I just started rereading Salem’s Lot the other day. Most people who came to King’s work back in the 1970s have The Shining as their favorite, but my heart belongs to the Lot. Why? Because it starts off slow. It seems to me that modern horror novels start with a disembowelment and splash blood on every page thereafter, but King’s early works start slow and build to a bone crushing end. And with Salem’s lot, it’s even more so. It’s like it starts out as Peyton Place and then gradually moves toward the familiar King country.
It’s also one of those rare books that is even better on subsequent readings. Mostly because you know what’s going to happen so you can sit back and watch as the author carefully lays in a large and complex story, brick by brick. When, after nearly a hundred pages of introduction to the characters and the town they live in, the murdered dog is discovered hung on the pikes of the cemetery gate like some sort of profane sacrifice, I get the feeling of being at the top of a roller coaster.
“Here we go,” I think.
The novel, like most of King’s work, is a master of construction. It runs like a Swiss watch and, once it gets going, you have the feeling that the ending is inevitable. Another book comparable in size and scope to the Lot is the 90% magnificent It. If anything, it’s bigger but just as well put together, like a tennis ball being hit from the past into the future then returned to the past again, but its ending is a major disappointment that leaves a bad taste in your mouth after a heavy investment in a very thick book. The Lot, on the other hand, has one of the most gratifying endings of any horror story ever.
I often wonder if his editor required him to add the prologue where the man and the boy are introduced as survivors in Mexico struggling with PTSD from some mysterious incident in order to clue readers in to the fact that this was a horror novel and not what they used to call a woman’s novel.
In any event, that’s what I’m doing these days. Whenever I find myself having trouble getting motivated to write, I read a very good book by someone whose work is so superior to mine it makes me want to raise my game. This time of year, trapped inside to escape a level of heat and humidity which is, frankly, ridiculous, I start to suffer from a sort of psychic low energy. The creative urge dissipates but my commitments remain in force, so I pick up a book I know will inspire me to kick it up a notch.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the bucolic town of Salem’s Lot has some new visitors. They’re European, I think. How exotic!