Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shepherd492 reviews: 'Salem's Lot

'Salem's Lot (Stephen King)

'Salem's Lot is the story of a small town that is infected by vampires. The vampires don't come into play until roughly halfway through the novel, however. Before that, it is mostly focused on Ben Mears, and his return to the town after some twenty years away. He interacts with characters, develops relationships, and tries to figure out the mystery behind the mysterious house on the hill- the old Marsten residence. A few sequences during this part detail people being assaulted, and strange disappearances. These segments take some of the mystery out of the big reveal, as it is fairly obvious that the culprits are vampires. Even if the mystery is flimsy, there are still some legitimately scary sequences as the vampires stalk and attack our main characters. Some of the suspense is also ruined by letting you know who will survive in the prologue of the book. Though it doesn't necessarily mean none of the other characters will live, it does tell you two that are guaranteed to survive.

'Salem's Lot doesn't feel "populated" the town in the same way Derry from It did. This is because the POV of the various townspeople is often used, and when they aren't the featured viewpoint, they are either "missing" or completely forgotten about. In It, this problem didn't exist because these very minor characters developed personalities of their own in relation to the seven children in the novel, some becoming fixtures in the lives of the Losers. In 'Salem's Lot, some of these POV minor characters are never even seen by our heroes, and serve only to up the kill count.

When the vampires are finally revealed , they are a formidable threat for our main characters. One vampire is able to infect most of the town over the course of only a few weeks. In addition, these vampires possess nearly every stereotypical vampiric trait, including transparency, hypnotic powers, and super strength. Unfortunately, these vampires are restricted in many of the same ways too, being stopped by a stake through the heart, holy water, faith, and sunlight. I found the overabundance of common vampire tropes to be somewhat unnecessary, and detract from an otherwise great set of villains.

'Salem's Lot uses a great variety of points of view, and character archetypes. The five or six characters that are actually expanded upon are very interesting, but the various minor bit players, given only one or two chapters in the entire novel, feel needless and drag the book down. First up is Ben, a writer looking to face his childhood fears. Throughout the novel he must grapple with his fear of the Marsten house, and the impending vampire invasion. He also becomes romantically involved with Susan, a local girl that is in awe of his previous works. This aspect of their relationship is handled adeptly, as are many scenes where Susan and Ben are attempting to plan their next move, or uncover the mystery, but some scenes just fall flat. Susan doesn't have much of a personality, coming across as somewhat of a two timing whore because she is cheating on her on and off boyfriend Floyd to be with Ben.

Mark is portrayed very well, the author nails a child's viewpoint as he so frequently does. Mark's knowledge of the horror genre, and vampires, along with a cool head and resourcefulness allows him to survive the vampires. He is portrayed in a much different light than the adult characters, and this is key to making him a distinct and enjoyable character. Callahan at first comes across as a bit of a one note character, but when explored in later chapters, he becomes a character facing a major dilemma in his life and faith. Central to his character is the division between the older branch of the Catholic church and the newer members, his beliefs are somewhere in the middle, and much of his part is him trying to reconcile these differences, while attempting to stop the vampires in any way he can. Matt is a very enlightened English teacher that develops a sudden interest in vampires when he has a near fatal run in with one of the first people to be infected. His character develops a very hard working personality, in addition to a great rapport with Ben.

The primary villains are very powerful as well. Straker, the assistant to the vampire leader, has a striking description, and his entertaining dialogue with seedy real estate agent Larry Crockett helps keep the first half of the book afloat. Barlow, the lead vampire, isn't explored much, but he is described as being very powerful, and incredibly intelligent. He outsmarts our heroes at nearly every turn and is definitely a more than sufficient villain. One "villain" I would've liked to see more of was Larry Crockett. He is featured often early in the book, before and slightly after selling the property to Straker, but as things get worse in the town, his character is basically forgotten before finally being killed off. His role was definitely unfulfilled in my mind, as he had more to contribute to the plot, and to the conflict as a foil to our main characters.

Descriptions of the town do a great job of establishing the context for certain events and actions, and the Marsten House is described with just the right amount of eerie foreboding. Dialogue is mostly good, Straker's sarcastic manner and blunt phrasing being a favorite. As mentioned before, shifting the point of view to tertiary characters at various points in the book didn't achieve anything besides give it a discombobulated feel. These characters don't resonate in any real way when they are basically just vampire fodder. Most scenes involving the vampires are written extremely well, ratcheting up the tension even when the character's fate may already be pre ordained (such as when Straker kidnaps and ties up Mark). Tone is also shifted suitably for the various characters.

The mystery isn't much, and the book is bogged down by several unnecessary points of view, but great villains, and a strong central cast make this an good, but not quite great, book.

Final Score

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