The Association by Bentley Little

This article on The Assocation by Bentley Little is part of the quest to read or re-read the 100 scariest horror novels of all time. Stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers.

The Scariest Novels of All Time

True to its title, the villain in The Association is the Bonita Vista HOA, a sinister organization that functions more like a totalitarian government and possesses supernatural powers.

Barry and Maureen, the protagonist and POV characters, first encounter the HOA the association bentley littlewhile holding a yard sale to get rid of furniture the previous owner abandoned. They learn that yard sales are strictly forbidden. Soon afterwards, Barry and Maureen learn that many other things are against the rules; working at home, owning pets, having guests from outside the Bonita Vista community, playing music, etc.

The HOA also exerts controls over the homeowners’ lives in petty way such as deciding what pictures may be placed on what walls. The rules are enforced by inspection and the punishments are horrible, i.e. dismemberment. The POV characters are immediately in grisly danger.

The Association, with its clever premise, had the ingredients of a legendary horror book. Unfortunately, it is not

The death-stakes brewed for too many pages as if the HOA had only recently become evil and was still learning how to flex its dark powers. When finally revealed, the monster lacked the hair raising vibe of Little’s other foes. Of course, by this point I’d lost so much concern for Barry and Maureen that I really didn’t care whether they lived or die.

Bentley Little might have suspected that the book was coming up short and succumbed to the temptation to explain in a last ditch effort to bring the story together:

Frank met his eyes, and Barry understood. It wasn’t over. The association was not simply a group of people, it could not be eliminated by killing its members. It was a system, a series of rules and regulations that existed apart from and above the individuals who made up its membership. It could only be stopped if those rules were rejected, if people refused to join or participate. He looked down at Ralph and the volunteers. Even they were not victims…

Obviously, Little’s ambition was to explore the dangers of ideologies and the human motivations that perpetuate them. That’s an admirable goal for any writer, one that a compelling story and a writer as talented as Little should have pulled off. The book would’ve been stronger had the set-up demonstrated the fervent belief in the HOA and how blind loyalty manipulated the characters actions.

A novelists’ primary job is to entertain. This paperback simply didn’t. For that reason, I’m removing it from the list of scariest horror novels of all time, freeing up a space for one that does. For a far better Bentley Little book, check out The Store or The Haunted. Both horror novels and worthy of your reading time.

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The Haunted by Bentley Little

The Haunted by Bentley LittleBentley Little’s The Haunted begins in the ordinary world of suburbia. We meet our hero, Julian Perry, a web developer who works from home, and his wife, Claire, an attorney in private practice. Julian is devoted to his wife and children. He is particularly close to his sensitive twelve year old son, James, a boy who worries that it’s not okay to dislike sports. Julian also dotes on his teenage daughter, Megan, guiding her with the warmth and wisdom of a father saddened to see his child growing up so fast.

Julian’s first goal is straightforward: he wants to move his family to a better neighborhood. The Perry family finds the house on Rainey Street and deems it perfect; big back yard, shade tree in the center of a plush lawn, even a tire swing and sparrows in the tree branches above it. When the existing owners lower their asking price, the family can’t say no. With that decision, the entire family is plunged into darkness. Hey, the book’s not called The Haunted for nothing…

He didn’t like the basement.

James is the first to feel the house’ dark power. In fact, the house found its way into James’ dreams – and his head – before they’d finished moving in. In his nightmare, he strode down the street in his pajamas because he needed to be at the house. Or, to be precise, in its basement. I won’t tell you what’s waiting there, but you don’t want to find it in your basement – ever.

The house’ evil power intensifies as the rest of the family experiences supernatural events. Two facts become clear. The evil in this house is no ordinary ghost and the Perry family has no escape.

The Good:

Bentley Little has a reputation for writing the same book over and over. A quick look at his titles may indicate that this is true; The Mailman, The Store, The Town, The Academy… But I don’t believe that having a knack for turning the ordinary world into something sinister (or exposing the sinister workings of what may be behind the curtain of the ordinary world) is writing the same book over and over.

Furthermore, The Haunted relies on an emotional connection to the characters, especially the father-son relationship. Mr. Little creates the kind of emphatic panic that a reader can only feel after investing in a character’s survival. For that reason alone, we can ignore the perception (or dismiss it altogether) that Bentley Little writes the same book repeatedly.

While establishing the stakes of this story, we learn that Julian has a deep motivation for building unbreakable bonds with his children. The wound he carries can never fully heal. This fact makes the stakes all the more gut wrenching and the pending resolution all the more tragic. For that alone, this horror novel deserves to be on your reading list.

The Bad:

Stephen King’s immense talent exists within building a creeping dread that eats at readers like a hungry cancer. King rarely goes for the gross out. Bentley Little, on the other hand, is quite adept at utilizing shock and the grotesque in his work; and he does not shy away from doing so. That said, the scenes in the basement that demonstrate the house’ sickening power may turn some readers off. I’m no prude, but the actions in that sequence gave me a moment of head-scratching pause. Likewise, the house’ ability to manipulate James and Megan may be too much to bear.

Finally, the ending might break your heart. Of course, the best horror stories often do; and I kind of like that in a book. You’ve been warned.

Thanks for reading,

Lake

Other Notes: The Haunted is not on the list of the Scariest Horror Novels of All Time, (my quest to read or re-read the 100 most frightening books ever written). Should one that’s currently in queue fall off, however, The Haunted is a contender for placement. The Haunted and Bentley Little’s backlist is available on Amazon (and in fine used book stores everywhere). A previously read (sounds so much nicer than used, doesn’t it?) hardcover edition is six bucks. Enjoy.

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Hell House by Richard Matheson

Richarad Matheson’s Hell House is one of those horror novels that readers proclaim as brilliant or completely dreadful. Rarely do we hear anyone who kinda liked reading Hell House. In today’s blog, we take a deeper look at the novel Hell House and its shadowy influence on readers.

The Scariest Novels of All Time

This article is part of the Scariest Horror Novels of All Time series. Feel free to join the discussion in the comments.

“Welcome to my house, I’m delighted you could come. I am certain you will find your stay here most illuminating. It is regrettable I cannot be with you, but I had to leave before your arrival. Do not let my physical absence disturb you, however. Think of me as your unseen host and believe that, during your stay here, I shall be with you in spirit.” ~

Emeric Belasco

The Story:

Hell House First EditionRolf Rudolph Deutsch, a skeletal, 87 year old millionaire on death’s doorstep, wants to know if life exists after death. Deutsch believes the answer can be found at the Belasco House in Main, dubbed Hell House due to its history of blasphemy and perversion under its owner, Emeric Belasco, and now regarded as the most haunted house in the world and. He hires a crack team of investigators:

Dr. Lionel Barrett – a physicist with an intense and lifelong interest in parapsychology

Florence Tanner – a spiritualist and mental medium

Benjamin Franklin Fischer – a physical medium and the only survivor of a failed investigation attempt thirty years earlier.

Dr. Barrett’s wife, Edith, accompanies the trio to assist Barrett in the week long investigation.

Upon settling inside Hell House, the team battles dark influences that prey upon their personal weaknesses. Edith, in particular, is victimized via insecurity and sexual emptiness. We learn that Hell House’s power comes from its apparent ability to corrupt and destroy those who enter its walls. The supernatural horror escalates causing the characters to question their own sanity until the conclusion.

A Few Thoughts on Hell House:

Horror has always been an evolving genre. Published in 1971, this particular horror novel is entirely – and heart fully – a product of its time. Part of Hell House’s intrinsic charm is that it hails from an earlier decade when talk of perversion was much less acceptable. One must step into the mindset of that era when reading this classic horror novel – or risk being greatly disappointed.

Hell’s House characters are developed to the extent that the plot requires. The fictional people who visit Belasco House are not so flesh-and-bone that you’ll carry them with you after closing the book. Readers who expect an intimate relationship with the cast won’t be happy in the dark halls of Hell House.

Likewise, Matheson’s shifts in POV from one character to another may be jarring. No doubt, the shifts were a deliberate choice designed to replicate the disconcerting sensations of being in the house. However, readers that are used to chapters or at least blank space signaling the transition from one character’s view to another may be taken aback by the abrupt changes.

Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson

Regardless, Hell House is a novel that sits on a timeless thematic foundation. Through the characters, especially the arrogant Barrett, Matheson compares science and superstition through the lens of our human frailties. Hell House, at its heart is much more about our fragile nature and flaws than an actual haunting.

Our need to know what death holds for us and our desire to believe that it offers something are as part of us as our own bones. We year for these answers just as badly as the millionaire Deutsch who found his fortune to be of no comfort when facing the unknown. Perhaps this is what makes Hell House an enduring classic.

Thanks for reading.

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