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Review on: Needful Things
by Stephen King
The book, being a typical Stephen King epic, deals with the proverbial flaw which makes us human in spirit and mind. Needful Things is a peek into the life of an average American village, and the storyline heavily relies on gossips, exaggerations, rumors and lies that spread in pubs and telephone lines in the village. All these mediums of information are what sustain the plotline from deteriorating when events out of the ordinary begin to happen in the village.

Castle Rock, Maine (a fictional town/village that is the setting of a number of Stephen King’s books. The place’s name is adopted from “The Lord of the Flies” by Oliver Goldsmith) is shown as the most natural neighborhood, that is an epitome of peace—at least as much peaceful as you can be without losing your humanity. Here, we see the story progress, with the grapevine– the telephone lines—buzzing about this new store in town called, Needful Things.

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King, starts the novel with a welcome to his readers, but unlike most of his other books, this welcome is more professional than personal in motive.

“It is aggravations I mostly want to talk about – can you sit a spell with me?”
The novel’s prologue-ish first chapter is where King sets his readers in the town. He poses himself as a gossiper in a pub, or some diner, who recognizes the reader and invites him/her for a chat about Castle Rock’s residents and this new store.

King is well known for his insanely realistic characters, every one of them. He believes in a more radical form of story writing that is not, strictly speaking, the normal way of writing a novel. His writing is comparable to a journal writing, which is probably why his books tend to be either voluminous or, occasionally, short enough to be confused as a novella. He lets his characters choose their fate, that’s what he claims, and he is says that the writer is a “mere intermediary” who documents what happens to the characters.

Also, like almost all of his novels, in “Needful Things”, Stephen Kings follows the genre of storytelling he is hailed for: Ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances.
“Everyone loves something for nothing…even if it costs everything.”
Needful Things speculates what happens when something that is evil in biblical proportions opens a store that seems to have something for everyone and, “always at a price you can just afford”. King never openly states in his book that it is the Devil, but the reader is open to speculations too. This is because we do not see much behind the antagonist’s mask, except that he is inhuman, an excellent tradesman who has been around for centuries and who’s way of dealing with customers is simply astounding—terrible, yes, but astounding, nevertheless.
“Why, with a name like that, it could be anything.

Anything at all.”Naturally the events that unfold are not exactly very favorable to the community of Castle Rock. An eleven year old ends up losing his life for a rare Baseball card; two women, dear friends before the story, find a rift between them when their fantasy collides; a paranoid gambler loses his mind; a humble grudge ends in a double murder and the same could be said for the disagreeing religious communities in the Rock, only a lot more savage in degree.

The protagonist, Alan Pangborn, is the sheriff of the county and is seen in this novel recovering from the demise of his wife and son, which is later discussed in detail in the story. He is a responsible, reasonable and devoted public servant, and he is, by no means, a wimp in his work. Alan Pangborn is amazing as a character and it is only fair that he gets the limelight after having had to share it with other characters in other novels set in Castle Rock.
The other end of the spectrum, the antagonist: Leland Gaunt is an immortal salesman, who sells his wares for a small fee, no matter the appearances of the item, and a “harmless prank”. He manages to tear the simple town apart by the end of the novel without losing his condescension. His only adversary, naturally, was Alan Pangborn, who he underestimates as an obstacle to avoid rather than a potential source of destruction until the very end of the novel. Gaunt is flexible in character, inhuman to the soul (if he ever has one himself) and has more than just party-tricks up his sleeves, unlike Alan.

In Needful Things, we see innocence being lost in want; friendship thwarted by lust; faith dethroned by doubts; dignity being overridden by greed and love with secrets.

“Secrets can and are kept in Castle Rock, but you have to work mighty hard to do it…”
I cannot guarantee that the ending is as realistic as the characters of the novel, since supernatural forces command the actions of man, but it is, very much in character of the author to have made such an ending for the antagonist. Also, the novel is a part of King’s Castle Rock books, so, despite being a stand-alone, there are a lot of Easter-eggs and references to his other novels in the same setting. In fact, the protagonist has appeared in relatively minor roles in two other books by Stephen King.

Also, readers who prefer books with fast-paced plotlines, like Dan Brown or Grisham, Stephen King might seem a bit of a drag, and this one is no exception. The reason might be because of the author’s choice of narrative—which unfolds slowly, like in real time, and does not jump between characters or scenes.

Thus, Needful Things does not exceed expectations as a Stephen King epic—unlike Stand, or It—but as a story, it is justifiable to call the book a valuable addition to fans of the author and an entertaining read that might open the doors for newcomers to King’s storytelling.

-Arun Sachin

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