When I put this on my August TBR back in May I was super sure it would be a five star read, and that is not what happened! I also didn’t anticipate buddy reading any book any time soon, let alone completing a 690 page book over a weekend (my version has smaller font, some of the editions are 800-900 pages). But Paula convinced me (here’s her review), and we had a good time!
This is not one of my favorite SK books. I don’t even think it’s cracked my top twenty. (Just typing that made me want to make a list ranking all the SK books I’ve read, which is something I just did like a year ago.) But it was a flawed good time, is what I’ve decided. (I would REALLY like to see the adaptation of this the Stranger Things guys want to do, though.) This is the first book Uncle Stevie wrote after getting sober from drugs and alcohol, and it shows. I’m willing to extend a little leeway for circumstances, but this book just didn’t gel for me the way that so many of his other books have.
The premise here is that Leland Gaunt rolls into town—Castle Rock, former home to Cujo the rabid St. Bernard and bestselling author Thad Beaumont—and opens a shop called Needful Things, which begins to draw curious attention from the day it opens. Mr. Gaunt doesn’t just sell, he dickers, and he seems to have the one item that everyone desires the most on hand: a Japanese fishing pole, just like the one a deputy’s father had when he was a kid; a lamp made of carnival glass, like the one Nettie Cobb’s dead husband smashed right in front of her. And if you can’t afford it, not to worry, he just wants a small favor from you instead, a prank really. The only one who isn’t fooled is Sheriff Alan Pangborn, and Gaunt knows it, taking pains to avoid him as much as possible lest the jig be up. Things escalate VERY quickly. By the time he’s done with Castle Rock, will there still be a Castle Rock?
As with most SK books, this was extremely compelling, and even though it was long, I finished it easily in a weekend. It succeeds in many areas, as always his imagination is a fertile place. I also liked the return of Alan Pangborn from The Dark Half, who has lost his wife and youngest son since we last saw him. Uncle Stevie goes to some interesting places with the townspeople here as their desires are revealed and poisoned, but ultimately I think the book suffered from having too much spread over too many characters, and not enough focus on a few. (For example, could have done entirely without the dueling Elvis fanatic housewives, although I would keep the feud between the Baptists vs. the Catholics.) SK can write short, medium, long, and very long stories very well, but I think he misjudged this one, and what ended up as a long book should have been a medium. Ultimately, I don’t think the page count was justified here. Unlike in It and The Stand, to name his extra large chonkers, or even something like 11/22/63, which has a page count about equivalent to this one, we don’t go deep or intimate enough for it to have been worth it. Those books have us spend lots of time with a specific set of characters over long periods of time. Here, we get A LOT of characters over the period of a week, and many of the scenes read very similarly to each other, so I’m thinking he just got a bit overindulgent here.
More importantly, I’m not sure what this story was ABOUT. It feels very surface level to me, which is fine! But for that reason it’s never going to be a favorite.
[3.75 stars, rounded up]