“You’ve been here before…” Needful Things, by Stephen King
Welcome back, Constant Reader.
Prefatory Matters: Back in September 2014, I decided to reread Stephen King’s entire catalog, chronologically, by date of publication. Then, I went a bit further. I decided to complete this challenge in a single year. That’s a decade of King every three months. These posts will be a bit emotional, as they are my personal experiences with King’s work. For spoiler-laden reviews of each novel, you can click on the corresponding title. At the end, I will attempt to tie all books back into the Dark Tower using my own theories and facts King himself has verified.
Previous posts: 1974-1984
This, my fellow Constant Readers, is A Decade with King: 1985-1994.
I’d like to take a moment and bring to light some patterns I’ve found in King’s career. Every ten years, King releases a novel over a thousand words, a short story collection, a collection of novellas, and at least one Dark Tower book. Sometimes, one book will fall into two categories. In his third decade, King didn’t release a single thousand-page novel, but he did release the final three Dark Tower novels, which were, altogether, over two-thousand-pages long and written consecutively, like one big novel. I think this counts, but I will let you decide. Other than that, there has been no deviation to this pattern. Not saying there’s some kind of conspiracy behind this, just saying it’s interesting. And I have to wonder whether or not it’s intentional on King’s part.
With the decade of King’s work spanning 1985-1994, we step into an era wherein I actually remember King’s books being published and the hullabaloo surrounding their releases. I remember the nonsensical line inside Waldenbooks at the San Bernardino mall for the release of It . Crazed fans speaking loudly about how it was King’s longest book to date (you have to remember that The Stand was originally just over 800 pages when it released in 1978; the Complete and Uncut version would not be printed until 1990, and It came out in 1986). I was six years old at this point, and I recall, most vividly, the lady in front of us. She had epic bangs (epic even by 80’s standards), and she had to shit. She refused to get out of line unless someone saved her place. No one would, so she just stood there, passing gas, funking up the place, until someone passed a complaint along and she was escorted to the bathroom. She never returned to the line. Yes, this actually happened. I might pay the bills with my fiction, but this story is true. I also remember the insanity the week after The Tommyknockers dropped. People everywhere were hot under the collar. Nobody liked that book. People felt ripped off, even more so than they felt with It (which, interestingly enough, was one of the most expensive books of its time due to its length). The Tommyknockers left many a fan shell shocked, and King fans didn’t fully recover until Needful Things. I think his success with the latter book came from his return to Castle Rock.
Now we move on to the section where I insert my personal memories of each book. Most people can hear a song and be transported to a certain moment in their lives. Me? I’m that way with King books.
It reminds me of being a kid. I had many adventures around my small hometown, and most of them included a band of friends I would come to lose, one by one, over the years to drugs, violence, or a combination of both. Of that group, I’m the last one standing. I consider myself more the Ben Hanscom type, but there’s a little Mike Hanlon in me as well. If anyone needs me, I’ll be at the library. I’ve come to believe that every single Stephen King book can be explained using the Dark Tower series, The Tommyknockers, or this novel. But we’ll talk more about that later.
The Eyes of the Dragon is one of those books whose fans I will never understand. I honestly don’t see what other Constant Readers see in this one. It’s a stinker. One of King’s worst. The writing is sophomoric. The plot is stolen from far greater tales. And… *sigh* … never mind. If you want my review, click the link at the end of this review. Even though I hate this book with every thread of my being, it reminds me of my niece, Alana. Alana, if you ever read this, Uncle E. was reading this the night you were born. You were a very welcome distraction. I ended up finishing this book while at Glamis with your father. They made a bonfire out of Christmas trees. The resulting fireworks were amazing. This one ties in very loosely to the Dark Tower universe. More can be found out in my review. Links below.
The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three reminds me of the time we found out we had a pedophile living on our street and he finally went to jail. I had not read this book, but during this time in my life, I used to enjoy flipping through the pictures. Same goes for The Cycle of the Werewolf. I flipped through those two books so much that by the nineties they had pages falling out of them. Anyway, I attribute this one to the pedo because, after he was caught, his wife sold off all of his books. I bought this one with the money I’d been saving in my Folger’s can. My mother had it already, but it was in the Great Book Closet due to the scene in Balthazar’s office. Obvious Dark Tower tie-in is obvious.
Misery reminds me of a hilarious fangirl conversation that occurred between my mother and her best friend Andrita. My mother, being the go-with-the-flow gal that she’s always been, was not upset in the least that they changed the hobbling scene from ax to sledgehammer for the Rob Reiner movie. Andrita was. They argued over this for almost two hours. I recall sitting on the porch steps of Andrita’s home (she was a fan of Virginia Slims and chained smoked; I couldn’t stand cigarettes back then because they made me sick to my stomach. Funnily enough I grew up to be a two-pack-a-day smoker. I quit last year). Andrita’s son and his partner were barbecuing in the front yard, and I was watching them while listening to the jovial argument in the house. This was in the late 80s, maybe even as late as 1990, and I remember quite vividly, even then, thinking there was nothing wrong with two men being “together”. Those two guys seemed so happy. My father made sure to tell me they were “fags” and “queers” during the car ride home, and how he’d kill me if I ever loved a man. Sometimes I wish I had been born gay just so I could have rubbed that shit in dad’s face before he died. If you think me a horrible person for saying that, you didn’t know my father. There’s a Beam reference in Misery. Challenge yourself. See if you can find it.
The Tommyknockers was the last thing I watched with my middle sister before she moved to Illinois. I didn’t see her again for ten years, and when we did reunite, we were, of course, completely different people. We don’t get along so well these days. This totally-shit movie adaptation makes me remember a time when I was too young to understand just how much religion can change people… for the worse. More on Dark Tower tie-ins in the Ring Around the Tower section below.
The Dark Half brings to the mind the moment I realized my mother was not the infallible fountain of knowledge and experience I believed her to be. When it was revealed that King was Richard Bachman, my mom must’ve taken a sick day. I knew, my sisters knew… shit, I think even my dad knew. It was on the news every night for a week. It was the big controversy on everyone’s lips. Remember when the literary world found out that Robert Galbraith was actually Rowling? Well, that didn’t hold a candle to this. People felt wronged, slighted, betrayed. My mother kept right on going in blissful ignorance. Then she read this book. I was nine at the time. She closed it and proceeded to tell me and my father what a load of crap it was. No famous author could ever hide their identity so well. I couldn’t believe it. Did I actually know something Mom didn’t know? For real? For really real and realsies? When I told her, she balked. This was before the internet, so I had no proof on hand. Luckily, Andrita finally informed my mother I was right. It was a small victory, but a victory all the same. I do not tell you this to make you think I gloated over being smarter than my mother or any other nonsense like that. I tell you because, for the longest time, I thought my mother was perfect, godlike. I think I loved her even more when I found out she was human, just like me. This book is the beginning of an unofficial trilogy: The Dark Half, The Sun Dog, and Needful Things. If you plan on reading all three of these, I suggest doing so in order, you know, for maximum nerdy effect.
The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands reminds me of crashing a moped. I should never have been on the fucking thing. I crashed it straight away, no fucking about. I threw my leg over it, started the engine, pressed the gas, and drove right into the rear end of my neighbor’s Oldsmobile. I was thrown up and over (imagine a stunt man rolling over the top of a vehicle in an action film, now take away all style and grace; that was me), but I managed to land on my feet at the front of the car; sprained both ankles in the process. Mom ran me to the ER, where I was significantly braced and reprimanded. During this time, one of the emergency room RNs asked my mother if she’d read King’s newest book yet. She said, “No, I didn’t even know it was out.” The nurse, who knew my mother from her stint in maternity (in case you don’t know, my mom is, was, and always will be a nurse; she’s worked just about every position a person in that profession can) said “It’s one of those Dark Wanderer novels.” (Funny the shit you remember word for word, huh?) Afterward, I had to wait in the car outside of the San Bernardino mall while my mother ran in to grab The Waste Lands. Boy, was she fucking pissed at Blain. I think my mother could have boiled water on her cheeks after she finished that one. Once again, obvious Dark Tower tie-in is obvious…
Needful Things is probably the last Stephen King book I read when I started back through his catalog. The idea of Needful Things never really gelled with me. How could a book about a shop in a small New England town possibly warrant over 700 pages? I mean, how much fucking story can you shove into a premise like that? I was stupid, okay. Plum brain-damaged. Anyfuck, this book signifies my completion (the first time, anyway) of King’s full catalog. After reading Needful Things in 2005 (2006?) I had successfully read everything the man had published, and vowed to never fall behind again. This is the first time King mentions “fifth business”, which is a term he borrowed from another author. He returns to the idea of a character’s “fifth business” in his 2014 novel Revival.
Gerald’s Game. Oh, this one. I stumbled upon this one and fell in, pubic region first. This was another score from the King book club that my mother didn’t know about me reading. I can remember reading whole sections of this book with an expression of WTF on my face. I was around 13, and though I’d become acquainted with my trouser buddy, I didn’t really know what he was used for, other than shaking hands with… vigorously… four to twelve times a day… I certainly couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be handcuffed while they… did it! The ending scared the bejeebuz out of me simply because I thought all that shit was in the main character’s head. When I finally reread this one at the beginning of 2014, I realized that the novel has a bit of genius hidden inside. I also noted the various tie-ins to Dolores Claiborne, which went far over my head when I first read it. In case you don’t know, Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game are siamese twins connected at the middle. Read both, back to back, starting with Dolores Claiborne for the best experience possible. This is strange, too, because Gerald’s Game was published first. Oh, yeah, what does it remind me of? Well, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, it reminds me of the time I figured out how to masturbate… It reminds me of masturbation… Yep. I was a very dehydrated teenager.
Dolores Claiborne held the spot of Scariest Novel E. Had Ever Read for quite some time. To this day, I can’t think of many scarier circumstances than Dolores’s husband trapped in that well. I’ve told the story about how I came across this book more than three dozen times in interviews and blog posts, so I will not reiterate it here. The short of it is, this book started me on my journey. It started my King fandom. I don’t care if you don’t consider it horror. It scared the shit out of me, and I loved every minute of it. I believe the moment Dolores and Jessie share is a connection allowed to them by the Beam, and I believe that is due to the Beam-Quake that partially destroyed Gilead. I have proof to back that up, but not until the final decade, friends and neighbors. Patience…
Insomnia. In 1994, my oldest sister moved to Alabama. A year later, she talked my mother into moving there too. I was uprooted, taken away from my school, my friends, and my much traveled city, to live in a new city surrounded by ignorance. I was actually made fun of by the rednecks in my new school because I loved reading. A group of corn-fed motherfuckers jumped me after class one time because I voted that we read over the weekend instead of taking homework home. My ribs were sore for three weeks. I’m lucky they didn’t break them, considering I was too ashamed to tell my parents I’d gotten my ass kicked over goddamn literature I might never have seen a doctor. I hated Alabama and all it stood for. I still, to this day, hate living here. But I do. I do because my family is now “southerners”. I do because my mother wants to be around her grandkids. I do because I don’t know anything else. Anyfuck, I was reading this book when we moved. I read it during the drive across country. It’s one of the most powerful memories I have of my youth. My life changed forever after this book. I grew up and hated every minute of it. This book reminds me of how my childhood died.
Ring Around the Tower:
Spoilers throughout, possibly for every book King has ever written. You have been warned.
Fact: The Dark Tower is referenced in It and Insomnia. The Turtle and Roland, most notably. Thomas and Dennis of The Eyes of the Dragon are mentioned in The Waste Lands. There are references to things being “off the Beam” in Misery, Needful Things, The Dark Tower, and Insomnia.
Theory: So, how do The Tommyknockers, Gerald’s Game, and Dolores Claibornefactor into the Dark Tower? Well, let’s play a game of Speculation, shall we?
I believe the aliens in The Tommyknockers (Pennywise is included with these, as he introduces himself as Mr. Gray in It) are actually an advanced race of beings that originated in the Prim, they were also referred to as the Great Old Ones, the beings that gave Mid-World the technology it once enjoyed. For more on the Prim and other Mid-World mythology, click HERE. In the Dark Tower series, the Crimson King wishes to release the creatures of the Prim once and for all to bring about destruction. I surmise that, from time to time, something escapes the Prim. Pennywise is one of these creatures, as are the little bald doctors from Insomnia. Now, Tower Aficionados will know that a Beam-Quake was responsible for the destruction of Gilead, and there is another one that occurs in Song of Susannah. Now, other beams snap in between, so why not during the eclipse that occurs during which Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game take place. When Dolores looks into the sky and makes the connection with young Jessie in Gerald’s Game she sees a ripple in the sky, a section of unreality (not unlike what the sleepy passengers of flight 370 travel through in The Langoliers) in which she glimpses a young girl on her father’s lap. What possible connection could these two have? None. They are just two people who happen to see each other through a momentary tear in reality. Bit of a stretch? Maybe. But I have more proof to come in later posts.
Well, that’s its for this decade. Thanks for travelling with me. Until next time, Constant Reader, this is where I cry off. Say thankee sai and goodnight.
It - September 1986
The Eyes of the Dragon – February 1987
The Drawing of the Three – May 1987
Misery - June 1987
The Tommyknockers – November 1987
The Dark Half – October 1989
The Waste Lands – August 1991
Needful Things – October 1991
Gerald’s Game – May 1992
Dolores Claiborne – November 1992
Insomnia – September 1994
Short Story Collection:
The Eyes of the Dragon
Dark Tower Novels:
The Drawing of the Three
The Waste Lands