Written by: James Keen
Bentley Little’s Bram Stoker Award nominated novel, ‘The Haunted’ is the story of the Perry family who up sticks and move to a house on Rainey street after becoming disenfranchised by the way their neighbourhood seems to have gone to the dogs during the current economic nosedive. Julian, the father – “laser focused on his work” as a freelance Web page designer- is frustrated with how their once agreeably situated abode has been seemingly sabotaged by the increasingly aggressive kids with their skateboards and blatant disregard for respecting property boundaries. Early on in the book, Julian is forced to hose down a group of kids who use his driveway as a play area –how irritating! He observes how much his young son has taken to filling his leisure time by staying indoors and playing video games, worrying that the growing displacement is having a negative effect on his personal growth – a definite cause for concern! His teen-aged daughter, Megan seems to be faring no better and his wife, Claire, a lawyer with her own practise is anxious to move closer to her parents home in Jardine. After a brisk property search they settle on the seemingly idyllic property on Rainey street, which appears to be the solution to their current anxieties –not the best of moves!
Of course it’s not long before their new home has them questioning whether they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire, to use a well-worn analogy. In fact, it’s tempting to re-use well worn metaphors when reviewing this particular Bentley novel, as reading this 400 page book quickly becomes an exercise in re-discovering the tired old cliches of the haunted house narrative. There’s pretty much everything from the ghostly and possessed horror tropes that the seasoned purveyor of supernatural fiction will have experienced in dozens of instances before and the climax of the book is one of the least involving this reviewer has had to wade through in quite some time, which is quite an ignoble circumstance. You’ve been here before. And you’ll likely indulge again in similar scenarios if you’re a follower of horror fiction. This, however is not one the better iterations of the haunted house sub-genre.
If you’re a fan of Little’s fiction then it’s arguable that even this effort from the author is likely to prove to be a wearying affair, packed as it is with stereotypical portraits of father-in-laws, inexplicable bouts of marital anal sex, an awkwardly inserted section that allows Little to give the house a historical context, and a frankly baffling compulsion of one of the characters indulging in eating copious amounts of soil. Little adds to the mix numerous pop-culture references – it appears certain characters are obsessed with watching CNN- Julian’s daughter has a fascination with the ‘Twilight’ movies and a supernaturally influenced tendency for self-immolation, while the mother Claire takes on a case involving a history teacher who may hold the key to the history of their new home. By the time Little has repeated multiple derivations of the following sentence, “Something was wrong with the house and they needed to do something about it”, the narrative tension has long since dissipated, negating its initial promise and devolving into an exercise in bland melodrama and irritatingly familiar literary exposition.
Often compared to Stephen King – isn’t every writer in the horror genre? – he certainly has something in common with the Maine master of creepy fiction and it’s one of the worst aspects of that writers fiction output; the annoying inability to consistently deliver a satisfying conclusion. The ending to this particular book is the least interesting section of the text, imbued as it is with glaring instances of character motivation that come across as trite and lazily contrived. As a result it may prove to be quite a long period of time before this reviewer may be tempted to pick up another of Bentley Little’s novels if this is indicative of the ‘quality’ of his current output. If you like your horror fiction predictable and marginally surprising then this is for you.
Order The Haunted right here.