I Know What You Need
Stephen King really likes giving extraordinary powers to decidedly unextraordinary people. Carrie White, Arnie Cunningham, and Ralph Roberts are all rigorously average people put into remarkable scenarios. It’s one of the great things about King, his ability to suspend disbelief by focusing the action on very relatable characters who anchor all the fantasy in realism. In other words, King’s characters are rarely superheroes. They are normal people thrust into bizarre scenarios.
This knack for the human element was present almost from the beginning, and while the early novels are brilliant, his early short stories are a little more hit or miss. “I Know What You Need” definitely falls into the latter end of the spectrum. I’m not certain what prompted Cosmopolitan to snatch up this particular story, other than it was penned by the suddenly immensely popular Stephen King, but it is a strangely apt market for the story. I found myself thinking throughout that it would make a really great movie of Lifetime Movie Network.
And I don’t mean that as an insult, at all.
Sure, “I Know What You Need” isn’t terribly original, and the characters are only barely fleshed out, but there is a certain originality to the concept. What would a wholly unoriginal, unambiguous man do with virtually unlimited power? Well, he would use it to trick a girl into loving him. There may not be much meat on the bones, but the conceit is certainly believable. And it lends a fantastical veneer to a scenario that is so common for young women: trying to decipher the intentions of young men.
King ratchets up the believability at the close of the story when Ed Hamner, Jr., just moments removed from blurting out his devious plot (in classic super villain form), collapses into a ball of whining, incel loserdom at the realization he’s lost his love. Like so many villains in King’s stories, from Henry Bowers to Carrie White, Ed isn’t so much evil as broken, and while the result may be the same in the end, the story is saved from utter mediocrity by a spark of King’s patented realism to undergird the horror.