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'SALEM'S LOT
By STEPHEN KING (Knopf; 1975)

This wasnít the first novel by Stephen King (it followed 1974ís CARRIE), but it was the book that really announced to the world what King was all about, and changed the horror genre forevermore. Indeed, thereís a school of thought proclaiming any horror novel that doesnít contain at least some of the elements introduced in ĎSALEMíS LOT--a small town, a supernatural invasion resisted by the efforts of common folk, a sappy romance--is somehow wrong.

     The town in question is the fictional Jerusalemís Lot of Maine, and the supernatural entity a gaggle of vampires led by Straker, an antiques dealer patterned after a certain Count Dracula who moves into a forbidding old house that overlooks the town. The romance occurs between the novelís hero Ben Mears, a novelist, and Susan Norton, an attractive artist in whose presence Ben ďfelt sixteen.Ē The fact that this puppy dog romance ends horribly (hint: one of the two doesnít survive), and does so long before the novelís conclusion, is evidence that King was at the beginning of his career, and not as bullish about happy endings as he later became.

     One definite harbinger of things to come from Mr. King is the sprawling epic canvas (as opposed to CARRIEíS lean and intimate construction), which is nonetheless a lot more focused than those of his later novels. The many characters, who include several assorted hicks and a plucky kid who becomes one of the primary vampire killers, are all well delineated, and the rural Maine scenery vividly and atmospherically evoked. Unlike quite a few of the countless horror epics that followed, ĎSALEMíS LOTíS panoramic canvas actually works to its advantage in the way it convincingly conveys the step-by-step takeover of Jerusalemís Lot by the vamps until the place is a literal ghost town, and does so with some spectacularly gruesome set-pieces.

     On the downside, the action is often quite repetitive (there are a few too many appearances by vampires hovering outside peoplesí windows) and implausible (such as a tied-up character freeing himself by thinking back to a Houdini biography he once read). ĎSALEMíS LOTíS biggest problem, however, is simply that its once-innovative structure has been so widely emulated in the ensuing years that it now seems old hat. Thereís also the fact that, again in keeping with many of Stephen Kingís later novels, the conclusion is bit of a let-down. In 1975 nobody apparently minded the muted and inconclusive final pages, but modern standards call for something more.
 

     

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