Don’t let the sun go down on you in small-town Maine

I’m a fan of Stephen King, both his flat-out horror (IT and The Shining come to mind) and his “the real world is scary enough” sort of books (Misery and The Stand). It’s hard for me to think of many other writers who have such a conversational style that draws me immediately into the narrative, as if we were sitting around a campfire together.

Before drifting away entirely, he found himself reflecting—not for the first time—on the peculiarity of adults. They took laxatives, liquor, or sleeping pills to drive away their terrors so that sleep would come, and their terrors were so tame and domestic: the job, the money, what the teacher will think if I can get Jennie nicer clothes, does my wife still love me, who are my friends. They were pallid compared to the fears every child lies cheek and jowl with in his dark bed, with no one to confess to in hope of perfect understanding but another child. … The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.

I read ’Salem’s Lot (1975) many years ago and remembered being thoroughly creeped out. So when I came across it as I was rearranging my bookshelves, I decided to take it for another spin and see if my reaction has changed over the decades.

Um, no. Still thoroughly creeped out, still pleasurably horrified by this tale of a small Maine town colonized by a vampire. This was only King’s second published novel, but many of the touches that would later become hallmarks of his work were present: Ordinary people behaving in extraordinary ways, the reader having just enough of an edge to get scared before the people in the book do, and of course, the heroics of a child. It seems clear that King sees children as the real heroes in this world, as in this passage.

If reading about vampires and the terrible things people do under pressure isn’t your bag, that’s totally understandable, and you should give this one a pass. But if you’re nostalgic for some good old-fashioned horror, you could do much worse than make a visit to ‘Salem’s Lot, Maine. Just make sure you leave before the sun goes down.

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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