Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bentley Little's The House.





It is well known Stephen King, like many of us, will carry a book of fiction while travelling to appease the boredom from life's mundane activities. And for those of us who have read On Writing and followed his accident with a Dodge Van will know, he has a penchant for taking long walks during the afternoon. What isn't a well-known detail (and a few might be curious about), is that King was reading The House when Bryan Smith intervened with his Dodge van, nearly depriving us all from reaching Roland of Gilead's Dark Tower. Apparently, the paperback was discovered lying meters away from King's broken body ...

It's an interesting side-note, one I was not aware of when I picked up my own copy of Bentley Little's The House. Published in 99 (around the time of King's accident), The House suffers from the kind of 'dumb, plodding, and obvious' virus writers occasionally bow to after a few critically acclaimed and well-received novels. When Bentley is at the top of his game, he is truly master of all he surveys; when he misses: al la The Summoning and Dominion, he abruptly falls short not just a little (pun intended), but a very long way indeed.

The book is formulaic, the plot seemingly purveyed in the horror medium by everyone who's ever had a crack at the genre. For me, there seems to be the tale of 'strangers who have something horrific from their childhoods or past in common and come together as adults to battle it again.' In this scenario, it involves a House; or, rather Houses, each one identical to the next but in different States across
America: dark, brooding and ominous, the quintessential haunted house. Six separate characters (an old academic scholar, a guy in the movie business, a young girl who just remembers that she's been adopted, among others), have all had an identical up-bringing involving a scary Butler named Billings and his young daughter, she who elicits feelings of lust tempered with loathing. Yep, that's right: a child. The whole thing nearly falls apart at the beginning with this tasteless development. From here, it stagnates as all six individuals go through the tedious (and annoyingly identical), process of recalling The House. And, although they have no idea why, must return.

In the second part, things pick up as our strangers converge. But, try as he might, Little's haunted house isn't scary. With little dolls walking around attempting to encourage mayhem (and the blonde girl turning up on occasion to lift up her dirty slip and tempt them with sex), one gets the feeling Little has no idea where to go and tacks on an ending as if his editor was on the phone and haranguing for a swift conclusion. Ultimately, the conclusion is as unnecessary as the confusing prologue.

The most frightening part reading this story came not in the form of its prose, but rather a real life event that mirrors the one above. During a long walk through woods winding through my area, I decided to heed King's advice and take a book. Of course, it was The House I picked up, and about halfway through the journey tripped over a log and scraped my ankle, the accident jettisoning blood over the binding. It led me to think that somehow the book might be cursed . . . a plot-line that would potentially make a better story than the one I was reading.

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