Stephen King’s ‘Needful Things’ is indeed a pessimistic novel, written by one of the best story-tellers of modern literary realm. One can look up or look down at Stephen King, but his ability to spin the yarn and keep readers immersed into the world of small towns, cloistered communities, and claustrophobic places is superb.
Once again, King chooses a small town for the eternal battle between Good and Evil. Once again, the biggest evil is not the supernatural one, but the one that hides in our own souls. The community of Castle Rock is prone to the same diseases that all small pseudo-idyllic places share: everyone knows everyone, every dark and stained linen, every read page of their lives, and news spread quicker that in the today’s world of the ubiquitous internet.
The owner of the recently opened business ‘Needful Things’ parasites on basic human desires and wishes, the hidden ones, the most cherished ones, the unattainable ones. The novel powerfully conveys a serious warning message about the dangers of all your desires that come true.
For the many lucky ones (virtually for every citizen ), the accomplished dream of possessing an item they long yearned for comes with the price of a prank. Initially, the pranks are nasty, but seem harmless; gradually, though, their severity and the repercussions increase, and soon all the community is drawn into the deadly fight.
Readers might be mislead by the first victims – some of them are pretty nasty people, but when even the decent ones fall victims and preys to the soul-collector, Leland Gaunt, the nasty suspicion turns into a nagging idea about the humanity. King makes you question the very foundation of human existence, basic ideas of love, kindness, trust, and friendship. On many levels, the story of the easy corruption of human souls that succumb to the instantaneous gratification is quite disturbing. For a while, at least for a length of this novel, any hope in the humanity can be shattered. All this said, all good stories come to an end, and this one contains a powerful message and a warming that some dreams should stay dreams because the unfulfilled dreams might make us better human beings. The pursuit of your dream, as well as its cherished nature, is the proverbial journey that should be enjoyed even if the destination is not possible.
Some readers might also be confused by numerous plot lines, but they are a necessary tool in the book – his intention was to create the feeling of simultaneity and immediacy in the novel where so many things were taking place at the same time in different corners of Castle Rock. All of them eventually converge and caught in mid-action when the decisive battle is temporarily won, but as readers of Stephen King know, his endings are bitter-sweet, and the battle is waged elsewhere. One might consider this one a novel with the religious message, but King’s outlook on modern religion is bleak. The religious communities he portrays are belligerent, bigoted, intolerant, and tend to flock into mobs. The true spirituality of peace and love is not totally ignored, but as anything true, it is quiet and unassuming, even page-wise.
There is another hidden gem in his novel for the aficionados of King’s talent. The author often uses cross-references and allusions to his earlier works. Some might consider them narcissistic, but I find them enriching my reading experience, remembering the other novels, and the other fictional places, and all of them make up a wonderful universe, created by Stephen King.