Thursday Reviews: Needful Things by Stephen King

Needful Things

By Stephen King

A new store is opening in Castle Rock, Maine, a “wide place in the road” near Portland. It is called Needful Things, and the owner, Leland Gaunt, is ready to make deals. He will sell you your heart’s desire for an unbelievably low price, but only if you agree to do him a little favor. “Just a harmless pranks,” he always assures his customers.

Only the pranks aren’t so harmless. Like any small town, Castle Rock is seething with petty squabbles, long-smoldering grudges, and self-centered persecution complexes. The “harmless pranks” often set one person against another. Eventually, it turns violent.

Even without these sudden eruptions in violence, Sheriff Alan Pangborn (The Sun Dog, The Dark Half) is suspicious. Who is this Mr. Gaunt? Why didn’t he know about him before the shop opened? By the time Pangborn turns his sites on Gaunt, his “cross wiring” of the town’s people starts to bear homicidal fruit.

Needful Things is almost a retelling of Salem’s Lot, King intending it to be the final story set in the fictional Castle Rock. This, of course, does not pan out as several later King novels mention or even take place in Castle Rock. Gaunt is Barlow from Salem’s Lot. The townspeople don’t become vampires. They become barbarians. But where Gaunt differs from Barlow is that Barlow is reproducing. Barlow is Dracula settling down in small town America. Gaunt is a supernatural version of Batman’s nemesis, The Joker, sewing bloody chaos and enjoying every brutal second of it.

My one complaint is that Needful Things is wordy. King does weave an intricate plot, and no one can make a fictional town, especially one prone to supernatural doings like Castle Rock, seem real the way he does. However, the book does drag on and on, as though the epics It and the Dark Tower books (which are actually shorter up to this point) have become his template. It might not be so bad, but King already told this story once.