A presumptuous note about Stephen King
Many authors can finish a novel within 500-600 pages, often less. Some stories need more than that though, which is fine. At 933 pages long, Needful Things is certainly a fine example of current bookbinding techniques, but it is not unusual in the Stephen King canon. The Stand, for example, is one of his finest works and every bit the modern epic. While that story spans the entire United States of America, Needful Things is rather more localised, so far focussing on the single town of Castle Rock in Maine, and the titular shop gracing its high street.
“So far” because I’m only just over half way through it and, honestly, struggling a little. It’s good, certainly, but also the very definition of a ‘slow-burner’ because it only properly grabbed me between pages 300 and 400(!). The intriguing and creepy central premise kept me going, but it’s hard to believe other people wouldn’t have given up well before the chapter that sees two women and a dog lose their lives.
The setting is crucial, for a group of people travelling across a continent are bound to encounter new people here and there (in The Stand, the majority of the population is wiped out by a virus). When you set your story in a small town, and spend a LONG TIME describing the arthritic troubles of one of the main characters, it feels like the picture has been painted. The main thrust of this argument, then, is the fact that at 450 pages in, your favourite author and mine chooses to introduce a new character.
450 pages! For pity’s sake!
Some writers see wars start and end, or tear entire galaxies asunder, in less paper than that. Here, for nearly the entire first half of Needful Things, Ace Merrill doesn’t get a mention. Not even a namedrop at page 75 to foreshadow his later appearance. Honestly. Anyone would think novelists just make it up as they go along sometimes.