I don't really know what compelled me to read this one, but I did.
The premise of this book is that a small business owner comes to a small town in Maine and begins selling his wares. He meets with people individually and sells them what they "need". For each person it is different, and the item they buy sends them on a dreamlike journey. A splinter of wood from the holy land when held makes the holder feel like they are on a boat. It's like they're transported and they can feel the boat rocking beneath their feet, and they can see the people who built the boat. Like I said, for each person it's a different item. Here are a few: a baseball card, a tin horse racing game, a fox tail, a carnival glass lampshade, a book with a treasure map etc. Mr. Leland Gaunt, the proprietor of the small shop called "Needful Things", does not price the items he sells. He merely asks for what people can spend. Something that could cost thousands is being sold for $80. That is not the entire payment, he also asks his customers to play a "harmless trick" on somebody.
The customers leave with their object, and it eventually becomes an obsession to them. They are afraid to leave the house with it, and they're afraid to leave the house at all in case the item is stolen. As the story progresses and tricks are played, the town reaches a breaking point. I won't spoil the details for you or anything like that, but here are my thoughts on the book...
Once again Stephen King presents us with a case of "good vs. evil". This one is a little different. The force of good in this story is portrayed as an everyman, Sheriff Pangborn. He is just a normal guy, he has problems, but everybody does. He is detail oriented and enjoys the sleight of hand. To be honest, there is nothing particularly special about this guy. Sometimes he moves with the quickness and grace of a cat. I have a couple cats who can do that too. Actually only one... the other one is not very graceful. The fact that the Sheriff is so normal makes him really relatable. It's odd to say that I can relate to a middle aged sheriff in small town Maine, but it's true. So, in this story, we have the sheriff as the good and Mr. Gaunt as the bad.
There is a little playing around with denominations, but I think it's mostly satirical. Stephen King tends to stay away from religion and instead focuses on the larger good vs. evil. On a more in depth note, this book also plays on the good and evil inside of people. These objects that people think they need bring out the bad in people. Their morals and inhibitions are set aside in order to keep the item they "need". It's not too far a stretch of the imagination to see the possibility of people acting the way they did in the book. It's an unpleasant realization.
What I liked about this book was that it took a lot of humanity and gave it a little twist. It's like watching something in the theater. It's a dark room, nobody is looking at you. You can laugh at whatever you want to without being judged. It's like total anonymity. It's a mob mentality. I think people can relate to the characters in a voyeuristic creepy sort of way. I like finding out what each character "needs". You know, I just really enjoyed this book in a creepy, voyeuristic way. I also love how all these different books that King has written have repeat characters.
What I didn't like about this book was the light vs. dark thing. I'm not talking about good vs evil or anything like that. What I'm talking about is the same thing we saw in "Insomnia". Actual light vs actual darkness. It's interesting, and in "Insomnia" it made more sense than it did in "Needful Things". I've seen it show up at the end of these books, and it feels like a sort of cop out ending to make sure all the other details come together. I'm not a fan of it. Another thing I wasn't fond of was the very beginning and very end. It's a conversation that the reader has with an old man from the town. It's unnecessary. I started reading it and I had to double and triple check that I was reading a Stephen King book.
I mean, overall, I really enjoyed this book, but there were a few things that really stuck out to me as odd.