Monday, January 12, 2015

Chilling Needful Things Is King at His Twisted, Depraved Best

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

There was a time—not so many moons ago—when reading in public was the fastest way to get your teenage self labeled a nerd.  And, unlike today, nerdy definitely did not equal cool.  Nobody bragged about being a nerd, nobody tried to be a nerd, nobody wanted to be a nerd.  Including me.  Thus, even though I was as voracious a reader in high school as I am now, I never committed the unpardonable sin of reading a book where I might be seen by one of my peers.  Unless, of course, it was authored by Stephen King.  He was cool.  Reading his horror-filled stories was cool.  Therefore, back in the day, I read a lot of King.  These days, I have trouble stomaching his particular brand of storytelling, although I admit I still find his books compelling.  Still, I can only digest him at the rate of one book every few years.  

At Halloween-time (I did mention that I'm a *little* behind on reviews, right?), I got a hankering for some old-school King.  So, I picked up Needful Things, a story that had stuck in my head more from watching the 1993 film version than from reading the book.  The premise of the novel is brilliant in its eerie simplicity:  A mysterious new shop opens in small-town Maine.  Its inventory—incredibly enough—includes the very trinkets most desired by the good folk of Castle Rock.  Normally, such treasures would not be attainable on the townspeople's modest salaries, but Leland Gaunt, the shop's inscrutable owner, is always willing to negotiate.  All he requires of eager shoppers is a small, "harmless" trick played on a neighbor.  It's nothing serious, Mr. Gaunt assures them, just good, clean fun.  A trifle, a bargain, a small price to pay to possess your heart's desire.  

Of course, as the townspeople soon discover, Mr. Gaunt's prices might be irresistible, but they're never small.  He takes your charity, your dignity, your sanity—and then, he takes your soul ...

As chilling and depraved as Stephen King's novels always are, they're also undeniably engrossing.  The horror master creates full, rounded characters, then shoves them into tense, high-risk situations that beg the question, "What's going to happen?"  Good luck bailing before you find out!  Needful Things, one of King's best in my opinion, is no exception.  Although the story starts quietly, things get awfully intense awfully quick.  I cared about the cast, so I stuck around to see what happened to them.  Even though I wanted to stop reading at certain points, I never did.  I couldn't.  Such is the seductive charm of Mr. King and his warped (but very imaginative) mind!  Needful Things showcases his talent for characterization, plot intensity, and revealing evil in all its various forms.  If you're a King fan, you don't want to miss this one.  

(Readalikes:  King's other Castle Rock stories [The Dead Zone; Cujo; The Dark Half; etc.] have related characters and a similar writing style, though different subject matter)

Grade:


If this were a movie (and it is!), it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought Needful Things with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

6 comments:

  1. I read this one years ago and agree that Mr. King can suck you into a book and make it impossible to exit before the very end. A gift of his. I remember when I read my first King book. It was in college and I was waiting for my car to be fixed, found myself with nothing to read, and picked up a paperback copy of SALEM'S LOT from a grocery store. And the rest is history.

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  2. I'm (re)reading King in chronological order, currently on Christine but am looking forward to getting back to this one. i've seen the movie a few times and always remembered it as being quite close to the book.

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  3. Oh, yea. You kind of brought it all back for me. This is a good one. Probably deserves a re-read. Thanks!

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  4. I love Stephen King! His characters are always so memorable and I love the ideas that spark his crazy stories and then make you question your very core!

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  5. I've only read The Shining and Doctor Sleep, but maybe I'll check this one out. Any other favorites of his?

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    1. MISERY, PET SEMETARY and CARRIE are the others that stick out in my mind, though it's been a LONG time since I read any of them.

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