Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
King’s second published novel and first best seller was ’Salem’s Lot. It is a variation on the famous vampire novel of Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897), but is set in the modern world and, like most of King’s novels, in a remote area of rural Maine. The main character is Ben Mears, an author who has recently lost his wife in a motorcycle crash. Unable to conquer his grief after many months, he returns, after an absence of twenty-five years, to the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, known by most of its inhabitants as “’Salem’s Lot.”
As a child, Ben had spent four years in ’Salem’s Lot, which he remembers fondly with the idyllic images that most Americans have of life in a small town. He hopes to rekindle pleasant memories, regain a sense of home, and find some peace of mind. Entering the village, however, he is startled by his sight of the Marsten House, a great mansion built on a hill overlooking the town. Ben is filled with foreboding, and the reader knows that the Marsten House is going to be a central factor in the events to come. King describes the mansion as if it is alive, almost conscious, and full of evil. It had been built many decades before by a mobster named Hubie Marsten, who shotgunned his wife to death and then hanged himself. When he was nine, Ben had visited the abandoned building on a dare and had seen an apparition—Marsten’s spectral corpse swinging from a roof beam. Now, he feels almost as if the house has been waiting for his return.
Despite his memories and fears, Ben settles comfortably into ’Salem’s Lot. He soon meets a young woman, Susan Norton, and a romance begins. A cast of interesting characters who live in ’Salem’s Lot appears, and the reader is lulled into believing that this is simply a nice little town like a hundred others. Yet something is wrong; there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, a sense that nothing and no one are going anywhere in ’Salem’s Lot, a kind of “deadness.” These feelings seem to be prophetic, for two young boys, Danny and Ralphie Glick, become the first victims of the vampire Barlow, who has occupied Marsten House and is served by his oily assistant Richard Straker. Converted by Barlow into undead zombies, the Glicks begin attacking others, including young Mark Petrie, a former playmate. Though Petrie drives the Glicks away with a cross-shaped toy tombstone, Barlow’s flock of vampires begins to grow as spouses, friends, and relatives spread the plague....
(The entire section is 1014 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In Mexico in 1976, a nameless man and boy pass as father and son, though they are unrelated. The man, once a novelist, maintains an interest in Maine, and he obtains regional newspapers to keep apprised of current events there. He pays particular attention to a lengthy story describing the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, now abandoned. A priest, to whom the boy makes a confession, reveals that the boy wept terribly during confession. Though no details of the confession are revealed, a week later the pair decide to return to Maine.
In 1975, the novelist, Ben Mears, nears the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, pausing at the decrepit Marsten house on its outskirts. Hubie Marsten was a mobster; he killed his wife and hanged himself in the house. When Ben was a boy, he entered the Marsten house on a dare and saw Marsten’s hanged ghost, which opened its eyes as he approached. The house has remained vacant, and the returning Ben, who believes it holds Marsten’s psychic residue, has attempted to rent it, not knowing that Richard Straker has purchased it.
In town, Ben meets aspiring artist Susan Norton, who recognizes him from a dust-jacket photograph. They share ice cream, and Ben reveals he has returned to write about the town: He lost both parents before he was fourteen and was raised by his aunt, a resident of ’Salem’s Lot. They left the town during a devastating fire. Ben’s arrival is noted by the local police, who also note that Susan has been dating Floyd Tibbits; her relationship with Tibbits is also noted by her overprotective mother, who is relieved to learn that Ben is staying in a conservative rooming house.
The town experiences a seemingly typical day: An adolescent dislikes his morning farm chores; the milkman makes his rounds; the landlady at Ben’s rooming house prepares breakfast; young Sandy McDougall hates her noisy baby, Randy; cemetery groundskeeper Mike Ryerson discovers a dead dog hanging on a fence; the child-hating schoolbus driver abuses his passengers; by keeping calm, young Mark Petrie confronts and defeats the school bully; Bonnie Sawyer continues her adulterous affair with young Corey Bryant; and Ralphie Glick vanishes while walking with Danny: At midnight, his corpse is made an offering to the Lord of the Flies.
Straker meets the realtor who sold him the Marsten house and gives instructions concerning the delivery of a sideboard to the house. He and his partner Barlow intend to open an antique shop in Jerusalem’s Lot. One of the delivery men sees something in the basement that might be Ralphie Glick’s clothes, but he is dissuaded from reporting this to the police. After seeming to recover from pernicious anemia, Danny Glick dies...
(The entire section is 1103 words.)