‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salemslotIt’s been awhile. It’s been awhile because I have read very little. It’s March and I’ve only finished reading my second novel for this year (both I had begun in 2013, by the way). Slow reading, indeed. Faster writing because that is what I spent most of my time on – which is good but I find that without reading writing is… less valuable, certainly less stylish. My ramblings become stunted and prosaic without the ‘food’ of words written by others.

But that wasn’t my reason to return to King (returning always in the sense that he was the first adult author I ever read and also inspired my own writing). I’m currently investigating the supernatural (in case I have mentioned this already, I apologize for the repetition) and a vampire novel by Stephen Kind was hardly something I could ignore.

Here’s what happens:

Ben Mears is a writer who returns to ‘Salem’s Lot – scene of his most vivid childhood nightmare – to write a novel about the Marsten House as it is called in town. It seems to be one of those sinister places that exude evil. But it’s not the house, it’s its new resident who stirs the dead in their graves: Barlow is a vampire and he begins his evil trail through town around the same time that Ben starts writing his novel.

The desease of undeadness spreads quickly and Ben, together with young Marc Petrie, has a hard time keeping up and score of living, dead, and undead. And it seems that more than just one house is infected by an inherent evil in Jerusalem’s Lot.

‘Salem’s Lot is King’s second novel and he already picks up the theme of evil places that is probably most elaborately told in It – my all-time favorite King novel. Indeed, some paragraphs about evil that inhabits a place is reminiscent of those in It. I’m not criticizing this, I actually enjoy the thoughts as well as the concept. The mingling or merging of a supernatural evil and the way it changes a place is fascinating. King also has a good grip on the vampire lore. I like that instead of giving vampires a new spin, making them his own, changing everything about them, he goes back to the basics – making them more elusive and yet more vulnerable than it has been done lately.

The book comes equipped with an introduction by King, two short stories to enhance on the story of Jerusalem’s Lot as an evil place, and even deleted scenes. I haven’t yet read those last ones, I’m not sure why and I’m not sure I will. The ‘extras’ have been added to the original text after almost 25 years. King seems to return to his earlier stories quite frequently, probably the tales never quite let go of him. I’m not sure about the value of returning to stories or places those stories have taken place. But maybe that’s just me liking an ending better than an ongoing mystery.

‘Salem’s Lot is a good read. It’s not above criticism but it’s the same kind of criticism that one can apply to all of King’s books – too few good female characters, not a single female hero, a writer as hero, a little boy as hero. It all comes down to characters for me. But the issues I have with his texts are almost as vintage King for me as what he writes, how he writes. Reading a King novel can be as frustrating as it is exiting and enchanting.

Well, if you’re tired of all the new takes on vampire lore, if you want to go to bed avoiding to look into shadows because you’re afraid of what might be lurking there, if you like the thrill of a good horror story combined with extensive quirky details of the lives in a small town – read ‘Salem’s Lot (and remember that it’s been written and told in 1975).

11.22.63 by Stephen King

In the last couple of weeks while I was reading this book I came across at least three versions of “The Butterfly Effect.” One was in the book, one was on Warehouse 13 and then there was another and I don’t remember… I think it was at a party but I was boozed, so. All three were different from the first account I read about – this in a Xena Uber fanfiction – that if a butterfly beats its wing at one end of earth it can cause an earthquake at the other end. I cherish this version because, as I remember it, it was put into beatiful prose (not the ever-rattling shorthand that I use). The gist of the thing is that if you change the past a little it will have big consequences in the present/future. Trekkers remember it as the time-space-continuum and how Captain Janeway liked to bend that one.

So, this is what Jake Epping, the hero of King’s novel does. He changes the past when somebody shows him the way into it, saving President Kennedy, having Oswald killed, losing his fiancé in the process. But the new present (2011) he created is the worst case scenario because such things don’t sit well with… the butterfly effect or the time-space-continuum. Reality slowly rips apart.

There is another novel that pretty much builds on the same premise: time travel and changing a historic event.  Stephen Fry’s Making History is one of my favorite all-timers. But Fry is European and instead of preventing Kennedy’s assassination, he prevents Hitler from being born. Eliminating evil creates new evil in his version and it is brilliant.. a brilliant novel.

I wish I could say the same about King’s novel. Stephen King has been part of my life since I was 10 years old, trying to read It for the first time (I stopped after the second chapter because I was appalled but picked the book up a year later to read it for the first of many times). It is still my favorite of the novels I read (I haven’t read all of them but a fair share) by King, it is still one of my favorite novels and he was the first adult author I read. When I came to the moment in the plot when it became clear that Epping was going to Derry, I rejoiced… Revisiting Derry, wow! But looking back this may not have been the wisest decision. And comparing Dallas and Derry – even by someone as clueless about Derry as Epping – also felt off. The only scene I cherished was the one with Richie and Bev and I guess, it will stay with me and I will remmeber it whenever I will read It in the future. But everything else… it was rather disappointing. Maybe because the kids had already (almost) finished the monster off when Epping appears on the scene, I’m not even sure, it just wasn’t … right, somehow.

This is, of course, a highly subjective opinion, it’s my opinion after all. But maybe King was too eager to combine Derry and Dallas, to make the connection. What follows in the wake is a little boring, to be honest. The years that stretch out where we learn a lot of history, and a lot of Epping (calling himself George Amberson). True, I have little patience with stories about men, their heroism, their sexual exploits, etc. and maybe my bored state comes from this fact and not from King’s writing at all… But I was bored during a lot of the book and I am sad to say it and even sadder to have felt it. Because I am interested in history, and because I have always been interested in the Kennedy assassination (I guess that happens when you are born one day short to exactly 15 years after the assassination), and time-travel, yay! and Stephen King, even greater yey! And still I was disappointed and still I was bored.

The plot really only picks up speed after the attack on Sadie and from that point on you can happily skip through the book like any other King novel. By then he had almost lost me. Of course, the rest of the book makes up for it some, here is King at his best and presents us with the horrors of the past that doesn’t want to be changed, with Jake being beaten to an inch of his life, with a race to Dallas and the Book Depository from which Oswald (presumably) shot Kennedy. And the aftermath, and the changed present, and an explanation from the Green Card Man – and finally a lovely reunion. This is once again so well written, exciting and, yes, lovely that – as I said – it almost makes up for the almost 500 pages that were not that good. But this almost stems from the fact that I have been reading Stephen King for over 20 years, the fact that only one third of it – to me – was worth reading, the fact that it was the last third and hence the more memorable third, the one that people will remember and point to and say: this is a fantastic read.

There are other misgiving, I guess. Some stem from the fact that King does not create great female heroes, and although Sadie is a wonderful, lovable character, and quite the hero, she is not THE hero, the same way Bev Marsh was never THE hero of It. From someone of King’s story-telling prowess, I would like to read about more diverse characters than the typical Jake Epping – I am white, I am straight, I rule the world – the same way I wished that he gave the world Under the Dome a different set of rules than those of patriarchal society gone anarchist. Maybe 11.22.63 would have been better if the hero was someone African-American, someone hispanic, a woman, someone who would have felt the restrictions of 1963 more severely.

I am being hard on King because I know he could write something like that. But then, of course, he does not cater to one complaining, nerdy fan of his somewhere in Germany. And this is alright because I am a writer myself and the first person I write for is myself. Still I complain, still I wait for something extraordinary to come from one of my all-time favorite writers. I guess it is only fair to expect the best from those you admire most.