“The town kept its secrets, and the Marsten House brooded over it like a ruined king...”
I was always excited to read this one, so usually this means it's not as good as I planned. Wrong here!
This was a great vampire book. I didn't know until I was reading it that it was King's second. I can tell as I like his early writing a lot; to me he got too long winded later on. Here he takes his time to build the story and you get to know and care about the characters well, there is a lot of ominous foreshadowing and build-up that will clash together later, and everything unwinds at a enough slower pace to get under your skin more effectively. In short the story was filled with plot and only the relevant details about the characters that we, the reader, need to see and know.
Apparently King was a big fan of Dracula the book growing up, and also reread it as an adult, and at first meant for this to be a sequel of sorts before it started taking on a life of it's own. This is a traditional vampire tale all the way, no romance and sparkling here. Beyond just a take on the lore, though, it is about the hidden secrets of a small town and the private lives they lead that the rest of the townsfolk either don't know about or choose to ignore. Familial violence, past affairs, festering alcoholism and dashed dreams. Most have hidden faces, not just the vampires.
Considering the type of work it is, the violence isn't that heavy really. Gore isn't strong either. It wouldn't need to be with how the story went, and is more effective for producing fear with the idea of the horrors in the town. The scene where little Danny comes to the window to try and see Mark is especially creepy and unsettling. There is strong suspense in several situations, and a continuous feeling of dread once things get started no matter the time of day or location.
The most unsettling thing about the book was the abusive mother! Punching her baby in the face was hard to stomach. I know King was trying to showcase realistic characters in the town. It's hard to imagine people like this, but we know they exist in abundance (sadly.) King is not known for shying away from children's deaths and violence with his works - we see many children die in IT, Cujo, here, Pet Semetery with the infamous Gage, etc. He's also not a stranger to child abuse in his works (IT, Carrie, and others)
'Salem's Lot probably had one of the saddest funeral scenes I've seen or imagined. Absolutely heartbreaking. I literally sobbed. I couldn't imagine burying my son so young, and the father's reaction, while understandable considering the profound grief, was tragic and terrible to behold.
Characterization rocked. As with most of King's stuff you never knew who was safe and who would survive. Mark was an admirable child with strong willpower and realistic strength. Father Callahan was an interesting priest to follow around. I remember becoming even more interested in searching for this book when reading the Dark Tower series and meeting the Fathers character for the first time there. Susan was a good heroine, down to earth and sensible but also fun and charismatic. Her parents even were interesting to read about, minor paper people that they were. The main hero, Ben Mears, is a likeable sort as well, an author without a large ego who only creates mediocre sales, driven back to the town from a childhood memory.The villain was delicious. Besides being an evil sort that befits a true vampire story, he also had an old-world charm, strong intellect, and suave manner.
If you're in the mood for a weighty vampire tale that dishes it out big time but not in a cheesy manner, this is your book. The ending leaves it to where you cannot imagine if they won or not, it can depend on perspective. It's an open-ended theme that stays with you as much as this piece of fiction will. Unforgettable chilling scenes, well-rounded characterization, small-town commentary in abundance, King didn't disappoint with this one.
“The town has a sense, not of history, but of time, and the telephone poles seem to know this. If you lay your hand against one, you can feel the vibration from the wires deep within the wood, as if souls had been imprisoned in there and were struggling to get out.”
“I think it's relatively easy for people to accept something like telepathy or precognition or teleplasm because their willingness to believe doesn't cost them anything. It doesn't keep them awake nights. But the idea that the evil that men do lives after them is unsettling.”
“The essential and defining characteristic of childhood is not the effortless merging of dream and reality, but only alienation. There are no words for childhood's dark turns and exhalations. A wise child recognizes it and submits to the necessary consequences. A child who counts the cost is a child no longer.”