor guest bedroom. The scene reads in part:

“Going up the stairs was the hardest thing Matt Burke had ever done in his life. Nothing else even came close…”
“He mounted the steps, one by one, avoiding the sixth, which creaked. He held on to the crucifix, and his palm was sweaty and slick. He reached the top and looked soundlessly down the hall. The guest room door was ajar. He had left it shut. Walking carefully to avoid squeaks, he went down to the door and stood in front of it. The basis of all human fears, he thought. A closed door, slightly ajar. He reached out and pushed it open…”

Why It Matters: This passage perfectly captures one of our biggest fears: the fear of the unknown. Reading this as a 13 year old in 1979, I felt as though I was looking through Mr. Burke’s eyes, as he went up those stairs to confront the monster he knew was behind that door. That short journey was just as terrifying as the actual confrontation with the vampire itself. Even now, thirty seven years later, this scene makes my heart beat just a little faster. I also think that it’s a perfect example of what makes Stephen King such a fantastic writer. The prolific author is a genius at knowing exactly what scares us the most, and dragging it kicking and screaming out into the light. It’s why his fans will always keep coming back for more.

Kim is a contributing writer for That Moment Visit her website By Hook or By Book


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