Stephen King is a pretty well established and famous writer now, but back when ‘Salem’s Lot was first released, he had just finished well received Carrie. So the genre jump from demonic children with psychic powers to vampires is something new. Yet despite that, a lot of people ended up loving this second book, and for good reason too: King manages to target two different types of readers in this one single story. The most basic kind of person who likes this book are those who will find the first half tame and boring, but the latter half exciting and fun (since we get to see vampires and humans fighting). The other kind of reader who appreciates this are those who have fond memories of growing up in small towns.
Writer Comes to Childhood Town, Finds Vampires
Ben Mears comes back to his old home town of Jerusalem. As a published writer, Ben is hoping that this trip will give him the inspiration to write his new book. While it never specifically states what Mears writes about, it appears that his subject material can get graphic (based on the comments on some of the townspeople about his works), as for the novel he intends to write, the only he says is that it has something to do with the recurrence of evil.
Mears learns that the Marsten House -a haunted house looking place that he hated as a child, has been purchased by two strange men from Austria. It is said that the two plan on opening an antique shop, though it seems rather odd to open one in a town that is likely to not need it. The latest news in town is the death of a boy and the disappearance of his younger borther. While this has caught the attention of the local sheriff, no one else seems to care much about it. For the most part, the locals would rather gossip about their own lives and are too caught up in their small town world.
Eventually, Danny, the boy who died, returns as a vampire and starts turning other people into vampires too. The book suddenly shifts its focus to Ben and the few friends he made since his return and their effort to fight back against the growing vampire forces.
The town of Jerusalem’s Lot is a character in itself. It is as generic as a small old town can be so it is something that a lot of American readers would find as familiar, or even nostalgic. Stephen King himself admits to have drawn out a lot of love of such towns when conceptualizing ‘Salem and it shows in the way the story unfolds. Many fans, who have already read this book long ago when they were younger, only remember the enjoyment of and thrill of the more exciting later half of the story. But upon re-reading the book as an older adult, they start to appreciate the earlier part a lot more. The way that King is able to bring out a sense of familiarity to a location is done masterfully, and when the vampires start tearing the place up, one cannot help but feel sympathy for the town itself.
Beyond the Town
Since the book opens with a flash forward (or maybe the events in the book are narrated as a giant flashback), it is not surprising to know which characters survive up till the very end. But level of excitement in the later part of the book is also due to Stephen King’s lack of inhibition from killing off major characters in this narrative so easily. It’s a tough balance that is threaded by the story from beginning to end. Still, the epilogue at the very end of the book remains as a lead in to another story -after defeating the main vampire (but still leaving a lot of other vampires alive), Ben (and whoever survives) manage to leave the town. They come back a year later in order to finally wipe out the remaining vampires, and the book ends with Ben initiating the attack by starting a massive fire -it is stated that his plan involves burning down the whole town. Sadly, King has decided to not make a sequel.