NEEDFUL THINGS

The old horrormaster in top form, this time with a demonic dealer in magic and spells selling his wares to the folks of Castle Rock, scene of several King novels including The Dead Zone, Cujo—and how many others? King locates his hokey Our Town in Maine, but as ever it's really Consumerville, USA, with everyone's life festooned with brand names. The cast is huge and largely grotesque, since King—wearing a tremendous cat's-smile—means to close the book on Castle Rock and blow it off the map in one of his best climaxes since Salem's Lot. Editing here is supreme. King braids perhaps a dozen storylines—with hardly a drop of blood spilled for the first 250 or so pages—into ever briefer takes that climax in a hurtling, storm-ripped holocaust whose symphonic energies fill the novel's last third. Perhaps only five characters stand out: Leland Gaunt, a gentlemanly stranger who opens the Needful Things curiosity shop; his first customer, Brian Rusk, 11, who sells his soul for a rare Sandy Koufax baseball card; practical Polly Chalmers, who runs the You Sew 'n' Sew shop, welcomes Gaunt with a devil's-food cake, and buys an amulet to relieve her arthritis; her lover, Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who buys nothing but is haunted by the driving deaths of his wife and son; and Ace Merrill, coke dealer in a bind, who becomes Gaunt's handydevil and gets to drive Gaunt's Tucker, a car that's faster than radar and uses no gas. As he has for hundreds of years, Gaunt sells citizens whatever pricks and satisfies their inmost desires. But the price dehumanizes them, and soon all the townsfolk vent their barest aggressions on each other with cleaver, knife, and gun: Gaunt even opens a sideline of automatic weapons. By novel's end, the whole town is on a hysterical, psychotic mass rampage that floods morgue and hospital with the delimbed and obliterated. Then comes the big bang. Mmmmmmmmmmmm! Leland King's glee, or Steven Gaunt's, or rather—well, the author's—as he rubs his palms over his let's-blow-'em-away superclimax is wonderfully catching.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1991

ISBN: 0-670-83953-1

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1991

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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