Sunday, April 4, 2010

An allegory and review of: Bentley Little's The House.

It is well known that Stephen King , like many of us , will carry a book of fiction wherever his travels will lead to appease the boredom that arises from life's mundane activities. And for those of us who have read On Writing and followed his accident with a certain Dodge Van will know, he has a penchant for taking long walks during the afternoons. What isn't a well-known detail and many might be curious about is that the grandmaster was reading The House by Bentley Little when the unfortunate piece of fate named Bryan Smith chose to intervene, nearly depriving us all from reaching Roland of Gilead's Dark Tower. The paperback was discovered lying meters away from King's broken body and apparently scuffed with blood . . .

It's an interesting side-note , one that I was not aware of when I picked up my own copy of Bentley Little's The House. Published in 1999 (around the time of King's accident), The House suffers from the kind of 'big, dumb, plodding and obvious' disease a lot of writers seem to become infected with after they have had a few critically acclaimed and well-received novels. When Bentley is at the top of his game, he is well and truly master of all that he surveys; but when he misses: al la The Summoning and Dominion, he suddenly falls short not just a little (no 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 always 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 who elicits within them 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 the have no idea why , must return there.

Things pick up a little in the second part of the novel as the strangers converge on the House and meet up through different mediums. But try as he might, Little's Haunted House just isn't scary. With little dolls walking around the place trying to encourage mayhem and the little 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 with it and literally tacks on an ending as if his editor was just on the phone and screaming for him to get the damn thing finished. Ultimately, the conclusion is as unnecessary as the confusing prologue.

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

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