Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Needful Things (Novel)

I'm not exactly sure why I didn't read much Stephen King earlier in my life, but I am making up for it now.  Most recently I read his "last" Castle Rock story, Needful Things.

Castle Rock is a small town in Maine that has seen its share of horror in the past, but nothing like it will see from Leland Gaunt, the owner of Castle Rock's newest shop, Needful Things.  Gaunt is an older, gentlemanly sort of fellow whose store carries an eclectic assortment of items with seemingly something for everyone, objects that hold a high emotional bond to the buyer.  As a result it doesn't take long for a large number of the townsfolk to start making purchases there.  The monetary prices for Gaunt's goods are quite low, however money isn't all he is after.  Leland also requires the purchasers to each play a "prank" on another member of the town.  Because of the strong, almost hypnotic, emotional appeal of the purchases, all the buyers go through with their pranks.

 The pranks, however, are not harmless.  Somehow Gaunt knows all the dirty little secrets and disputes in Castle Rock and the pranks serve to ignite powerful emotional responses until the whole town is ablaze in violence.  About the only person not affected by Gaunt's influence is Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who is suspicious of Gaunt from the start.  Gaunt knows the Sheriff is somehow different from the rest of the townsfolk, so he avoids contact with Pangborn.

As it turns out, Gaunt does control the purchasers of his goods, which is mostly useless junk that the buyers are deceived into believing is real.  Once Leland has his hooks into the people, though, there is no way out except to do as Gaunt commands.  The climax occurs after Gaunt passes out guns to his customers, who then use them to settle their grievances.  Gunfights, riots and explosions erupt in the little town as Leland looks on with glee.  However, Sheriff Pangborn finally confronts Gaunt in a showdown that ends with Leland finally showing his true colors as an imp of the Devil who escapes the town in a horse-drawn wagon to spread his evil elsewhere.

As with most King books, it is not so much the plot that is interesting, rather it is the psychology of the characters that carries it.  While the story is unlikely, the struggles of the characters with their own emotions and impulses is very believable and that is what make this book so readable.