Sunday, September 13, 2009
I've been an enthusiastic follower of the writing of Bentley Little ever since the publication of his first book. Like most prolific authors, Bentley Little has written some truly outstanding books as well as some that weren't quite as satisfying to me. Not that I've ever been completely disappointed with any of Little books, but I do have my favorites. I'm certain that other fans have their own lists that differ from mine, but here's my perspective of...
THE INDISPENSABLE BENTLEY LITTLE
The Revelation (1990)
This first novel from Bentley Little is on a list of other astonishingly good debuts in the genre like Dan Simmons' Song of Kali, Norman Partridge's Slippin' Into Darkness, Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls and Jack Ketchum's Off Season. This novel is based on Christian beliefs is shocking and deeply frightening. Aready Bentley Little was pushing the barriers of taboo with The Revelation. And if you care about such things, it won the Stoker for Best First Novel. Incidentally, although Bentley Little was nominated for a couple of others, this is the only Stoker he has won to date.
The Mailman (1991)
Bentley Little's sophomore novel is just as well-written as The Revelation, but I thought it was much more original. He is, of course, a writer and writers have an intimate relationship with the mail. Especially in those pre-Internet days, his livlihood depended upon it. I bet most Cemetery Dance readers are more than a little bit obsessed with the mail too. Every horror fiction fan I know orders a lot of stuff.
Little's story of a sinister mailman may come across as a silly concept by reading a brief description of the plot, but his nerve-rattling prose makes it an icily compelling read. A new mailman in a small town is terrorizing its residents. He has unhealthy pale skin and bright red hair. Think Courtney Gains from the Children of the Corn movie. The mail begins coming at extremely odd hours and the local post office becomes the town's haunted house.
Death Instinct (1992)
Death Instinct was originally published in '92, but few American readers got a chance to read it until 2006. It was originally published as Evil Deeds in the UK.
Death Instinct is a rare non-supernatural novel from Little. It's distinctly unlike anything else he has written. It's also one of my very favorites of his books. It's a straightforward suspense thriller in many ways, but Little uses extreme audacity in the use of his antagonist. It's absolutely horrifying and despite its outrageous premise, is absolutely plausible. One of the creepiest things I've ever read.
The Summoning (1993)
This is Bentley Little's take on the classic vampire tale, but like anything else by the man, it is nothing like anything by any other writer. The Summoning is inspired by Chinese folklore. The blood-drinker is no slick, romantic pretty boy. No, it is a gruesome, horrifying monster. The Summoning has plenty of the jaw-dropping scenes that Little is rightly famous for. One in particular, that takes place in a roadside rest stop, completely freaked me out. And I have a high grossout threshold. This is the vampire novel for those hate vampire novels. Particularly the Twilight and Interviewing kinds.
Perhaps Little's most extreme book. The over-the-top scenes of graphic sex and violence rival extreme horror master Edward Lee's works. Dominion deals with two students that meet and fall in love, only to learn that their relationship is no coincidence and that their love could bring about a new dark age on the Earth. Bentley Little draws from ancient Greek mythology for this one.
The Store (1996)
The Store is a thinly veiled satire about WalMart taking over individually owned supermarkets and how shopping has become a plastic, dehumanized experience. How corporations are succeeding in stripping away our souls. In Bentley Little's vision, The Store is operated by evil forces, especially with the shrouded Night Managers. Death and horror await the employees that do not conform to The Store's increasingly bizarre demands and it begins to control local politics. It doesn't sound a whole lot different than reality, does it?
Bentley Little explored similar themes of society's assimilation into corporate horror in the equally compelling novels, The Association and The Policy.
The Ignored (1997)
Some say that there are no new ideas and that writers liberally borrow from the works of others they have read. There is undoubtedly more than a small amount of truth to that, I think, but Bentley Little created something unique with The Ignored. It's easily one of the finest books he has written to date.
Bob Jones is an average guy. Even his name is banal. In his nondescript job he is looked over and gradually everyone begins to ignore him. He becomes a nonentity as he loses his place in his own world and in society. It's another all-too-imaginable fear in a world in which cities are ant colonies where it is hard to be noticed than ever before. This is a perfect place to start off for the Bentley Little virgin.
The Town (2000)
Maybe I'm biased because I read The Town while camping on my honeymoon, but this is a real favorite of mine.This one is Little's bizarre version of a modern western ghost town, but it's far removed from any other book of its type ever published. The Town has some of the most outrageous scenes of any book he has published, my favorite being a woman that gives birth to a baby cactus with human features! That's just one of the wild things that occur in The Town.
The Collection (2002)
Bentley Little is justly famous (or perhaps notorious is a better word) for his short fiction. I first encountered his writing in David B. Silva's The Horror Show Magazine and he also had a short story in the very first issue of Cemetery Dance. He has appeared in the pages of this magazine numerous times since then. But I really noticed him from the Borderlands anthologies, of which the first four volumes all feature Little's work. That's something of a record. The Potato, from Borderlands 2, is one of the most unforgettable pieces I've ever read.
Bentley Little's short fiction is often shocking, sometimes disgusting and it always manages to get a reaction from me. If you're a short story kind of person, you owe it to yourself to find The Collection.
The Resort (2004)
This one is about as close to a traditional horror novel as Bentley Little gets. It's a huge, grand novel of a sinister hotel that reads absolutely nothing like The Shining. For pure entertainment factors, The Resort is one of his best bets.
Here is another of Bentley Little works that is so bold and original that you wonder how the hell he dreams this stuff up.
We've all been disgruntled about things we face in our town to complain. Sometimes we even go so far as to write a letter to the appropriate parties. Usually they come to naught, or we might get a polite but insincere reply. And life goes on. Jason Hanford writes letters that ignite action. Every time he complains, He receives free movie passes, coupons for free food. Every time he writes, something good happens. So he begins to experiment with his 'gift'. And things spiral way out of control.
His Father's Son (2009)
Which brings me to the latest novel from Bentley Little. I've come to expect the unexpected from him, but His Father's Son took me completely off balance. I can usually detect Little's style right off, but this one is radically different from the rest of his work. In fact, it reminds me of a nior writer like Jim Thompson.
I couldn't be happier to report that I consider His Father's Son to be the finest novel that Bentley Little has published to date. He has never even come close to the kind of psychological depth that he has achieved here.
Steve Nye is a normal enough guy. He has an average job, some pals to hang with and a woman to love. But when his father has a stroke and attempts to kill his mother, his life gets derailed. His father is hospitalized and while they were never especially close, Steve feels obliged to visit with him on a regular basis. Suffering from dementia, the old man drifts in and out of lucidity. In his more coherent moments, he makes some disquieting comments to Steve, leading the young man to believe his father was some sort of monster. Steve sets out to find out the truth and he discovers he isn't that much different than dear old dad. Or is he?
I was literally engrossed on every page of His Father's Son. Little takes his readers on a dark ride with this one and I for one had no clue where it was all going to end up. It's arguable that His Father's Son could be described as a suspense novel or a horror story, but I think it's a little of both, I only hope that Bentley Little's readers are willing to follow him with departure from his usual type of book.