Sunday, September 20, 2009

REVIEW: Salem's Lot

Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books/$7.99
Date of Publication: !975/1999
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

In talking about his inspiration for writing 'Salem's Lot, Stephen King tells us, in an introduction penned in 1999: "I wondered out loud to my wife what might have happened if Drac had appeared not in turn-of-the-century London but in the America of the 1970s."

King envisioned that such a monster could operate with "lethal ease" in a New England burg, and, with that realization, he also drew from many sources, including comics and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

In 1999, King wrote that in the post-Vietnam America he "inhabited and still loved (often against my better instincts)" between 1972 and 1975 (when he penned the book): "I saw a metaphor for everything that was wrong with the society around me."

In this, the author's second, novel, King writes of New England, not only of its people and its beauty but also of its hardships and its darkness:

Being in the town is prosaic, sensuous, alcoholic. And in the dark, the town is yours and you are the town's and together you sleep like the dead, like the very stones in your north field. There is no life here but the slow death of days, and so when the evil falls on the town its coming seems almost preordained, sweet and morphic. It is almost as though the town knows the evil was coming and the shape it would take.
('Salem's Lot, Chapter 10)

The vitality and the darkness were attractive to the "Dracula" character in this story, Barlow, who, in explaining to a character why he chose Jerusalem's Lot, said:

The people have not cut off the vitality which flows from their mother, the earth, with a shell of concrete and cement. Their hands are plunged into the very waters of life. They have ripped the life from the earth, whole and beating! Is it not true?

With the main protagonists being a novelist (Ben Mears), a boy (Mark Petrie), a young medical doctor (Jimmy Cody), a high school English teacher (Matthew Burke), a young artist (Susan Norton) and a Catholic priest (Father Callahan), the story is enriched by newspaper clippings, much as Stoker's narrative was largely made up of newspaper clippings, letters and phonographic spool recordings.

While Ben and Mark may be the characters who most steadfastly, and valiantly, try to cleanse the town of the great and implacable evil that has befallen it, amid the the big and terrible tapestry masterfully woven by King in this modern-day re-interpretation of the original Dracula are awful and wonderful threads of sadness, and pettiness and goodness....and ultimately of all the forces and elements that make up a town and its residents, especially in a small, rock-bedecked slice of rural New England called 'Salem's Lot.