Published in 1975 as the young Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot occasionally betrays its age. Many of its themes are still pertinent today–for example, the lament for small-town America, slowly fading into obscurity as the elderly pass away and the young flee for more opportunities, applies as much in 2013 as it did during the time of King’s writing. So too does the mundanity of evil. While there are actual vampires haunting the shadows of the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, the reader knows that a more common breed of monster has been there all along. The rapacious, the envious, the duplicitous. Child abusers, alcoholics, cheating spouses, malicious gossips, wife beaters.
When the evils of the everyday become subsumed by an ancient, supernatural Evil, it’s actually a fairly smooth transition–and that might be the scariest thing of all, King seems to say.
It was impossible to ignore the use of the derogatory “f-word” as a constant insult for perceived weakness or potential homosexuality. Though the argument could be made that King was simply using it as a way to characterize the townspeople as bigoted or behind the more-progressive times, it didn’t come across that way to me. There was never any pushback to characters saying that word; it felt normalized and careless. Regardless of King’s intentions behind using the “f-word”, it was still very jarring and uncomfortable to see it in print so often.
King was also still growing into writing fully-realized female characters. Susan Norton, the heroine of Salem’s Lot, seems to exist in the novel only to give hero Ben Mears the excuse for a love scene and an impetus for revenge. Though she has some agency, when compared to the other main (male) characters, Susan is weak, flighty, and contributes very little. On the basis of her character alone, Salem’s Lot would fail the Bechdel Test.