The Worm That Turned – Stephen King’s ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’

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For a genre enthusiast such as myself, it will undoubtedly come as a surprise that I was yet to read any King. As is often my nature, I tweeted this dilemma, asking for recommendations. My mother is a voracious reader of horror novels such as King’s, or the work of Dean Koontz, and so I hoped to find something amongst her library.

As is often the case, I found something before the answers came in; I was drawn towards Night Shift – a collection of varied short stories. (Mostly because I’ve planned to write a short story myself, as described earlier, but partially from the belief, paraphrased from an interview with Michael Marshall / (Smith), that the best form for horror writing might just be the short story.)

So follows my opinions on the first in the collection – ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’:

The story is told in a sequence of (unanswered) letters and snippets from a diary that is immediately recognisable to the structure of Dracula. I was recently discussing this form with my girlfriend, and we noted that whilst each of us thoroughly enjoyed the structure we did know several people who were put off by its nature. I think the strength of this form of writing shines through in that it gives a legitimate reason/excuse for an unreliable narrator (of which I’m an uncanny fan of) without worries about how a character might have published a novel. It feels as if you’ve stumbled upon a trove of real-world items, a feeling that King flirts with when the protagonists of his tale do likewise.

Plotwise, the premise is simple and the paranoia secure. Issues of backstory are accurately hinted at through the inherent dialogue of the form, and do not detract from the plot.

When the protagonists visit the eponymous (deserted / shunned) village, there is a notable sense of dread perfectly echoed in the description. The writing style is here reflective of Lovecraft, and soon it is revealed that the plot is similarly related.

The plot then races toward its climax over the final twenty pages, interspersing letters and diary entries before the final, shocking letter. An epilogue of sorts provides a chilling twist, and the whole story has that beautifully finished sense of incompletion of plot.

I hope the remainder of the tales are equally as well constructed.

The collage of texts is likely to be a format I later experiment with, for it definitely appeals. I’d rate ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ as highly as Dracula on its execution.

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The Worm That Turned – Stephen King’s ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’

One thought on “The Worm That Turned – Stephen King’s ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’

  1. […] I have often thought about the importance of a story’s length, ever since reading the introduction to Michael Marshall Smith’s What You Make It. In fact, I hadn’t really read many short stories before then – that the National Curriculum prescribes so many novels and yet so few short stories, until only recently, is a matter for another post. I remember being amazed at the sheer power of the form, the succinctness and the viscerality. (Especially true of ‘Hell Hath Enlarged Herself’, which made me put the book down afterwards and just think.** Indeed, I have mentioned before that in fact, I think the greatest form for the horror story is the short. […]

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