I don’t know what my deal is with starting a series with the last book, but I seem to be doing it a lot lately. Granted, the Castle Rock Stories aren’t officially a series, but they do all involve the same town and characters. The poor citizens of Castle Rock cannot seem to catch a break, and now Leland Gaunt has arrived in town, promising them treasures for a steep price, one many unknowingly are willing to pay.
I really liked the variety of characters in this novel. The hero, Sheriff Alan Pangborn, is still having trouble dealing with the deaths of his wife and youngest son. While he has moved on and become involved in a loving relationship with Polly Chalmers, our heroine, he still longs to find out what happened on the day of their accident, and often blames himself for their deaths. Polly has moved back to town in recent years, and she’s harboring a secret that she can’t even bring herself to tell Alan. She suffers from severe arthritis in her hands and runs a sewing shop. These two are a part of a small group that eventually realizes something isn’t right with the new store and the creepy shop owner.
Leland Gaunt himself is an interesting character. At first he appears to be a kindly old man, ready and willing to do business with anyone, but as time passes on, he begins to show his true colors. His evil nature peeks through the surface when he can’t seem to get what he wants through charm. He wields dark magic and knows the right buttons to push to turn a quiet, peaceful town into a warzone, which he does gleefully. He enjoys watching people destroy themselves and each other.
There are minor characters that are equally engaging. I really liked Brian Rusk – he was an innocent kid who just wanted a certain baseball card, and ended up starting a domino effect of destruction. Nettie Cobb was someone I just wanted to hug, and I really felt like she was fighting the spell of the object she bought from Needful Things, and I really hoped she could win. Deputy Norris Ridgewick is another good man suckered, but able to fight the lie. He’s lanky, goofy, and often compared to Barney Fife, but there’s a good heart inside him, and I enjoyed his character very much.
Then there are minor characters I hated, such as Hugh Priest, Cora Rusk, Ace Merrill, Danforth Keeton, and Frank Jewett. These characters are entirely selfish and willing to commit the most evil acts against their fellow man, and for what? A lousy object they will lose if they don’t do these horrible things. They can easily disregard their fellow man in order to protect their property or their own hides, which they, themselves, put in jeopardy. (Ex: a politician who extorts money and a principal who likes kiddie porn – that’s no one else’s fault but your’s, guys!)
That is really what this novel is all about: the evil that is human greed. Leland Gaunt preys upon this innate part of human nature and drags it out in its most dangerous form. Those who buy from Leland Gaunt go on to commit “pranks” on their neighbors, “pranks” that often result in a deadly chain reaction. Some tricks seem harmless, such as slinging mud on a neighbor’s sheets, while others are as vicious as killing a woman’s dog. These pranks lead to the victims blaming someone, and before long the town is in chaos with grudge matches being fought to the death on street corners. King’s story exposes the horrible nature of human greed, and how far it can consume us – as well as the dangers of anger and the lust for revenge. Once a person is encompassed by greed or anger, nothing else seems to matter to them, and it’s a dangerous road to travel down.
For a book of over 700 pages, I found this to be a relatively fast read – when I could actually find time to read, I would go through 70 to 100 pages at a time. I just had to find out what happened next to each of the characters – King would leave me hanging and I would have to find out more. My only issue with the book was at the climactic confrontation between Alan and Leland Gaunt – I wasn’t sure how Alan could actually perform Real Magic to battle Gaunt. That part is never really explained, so I was left feeling a little confused. I also wanted to know if Sean Rusk’s father ever made it to the hospital to see him. Other than that, the book is highly enjoyable and I recommend it.