Found-Again Friday: ‘Salem’s Lot (The Book)

This week I’ll sink my teeth into a little Stephen King.

Why Found-Again? Every so often, I’ll get an idea for Found-Again Friday that I think is the essence of the project: picking up things I very deliberately put down a long time ago to see if I was too harsh. Some of it has worked out brilliantly (Mister Frost)…and then there’s Altered States. So what could be more appropriate than the book that caused me to stop reading Stephen King novels for a decade or more?

As I mentioned in my very first post here, I’ve had a weird relationship with Stephen King’s work, beginning when I had the crap scared out of me by “The Cat From Hell” in an anthology at age ten. A few years later, my parents accidentally acquired a copy of The Dark Half; I read it and did with it what I tended to do with horror novels in those days, which was put them away in another room where I wouldn’t be tempted to reread them at night, then sneak them back out again once a week anyway. Intrigued, I picked up Thinner from the library; the combination of fewer likable characters and my familiarity with strawberry pie made that a bit of a non-starter for me, as did finding an old Cornell Woolrich short story that was essentially Thinner but with voodoo.

So my King readership was on the bubble…but I did like vampires. I was in college when I first picked up ‘Salem’s Lot at the library, and other than the writing, I found nothing to like about it. I despised every character, I despised the exponential spread of the vampires, and I wasn’t too fond of the movie adaptation, if it came to that. And so I abandoned the author as a whole, give or take reading a short story or two and having cable during the years The Shawshank Redemption was viewable nearly on a loop.

(I don’t like The Shawshank Redemption very much either. I am probably a terrible person.)

In recent years, a few things have happened to persuade me that I ought to give Lot a re-viewing. One, of course, was The Shining, which I started reading with the lowest of expectations and which is now one of my favorite books. It’s possible, I thought, that I had finally matured into appreciating King. The other is Haven, the loosely Stephen King-based TV show about a small town with troubles both capital and lowercase. I love all the characters in the town of Haven: perhaps I’d been too hard on the residents of ‘Salem’s Lot way back when.

The Premise: A writer returns to the small town that was the locus of his boyhood terrors, just in time to find out his boyhood terrors were only the beginning: A vampire named Barlow is set on making ‘Salem’s Lot his own.

The Verdict: It’s just possible that I am improving as a human being, because I was much less judgmental about the town’s denizens—those who weren’t bullies or abusers, anyway, which seemed to be around 40% of them—this time. I no longer think of Barlow as a fitting plague sent to wipe out the Village of the Asshats. And I am more astute in my old(er) age at picking out the themes about the squalor of evil juxtaposed with the grandeur of vampire myth. I get all that.

But I still don’t understand the actual plot. Why would a vampire want to make an entire town full of competition? Or, if that’s the normal rate at which vampires (who presumably have to eat regularly) reproduce, how did the world ever make it to 1970-whatever with its human population intact when Barlow has been nibbling around since before Christ? The book does feature one scene of blood exchange, but otherwise, vampirism seems to spread sort of like Amway. I did like the book better this time, but I just can’t get over that, even though King literally leaves room to say the Devil made Barlow do it.

Might go well with: Red wine, raspberry sauce, Fright Night.


Next time: Going to church with Highlander!



Welcome to Our Cynical Omelet, the site that’s been rebooted so often I might as well have named it Dracula.

Yesterday I began rereading Stephen King’s The Shining. This is something I do perhaps quarterly, but this time lines up with the one-year anniversary of my father’s death. I read The Shining maybe twenty years later than most bookish people my age—they tended to devour everything up to Tommyknockers, whereas I kind of liked The Dark Half, wasn’t fond of Thinner, and hated every single character in ‘Salem’s Lot so much that I gave up long-form King for years. So finding out The Shining is an amazing book was both a relief and a glorious surprise when I finally tucked into it.

The book is also, I’m sorry to say, a favorite of mine because it echoes a lot of the problems in my own family, which is why I found myself getting ready for work this morning and thinking, “The Overlook would have got to my dad much faster.” My father was almost certainly an honest-to-god narcissist, an idea I had trouble with until the night last year when he called to yell at me for spending too much time with my mother on Mother’s Day weekend. I thought, till I began doing research on the subject, that to be one of those you had to be a high achiever, and Dad had spent my whole life—maybe not his, I hope— as a schemer on the level of maybe Daffy Duck.

Shortly thereafter, I tremulously took this new-gathered information to my mother, to friends who knew him, and was met with a resounding “Duh!” I was literally the last to know. Perhaps when you grow up being called “little [Dad’s name]” when you get in trouble, it’s harder to think that big [Dad’s name] might be broken in some fundamental way.

After the funeral, my friend said, “I’ve never seen anything like it: nobody cried.” It was true: all his friends from the old neighborhood, all his old tennis buddies, even his reluctant child, all had Dad’s number at last.

Which is why, when I say I read The Shining and am reminded of my own family, I don’t wholly mean it in a bad way. Jack Torrance clearly loves his wife and child; he just can’t resist the voice that tells him they’re standing in his way, the voice that tells him he’s too special for all this boring stuff.  And that reminds me that Dad probably couldn’t either.


Next Time: Gosh, anything more cheerful than this.