Archive for November, 2009

Book Review: ‘Salem’s Lot

Stephen King
Paperback, 631 pages
Simon & Schuster
Copyright 1975

 

 

I adore Stephen King but I’d always avoided ‘Salem’s Lot due to the subject matter.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m fascinated by vampires and obsessed with reading about them, but I prefer them to be the protagonists of the story rather than horrific monsters that must be staked in order to save the townspeople.

But a few months ago a friend lent it to me and I finally decided to give it a try in October.  I figured that it was fitting since Halloween was coming up.

‘Salem’s Lot (short for Jerusalem’s Lot) is a sleepy, quiet town on the East coast that’s filled with a cast of colorful characters and King introduces you to practically all of them.  The milk man, the town drunk, the Irish Catholic priest, the dysfunctional families, the high school English teacher and the list goes on.  The town itself is even a character and several chapters are told from its point of view. 

When writer Ben Mears, who grew up in the Lot, returns to battle a horrific childhood experience in the Marsten House, where the previous occupant hanged himself in the upstairs bedroom, he discovers that the house has been sold to two strange outsiders.  Determined to confront his demons, he takes up residence in the local boarding house and throws himself into writing his new novel, which is centered around the looming, dilapidated structure that hangs over the town like Shirley Jackson’s Hill House. 

Soon after Ben settles in and begins reacquainting himself with the town, strange things begin to happen.  The milk man’s dog is found hanging upside down from the cemetary gates, a young boy disappears in the woods and his brother stumbles home, dazed, with no memory of what occurred.  More people go missing or die mysteriously and Ben joins up with some of the townies, including Father Callahan, a classmate of the missing boy, Mark Petrie, English teacher Matt Burke, and Susan Norton, the girl he’d met shortly after arriving and had been instantly drawn to.  All evidence points to the new owners of the Marsten House, Straker and Barlow, and the group sets out to discover just what  secrets the newcomers are hiding. 

After more attacks and people behaving bizarrely, they soon find out what they’re up against and realize that to fight the evil that had infiltrated ‘Salem’s Lot they would have to face it head on, knowing they probably wouldn’t survive, before it was too late for the entire town. 

From the first chapter, I was sucked into the story and as I got to know the back stories of all the characters I found I could picture ‘Salem’s Lot with perfect clarity.  I didn’t feel as strong a connection to the characters that I usually do in King’s novels, maybe because the point of view jumps around so much, but I was entirely invested in them and desperately wanted them to succeed.  

Here’s an excerpt that stood out for me, from the child Mark’s point of view after facing a nightmare-come-true.  In it he remarks on the differences between a child’s fears and an adult’s:

“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.  There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach.  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.” 

Occasionally I got bogged down with a few too many gossipy details about the town’s residents but overall the story unfolded in a suspense-building pace until the final conflict between the survivors and the evil they sought to snuff out.  And my fears about how the vampires would be portrayed were pretty accurate.  Aside from the master vampire Barlow, who was cunning and sophisticated, the rest were described as little more than brainless sacks of flesh.  There weren’t that many parts where Barlow made an appearance and I wished that a few more chapters could have featured him, or even been written from his point of view.  But that’s just my biased pro-vampire attitude talking.  It wouldn’t have been in line with the story.

Here’s one Barlow quote that I loved:

“Look and see me, puny man.  Look upon Barlow, who has passed the centuries as you have passed hours before a fireplace with a book.  Look and see the great creature of the night whom you would slay with your miserable little stick.  Look upon me, scribbler.  I have written in human lives, and blood has been my ink.  Look upon me and despair!”

Awesome.

To me the story wasn’t so much about the townspeople becoming vampires, as how they reacted to the unbelievable events that gripped the town.  Who would turn tail and flee?  Who would rise to defend the town?  Who would sacrifice themselves to save the ones they loved?  It makes you think about what you and your friends and neighbors would do in the face of such a nightmare.  The answer might not be one that you like.

I would recommend ‘Salem’s Lot to anyone looking for a dark, chilling tale of good versus evil. 

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BTT: Too Short?

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Suggested by JM:

“Life is too short to read bad books.” I’d always heard that, but I still read books through until the end no matter how bad they were because I had this sense of obligation.

That is, until this week when I tried (really tried) to read a book that is utterly boring and unrealistic. I had to stop reading.

Do you read everything all the way through or do you feel life really is too short to read bad books?”

I’ve only not finished a book to the end a handful of times and it always pains me to do so.  If I’m reading something that just isn’t cutting it I usually just grit my teeth and force myself to get through it.  I’m the same way with movies.  Even if they’re so bad that I’m rolling my eyes and groaning aloud I always watch them all the way through.

The same question always runs through my head.  What if it gets better?

summonerRecently I stopped reading a book (Gail Z. Martin’s The Summoner) when I was about halfway through and it wasn’t that it was a terrible book, it just wasn’t grabbing me in the slightest.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was turning me off about it so much.  The characters should have been interesting and the plot should have intrigued me, but they both stopped short.

Another one in the past couple years was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  I got about halfway through that book before giving up too.  I might give it another try someday because I really liked it for the most part but once Twain started quoting passages from Le Morte d’Arthur that went on for pages and pages, he lost me.  yankee

I guess I need to realize that when I have to keep convincing myself that it’s going to get better, it’s probably not going to.  And with so many tantalizing books in my TBR queue, maybe I don’t need to be wasting time on bad books after all.

What about you?

Challenge Update: The Vampire Diaries

awakeningI just finished reading the first three books in the Vampire Diaries series as part of the Childhood Favorites challenge, hosted by Debbie.

This YA series by LJ Smith was one of my favorites when I was in elementary school and I thought it would be fun to revisit it and see whether my opinion of The Awakening, The Struggle, and The Fury has changed eighteen years later.

And the answer is yes, and no. 

They were definitely fun to read again and I was surprised at how many parts I remembered almost word for word.  The books tell the story of Elena Gilbert, a high school senior who rules the school and always gets her way, and two vampire brothers, Stefan and Damon, one that loves her and the other that will do anything to possess her.struggle

Stefan came to Fell’s Church, Virginia to try to start a new life and find a chance to be accepted among humans again.  When he sees Elena for the first time he’s instantly reminded of Katherine, his first love who turned him and his brother into vampires during the 15th century.  The story that unfolds is about the relationship between Elena and Stefan as she discovers his true nature and tries to reconcile the two brothers, who’ve been sworn enemies since Katherine died, each blaming the other for her death.  Along the way there are brutal attacks on Elena’s classmates, psychic premonitions by one of Elena’s best friends, Bonnie, and the slaying of a history teacher, and that’s just in book one.

I still really like the story but this time around it was the characters that fell flat.  When I was a kid I remember idolizing Elena and wanting to be like her when I was in high school.  Now I really hope I wasn’t.  She’s a bit of a self-centered, spoiled brat who uses people to her own ends and whines when she doesn’t get what she wants.  All the characters seemed a little immature and naive and they acted more like middle school students to me (did you really still call guys “boys” when you were a high school senior?).  Many of the characters are fairly one-dimensional and not well rounded, which makes them seem less than realistic.  Bonnie is a little too giggly and bubbly and Meredith is a little too stoic.

furyThe one exception being Damon.  He was always my favorite character and I still found him devilishly delightful this time.  Dangerous, yes, monstrous, at times, but gorgeous, powerful, and charming.  Three traits I find irresistible in a vampire. 

It was still a lot of fun to revisit Fell’s Church and get all wrapped up in Stefan’s brooding and Elena’s teenage angst, but honestly if I had just picked these books up for the first time today I probably wouldn’t be that thrilled about them.  But they’re quick reads and definitely brain candy.  I’ll probably read the fourth book, Dark Reunion, too because I don’t really remember what happens in that one.  I just checked out LJ Smith’s website and apparently she’s continuing the series with three more installments.  I might have to add them to my wish list to see what Elena and the Salvatore brothers have been up to! 

YA seems to be a really popular genre right now among adults and I’ve gotten tons of recommendations for other vampire/fantasy series so I might give those a try and see how they compare.

Have you read The Vampire Diaries?  What do you think about YA?

BTT: It’s All About Me

btt2“Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?
Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!”

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually read a biography, but recently I’ve been wanting to try some (and more non-fiction in general).  I’ve only read fake bios like The Memoirs of Cleopatra and The Autobiography of Henry VIII, both by Margaret George. 

I think both kinds definitely have merit and for me, it would depend on who the bio is about.  If it’s someone currently alive that I’m really interested in, I think I would prefer an autobiography, just so I can really get an accurate portrayal of the person’s life story.  Of course, chances are it would be biased and some of the things I may want to learn might get left out.  If it was a historical figure then I probably wouldn’t have a choice anyway but I’d prefer a biography written by a historian. 

Which do you prefer?

 

 

 

Where’s Neil when you need him?

A few years ago I was browsing the sci-fi/fantasy section at Barnes and Noble and stumbled across a book called Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman.  I was instantly attracted to the cover art and when I flipped it over to read the summary, I was doubly intrigued.  The Stephen King blurb was the final selling point and I decided to give it a shot.  The book was fantastic and I adored Gaiman’s writing style.  neverwhere

Since then I went on to read American Gods (my favorite), Stardust, Anansi Boys and Good Omens, co-written by Terry Pratchett.  Gaiman’s unique characters and stories transport you into whatever world he’s created in the pages.

By the time I read Neverwhere I had been in love with the music of Tori Amos for almost ten years.  I’m absolutely enthralled by her voice and songwriting ability and after a while I noticed a name that kept popping up in her lyrics from album to album.  earthquakes

I always thought to myself, who is this Neil person anyway and why does he keep getting mentioned in all these songs over the years?

Well, I finally found out, on accident, when I was looking up more info online about Neil Gaiman.  Lo and behold, Tori’s Neil was my Neil whose writing I had just discovered! 

That just struck me as one of those funny little coincidences that make you smile.  It turns out that their work has been rather intertwined for many years (he made her a talking tree character in Stardust, she wrote a song for his anthology, and they’ve both written for each other’s projects including tour books, album theme stories and book introductions).  I recently saw Tori perform at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and I noticed that every time she sang a lyric that included Neil’s name, a group in the front row cheered loudly so I thought he must have been in the audience.

Here are some of the Neil-afied lyrics from Tori’s songs…

“If you need me, me and Neil’ll be hanging out with the dream king.  Neil said hi by the way.”  (Tear in Your Hand)

“Seems I keep getting this story twisted so where’s Neil when you need him?”  (Space Dog)

“And if there is a way to find you I will find you.  But will you find me if Neil makes me a tree?”  (Horses)

“Get me Neil on the phone, no I can’t hold.”  (Carbon)

“Neil is thrilled he can claim he’s mammalian, ‘but the bad news,’ he said, ‘girl you’re a dandelion'” (Not Dying Today)

Have you ever discovered any similar connections?