book-review_-needful-thingsStephen King
Viking Press
1991

Everyone loves something for nothing…even if it costs everything.

Leland Gaunt is a stranger — and he calls his shop Needful Things. Eleven-year-old Brain Rusk is his first customer, and Brian finds just what he wants most in all the world; a ’56 Sandy Koufax baseball card. By the end of the week, Mr. Gaunt’s business is fairly booming, and why not? At Needful Things, there’s something for everyone. And, of course, there is always a price. For Leland Gaunt, the pleasure of doing business lies chiefly in seeing how much people will pay for their most secret dreams and desires. And as Leland Gaunt always points out, at Needful Things, the prices are high indeed. Does that stop people from buying? Has it ever? For Alan and Polly, this one week in autumn will be an awful test — a test of will, desire, and pain. Above all, it will be a test of their ability to grasp the true nature of their enemy. They may have a chance . . . But maybe not, because, as Mr. Gaunt knows, almost everything is for sale: love, hope, even the human soul.

While I list The Dark Half as my favorite Stephen King novel, coming in at a very close second would be this fantastic story here, contained in Needful Things. This is the first book that I bought right when it was published, in hardback form*. I actually hawked my electric guitar to get the money to buy it. I was 17 at the time. I have no regrets. None, I say. Okay, maybe a little bit of regret. But that’s neither here nor there.

You would think that, since I let go of one rather precious item to use the monies to pick up the book for full price ($25, I think…? It was the fall of 1991, keep in mind), that I would have at least read this slower than usual, to get my money’s worth. Nope. Not a chance. A couple of days, tops, including the times where I had to not read while doing the obligatory interactions with reality (school, chores, eating and sleeping, the usual). I couldn’t help myself, the story was that engrossing.

Needful Things is a modern take on the classic Faustian tale, selling your soul for the Item Of Great Importance. In this case, it involves a mysterious curio and antique dealer that shows up in the town of Castle Rock (that familiar of all fictional towns to spring from King’s head) literally overnight, opening up the titular shop featuring items that the townsfolk really, really want, at prices that are a steal. Of course, it doesn’t take long before we realize the price paid for said items is far more than just the money exchanged. So now the local Sheriff has to expose the curator of Castle Rock’s latest business venture before the townsfolk manage to destroy Castle Rock in the process. And, um…not to spoil things, but this is listed as “The Last Castle Rock Story”, so make of that what you will.

Anyway, Needful Things was a great bit of modern dark fantasy that sucked me in immediately and kept me glued until the ashes-in-your-mouth type conclusion. This is Stephen King back at peak form, and comes recommended. The movie version isn’t too bad, but I’m afraid that this is another instance where the book is far better than the movie.

[*=I should clarify that, while I did own the 1990 re-edited re-release of The Stand in hardback form, I wasn’t the one who bought it; it was a gift from my parents. Needful Things was the first Stephen King hardback I bought myself. End of pedantic notation – Uncle NecRo]

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