Rebecca Vnuk is Editor, Reference and Collection Management. As the author of Read On . . . Women’s Fiction and Women’s Fiction Authors: A Research Guide, she’s an expert on Chick Lit, but she also likes to read about serial killers and zombies (it’s not all about the shoes!). If she’s not tucked away filling her head with terrifying tales or women’s weepers, she’s probably running after her two young sons. Rebecca has a BA in Theater and Music and an MLIS.
It’s not just about vampires...
Even though I’m a women’s fiction “expert,” my favorite author isn’t Jennifer Weiner (she’s a close second!), Jodi Picoult, or Barbara Delinsky. Nope, it’s the Master Storyteller himself, Stephen King. And my all-time scariest book? Salem’s Lot all the way.
Novelist Ben Mears returns to his Maine hometown and falls in love with young painter Susan. Ben decides to write about "the old Marsten house," where hitman Hubie Marsten plied his trade. Ben’s research coincides with the arrival of the house’s new owners, Mr. Straker and the never-seen Mr. Barlow. Shortly after they take ownership, a local boy disappears and his brother dies. Then fewer and fewer townsfolk are seen in the daylight. Ben, Susan, and four others plan a stake-wielding showdown at the Marsten place. There is no happy ending.
Seriously scary stuff. Atmospheric, creepy, (Come on! The newly-turned vampires float up to your windows and tap, tap, TAP to be let in!) and fairly timeless, this story of a small town overrun with vampires was King’s second novel (after Carrie), and it firmly cemented his status as a horror writer. Which is rather unfortunate, really, because some of his best work isn’t really “horror” per se, and Salem’s Lot itself is much, much more than a scary little vampire story.
Look past the vampires for a moment. This book is an allegory of society and a fine one at that. Suburbia is filled with adulterers, child abusers, cheaters, gossips, perverts, and not very nice people after all. Everyone—EVERYONE—has a dark side, a secret, and here’s the catch in this novel—honing in on that dark side is how the vampires get you. That’s right, it’s not a far leap between being a total jerkwad to becoming a vampire. Just think about it. People “feed” off each other in both benign and nasty ways in daily life all the time, don’t they? Scary enough indeed! And let’s not even get into the glaringly obvious parallels between a small town being sucked dry by vampires and a small town being sucked dry by intrusive and corrupt government (King’s own take on the tale) or by capitalism (insert your least-favorite big-box store here).
But back to the vampires—as I pointed out earlier, these particular vamps get in by tapping at your windows. The book really ought to come with a warning: “Do not read on windy nights! The second you hear a tree branch scratch your bedroom window, you will be up until dawn with the lights on.” Well, I read this book over the course of a very warm summer week, when my husband was out of town. One night, I ended up running across the entire house at 2am, slamming every window shut despite the heat, then literally leaping back into bed because I was so scared! That was about 10 years ago or so, and I’m thinking of re-reading it again this year. What can I say? I don’t only like fun chick lit with pink heels on the covers, I adore a deliciously good fright, as well.