The novel “‘Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King was published for the first time in 1975.
Ben Mears returns after many years to Jerusalem’s Lot, the city where he spent part of his childhood with events that left him with deep traumas. His intention is to write a new novel after the success of his previous ones, and the inspiration comes from the events that marked his childhood. The mansion at the center of the story was purchased by two antique dealers who have recently arrived in the city as well, though one of the two is also away on business.
Jerusalem’s Lot looks like a sleepy town, but what appears to be a quiet situation is shaken when a young boy disappears and his brother dies. Ben Mears befriended Matt Burke, a teacher at the city’s high school, and began a romantic relationship with Susan Norton, who recently graduated from college. They and other inhabitants of the town get involved in an increasingly complicated situation when they have to accept that there are vampires in the city.
Stephen King was a young writer when he started thinking about Dracula’s story imagining it set in the 20th century USA. He had already written the short story “Jerusalem’s Lot”, but it was published only years later, in the anthology “Night Shift”, and took up the setting in that town in the 1970s. The vampire theme is a classic, but King interpreted it in his own way.
The opening part of “‘Salem’s Lot” is a description of Jerusalem’s Lot and its inhabitants. The construction of the setting in a small town with its inhabitants has become over time one of Stephen King’s trademarks, and can be seen in great depth already in what was the second novel he published. This is a strong point because it allows you to offer well-characterized protagonists making readers feel almost as if they were in town.
I must say that in “‘Salem’s Lot” the build-up phase is particularly long, also because there’s a particularly large group of characters. The consequence is that the first part, which contains this characters’ introductions, covers about 40% of the novel. The characterization is certainly very thorough in Stephen King’s typical way, also showing the dark sides of various inhabitants that remain hidden in their homes. On the other hand, you have to wait until almost halfway through the novel for the story to really take off.
If you appreciate the mood with dark tones behind the quiet town facade of “‘Salem’s Lot”, you will probably love it from the start. When the action starts developing into the actual storyline and the vampires come out, the fight becomes brutal and the tone turns really black. Vampires are the classic ones directly inspired by Dracula, not the more complex ones of various works of the last decades. This means that they are evil incarnate, so they have no mercy on anyone.
Personally, I found the initial part too long. It can be said that it’s Stephen King’s fault if it seems to me that I have read too many descriptions of American towns, so re-reading “‘Salem’s Lot” I got a been-there-done-that effect. Instead, the clash between the protagonists and the vampires who haunt the city still seems to me to be among the best of the author.
“‘Salem’s Lot” was adapted a number of times for cinema, television and even into a radio drama. A new film adaptation was announced in 2019, but the pandemic is causing delays for many projects.
In “‘Salem’s Lot”, Stephen King develops a classic horror theme in a personal way that includes elements that have become typical of his works. If you don’t have a problem with long introductions, it’s an excellent way to discover this author.