Book Talk: ‘Salem’s Lot

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Author: Stephen King
Original date released: 17 October 1975
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0-385-00751-1
Pages: 595
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Synopsis

Thousands of miles away from the small township of ‘Salem’s Lot, two terrified people, a man and a boy, still share the secrets of those clapboard houses and tree-lined streets. They must return to ‘Salem’s Lot for a final confrontation with the unspeakable evil that lives on in the town.

(via Goodreads)

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I’ve had the reissue, illustrated edition of ‘Salem’s Lot sitting on my bookshelf for many years. I originally ordered it from one of those book club memberships where you’d get like three books free for just shipping, and then you’d get the catalog in the mail every season with new additions for a discount. I snatched up this copy, because it has about 100 pages of extra material at the end––a couple short stories based around ‘Salem’s Lot and “deleted scenes” from the main text. Like a lot of readers, I was waiting for “the right time to read it,” which turned out to be probably ten years after purchasing it. Whoops.

‘Salem’s Lot is the perfect summer read, which may sound unbelievable, but stay with me. Lot features certain elements that King does best: it’s a sprawling epic of a novel with a dozen recurring narrative voices in a small town where shit goes down. It’s the sort of novel you want when you’re sitting on your porch, drinking some iced tea, listening to the groan of cicadas. It’s atmospheric and haunting. The characters make stupid decisions, but they make stupid decisions that you’re somehow invested in. And, it’s quite a large book, and the summertime is the perfect time for large, devouring reads. I’d say the same thing about It––a King novel that I read last summer. Perhaps this will be a new tradition of mine: one huge King novel a summer.

Now, this is a horror blog, so you might be wondering if I found the novel scary or not. I do think there are creepy moments, particularly the scene with the school bus. That scene has stuck with me since finishing the novel, and might be that one moment I think back to fondly while discussing the book. It’s terrifying, and I loved it. At first, I was a bit unsure how the novel would juggle the haunted house trope along with the vampire trope, but King handled it well. Quite deliberately, the house felt like something out of a Shirley Jackson novel: it’s a sprawling, decaying spector to the quiet destruction of Jerusalem’s Lot.

And, if you’re a fan of vampires, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by King’s take on the monster. The vampire, Kurt Barlow, is so sassy and witty; he stole the scenes he was in, and just like I root for Dracula, I wasn’t angry he was killing off a bunch of people in the town. He has a scene with the town pastor that is of particular delight to me, and one of the strongest, most compelling scenes in the novel. It centers around faith and belief and makes you question whether or not the town and its inhabitants want to be saved.

The one critique I have lies with the other characters in the novel. They don’t have a lot of personality (a lot of King’s characters tend to sound and act the same, I’ve found), and they don’t really develop throughout the book––but that sort of works in the novel. The one character I thought was pretty great was Mark Petrie. He’s a geeky twelve-year-old who loves universal monsters, and he’s arguably the smartest character in the novel. I would love a book that’s about him hunting vampires and nerdily talking about monsters as a grown up.

All in all, King’s writing and storytelling shines in ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s accessible and not too long or too weird if you’re new to Stephen King’s writing. I highly recommend!

Until next time, stay scary.

––E.

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Book Talk: The Collector by John Fowles

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Synopsis

Withdrawn, uneducated and unloved, Frederick collects butterflies and takes photographs.He is obsessed with a beautiful stranger, the art student Miranda. When he wins the pools he buys a remote Sussex house and calmly abducts Miranda, believing she will grow to love him in time. Alone and desperate, Miranda must struggle to overcome her own prejudices and contempt if she is understand her captor, and so gain her freedom.

(via Goodreads)

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I picked The Collector up because it sounded psychologically interesting, and it sounded like it might be disturbing–and who doesn’t love feeling disturbed? I was not disappointed on either front. This book made me really uncomfortable in certain areas, if only because the mindset that Frederick has seems so familiar to that particular set of young males who feel personally offended whenever a woman doesn’t return whatever feelings they might have. It’s just a book that hit a bit too close to home. I was both glad that the book didn’t let me down, and also sad that the situation read a bit too relevant still.

It’s fascinating reading Frederick’s point of view throughout the book, because you get to see how he justifies/views his actions. And I love that Fowles then gives us Miranda’s point of view from her diary of the things we’d seen up until that point solely through Frederick’s POV. I will say, I felt her portion dragged a bit and was a tad too repetitive, but it does make you feel for her, and it makes the book even more thrilling because you start to hope she’ll make it out the prison Frederick has placed her in. Fowles also does a great job at showing her deterioration of spirit into a sort of madness as her captivity progresses.

I’ve seen some criticism about her unlikeable voice, but I found her to be a Salinger’s Franny-esque character, which made her more likable. (And, in case you were wondering, Frederick reads very Humbert Humbert mixed with–what I would presume from the character, as I still haven’t read the book–Joe from You. He’s sarcastic and dry and bitter, but also highly eloquent and logical in the same way Humbert Humbert is.)

My favorite part of the novel were the Tempest inspirations strewn throughout it. I love that Frederick tells Miranda his name is Ferdinand, and that she calls him Caliban. It’s perfect for the situation, and it added some complexity and literary depth to the book that I quite enjoyed. And, of course, the imagery of her being a butterfly that Frederick has attempted to collect and pin down is wonderfully tragic.

So, if you’re in the market for a quiet but disturbing read, I recommend The Collector. It’s horrific in how relatable it is, and it’s thrilling the sense that you want to know how Miranda can possibly get out of Frederick’s grasp. If you have any suggestions for other books to read that are Collector-esque, let me know! I’m always in the market for new horror books to check out.

Until next time, stay scary.

–E.