Caveat Emptor: My Review of Needful Things

Once upon a time, two stories got together.

These stories were named Wall Street and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

gordon gekko

They fell in love, and got married.

something-wicked-this-way-comes-1

One day, there was so much love that a new story came into existence.

And that new story was kind of like its parents.

It dealt with many of the same themes and messages.

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But make no mistake, that new story was also distinct from its mom and dad stories.

It had its own voice, along with a large cast of characters and a pretty awesome villain, to boot.

So, what was this story named?

Surely, it had to have an awesome name to live up to all this hype, right?

Well, since you asked, the name of this story is…

Needful Things.

Yes, *that* Needful Things, written by none other than The Master himself!

Simpsons SK

You are visiting the right blog, in case you were wondering.

Where this month (much like the book in question), we end 2016 with a bang!

Or maybe a stink bomb…now that would be more appropriate, wouldn’t it?

So, strap in, and get ready for one Hell (this is a Stephen King book, after all) of a ride, as we review and dissect one of my all-time favorite Stephen King books!

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

Needful Things begins with an introduction of the town Castle Rock, by an unknown narrator.  The narrator seems familiar with the town and its inhabitants, describing, in particular, the various feuds and rivalries between the inhabitants, and some things that the inhabitants would wish to keep secret.  The narrator also advises the reader that new store, named Needful Things, has opened in Castle Rock, and that the new store will bring some kind of change to the town.

There is much talk and gossip about the new store in town.  However, the store’s first customer is an eleven year old boy by the name of Brian Rusk.

Brian wanders into Needful Things one fall afternoon.  There he meets the owner, a man by the name of Leland Gaunt.

Almost immediately, Brian takes a liking to Mr. Gaunt, and is in awe of the new store.  When Mr. Gaunt asks Brian what he desires, Brian replies that he would like a 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card to complete his collection.

Somehow, Gaunt is able to produce that exact baseball card, much to Brian’s amazement.  The card is signed by Koufax, and even has the name “Brian” written on it.

Even though Brian has very little money, Gaunt sells him the card.  Gaunt also makes Brian promise to do something for him.  The deed is never specified, but Brian walks out of the store and is very happy.

When the store finally opens for business, it receives another visitor:  Polly Chalmers.

Polly is a long time resident of Castle Rock, although she spent several years living elsewhere.  Not much is known about Polly, other than the fact that she became pregnant, left town and possibly attended business school.  Polly keeps to herself and does not reveal much about her past.  Polly also suffers from a painful case of arthritis, and is desperate for a cure.

Polly also immediately takes a liking to Gaunt.  She pays him a visit and brings him a cake, and they chat about the town.  Polly reassures Gaunt about his new store, telling him that he will likely have many more customers.

That claim proves to be true, as Gaunt receives several more visits from the townspeople that day.  Some even purchase items from him, negotiating the prices with Gaunt.

The book then introduces us to a man named Alan Pangborn.  Alan is the sheriff of Castle Rock.  Alan has recently lost his wife and younger son due to a car accident and is mourning their deaths.  Alan is also in a relationship with Polly Chalmers.

Later that evening, a man named Hugh Priest is walking down the street, and notices a fox tail for sale in the window of the new store.  Hugh also notices that Needful Things appears to be open for business, even though the hour is very late.  Hugh is alcoholic whose life is beginning to fall apart due to his drinking.  When he sees the fox tail, he is reminded of his high school days and happier times.

Hugh walks into the store and meets Gaunt. He purchases the fox tail from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on a woman named Nettie Cobb, who is Polly’s housekeeper.

The new store does more business the next day.  Myra Evans, the best friend of Cora Rusk (Brian’s mother) purchases a picture of Elvis from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on another person in town.

Nettie Cobb, Polly Chalmers’ housekeeper, also becomes a customer of the new store.  Nettie is a troubled woman, as she has spent time in a mental institution, after killing her abusive husband in self defense.  She was released as part of a work rehabilitation program, and came to work for Polly Chalmers.   Nettie purchases a piece of carnival glass, and agrees to play a prank on Danforth “Buster” Keeton, a town selectman.

Meanwhile, Alan has a busy day as sheriff.  He has his deputy, Norris Ridgewick, write Keeton a ticket for parking in a handicapped spot.  Keeton becomes irrationally angry at this, and attacks Ridgewick after he receives the ticket.  Alan is able to break the fight up, but wonders why Keeton is so angry over a five dollar ticket, and speculates that Keeton may be deeply troubled.

Alan also meets with the Reverend William Rose, the pastor of the local Baptist church.  Reverend Rose is upset because the Catholic church in town will be sponsoring a bingo night in the name of charity, and the Baptist church believes that gambling in any form is a sin.  The reverend tries to convince Alan that this is illegal, but Alan has done his research, and tells the reverend that the Catholics will be able to sponsor their gambling night.  This upsets Reverend Rose, but he finally leaves the police station.

That afternoon,, Alan meets Polly for coffee, and they talk about the new store.  Polly is actually pleased that Nettie visited the new store, as Nettie is timid and tends to shy away from new experiences.  Polly also mentions that Gaunt returned the cake container, along with a note inviting her to visit the store that Sunday, as he has an item for sale that may be of interest to Polly.

Brian realizes that it is time to play the prank that he promised Gaunt that he would play.  Brian convinces himself to play the prank, as he fears his new baseball card may be taken away from him if he does not fulfill his promise to Gaunt.  Brian has not told anyone of the purchase of the card, as he fears that the fact that he now owns an expensive card may rouse suspicion.

Brian heads to the house of a woman named Wilma, who is a neighbor of Nettie Cobb’s.  The two women have been feuding for some time, and simply do not get along.  Brian smears mud on Wilma’s wash that is drying on the clothesline.  He feels some satisfaction after playing the prank, and heads back home to enjoy his new baseball card.

When Wilma returns that evening, she discovers her ruined sheets and becomes angry.  Wilma also assumes that Nettie is responsible, and places a threatening phone call to Nettie.  This upsets Nettie, who has no idea why Wilma is angry, but vows to not let Wilma bully her any more.

Deputy Norris Ridgewick passes by the store and his attention is captured by a fishing rod.  Ridgewick agrees to buy the fishing rod from Gaunt, and agrees to play a prank on another citizen of the town.

Gaunt makes several more deals with various citizens of Castle Rock, where his customers buy items from them that they deeply desire, and agree to play (seemingly) harmless pranks on other citizens of the town.

Danforth “Buster” Keeton also pays a visit to Needful Things and Leland Gaunt.  Keeton has become increasingly unstable and paranoid over the past several years, as he has become addicted to gambling and has been stealing from the town’s treasury to finance his gambling habit.  Keeton is now under the threat of an audit, which means that his embezzling will be discovered.

Keeton purchases a horse racing game from Gaunt, which he believes will help him predict the winner of the actual horse races.  Keeton also promises to play a prank for Gaunt, as payment for the horse racing game.

The next morning, Alan drops by Needful Things, hoping to meet with the owner.  Gaunt is in the store, but Alan does not see him.  Gaunt does not trust Alan, and does not want to meet him.

Polly sits on her porch, anticipating that she is going to experience a very bad bout of pain from her arthritis.  Polly also recalls her past, which she has not been honest with Alan.  When Polly was 17, she became pregnant out of wedlock with her son, Kelton.  She refused to marry the father or accept any help from her parents, who were ashamed of her.  Polly ran away to the West coast and ended up in California.  One night, while she was working, she left Kelton with a babysitter.  There was a fire at her apartment that killed both her son and his babysitter.  Eventually, Polly returned to Castle Rock, as she realized it was her true home.  However, she never told Alan the truth about her son, telling him instead that Kelton died of SIDS at three months old.  Polly knows that she must reveal the truth to Alan, sooner or later, but is not sure how to do that.

That night, Polly’s prediction about her arthritis proves to be correct and she is in terrible pain, and has trouble sleeping.  The next day, Nettie pays Polly a visit and becomes very worried about Polly’s health.  Polly is grateful for the concern, but tells Nettie not to worry and that she will be okay.

After Nettie leaves her house, Hugh Priests breaks into her home, in order to play the prank that Gaunt has ordered him to play.  Hugh kills Nettie’s dog Raider with a corkscrew, and leaves a threatening note on Raider’s collar.

Nettie leaves Polly’s house, and is ordered by Gaunt to play a prank on Buster Keeton.  She complies, breaking into Keeton’s house and leaving several parking tickets with obscene messages, signing one of the tickets as Norris Ridgewick.

Brian Rusk also realizes that he must finish paying for his baseball ticket.  Again, he heads to Wilma Jerzyck’s house, and throws several rocks with the windows, with threatening notes.

Nettie returns to her home.  She finds Raider’s corpse and is heartbroken and angry that someone has killed him.  She also notices the note, and believes that Wilma has killed her dog in retaliation for something.  Nettie finds a large, sharp kitchen knife, and heads to Wilma’s home.

In the meantime, Wilma returns to her home and finds the broken windows and the note.  She is furious, and assumes that Nettie is responsible.  Wilma also finds a large, sharp night, and leaves her house, looking for Nettie.

Wilma and Nettie meet on the sidewalk, and immediately exchange words.  This escalates to blows and the two women begin to stab each other.  Both women are able to inflict fatal blows on each other, and both die in the ensuing fight.

Polly begins to feel a little better and decides to take Gaunt up on his offer, meeting him at his shop.  Gaunt seems to understand how much pain that Polly is in, and offers her an Egyptian charm he calls an “azkah.”  Polly is skeptical, but Gaunt convinces her to try the charm, telling her that she has nothing to lose by trying.  Polly begins to feel better even before she leaves the store, but realizes that Gaunt had put her in a trance.

Keeton returns home from a rare, pleasant outing with his wife, Myrtle, and finds the fake tickets.  He is humiliated and attempts to remove all of the tickets, but his paranoia and instability become apparent.  Myrtle is worried about her husband, but is unable to reach him.

Alan and Norris complete the investigation on Nettie’s death.  Something does not sit right with Alan, but he does not know what.  He sends Norris home for the night, telling him to enjoy his fishing trip that Norris has planned for the next day.

Norris returns to the police station and changes back into his civilian clothes.  He finds a package on his desk, but does not know who the package is from.  When he opens it, his hand is snapped by a rat trap, and Norris nearly loses his fingers.  Norris is outraged and humiliated, and is also convinced that Keeton is responsible for the trick.

A prank is played on the Reverend William Rose, in the form of a nasty note left in the parsonage.  The note is signed by the concerned Catholic men of Castle Rock, but is left there by a young man named Ricky, who has played the prank in exchange for an item from Needful Things.

Gaunt watches over the town in the apartment above his shop, which is void of any furnishings.  He is planning something unpleasant for the town of Castle Rock, and various citizens stir in their sleep, plagued by disturbing dreams.

Pranks continue to be played on the unsuspecting citizens of Castle Rock, including the Baptist church, which receives a threatening note believed to be from the Catholic church.

More trouble rolls into Castle Rock: Ace Merrill, a former resident of Castle Rock, decides to return to town.  Ace was arrested by Alan several years ago in a drug bust.  Ace has been released from prison and is still a cocaine addict.  Ace also owes money to some unsavory people due to his drug habit, and has been given a deadline of November 1st to pay back the money, or he will be killed.

Ace happens to notice a “for hire” sign on the window of Needful Things.  He also notices what he thinks to be a book about hidden treasure in New England that is written by his late uncle, Reginald Merrill.  Ace has been convinced that his uncle had held out an inheritance that should have been due to Ace, and his greed is sparked.

Ace enters the store and speaks to Gaunt.  Gaunt convinces Ace to work for him so that Ace can pay back the money he owes to his creditors.  Gaunt also sells Ace the book on buried treasure, telling him that maybe the book will lead him to his fortune.

Alan soon finds out that Ace is back in town and confronts him.  Ace tells Alan that he has no intention of staying in town and that he will leave soon.

Brian Rusk begins to feel extremely guilty over his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie.  However, he receives a call from Gaunt advising him that he was not seen by anyone, and that he will be able to lie if necessary.  Brian does not feel any better, and begins to have thoughts of suicide.

Sally Ratliffe, the speech teacher at the local junior high school, becomes the latest victim of a prank.  Sally is engaged to Lester Pratt, the physical education teacher.  Both are devout Baptists and seem devoted to each other.  However, Sally finds what appears to be a love note from Lester’s ex-girlfriend in his vehicle.  Sally is extremely upset when she finds this, but calms down a bit when she returns home and begins to meditate.

Ace completes his first job for Gaunt.  He travels to Massachusetts and picks up a vehicle, per the instructions of Gaunt, along with a large amount of guns and ammunition.  Ace notices that the there is something strange about the car, as it appears to drive itself, but he return the car and the rest of his cargo to Gaunt, and then proceeds to hunt  for treasure.

Polly buries Nettie, and has Alan drop her off at Gaunt’s shop, so that she can pay for the azka charm.  Alan is skeptical about the charm, even though Polly is feeling better than she has in years.  The two argue, but Alan convinces Polly to pay for the charm with a check, so that she can cancel the payment if necessary.

When Polly enters the shop, Gaunt senses that she is troubled, and tells her that he will accept a check.  He also tells Polly that she must play a prank on someone, and that someone is Ace Merrill.  Polly agrees to the prank, and leaves the store with her azka charm.

Alan deduces that Brian Rusk may have either been involved somehow in the deaths of Nettie and Wilma.  Alan believes that Brian either played the prank, or perhaps witnessed it.  He tries to speak to Brian, but Brian seems distressed and will not open up to Alan.  Alan is then interrupted and called back to the station.

In the meantime, pranks continue to be played on various citizens of Castle Rock, with varying consequences.  In one instance, it is revealed that the principal at the middle school is involved in pedophilia.  In another instance, Lester Pratt, the fiancee of Sally, finds the wallet of Sally’s ex boyfriend in his vehicle, along with a picture of Sally and her ex, leaving Lester to believe that Sally is cheating on him.

Polly returns home and finds a letter waiting for her.  The letter appears to reveal that Alan has made some inquiries about her past and the death of her son, Kelton.  Polly is furious and calls Alan when he is at work and ends their relationship.

Alan is bewildered by the phone call from Polly, but has to put his feelings aside, as fingerprints were discovered at Nettie’s house.  The fingerprints do not belong to Nettie, but actually belong to Hugh Priest.  Alan suspects that Hugh killed Nettie’s dog, and sets out to arrest him.

Chaos erupts in the town, as people begin to seek revenge against those who they believe to be responsible for the tricks that were played on them.  One of Alan’s deputies, John LaPointe, is attacked by Lester Pratt at the police station, as Lester believes John was dating Sally behind his back.  Sheila, the dispatcher, attacks Lester and kills him, defending John.  The phones at the police station begin ringing off the hook, and Alan is bewildered.

Brian Rusk is unable to shake his distress.  Brian ends his life in his father’s garage, shooting himself with his father’s rifle.  Before his death, Brian makes his horrified younger brother Sean promise to never set foot in the store Needful Things.

Polly then makes good on her promise to play a prank on Ace Merrill.  She buries some torn pictures and stamps in a coffee can on some abandoned property, along with a letter addressed to Ace.  Polly questions her actions and her argument with Alan, but still plays the prank anyway.

Shortly after Polly buries the coffee can, Ace uses his book and maps and tracks down the location where the can is buried.  Ace eagerly digs and finds the coffee can, thinking that he has found buried treasure from his uncle.  However, his hopes are dashed when he finds the letter.  The letter appears to be written by Alan Pangborn and taunts Ace, telling him that his uncle left his treasure to Alan and not Ace.  Ace becomes furious, and vows to find Alan.

Chaos continues to erupt in the town.  Danforth Keeton finally becomes completely unhinged and kills his wife, Myrtle, beating her to death with a hammer.  Hugh Priest is also killed by the bartender who believes Hugh played a prank on him.  Alan Pangborn is bewildered, and attempts to question Sean Rusk, Brian’s younger brother, as he is unable to obtain any information from Cora Rusk, Brian’s mother, who appears to be in a daze.

While the chaos erupts in Castle Rock, Gaunt continues to make sales.  This time, he is selling guns, and the guns appear to have poison bullets.  It is also revealed that Gaunt is extremely old, and has been in this business for many centuries, causing chaos wherever he appears.

Alan is finally able to question Sean Rusk, and is disturbed by what he finds out.  Sean tells him that Brian made him promise not to ever enter the store known as Needful Things before his death.  Sean tells Alan about the baseball card that Gaunt sold to Brian, along with the sunglasses sold to his mother, Cora, and that Cora believes that those sunglasses allow her to visit with Elvis Presley.  Alan realizes that Brian was responsible for the pranks played on Wilma, and that Gaunt is the one actually responsible for the chaos in town.  Alan issues out a warrant for Gaunt’s arrest, and realizes that he must find Gaunt.

Gaunt recruits both Keeton and Ace to help him in his final act of mischief in Castle Rock:  he plans on using dynamite to destroy the town.

A stink bomb is set off in the Baptist Church.  The Baptists blame the Catholics, and the two groups meet with vengeance in mind.  The Catholics and the Baptists begin to fight, and people are badly hurt and even killed in the brawl, as both groups are intent on destroying the other.

Alan is on the hunt for Gaunt.  He vows vengeance on Gaunt, for his actions in Castle Rock.

Norris Ridgewick plans on committing suicide.  He believes that he is at least partially responsible for the chaos in town, as he purchased an item from Gaunt and played a prank.  However, something makes Norris realize that committing suicide is not the answer.  Norris then sees the fishing rod he purchased for what it is:  a piece of old bamboo.  Norris escapes from his noose and destroys the fishing rod, and vows that he will seek revenge on Gaunt.

Polly also has a revelation:  the letter she found earlier that day was addressed to Patricia Chalmers.  However, Polly had always been known as Polly during her time in San Francisco.  Therefore, Polly realizes that the letter was a fake, and that Alan has not made any inquiries into her past.

Polly rips the azka charm away from her chest.  When she does, a spider escapes from the charm.  Polly realizes that this is the manifestation of her arthritis pain, which never really went away, but was transferred elsewhere.  Polly chases the creature into her bathroom, and begins to attack it.

Alan finally arrives at Needful Things and notices that the store that the store appears to be abandoned.  However, Alan finds a note from Gaunt, along with a video tape claiming to capture the last moments of his deceased wife and son.  Alan pops the video into the VCR, and prepares to watch.

Polly continues to battle the spider, attacking it with her mouth and then a toilet plunger.  Finally, she defeats the creature, and realizes that she must find Alan.

Keeton and Ace begin the destruction of the town, using the dynamite.  They are seen by Norris, who orders them to halt.

Unable to stop himself, Alan watches the video tape.  The tape appears to show his wife car being hit by none other than Ace Merrill, whom Alan had previously arrested for selling drugs.  Alan becomes angry, and wants to seek revenge on Ace, who he now believes to be responsible for his wife and son’s death.

Norris attempts to arrest Ace and Keeton.  However, he is shot, and Ace escapes, looking for Alan.

While Norris is attempting to restore order, several buildings in Castle Rock begin to explode.

Polly finds Alan, and begs him to stop his search for Ace.  She is able to get through to Alan, who realizes that something is wrong with the video tape that he watched.

Ace interrupts the conversation, by pointing a gun at Polly.  Alan then has his own revelation: in the video tape, his wife’s seat belt is shown to be buckled.  However, Alan recalls that this was not the case and realizes that he has been tricked.

Alan also sees Gaunt leaving the store, with a valise that appears to contain the souls of his unhappy customers.  Alan has brought a container that has paper snakes with him.  This was something that his son, who enjoyed practical jokes, had purchased before his death.

Alan unleashed the joke on Gaunt.  The snake springs from the can, and is actually a real snake, not a paper one.  Gaunt is fooled, and grabs for the snake.  The snake bites Gaunt, and he screams in pain.   Alan takes advantage of this, and grabs Gaunt’s valise.

Polly breaks free of Ace’s grip and attacks him.  Norris sees his opportunity and shoots Ace, killing him instantly.

Alan continues to use his magic tricks to fool Gaunt, and demands that he leave town.  Alan brings out some trick flowers, which turn into a blazing bouquet of light.  Again, Alan casts out Gaunt.  The valise bursts open, and the trapped souls escape, free to make their journey to their final destiny.

After the valise is opened, Gaunt escapes the town, in his Talisman Tucker.  However, the Talisman transforms into a horse with burning red eyes, and Gaunt transforms into a dwarf.  Gaunt and his supernatural vehicle then vanish, and Castle Rock returns to normal.

Polly, Alan and Norris leave town, to seek medical attention for Norris.  They are heartbroken over the destruction of the town, but relieved that Alan has defeated Gaunt.  Alan tries to let go of his grief for his wife and son, so that he continue to live his life.

An unnamed narrator advises the reader that a new store has opened in the town of Junction City, Iowa.  The store is named Unanswered Prayers and is presumably owned by Leland Gaunt.


My Thoughts

Well, this was unexpected.

When I planned to read and review Needful Things, I purposely picked the month of December to do this.

I mean, Black Friday Christmas shopping, people losing their minds over big screen TV’s and Barbie dolls…

It fit, in other words.

Well, then this happened.

BOCA RATON, FL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Trump continues to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Just when you thought only Stephen King could scare you, huh?

Whoa, I take that back.  Sorry Molly, didn’t mean to ruffle your evil fur!

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At first was I was like:

Hurr

Then I was all:

ermahgerd-1

But now I go back and forth…

Either at this end:

Rory Kinnear as The Creature in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 9). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_309_3066

Or at this end:

Spike

And what, you are probably asking, does the dried up, racist Cheeto that is the bane of existence to *kitty cats* everywhere have to do with this month’s read and review?

Well, I see a lot of parallels.  So, let’s get to talking about the book and discuss those.

Again and again, as I have been re-reading the King classics, I have been reminded of something:  The Master has the ability to create characters who are so realistic that they practically jump off the page and make you want to ask them out for coffee.

There is Polly Chalmers.  She fled the small town life and wanted to forge her own path.  People can’t even decide if she is from Castle Rock (even though she was born there and spent most of her childhood there) or if she is from “Outside,” as they put it, because she spent so many years away.  Being from a small town in Indiana, this struck a chord with me.  I may consider myself to be “from” Bloomington, Indiana, but I am sure there are some that would debate me on that, because I left to forge my own path.  Small towns, aren’t they so (not) funny?

There is Alan Pangborn.  Let me confess, if I ran into Alan Pangborn, I would have much more than “coffee” on my mind…*let awkward throat clearing commence.*  Alan is the consummate good guy, even though he does have his vulnerabilities.  And he loves magic tricks (magicians are always hot, duh.)  Those magic tricks do everything from put frightened kids at ease to save the day!  How much hotter can you get?

 

Alan Pangborn 1

Let’s also not forget the character of Brian Rusk.

Now, as I’ve stated many times before, King likes to write about topics that many would consider to be taboo.

*That* scene in the sewers in It, anyone?

Well, that is one example, but King covers subjects like addiction, child abuse, domestic abuse and quite a few others.

Things that so-called nice people don’t talk about, at least in public.

However, I think the most “taboo” that King has ever gone is his portrayal of the character Brian Rusk.

In the beginning, Brian is innocent.

He’s a good kid.  He loves his family.  He collects baseball cards.  He has a crush on his speech teacher.

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However, he loses his innocence, by becoming Gaunt’s first customer.

Gaunt takes that innocent love of baseball cards, and uses it to further his plans for the destruction of Castle Rock.

He forces Brian to play pranks on other citizens of the town, in the name of “paying” for that beloved baseball card.

So Brian is rather rudely pushed into adulthood, when he is forced to take responsibility for what he feels to his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie.

However, not all of the child has left Brian.

And because of that, he is unable to cope with his supposed role in a horrific tragedy, and sees no way to live with it.

So, he does the unthinkable, and ends his life at eleven years old.

I have read this book several times, but I am never prepared the part where Brian commits suicide.

I tend to see Needful Things as one of King’s more humorous works (Brian’s mother’s obsession with Elvis and her interaction with Gaunt may have something to do with that, along with the fact that I find the phrase “I’ll be butched” hilarious), although the humor in it is dark.

But at the same time, I find this book to be tragic too, because of the fact that someone who is still a child is forced into adulthood long before before he should be, and this child does not see any way to cope with this tragedy other than taking his own life.

In fact, this may be one of the most tragic incidents in any book I have ever read, let alone a King book.

Stephen King

And we have our bad guy, Leland Gaunt.

We also have another character:  the town of Castle Rock itself.

And the inter-play between these two characters is just fascinating.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think that Gaunt is a cool bad guy.

Gaunt 1

In fact, this guy came to mind:

phantasm-2-8

Somehow, the idea of The Tall Man driving a Talisman Tucker (why does even typing that out make me shiver, and shiver in a Lovecraftian way?) is not that far off, actually.

He doesn’t quite stack up to the likes of Pennywise, or Flagg, or even some of King’s “human” villains, like Margaret White, Charles Burnside, etc.

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But he does have his place in the King universe, so I pay him respect.

However, what was striking to me when I re-read Needful Things, was the fact that most of the horror was of the non-supernatural variety.

Sure, Gaunt planted the seeds, but the ground was already fertile anyway.  Most of the people playing the pranks just needed a little “watering” to grow the seeds of hate and resentment, and off they were, once they got a little drink of that water.

It is a known fact that King excels at writing characters that are realistic and believable.  In fact, this is my favorite thing about King’s work:  he writes believable people and believable situations.

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After all, who hasn’t dealt with addiction, unemployment, the loss of a loved one, terminal illness, parenthood and the many other scenarios that crop up in all of King’s works, even the ones billed as “horror”?

King also writes the small town extremely well.  This is evident in works such as It, Salem’s Lot, Dolores Claiborne, and quite a few other novels.

Small towns are almost human in some ways, and can be complex characters.  This is definitely the case with Needful Things and its small town character of Castle Rock.

small towns 1

In the beginning of the book, we have that coy narrator (and oh, I so want to know who that is) introducing to the town of Castle Rock and its inhabitants.  It is actually akin to gossiping with someone, maybe a family member or friend, or perhaps a coworker, who just seems to have all the dirt on everyone.

Castle Rock 1

This introduction is brilliant, because it sets up the story so beautifully.

In any organization, whether it be a work place, a family or perhaps a small town, you have all these little interconnections.

There are the people, of course, who are friends and know each other well, perhaps even intimately.

There are the people who are passing acquaintances.  They don’t dislike each other, but they don’t really like each other, either.

Then there are the people who can’t be in the same room with each other.

The people who are the end of the candle to their counterparts’ matches.

In other words, get them together, and you will have a fire, perhaps even an explosion.

In one part of the book, Gaunt even compares his scheme to electrical wiring.  If you do it just right, you can connect a couple of wires and have an explosion.  I found this to be apt, for the events that transpired in this book.

Gaunt 2

As stated before, Gaunt is one bad dude.  No question about that.

However, most of the horror from Needful Things is of the human variety.

People playing pranks on one another to make others think that their sworn enemies were responsible is actually something that happens pretty frequently in “real life.”

Right away, anyone who was the victim of a prank was quick to blame his/her sworn enemy.

Alan Pangborn, the most level headed of them all, even fell victim to this.

And the results of this prank were just horrible.

Well, not entirely horrible.  I did get a good chuckle when the Baptists and Catholics were victimized by the stink bomb and created their own Barf-o-Rama.

barforama

But I was still horrified when people began to hurt and even kill each other, and it was basically for nothing.

Nettie and Wilma killing each other was bad.

Well, Wilma dying wasn’t that sad (crazy bitch) but Nettie’s death was one of the saddest in the book.  She had tried so hard to get her life together, but she was knifed to death over some muddy sheets.  Muddy sheets that she was not responsible for.

Needful things 3

A few citizens, like Polly, Norris and Alan, saw the error of their ways.

However, most did not, and the results were horrific.

And the town of Castle Rock literally went up in flames.

What is happening in our country right now is not unlike what happened in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine.

We have a stranger that has suddenly appeared in town.

It is true that Donald Trump is (probably) not a supernatural creature, but I will take Gaunt or even The Tall Man over Trump any day.

Trump has done exactly what Gaunt has done.

He has swooped into our country.

He is selling people dreams.  At least, he would like us to believe that he is selling us dreams.

Donald Trump 1

He has made promises, and those promises sound good.  After all, who doesn’t want the manufacturing jobs to return to this country?  Those jobs gave everyone, no matter his/her background, a shot at the good life, the so-called American Dream.

For reasons beyond most people’s control, significantly fewer people are now able to obtain this dream.

But we have Gaunt, er Trump, swooping into town.  And he has sold something.

But like the sales made by Gaunt, that something will have a price tag attached to it.

Already, we are witnessing the true price of allowing a man like Trump into our country.

Like Castle Rock, America has gone crazy.

Since Trump was elected, the “pranks” have begun.

We may not be flinging mud at each other’s sheets, but like the citizens of Castle Rock, we are attacking each other, nonetheless.

There has been racist graffiti scrawled on walls.

People of the non-Caucasian persuasion have been attacked for being…well…of the non-Caucasian persuasion.

People have decided to let their hate loose, and it has not been pretty.

Castle Rock literally burned to the ground after the boogeyman paid it a visit.

Will the same thing happen to America?

The boogeyman is here, and he is already working his magic, and he has not even moved into his suite at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, although I don’t think that he even needs to, in order to accomplish his goals.

trump 5

But, I try to hold on to something positive.

After all, Castle Rock may have gone up in flames.

But it was able to emerge from the ashes, and eventually it rebuilt itself.

Fire can be used to destroy, but it can also be used to create.

Perhaps, like Castle Rock, this country may burn to the ground (hopefully only in the metaphorical sense.)

But maybe it can also emerge from the ashes and be reborn.

Being reborn is not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, death and rebirth lead to new beginnings.  And new beginnings are often desperately needed.


Well, that’s it for Needful Things!

And I have to pat myself on the back, actually.

I was able to stick to a New Year’s resolution!

I read at least one King book a month and reviewed it, just like I said I would.

So, it goes without saying that I plan to continue this trend into 2017 and beyond.

I don’t know what my plan is, but I am sure I will figure something out.

There are classics, like Cujo and Christine, that I have not read in many years.

Cujo

There is that Richard Bachman fella…I heard that he is kinda like The Master, actually.

Cleaner 3

There is also The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill, who has some books that are worth exploring as well.

Joe Hill 2

So, what will next year hold?

Well, guess that is up to me!

So, we will talk next year!

Until then, happy holidays to all!

SK christmas 1


Like all of King’s works, Needful Things is set squarely in the King universe.  Here are some of the connections that I found:

-Needful Things takes place in the town of Castle Rock, Maine.  Castle Rock is the setting for several King stories, including The Dark Half, Cujo, The Body and The Dead Zone.

dead zone 9

-Ace Merrill is a character in the short story The Body, and references the events in that story.

Ace 1

-Reginald “Pop” Merrill is referenced.  Pop Merrill is a character in the short story The Sun Dog, which is part of the collection Four Past Midnight.

sun-dog-1

-Norris Ridgewick also makes an appearance in the novel Lisey’s Story.

lisey_1

-Alan Pangborn is a character in the novel The Dark Half, and references the events in that story.

dark half 3

-The tabloid The Inside View is mentioned.  This publication is mentioned in several other King works, including The Wolves of the Calla, The Dead Zone and The Night Flier.

night flier 2

-In the novel Bag of Bones, Mike Noonan encounters Norris Ridgewick and inquires after Polly Chalmers and Alan Pangborn.

bag of bones 8

-Reference is made to Shawshank State Prison, which is the setting for the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

Red and Andy

-Junction City, Iowa is the setting for the novella The Library Policeman, which is part of the collection Four Past Midnight.

The_Library_Policeman_by_TheHouseOfIdeas

-Gaunt’s Talisman Tucker appears to be similar to the vehicles driven by the Low Men in the Dark Tower series and the story Low Men in Yellow Coats, which is part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  Gaunt’s vehicle also appears to be similar to the title “vehicle” featured in the novel From a Buick 8.

From_a_Buick_8_by_nosprings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Caveat Emptor: My Review of Needful Things

  1. This blog is great but Needful Things didn’t “introduce” Alan Pangborn, chick. The Dark Half did. Just saying….stay strange.

    Like

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