The town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine has two new arrivals.
One is Ben Mears, a successful writer who, we’re told, even has his own FBI file. (Apparently, it only consists of a report that he once attended an anti-war rally.) Ben spent part of his childhood is Jerusalem’s Lot and, upon returning, he discovers a small but friendly town. Sure, there’s some drama going on behind closed doors. There’s the sleazy real estate agent, for instance. And then there’s the Catholic priest who, naturally, has lost his faith. And then there’s the unhappy teenage mother and, of course, there’s the usual collection of alcoholics, adulterers, and cranky bus drivers. Maybe Jerusalem’s Lot isn’t that friendly after all….
The other new arrival is Kurt Barlow. Barlow’s from Austria and he’s moved into the old Marsten House. (The Marsten House, like most old houses that you come across in Stephen King novels, used to belong to a notorious gangster.) Barlow’s going to be opening up an antique store. Interestingly enough, hardly anyone ever seems to see Barlow. His business partner, Richard Straker, claims that Barlow is often away on buying trips.
Anyway, the townspeople have a lot more to worry about than what’s going on with Kurt Barlow. For instance, a lot of people are disappearing. And even those who aren’t vanishing are growing ill and having a bad reaction to sunlight. Hmmm …. what could possibly be going on?
First published in 1975, ‘Salem’s Lot was Stephen King’s second published novel and it actually holds up better than most of his recent work. It’s interesting to read ‘Salem’s Lot after Carrie, just to see how much King grew as a writer in between the two books. Whereas King often seemed uncomfortable with the plot of his first novel and tended to hold Carrie White at a distance, he dives right into ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s not just that King is obviously more comfortable writing about a male writer than a teenage girl. It’s also that King creates a town that seems so real that we feel as if we could find it on a map. King tells his story with such enthusiasm and confidence that it doesn’t matter that ‘Salem’s Lot is a fairly predictable and traditional vampire story.
Clocking in at a briskly paced 440 pages, ‘Salem’s Lot is quite a bit longer and more detailed than Carrie without, at the same time, getting bogged down in the type of stylistic self-indulgence that has come to typify a lot of King’s recent work. (One gets the feeling that if King wrote ‘Salem’s Lot today, it would be a 1,200 page novel and that Barlow wouldn’t show up until page 900.) King does a good job of offering up little snippets of life in Jerusalem’s Lot, just enough to make sure we have enough knowledge to mourn the eventual death of the town. ‘Salem’s Lot takes Dracula, drops him in the middle of a small town melodrama, and the results are still entertaining to this very day.