Picks and Pans Review: Needful Things

updated 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Stephen King

Stephen King is about as review-proof as any author this side of L. Ron Hubbard, whose frequent appearances on the best-seller list are unaffected by his being almost six years dead. So in reviewing King's latest novel, Needful Timings, I'll jump ahead to the only fact of interest to his legion of fans: The book is 687 pages long. Unfortunately, they're tedious pages.

Needful Things hews closely to King's Ur-plot, a sturdy construction employed in such previous King novels as Salem's Lot, It, The Stand and The Tommyknockers. The standard précis: a band of social misfits saves their town from evil incarnate. This time around we've got a harelipped 13-year-old, an arthritic seamstress and a widower sheriff, all of whom square off against a fey shopkeeper named Leland Gaunt. Six hundred pages later readers are grappling with sentences like "The Gaunt-thing hissed and shook his claws at them."

The journey from Gaunt to Gaunt-thing never catches hold, however, and the novel collapses into a ruin of mechanical plotting. King seems to have forgotten that a character's death prompts no reaction unless some characterization has been done, and Needful Things becomes merely page after page of death-by-numbers exercise. (Viking, $24.95)

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