I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot

There was something really historical to 'Salem's Lot, something that made me think that Stephen King devoured the works of John Steinbeck when he was younger. There was also something fantastic to the development of the small town of Jerusalem's Lot that I've never really seen the likes of outside of the works of Stephen King. Of Stephen King's many accomplishments - his book On Writing, his ideas about human psychology, his ideas about places having a kind of emotional memory, his balance between social evil and metaphysical evil - I wonder if his writing on small towns and cultural consciousness might be his greatest.

Now, there were a couple of moments while reading this book that it felt like the narrative wasn't going anywhere, wasn't leaving any hints. But the Prologue was written so sparsely and brilliantly that it was hard not to commit to a few more pages. And the resolution of the story was absolutely fantastic. The last few chapters of 'Salem's Lot were some of the better I've read. I'm not saying that King is the best at writing sentences that grab you, and I'm not saying that King's character development reaches beyond superficial things. But King writes a town as if it is one character, and he reaches into his readers and makes them understand what it feels like to be part of the narrative. I was left, time and time again, wondering what I would do in the same position. Where would I find the tools one needs in order to fight vampires? Would I run for my life or see it as my responsibility to prevent a vampire outbreak? Would I do things that are socially unacceptable in order to prevent that society from falling apart? And how could I draw others to my cause? (Would I want to draw others to my cause or shoo them away?)

King is one of my bumblebee authors. By all measures - even by his own measures - he does so many things poorly. But he has delivered some of the best stories of all time, has made Freudian psychology more accessible and fun, and has delved deeper into the dialogue of good and evil than any other individual I've ever encountered.

Sure, a vampire novel by Stephen King seems out of character. King has never seemed all that interested in re-hashing the horror archetypes of vampire, were-wolf, Frankenstein's monster, swamp monster, mummy, though he has dabbled in one or two of these. But for King there's something bigger going on here. It is in this book that themes important to later works like The Shining and The Stand get laid out. And let us not forget: it was not vampires who searched for evil in 'Salem's Lot, but the other way around. Maybe every town has its own evils here and there, and maybe we all have to find a way to fight against them lest they draw in undesirable supernatural beings.

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