Needful Things by Stephen King

by Kristopher Cook
Time to Read: 3 minutes

What would you give for the thing you want most? A rare baseball card, Elvis’ sunglasses, or a cure for crippling arthritis. These longings can all become a reality in Castle Rock, Maine’s newest store, Needful Things.

However, as with all things too good to be true, there’s a caveat. You’ll need to play a trick on somebody else, at the discretion of the shops’ owner, Leland Gaunt.

Needful Things is a horror book that deals with supernatural elements; spirits, illusions, and the devil – you know, classic Stephen King. Supernatural events dominate the story and while the town folks act realistically, they are motivated by an underlining evil need for greed.

The story centres around the new shop ‘Needful Things’, and its owner Leland Gaunt. An older gentleman with a creepy mannerism and an icy touch, as many of the residents of Castle Rock soon discover. As the stores’ reputation grows, so does the mischief of the surrounding area.

Gaunt exploits our desires, the same desires that are connected to simple ideas, such as; owning a rare baseball card or a small piece of porcelain. These chosen desires represent the hidden dreams of the Castle Rock community and suggest unfulfilled dreams. This is especially true in the case of Norris Ridgewick, wanting a fishing rod that was once owned by his father. How far will these characters push themselves for the gratification they desire?

Enter our protagonist, Sheriff Alan Pangborn. As things go south, it’s up to him to find an answer to the town’s growing problems.

Trademark Horror

I understand this book sounds like a dark fairytale, though it’s anything but. Released in 1991, Needful Things is immersed in King’s trademark horror and doesn’t hold back on the grisly details of madness, hatred and violence.

As this was the first book he wrote since recovering from drug and alcohol-related issues, you can see his love of life return – in its own demonic way. This may account for the book’s length, which at times drags like a club foot in a snowstorm. Honestly, there seem to be whole chapters where almost nothing happens.

On the plus side; the characters are thoroughly fleshed out, and all have believable plot lines. Each character starts out with their own goals, which is what makes them susceptible to the shop. Referring back to the opening line of this review – What would you give for the thing you want most? It turns out that in Castle Rock, the answer is just about anything.

Nettie Cobb and her dog Raider are my favourite characters. Nettie is an introverted soul, often described by others as ‘the crazy woman‘, but she’s living in constant fear, after murdering her abusive husband, from a psychotic breakdown seven years prior. Growing up, she had an abusive Mother, which made her recoil into her shell whenever spoken to by strangers.

It’s her character arc, and Leland Gaunt’s stranglehold on her that make this book terrifying to read.

As you may have guessed, Shop owner Leland Gaunt is played off as the devil himself, pitting residents off against each other, all in the name of fun.

Price, Mr. Gaunt might have said, always enhances value . . . at least in the eyes of the purchaser.

Stephen King, Chapter 18

As a few residents begin pranking each other, it’s easy for the recipient to take offence and retaliate back twice as hard. This is what Gaunt is counting on.

Often criticised for being too tidy is the ending, although personally, I didn’t have a problem with it. On the other hand, this is only the third King book I’ve read, so I don’t have too much to compare with on that front.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, this book is Stephen King’s return to the throne of horror book dominance.

It may polarise fans, much like Gerald’s Game, and it’s a long book to get through for some, but overall it’s worth the read.

If you’re already a fan of Stephen King and you haven’t read Needful Things yet, then what are you waiting for? This book is intense, it’s gruesome, and above all else, it’s a whole lot of fun. Not to mention, Needful Things is the most enjoyment I’ve had reading in 2019 thus far, even if it is a little drawn out.

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