Ben Mears, a successful writer with an—ahem—haunted past, returns to his boyhood home of Salem’s Lot in the hopes of turning the vague and unnameable childhood terrors he associates with the similarly haunted Marsten House—which has laid abandoned for decades—into his next book. He is Mike Enslin without John Cusack’s box office pull, except he’s a man looking for trouble and not expecting it. The people of Salem’s Lot aren’t expecting any trouble either, not even when the reclusive, quasi-homosexual Mr. Straker set up shop for his antique-furniture-selling boss, the strangely averse-to-sunshine Kurt Barlow. That’s when the vampires move in.
Pat: Is there really any more one needs to go into Salem’s Lot knowing?
Andrea: No. This was not one of my favorites. There were some good parts, but on the whole I found it to be not at all compelling. It didn’t have the page-turning quality I require of Stephen King, which is weird because most of his early books do.
Pat: I tore through the book like Barlow through a jugular vein. Did you at any point imagine Barlow as Lou Barlow?
Andrea: No. Mostly because I don’t know what Lou Barlow looks like. He is slotted in my head as “generic old rock guy.”
Pat: You’ve seen him in person.
Andrea: I know. He was apparently not memorable. Come to think of it, I kind of think of him as looking like an amalgam of Neil Young and Tom Petty.
Pat: He looks nothing like them.
Andrea: Now J. Mascis, that’s a memorable face. For all the wrong reasons.
Pat: Do you not remember the video for “Natural One”?
Andrea: NO. I forgot he was even in Folk Implosion until right this second. Now that song is in my head.
Pat: Okay, prologue: Worst opening ever? Completely unnecessary? Chronologically irritating?
Andrea: It was so stupid, because by the time I got to the end of the book, I forgot what the prologue was, and at no time did my brain ever reference the prologue when I was reading the rest of it.
Pat: Oh, also: Straker, Barlow. Barlow, Straker. Bram Stoker?
Andrea: Yeah. I think that’s really obvious. Just like John Coffey = Jesus Christ
Pat: Susan Norton = Norton Anthology
Andrea: My notes from the prologue: “The only whore was a 50-year-old grandmother.”
Pat: I don’t remember that.
Andrea: It talks about how warm the Pacific is but I always thought the Pacific was really cold?
Pat: The Pacific, unlike the Atlantic, is warmed by a major current.
Andrea: So I am totally wrong then?
Pat: I think so? I also think we’ve reached our threshold of digressionary spending already.
Andrea: It’s only been 30 seconds.
Salem’s Lot & The Fourth Wall Of Genre
Pat: So tell me, what’s your goddamn malfunction with this book?
Andrea: I just thought it was kinda boring. I didn’t love it. I thought it had all the standard haunted house tripe and no substance. Now you tell me, what did you like so much about it?
Pat: Well, first of all, this is the first and best example of King’s going-around-town introducing-everybody thing, which was incredibly clever, and it set up having the later going-around-town introducing vampires part.
Andrea: Okay, I did really love that part. Like you said way back, he really knows how to build a town.
Pat: It Takes A Village… Of Creepy Uncles.
Andrea: I liked the way that all the women were all hot for Barlow and his antiques, cause there were no men like that in Salem’s Lot. When now it would be totally obvious to anyone that he is gay. Or a vampire.
Pat: Wait, I understand it would be obvious that he’s gay, but who meets an antiques dealer and thinks he’s a vampire these days?
Andrea: It seems like the next logical step. Handsome, effeminate, creepy = vampire
Pat: Do you watch the Antique Road Show with a garland of garlic? And if that description is accurate, then most of Brooklyn is populated by vampires.
Andrea: Anyway. Meh. I thought this book was kind of corny. “Something’s going on up at the old Marsten house!” Was it supposed to be campy?
Pat: No! Just creepy.
Andrea: It was corny.
Pat: No! I like that King is clearly aware of how in the trope he is with the story and he’s not only unapologetic, he makes the traditional-ness of the vampires a feature and doesn’t try to be flashy like goddamn Twilight with vampires that sparkle in sunlight.
Andrea: Did you like it better than Carrie?
Pat: Way more.
Andrea: I feel the opposite.
Pat: That’s cause Salem’s Lot is a guy’s book, and Carrie‘s a chick book!
Andrea: You think? There were really no good female characters in Salem’s Lot. Susan Norton was a stupid idiot.
Pat: See, I really liked that character.
Andrea: What did you like about her?
Pat: She was just nice!
Andrea: Nice does not make for a compelling character. Boring!
Pat: And she was smart and they liked each other and it was sweet.
Andrea: I did like that. There was one line about them that I really liked = “for the second time since he had known her he felt 16, a head busting 16 with everything in front of him six lanes wide.”
Pat: That sounds like Springsteen.
Andrea: It totally sounds like Springsteen. Everyone in the 70s was all about the open road and mustaches.
Pat: King clearly was all about having a moustache.
Andrea: One part that I thought was SO HOKEY: when they went to get library books on the supernatural.
Pat: It’s hokey now. I’m willing to bet King was one of the first people to break that particular fourth wall and have a vampire story happening in a time when everyone knows about vampire mythology.
Andrea: Perhaps. If only we were around in 1978 or whenever. That’s the thing; I don’t think the book holds up very well—unlike, say, Pet Sematary.
Pat: I think it was a pretty appropriately kitschy book and a stellar read. Isn’t the worldly old-timer trope kind of omnipresent in King novels?
Andrea: Yes. Hearts In Atlantis comes to mind immediately.
Pat: I can’t think of another instance, but it seems like it’s everywhere.
Andrea: King loves the old Universal horror stuff. I thought that was really evident here.
Pat: He likes it, yes, but it bears mentioning that he’s more interested in putting people into those situations in a world where those tropes already exist, unlike a lot of stories where vampire stories don’t exist. King sets vampires up in actual modern pop culture. Uncle Stevie, I mean.
Andrea: That’s true. All the monsters and urban legends of small towns are woven into his stories. I mean, IT is all about that.
Pat: He is ostensibly writing Monster Squad.
Ben Mears: A Writer That’s Not An Alcoholic
Andrea: So is Salem’s Lot the first instance of writer as protagonist?
Pat: You mean, ever? First instance of writer as protagonist ever, in the whole world?
Andrea: In his work, duuurrr.
Pat: You’re asking me if Carrie had a writer protagonist?
Andrea: Oh my god. You are driving me insane right now. Let me rephrase. HERE IS THE FIRST INSTANCE OF WRITER AS PROTAGONIST.
Pat: Yeah, but it’s so wildly incidental to the story. It’s not like his typewriter was possessed by Martians. I kind of can’t wait read Tommyknockers now.
Andrea: Really? Wasn’t that one of the ones you couldn’t get through? You probably just stopped reading cause it has to do with a period.
Pat: Yeah, but now I want to know what the crap is going on.
Andrea: Let’s talk about Ben’s wife getting killed on a motorcycle. Even though it was supposedly his fault, it really doesn’t make him less likable. And she is a total cipher. Is that just thrown in there to make him a little dark and create town drama?
Pat: It’s entirely idiotic, and not at all a scandal. Of course, that was thirty years ago, when “heavy petting” was still a phrase. It would’ve been better to just say that the wife died in an accident while he was driving. Let the reader assign whatever they want to that. King is nothing if not prescriptive, though. Throw a post-apocalyptic set of crazies into a car, and it’s the death scene from Cell!
Susan & The Sexy Women Of Salem’s Lot
Andrea: I also liked the portrayal of Susan’s relationship with her mother. It felt pretty realistic.
Pat: She should’ve rained stones on her mom. This also answers the question of “Does he ever kill anyone we are rooting for?” because he kills Susan.
Pat: So is Susan the first in a long line of super-sexualized female characters?
Andrea: I thought she was more awesome after she became a vampire and was all sexy.
Pat: Carrie had Christine Haradrlweiaoeg, but meh. Then we’ve got people like that bitch from The Stand, handjob wife in Pet Sematary, Beverly the sewer whore from IT, and so on.
Andrea: That’s true. I don’t know if they are highly sexualized. It seems like he just tends to throw in one or two sex scenes to sexy up his book a little bit. Actually, he doesn’t seem to do it much anymore. Maybe he can’t get it up now.
Pat: Is Uncle Stevie writing with a boner?
Andrea: Probably. Wouldn’t you be if you had all that cash?
Pat: He didn’t have any cash at this point. And given Sissy Spacek, probably no boner as well.
Andrea: Is Tabitha hot?
Pat: I have no idea. And even if I did, I wouldn’t say, because then Uncle Stevie would come after me with his boner.
Andrea: I found the relationship between Susan and her mother interesting. I don’t want to say specifically who it reminds me of,
Pat: I think you should say, and that’s what I’ll title the blog post.
Andrea: I found it VERY typical. Except that Susan does what she wants in the end.
Pat: I’m a dude. Mother-daughter dynamics bore me to death.
Andrea: So, speaking of sexy women—Ruthie Crockett.
Pat: Which one was that?
Andrea: She was the slutty high school girl who the guy at the dump had a thing for.
And then, when she turned into a vampire: “In the night world of her new existence, she found his advances among the heaped mounds of garbage very acceptable.”
Pat: Vampires: They like to fuck. Why? I have no idea. Can they even procreate?
Andrea: In Lost Souls [by Poppy Z. Brite] they could.
Pat: I was hoping you’d bring that up, since it’s the worst vampire story ever written.
Andrea: It is miles better than Salem’s Lot. YEAH I SAID IT. We should do a sub-post on Lost Souls.
Pat: No, we shouldn’t, because it’s scintillating homoerotic goreporn.
Andrea: YOU ARE. That’s what made it more compelling than Salem’s Lot.
Pat: I see you’ve decided on your catch phrase for the blog. When was the last time you read Lost Souls?
Andrea: It’s definitely been 5-6 years
Pat: Oh god, I forgot the band’s name was “Lost Souls?” The question mark makes me want to drink blood until I choke. Are you aware that in a follow-up short story, Ghost and Steve become lovers?
Andrea: Yes. Are you aware that I always know when you are reading about something on Wikipedia?
Pat: Shut your face.
Small Towns Are Evil
Andrea: The one thing this book does really show is his keen ear for the details of a small town. Like the little girl’s hair catching on fire at the bicentennial celebration.
Pat: Speaking of town legends, that lookie-loo lady becomes a favorite thing of King’s throughout his career. Of all the shit that goes on in his novels, gossip is always the most evilly portrayed thing. I mean, she’s worse than Barlow, if you look at the text.
Andrea: Agreed. You have to wonder if he had some kind of nosy neighbor as a kid.
Pat: Barlow sucks blood because he’ll die if he doesn’t. She does it for sport. Which is actually kind of an interesting point: is the whole vampire thing a metaphor for incestuous, atrophying small town life? Necessarily, vampires come to down, and there’s a big boom. Once everyone’s a fucking vampire, though, it’s slow going. You’ve got to hope for some tourists in need of antique goddamn furniture. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. And didn’t it seem like a lot of people, once they were convinced vampires were taking over the town, thought, “Welp, it’s gonna be dark in like nine hours. Better wait until tomorrow to leave.” Another nod to the black hole of small town life? “I can leave tomorrow. What’s another day?” Is Salem’s Lot just a Bruce Springsteen song with vampires?
Andrea: It kind of is, yeah. So you’d think I’d like it more. It kind of reminds me of Shaun Of The Dead when no one even notices the zombies. The way he described the town in the beginning made me want to draw a map. And I loved “the trailers moved in and everything that came with.”
Pat: I always want to skim those parts because I do not have his faculty for building maps in my head. To this day, I still don’t know where the fuck the Canal is in reference to Derry proper.
And what I do know about the layout is strictly from the fucking movie.
Andrea: Me either. That’s why I wanted to draw a map.
Andrea: Okay, Danny Glick’s funeral was heartbreaking. “You ain’t gonna throw no dirt on my boy.” That totally made me cry and not because I am hormonal.
Pat: I don’t think anything made me cry in Salem’s Lot, and I’m usually a wellspring of embarrassing emotions.
Andrea: I know you are. You are a weeping willow. Unlike Mark Petrie, who said “Crying was like pissing everything out on the ground.” His parents were super stilted. They felt like cardboard characters to me.
Pat: Petrie’s parents or Glick’s?
Andrea: Petrie’s. The Glicks felt very real.
Pat: Were the Glicks the same ones with the vampire baby?
Andrea: No. That was the white trash couple that lived in the trailer. I think her name was Sandy.
The Glicks were the parents of the two brothers that both became vampires. See?? This book is so not memorable.
Pat: There was quite a bit of overlap.
Andrea: This book sucked. You can’t even focus on our conversation about it.
Pat: You’re not making a whole lot of points. Also, it’s been a while.
Andrea: A lot of my notes don’t make sense now. For example: “ringmeat.” That’s all it says.
Andrea: Yes. I think someone called someone else that maybe.
Pat: The two brothers. Thanks, Google Books! I dunno what it means.
Andrea: Another one: “God had given him a final petulant wrench before allowing him out into the world.”
Pat: Is that a birth story?
Andrea: I have no idea. I told you, most of my notes make no sense now.
Pat: Are you familiar with Google? Because you can search.
Andrea: You are the Googler.
Pat: It’s about the dude from the dump.
Andrea: That doesn’t explain why I wrote it down.
Andrea: The problem with all the different chapters from the POVs of all different people was that some were WAY more compelling than others. For example, the vampire baby couple.
Pat: All I can say to “Town of Salem’s Lot. Population: Boring” is “Sorta!” The part about the entire town waking up was brilliant, but none of the townspeople ever shined quite so brightly after that.
Andrea: Agreed. Although I really liked the part where it talked about all the town’s secrets
Pat: Wasn’t that the same section?
Andrea: Who knows? I can’t remember anything about this book.
Pat: It’s Derry, the novel.
Andrea: Oh, so when we talked about Carrie, we talked about errands of evil, so I noted one: Crockett doing Straker’s bidding.
Pat: I’m not sure if King was going for this, but there’s something super McCarthian about that. So you’ve got Barlow, who is super-condensed evil. Like from Campbell’s. And he has Straker doing his bidding. Straker knows full well how evil Barlow is, and he’s okay with it. Straker gets Crockett to do his bidding, and he doesn’t really know for sure how evil Straker is, and certainly knows nothing about Barlow. So, is the moral here that the devil isn’t in the details, but in the middleman?
Andrea: Possibly. I mean, truly evil people don’t do the evil deeds themselves. Think about Charles Manson. He never personally killed anyone. And then whoever Crockett has to talk to to get the deal done doesn’t know anything about any of it.
Pat: Right. So you never know whether you’re ultimately doing things for evil or good.
Andrea: And no one bothers to find out. So we are all potential tools of evil.
Pat: We’re all potentially tools, yes.
Andrea: So he goes to see Crockett, blah blah, and it’s totally obvious to any reasonable person that the boxes are coffins. And that something super shady is going on.
Pat: Does Crockett know about the coffins? He only knows that there are boxes to pick up, and the drivers are the ones who see the coffins. Actually, they see the boxes that hold the coffins, so even they don’t know.
Andrea: True. But they don’t ask questions. “He thought about deals with the devil.”
Andrea: I like the part where the younger guy (Corey?) gets caught banging that dude’s wife.
Pat: That’s some serious male empowerment daydreaming on King’s part. He must’ve been harboring fears of being cheated on and going postal on the perpetrator.
Andrea: Or, he was the cheater? Again the question arises, what does Tabitha look like?
Pat: You really don’t know how to use Google.
Pat: Father Callahan was woefully under-utilized.
Andrea: Agreed. I liked that he was such a huge fucking drunk. That was whimsical.
Pat: I wonder if, at that point, King knew that Callahan’s main thing wouldn’t be Salem’s Lot.
He continues walking until he walks on a footbridge in Manhattan and wanders through a dimensional rift in space-time. Just an FYI. Dark Tower Associative Level: HIGH. I can’t decide if the way King leaves off with Callahan is awesome or lazy. I mean, it’s kind of a cool image, a defiled priest wandering the world, half-dead-ish.
Andrea: But it also just sort of… trails off.
Pat: Which is either by design—as in, oh, hey, his story just becomes indistinct like his mind, man—or by default because King had bigger fish to fry.
Pat: Is he laying the groundwork for IT in this book?
Andrea: In what way?
Pat: An unkillable evil that revisits a town cyclically.
Andrea: It’s an oft-reused theme for him.
Pat: First with Hubie Marsten. I mean, Marsten summoned Barlow.
Andrea: Right. It kind of reminds me of Cujo when the dog is an allegory for that serial killer in the town. What was his name? Frank something?
Pat: King is almost an apologist for mankind. Nothing’s ever the fault of someone because they’re a bad person, it’s because overwhelming, ancient evil took hold of them. Or, conversely, their cell phone.
Andrea: Yeah, it’s kinda weird actually. Unless that person is the person who hit him with his van, and then he’s evil incarnate.
Andrea: It had the first reference for A2 flu. Next referenced in “Night Surf,” then of course in The Stand.
Andrea: Yeah. It was very, very brief. I didn’t even write down what it said. I just wrote A2 flu!!
Andrea: What is your question?
Pat: My question is: what the fuck is the A2 flu, and why is it remarkable that you just wrote it?
Andrea: It’s the virus that is eventually Captain Trips.
Pat: Oh, okay, so that exclamation was one of self-satisfaction. With no quotations.
Andrea: Right. Because I actually recognized a between-book connection. Normally that’s all you.
Pat: Well, was Mechanic Falls referenced in this book or Carrie?
Andrea: Not sure.
Pat: Sonofa. Nowhere on Wikipedia is it referred to as “A2 flu.”
Andrea: Maybe A6? Maybe he changes the name to A6 later? Or maybe it was just in “Night Surf” and never in The Stand?
Pat: It’s A6. And only in “Night Surf.” According to that lord of all knowledge, Wiki Paedia.
Andrea: I AM STILL RIGHT. The part where they are taking the boxes into the cellar reminds me of “Graveyard Shift.”
Pat: I have no recollection
Andrea: Of that part or of “Graveyard Shift”?
Andrea: The short story from Night Shift where the guy works in a warehouse and he hates his boss so he tricks him into going into a part of the warehouse and it turns out to be full of giant mutant rats?
Pat: OH. I thought it was that they had been digging somewhere and found giant rats. It’s been a while.
Horror Films Are Horrible
Pat: I know they just remade Salem’s Lot, but that was five years ago, and vampires are in vogue as hell right now. Also, look at the fucking way Ben Mears is dressed:
Also, Donald Sutherland? Samantha Mathis? Rutger Hauer? James Cromwell? AND ON TNT?
Andrea: I have never seen either the original or the remake I don’t think. Tim says it is the movie that scared him off horror movies forever
Pat: WORSE YET:
IS THAT BARLOW IN THE FUCKING WINDOW
Andrea: Haha. Rob Lowe.
Pat: That’s the alpha vampire. He looks like if you invited him into your house, the worst that would happen is he’d admonish you for wearing mismatched socks and not using your salad fork properly.
Andrea: Who is Samantha Mathis supposed to be? Susan? Worst mis-casting of all time.
Pat: Here’s the Marsten house in the 1979 mini-series:
Vampire floating outside the window:
Andrea: That vampire kid is scary as hell
Pat: Wikipedia chastises the miniseries for removing the social commentary present in the novel.
Andrea: Don’t be a busybody?
Pat: The only social commentary, aside from the small towns as vampires thing, that I saw was “vampires are awkward, socially.” Oh, here we go: ‘As King said in 1983, “In ‘Salem’s Lot, the thing that really scared me was not vampires, but the town in the daytime, the town that was empty, knowing that there were things in closets, that there were people tucked under beds, under the concrete pilings of all those trailers. And all the time I was writing that, the Watergate hearings were pouring out of the TV… Howard Baker kept asking, ‘What I want to know is, what did you know and when did you know it?’ That line haunts me, it stays in my mind… During that time I was thinking about secrets, things that have been hidden and were being dragged out into the light.”‘ From Amazon’s review. Eh.
Andrea: I wouldn’t call that social commentary
Pat: There’s a seven part BBC radio play. And Wikipedia claims that the original printing of the book, as Jerusalem’s Lot, is the holy grail for Stephen King collectors, with only four existing copies.
Andrea: It is weird to think of the existence of Stephen King collectors, although I know there are a lot of collectors’ editions of his books out there.
Andrea: One cool part near the end was all the vampire kids on the bus.
Pat: YES. The end. Was. Terribly. Anti-climactic. It was horrifying, sure, that the vampires started to wake up, but then he gets to Barlow, stabs him, and we’re done.
Andrea: Agreed. No payoff whatsoever.
Pat: And then back to the stupid, “Oh shit, it’s not over” story of the beginning.
Andrea: One part I did like from near the end is when Ben sees all the toys in the yard and “hopes the kids enjoyed them when there were still bright days to enjoy them in.”
Pat: See, that seems hokey to me. Your hormones are getting the best of you.
Andrea: We always like different lines.
Andrea: You know what was really bad-ass? When Barlow cut off the stairs.
Pat: And what’s-his-shit fell to his impaled death? Was that a nod to VLAD THE IMPALER? OMGLOLz.
Andrea: Yeah, that was awesome.
Pat: I disagree. I wanted dude to live. Dude was cool. Ditto old dude.
Andrea: The ending reminded me of The Road. Which I don’t think you have read yet.
Pat: NO I HAVEN’T SO SHUT UP FOREVER. I will read that in around 5,000 pages of Dickens.
Andrea: So are we done with Salem’s Lot then?
Pat: Pfff. I’m so over it.
Andrea: I told you it sucked. Rage is next. Do you have it?
Pat: I’m filled with it.