Book Review: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

'Salem's Lot By Stephen King - Header

In my mind Stephen King is to writing what Steven Spielberg is to film making. He is “A-List Royalty” and, whether you like his work or not, you have to accept him as being at the very pinnacle of his industry. He, like Spielberg, simply commands respect through what he has achieved.

I’m not the biggest horror fan – I don’t really like scary movies and I try not to read scary books –  so the musing’s of King are not a natural draw for me. I think the reason for my slight dislike towards all things “scary” is due to a TV mini series in the mid 1990s called The Langoliers. Ironically, it was an adaptation of the King’s novella and it scared the heck out of me! Since then I have just never seem why people would actively go out of their way to be frightened for enjoyment and so, have always shied away from it as a genre. It wasn’t until I read King’s On Writing that I felt even the slightest draw back to the area. And then it was only because I wanted to see King “praise what he preached” more than the story itself.

It (Book) by Stephen King

Originally I had planned to read It as, in my mind, it is King’s most famous work, but apparently it’s 1300 pages long and, if I’m honest, that is just too long to commit to be potentially scared witless by words! As fate would have it, it just happened that a movie podcast I listen to were discussing the upcoming adaptation of King’s The Gunslinger (part of the Dark Tower series), and the discussion naturally moved to back to his books. It was mentioned that ‘Salmons Lot was one literately source that had provided a decent ground for previous adaptation and thus, well worth a read. So I did!

I really didn’t know what to expect, apart from a scary tale. I didn’t know anything about the plot, or how it would develop. I didn’t know if it was an in-your-face gory filled attack or a cerebral punishment that would worm into my thoughts and release the butterflies inside me. Either way, I was blind to the fear that was to potentially come. This meant that I actually relaxed into the book in a way that I didn’t expect. As I started reading I was almost on edge, worried about where I would be taken and what would happen as we went. So when I started to discover the route, and realised what was in store, it felt almost familiar and acceptable. It somehow became less frightening. As the story unfolded, and the narrative arc became clear, I somehow forgot the levels of tension and fear that were meant to get under my skin and instead just became interested in the surface of the characters.

Marsten House (Artwork) - 'Salems Lot by Stephen King

The result was that I didn’t actually find ‘Salem’s Lot scary at all. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was boring, but because it became a character story driven by wild fantasy, rather than a plausible tale, it never left me chilled. The scariest stories deal in situations that can happen to our lives. The darkness is scary because of the unknown that could potentially lurk beyond our sight. King, instead, uses ideas beyond our realm to attempt to petrify and I just found it one step too removed from the noises of the night to really affect me.

I also found that at times King’s writing became excruciating and even annoying. Too often it felt like he was writing for literacy accuracy and arrogance than for the reader’s enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, the world and the characters that King created were constantly clear and vivid in my mind. I felt an empathic pull towards the side of good over the side of evil, but while he made me like the characters and care about them, I never felt the danger they faced. I never felt like I was involved in the book, it never engaged me or dragged in me. I never connected deeply to the story because, at times, the writing would break the tension. The style and structure I expected, the natural rhythm of the story, would be splintered by a word or a phrase, that while grammatically correct, seemed out of character and place. I’d suddenly feel like King had included a turn purely to prove his superiority, rather than, due to an imperative demanding of place.

Author - 'Salems Lot by Stephen King

Worse than the fact the King litters the story with these unnatural instances is the way he ends the tale and then epilogues it with an idea that felt completely out of place. The main story just fades away into nothingness before confusion arises with a shift in perspective that confused everything that had gone before rather than clarifying it. It simply harmed what had been, to me, a pretty average story.

I didn’t hate ‘Salem’s Lot – it’s a well written yet frustrating tale. My issue though is that it didn’t break new ground. There is no literacy roar. I didn’t find it scary because it’s too removed from reality and the ideas and imagery it plays on have been recycled throughout so many other sources now that they just lack real impact. I don’t think it helps that reading, naturally, breaks up a story as you stop and start, that you come and go letting the book in and out your life so it can never fully keep hold and keep you panicked. I cannot, sadly, recommend it as a result and it certainly hasn’t made me want to read any more by King. I find it even stranger to say but, I truly believe, even if I don’t wish to test my theory, that there are better, more emotive stories out there, whether horror based or not.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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