By Stephen King
’Salem’s Lot is a book you could take and plop into any time period you wished, and it would still work. It’s your typical genre piece that I feel every writer gets around to at some point. That’s not saying it’s bad. Not at all. I quite enjoyed my read of King’s ’Salem’s Lot. However, I was able to take it at a leisurely pace, put it down for a few days without thinking about it, and go about my life without wanting to get home and pick the book up.
The genre on the back says “fiction/horror,” and I’m actually inclined to disagree somewhat. You’ll remember if you read my blog post on The Shining that I’m a notorious and life-long chicken. I don’t do scary. Reading scary books now is my way of trying to desensitize and branch out of my comfort zone. So either I’ve had too much success with that, or ’Salem’s Lot isn’t all that terrifying. Creepy? Yep. Unsettling? You bet. Scary? Eh. A good read? Absolutely!
As usual, King has some delightfully unique imagery. In ’Salem’s Lot, he skirts the line between dramatic and serious well, never quite falling into either one. Of course, a clear voice through a novel is essential, and no one can say King isn’t good at that!
Which brings me to the characters of ’Salem’s Lot! I loved them. All of them. The characters in this book are the driving force to keep reading. The characters are the reason I enjoyed ’Salem’s Lot more than The Shining. Even the people that showed up for a scene or less, I could remember. Why? Spectacular characterization! Each one felt like a person, and that’s so, so important. Usually a novel can get away with some cardboard-like side characters. King didn’t bother with that. Nope. Every person with a name got a little backstory—sometimes less than a sentence, but it’s enough if done well—and it really brings the novel up to another level. Every main character had unique trauma reactions and displays of disbelief. It’s been a long time since I read a book that I could see the characters so clearly.
The only, and I mean only, issue I had with the book was the name of one of the characters: Jimmy Cody. Periodically, King will call characters by their last names, which is fine if your last name isn’t also a first name. This led me to a few different instances of confusion in the final quarter of ’Salem’s Lot. In one sentence, Jimmy would be called Cody, and in the next, he’d be Jimmy again. It was the one thing I had to actively remember. He’s not two people! In scenes with three or more characters—and there are a fair few written this way—it’s really easy to forget that Jimmy Cody is one person. But hey, maybe you’ll remember better than I did now that you’ve seen this!
Even if the plot of ’Salem’s Lot isn’t super intriguing on its own, or too surprising, the characters, the ordinary people that King creates and throws into a terrible situation, are worth the trouble. Ask me if you should give it a go? Read it for yourself? My response: Yes!
Next time, we’ll be taking a look at a childhood favorite of mine: Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Just Ella!