Thursday, February 6, 2014

Needful Things by Stephen King

Mr. King likes to tell stories about people getting trapped. He's got one about a guy trapped in a bedroom. He's got a whole bunch of these stories, really. He's got people trapped inside a car, in a gas station, a classroom, a grocery store, a hotel, on an island, a city under a giant force field. I'm pretty sure he's got one about a lady handcuffed to a bed for the whole book. I'm just going from memory here. He's probably got a lot more.

In Needful Things, the entire town of Castle Rock is trapped by their possessions. Its citizens are punished mercilessly for 700+ pages with some special brand of evil that feeds off the sin of imbuing bric-à-brac with sentimental value.

Admittedly, I'm oversimplifying the plot of this book quite a bit. But Needful Things is just a morality tale at its core, a boldfaced warning about materialism. The message of the book seems to boil down to something we all heard as kids, mom saying that you don't need those roller skates, you just want them.

But to say that this is only a simple morality tale really does this book a disservice. It's got all the things I like in a King book: suspense, action, gore, folksy humor (the cruel and the crude varieties), characters you can identify with, protagonists you care about, insane people and perverts, monsters and great big explosions. Most importantly, it's got a great villain. Our bad guy, Leland Gaunt, isn't subtle, he chews up the scenery at every turn, but he's exactly what this novel calls for. Done well (and King does them very well), comic book villains are the best kind. All right, maybe just the most fun to read about.

And, yes, this book had some of the Stephen King things I don't like so much. I feel sometimes King is writing down to his characters, like he'll create a character just for the sake of mockery. Lester Pratt, the goody two-shoes, Christian 'boy scout' character in this book is a prime example. I would be willing to bet that no one ever--no matter how repressed and/or brainwashed, sheltered, or close-minded--ever, ever had an internal monologue that's featured the celebratory phrase "rooty toot toot" repeatedly while thinking about the prospect of getting some pussy.

King also has a tendency to veer into some rather cloying, almost treacly, Garrison Keillor territory, and in this book the opening and closing are perhaps the most nauseating examples of this that I've personally encountered.

And then, like with many of King's novels, we have the borderline deus ex machina ending.

Now, I know what you're thinking:

Wow, it seemed like there for a minute you were saying you like Stephen King. But now it seems like you're being rather hard on the guy.

But, you see, the thing is, Stephen King is sort of like the President of the United States of America. (Bear with me here.) The people you hear bitching about the President the most, the people who are the hardest on him, seem to always be the very same people who voted him into office. I've read over thirty books by Stephen King. So, in my mind, that pretty much means I voted that son-of-a-bitch into office over thirty fucking times!

I'll say what I want.

And now you're probably asking, would you vote for that son-of-a-bitch again?

No question.

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