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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: Needful Things

Needful Things is Stephen King's novel about a curio shop with a soul-collecting owner. You've probably visited one, but King managers to turn his curio shop into a mirror of the small New England town that reflects the human soul's neediness and attachment to material objects.

The hero of the story is Alan Pangborn, who apparently is a recurring character who survived a previous Stephen King novel. As a protagonist he too suffers from a past that eats away at him, but is otherwise a very sympathetic sheriff who tries very hard not to scare the kids he has to interrogate.

The story centers around the eponymous curio shop which sells the object of the customer's desire, but with money being the secondary medium of exchange: the proprietor, Leland Gaunt, asks in exchange that the customer do him a favor. The favor turns out to be something that creates and amplifies the strife that's already present in town, ranging from a neighbor's dislike of a barking dog to the clash of the Catholic church against the Baptists for opening the of a casino night.

King's writing is his classic transparent prose: easy reading yet descriptive. His depiction of life in a small town is also evocative, and made for fun reading. There are moments of grossness and horror, but by and large, the book relies on psychology and the feeling of inevitability to achieve its effect. Certainly, while reading this book I got the feeling that an external operator who knows the right button to push on all factions of a society can get them to fight each other while ignoring an external enemy that can burn a town down. The whole thing works as a great metaphor for what has overcome American society in the past 3 years, making this a particularly appropriate read for recent events. The novel was written in 1991, so there's no question of King using current events to drive his novel, unless you believe he had a crystal ball.

The ending of the novel, of course, gives you no hope that there's a non-magical solution for a society that's already in the throes of this type of external intervention. This novel is the last one set in Castle Rock, and Pangborn's solution to dealing with Gaunt isn't one that anyone could possibly hope to use in real life.

Nevertheless, I found the novel compelling and deeper than it looks on the surface. Recommended.

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