So, I’m still trekking through King’s books and I’ve trekked all the way back to his second outing in 1975, ‘Salem’s Lot. I actually had no idea that King ever tackled vampires, but boy, when King tackles a well-worn, well-tread subject, he does it with a fresh ferocity befitting his reputation. I mean, come on, we all know the vampire lore with how sunlight burns them, garlic and holy water repel them and that you need to drive a wooden stake through their heart to end them.
But all the same, even though those hallmarks of the vampire genre come into play, King utilizes them within the backdrop of his classic small-town setting and gritty, realistic characters and actions. It’s Dracula for twentieth century small-town America. And as an extension of King’s macabre and gruesome imagination, it’s a grisly tale of vampires that aren’t the ones you’d fancy a waltz with or a romantic tryst.
And all the the while, the ancient momentum of the main vampire, or the “Master,” Barlow, is up against the commendable efforts of a writer-turned-vampire-slayer, Ben Mears and his budding teenage side-kick, Mark. Mark is one of the best characters I’ve read in the King books, as he’s strong-willed, smart, crafty, but still human and still a kid, at that. Naturally, the subject being vampires, they encounter disbelievers, but the disbelievers soon become vampires themselves, so all the same…
I can see why King himself says this is his favorite book he’s written and why others hail it as a classic. It’s more bone-chilling than IT and in some ways, more gruesome than Misery. I’d also say it wraps up a bit tighter than either. It’s a comfortable 631 pages, just coming up to the line of contentment. I could’ve used a bit more on a certain priest, but I won’t spoil the fun.
I also dig the subtle real world backdrop this was written in with the faint echo of Vietnam and government corruption. It’s a quintessential portrait of a 1970’s America trying to find its footing again, more unsure and uneasy than ever before after all that occurred in the previous decade; it’s a new decade ripe for the taking…from vampires, in this case. Give it a shot. It turns vampire conventions on their head and in equal parts embraces them to harrowing effect.