Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Salem's Lot

"...the Lot's knowledge of the country's torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there."
- Salem's Lot, Stephen King
Every town has a memory, so did Salem's Lot. So when Ben Mears returned home to Salem's Lot, Cumberland County, Maine, he found what he had least expected. Ben found darkness, because the town knew about darkness. It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul.

I sometimes try to imagine, what Stephen King's reaction must have been when he encountered Barlow for the first time. Did he have sleepless night? Did he became afraid of the darkness too? Every writer encounters the characters of his novels, poetries and stories. It is a must. So what King must have felt after he created Barlow!

Welcome to Salem's Lot ladies and gentlemen. A small town in the midst of civilization. A town where people enjoyed all the atrocities of a modern town. Our own, Mr Ben Mears has returned to his home town after the death of his wife. And Ben had planned to write about the Marsten House. Yes, the same Marsten House where, a long time back when he was small, Ben had a chance to meet Hubie Marsten, the owner of the house. Except Hubie was dead long before that. That encounter gave him nightmares for days to come, it still did. So Ben decided to take the demon out of himself by writing about the Marsten House. And so Ben wanted to buy the Marsten House. Poor Ben, what did you think when you thought about buying it? That it would be empty? No dear, that house was already bought by a man named Straker, with his mysterious business partner Kurt Barlow.

So Ben was forced to stay in the Lot, where he met the townsfolk. He met Matt Burke and Susan Norton. Then came Straker, to inhabit the Marsten House. And with his came the news of the disappearance of Ralphie Glick and the mysterious death of his brother Danny. But before Ralphie died, he too saw something. Ralphie too saw the darkness.

I bought this novel a couple of years back, but by now I must have read it atleast 15-17 times. I think this is one of the best works of King. I know many of you would disagree, I too have read The Stand. But somehow this story seems more real, it seems more sinister in nature. Imagine a sleepy little country town, what if vampires appears there? What then? It seems more imaginable than a viral outburst in The Stand. And just because it feels more imaginable, it makes you more uneasy when you read it. The questions would arise in your mind at some point of time or the other, that what if this is my town? After all it's not a new thing that an entire town has disappeared in the US without a trace. Imagine yourself passing through one of these towns at night, you would not even know what is going on behind those curtains.

In King's own words, "I wrote 'Salem's Lot during the period when the Ervin committee was sitting. That was also the period when we first learned of the Ellsberg break-in, the White House tapes, the shadowy, ominous connection between the CIA and Gordon Liddy, the news of enemies' lists, of tax audits on antiwar protesters and other fearful intelligence. During the spring, summer and fall of 1973, it seemed that the Federal Government had been involved in so much subterfuge and so many covert operations that, like the bodies of the faceless wetbacks that Juan Corona was convicted of slaughtering in California, the horror would never end . . . Every novel is to some extent an inadvertent psychological portrait of the novelist, and I think that the unspeakable obscenity in 'Salem's Lot has to do with my own disillusionment and consequent fear for the future. The secret room in 'Salem's Lot is paranoia, the prevailing spirit of those years. It is a book about vampires, it is also a book about all those silent houses, all those drawn shades, all the people who are no longer what they seem. In a way, it is more closely related to Invasion of the Body Snatchers than it is to Dracula. The fear behind 'Salem's Lot seems to be that the Government has invaded everybody."

This is what makes this more real. You won't feel you are reading a story, you would feel as if you are in the story. And what would you do then? What would you do when you face Barlow?

2 Comment:

gab. said...

God, what a great story! Today I've finished reading it at last. Went through half the book in less than a week! I had bought 'Salem's Lot about 2 years ago, in an used books fair (don't know if that's how you call it), and had started reading it right away... but gave up at the first half, just when all the excitement begins (in my opinion). This year I picked it up and started reading all over again, because I had forgotten everything: the characters, the relationships, the main events. And there are so many characters in the story that they got jumbled up in my mind quite often!
I love the way King describes every single detail and makes you imagine them so well that you can actually see what's he's talking about! Although I couldn't understand all the descriptions (I'm from Argentina and the edition I bought is in English, printed in 1976 [I'm addicted to the smell of old books, by the way]) I could picture everything in my head as if I was right in the little town.
The bitter taste I got when I finally went through the last page... I was dumbfounded, closed the book and thought (as you point out) "what if the same thing happened in my town?". I live in a small town as well, I know almost everybody around and everybody know me. Couldn't help thinking about it. Now, how will I be able to fall asleep at night if my bed is right below my room's window?

Rajtilak Bhattacharjee said...

@gab. : Thank you so very much for you comment. I would not exaggerate a bit if I say that King is really the King of the horror genre. And the best part of this book is (as you have pointed out) that the horror starts in a town, not some desolate place which we can only imagine but know very well that we would never visit. That makes the horror skin deep.

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