You’re scaring yourself, child.
Hodder and Stoughton, 1991
ISBN: 0 450 57458 X
Hey cublings – after quite the hiatus, I’m back to the blogging, and badderer than ever. Suffice to say, I thought I’d start gentle and then work my way up (or down, as the case may be) to the other stuff that I’ve been reading over the past… oooh. That long, huh?
Needful Things is a weird one. It’s part of Steven King’s Castle Rock oevre, that famously infamous township in Maine which is an amalgam of Rockwellian imagery, Orwellian politicing, and Lovecraftian beasties lurking just below the surface. In true King style, most of the beasties are lurking in human form, but Needful Things has a few notable exceptions to this rule.
Being part of the Castle Rock group there are certain recurrances that pop up – actually that’s not even just true of the Castle Rock novels, but of King’s work in general. I’d like to think that I’ve read enough of his stuff by now (a fact that this blog will attest to) to see the seams on the monster suit. Alan Pangbourne is referenced in other places, and also references in his turn, events in Cujo and in The Dark Half as well. Alan Pangborne is such a godamn likeable character, its always one of those moments which makes the teeny writer inside of me shrivel up and die a little bit inside, just marvelling at the creation. But I digress – it’s not just Alan who is showing up like a bad penny; Leland Gaunt has more than a passing resemblance to that bad-guy-to-beat-all-bad-guys Randall Flagg from The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon, and ol’ Buster Keaton also resembles “Big” Jim Rennie from Under the Dome. Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, as well – there have got to be more out there.
Brian Rusk is the first character who sets foot in the new store in town, Needful Things (“Funny name for a store” one of the characters remarks – suspicious name for a store, says I); he’s a young lad with a slight speech impediment, a little-kid crush on his speech therapy teacher, and an avid collector of baseball cards. Baseball is one of those things that keeps cropping up in King’s work, much like the little towns in Maine. He’s written a whole book on baseball – I haven’t read it, given that I have little understanding and less interest in the sport, but I hear it’s pretty good.
Now, to get to the ookie bits. In Needful Things, I think you have some of the best examples of King as a writer of violence. One of the reasons that I keep coming back to this book is the amazing fight scene between ‘Crazy’ Nettie and (really, just as crazy in her own special way) Wilma Jerzyck. Wilma likes to think of herself as a tour de force of a woman, but really she’s just a bullying bitch – and like a lot of bullies, she can smell weakness the way a mean dog is supposed to smell fear. She’s an excellent character, because she’s a character you love to hate, with almost no redeeming features whatsoever. Nettie on the other hand, while admittedly cowed, is not really crazy. She has a long past of institutionalisation behind her, and responds well to kindness; not that she gets to see a lot of it living in Castle Rock, where people are more apt at being all up in a characters bid’ness, rather than helping a gal get back on her feet. Polly Chalmers knows that all too well, which is why I think she forms such a strong bond with Nettie (could just be also, being less charitable about it, that Polly is a collector of misery; that’s very uncharitable though).
So to get back to this fight scene – it’s awesome, truly. I mean, listen to this:
“Nettie yanked her cleaver free. It took both hands to do it, and when she finally succeeded in wrenching it off the bone, a loose slew of guts slipped from the bloody hole in her dress and hung before her in a glistening knot.” p.313
That’s not the end of it, it starts and finishes a lot grosser than that, but that little bit gives you a good indication of it. The fact that King hasn’t left out any senses either – you can smell the stink of Nettie, feel the electric crackle in the air, hear the shrill cries of the old woman across the street. But more importantly to me, you know every nuance of the dance that has led these two women up to this moment, and that’s what creates the real horror of this situation.
It doesn’t end there either. I mentioned beasties before, and I’m not one to disappoint. However, I am going to tease a little with it, because I gotta say, the beasties here feel a little tacked on. Needful Things was first published in 1991, in between the third Dark Tower book and Gerald’s Game (you can read my piece on that one here). I think that King may have tacked on a beastie because neither of those have any in them, and you know, I think he has a certain fondness for them. Can’t say as I blame him either. They’re just so cute when they’re angry.
I think that I keep coming back to this book (’cause Lord knows, it’s been a long time since I read it first) for a couple of things; the fight scene between Nettie and Wilma; for the characters; and probably for the same reason that Polly Chalmers is drawn back to the Rock after so many years Away. Sometimes, home is the only place you can go.