What’s Your Needful Thing?

Tonight I started the audio book for Stephen King’s Needful Things. It was published in 1992, and I probably read it around 1998. I remember liking it, but there were so many characters that I wasn’t able to keep them as straight as I wanted to. Two years ago I listened to the audio book and there was little issue. Both times I loved every second I spent with those characters. This time looks to be filled with more love and less confusion.

The essence of the book is that this new shop, Needful Things, opens in a small Maine town, and the proprietor has everything you could ever want, no matter how base or inane or worthy. However, you pay a price, usually a small cash allotment…and a favor. A small prank. The pranks seem relatively innocuous at first, but the repercussions are far reaching and devastating. And the interweaving insanity is a delight and a horror to behold.

What Mr. King has done is create an entire town of new people (save for Ace Merrill, the bully from The Body/Stand By Me, and Alan Pangborn from The Dark Half, and a few references to previous novels like Cujo and The Dead Zone.) Each of these characters is so deep that they have flaws, enemies, and a secret obsession which draws them into Needful Things in the first place. Juggling that many characters and their fully fleshed out personalities and flaws and hatreds is astonishing to read. It’s wholly entertaining, but anyone wanting to be a writer would do well to read this book and see a master at work. And his sense of humor! When describing one of his characters he wrote, “The lady’s face had all the charm of a snow shovel.” *cackle!* I love that line.

For example, (and I’m sort of fudging the details here on purpose) two women in love with Elvis lust after the same picture of The King, but one snatches it up first. The other starts hating her friend, but eventually buys sunglasses that belonged to Elvis. The painting and the glasses make the viewer/user experience full sensory immersion into the world of Elvis. The bitterness between the friends grows, even as each woman spirals deeper into this tactile daydream. And they have their pranks to perform, even as someone unrelated to their squabble is playing pranks on them.

Another devoutly religious (but ultimately pretty fake) woman gets a petrified piece of Noah’s ark that mentally transports her to the legendary ship itself, giving her a religious epiphany each time the holds it. Another boy just wants a rare baseball card. Another woman just wants relief from her crippling arthritis. The pranks escalate, as does the mood in the town…and the violence.

But, it makes me think. What would my Needful Thing be? What’s my basest desire? What do I want more than anything? A relationship with some imaginary character? With a celebrity? A typewriter/computer that works from my thoughts without all those word blocks and the messiness and limitations of the flesh? (an item which Mr. King explored in The Tommyknockers). An effortlessly beautiful body and face…or a boyfriend with them? Money?

Furthermore, what shape would these take? A novel featuring me as a main character which, when read, is immersive like The Neverending Story was supposed to be, filled with romance and adventure? A picture of Brenton Thwaits or whatever hottie I’m currently lusting over? One that transports me viscerally to his bed? *schoolgirl giggle* Said magic typewriter/computer? Magic pills that give me the looks and body I’ve always wanted (turning me into Kellan Lutz, essentially)? It’s like looking into the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter, but with violent, terrible consequences. And it makes for an amazing book.

And the most frightening thought of all…what would I DO for my Needful Thing? What’s YOUR Needful Thing? And what would you do for it?

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~ by Darren Endymion on September 14, 2015.

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