Review: The Association by Bentley Little

609731Title: The Association

Author: Bentley Little

Rating: 2 star

Publisher: Signet

Review:

I recently became acquainted with Bentley Little with his novel, The Store. The plot was not profound, but it still managed to deal with high concept themes like consumerism and personal liberty in a fun and accessible way. Having enjoyed it, I sought out another title of his and found myself reading The Association.

Like The Store, there is nothing complex about the premise of this novel. A young couple moves into a private subdivision in Utah. Days after taking residence, they find sporadic love notes from the association politely reminding them of the infractions they have made against the CC&R’s. The couple grows suspicious when they find dead animals on their property and their landscape vandalized. But this is only the beginning. The association is the law and they will stop at nothing to display their total control over the residents’ lives — even if it means killing people in the process.

I don’t have a lot good to say about the novel other than I finished it. That’s actually saying something, since I often dump books on a dime if they are not pulling their weight with me. It was likely Bentley Little’s approachable, fast paced prose that kept me going the whole way through.

For those who have read The Store, you will find the plot of this novel extremely similar. Rather than a Walmart-like store taking over a community, it is an association. Rather than having characters respond with sense and action, the residents in the association are senseless and passive. Neighbors are murdered, the inside of their home videotaped, and thousands of dollars are liened against their home, yet our witless protagonists, Barry and Maureen, fail to take any real action. Not until the novel’s end is the president of the association truly confronted. At no point do they legitimately try to escape the hostile neighborhood. Out of principle they stay at their home, thinking wallpaper will help protect them from hidden cameras and (even though spies secretly come into their house on a regular basis in the middle of the night).

The suspension of disbelief occurs not with the implausibility of the association having unlimited powers. It occurs because nearly every character in the novel is a fool. It occurs because at so many points it is obvious that the couple needs to involve someone other than Deputy Dolittle, who clearly is in cahoots with the association. It occurs because at every turn Barry and Maureen’s life is in imminent danger and they continue to do nothing but whine and try to resist the association’s power over them. They burn association letters and paint their house the wrong color and chalk it up to defiance while neighbors are clubbed or sawed to death.

For those looking to read The Association, I recommend skipping it and picking up The Store. If you’ve already read The Store, don’t bother with a sub-par derivative.

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Review: The Store by Bentley Little

Title: The Store

Author: Bentley Little

Rating: 

Publisher: Signet

Format: Paperback

Before we had kids, I would often go down into our basement on one of these wintery, cold mornings and watch a movie. Occasionally, there’d be one of those campy horror movies that has a premise that sounded a bit silly, but you watch it anyway. You’d want to turn the channel, but you can’t. It’s not that it’s that bad — it’s actually good and you enjoy the characters and the story even though it is completely unbelievable.

This was my experience reading Bentley Little’s, The Store. The novel takes place in a rural town when a Walmart competitor named simply, “The Store” begins to build on what was once preserved wildlife. The protagonist of the story, Bill Davis, sees dead animals on the property as construction begins, which he recognizes as an omen for worse things to come. Some in the town are excited at the prospects of The Store putting them on the map, while others have their reservations.

When The Store opens, both of Bill’s daughters seek employment. In fact, as The Store begins to strong arm its way into a monopoly on the city, it becomes the sole place of employment. There are some people who oppose what The Store is doing and some of them wind up missing or dead. Bill Davis refuses to back down from The Store’s oppressive and supernatural power and will stop at nothing to save the town and his family from complete ruin.

There are many who will comment that this novel is making a statement on consumerism and the degrading of society through corporate power. I suppose that is true, but it isn’t really Little’s statement on society that makes the novel interesting. What makes this novel effective is that it is the corporation that is the source of fear. Horror often devolves into a person trying to escape a one-dimensional killer. That in no way represents this novel. Bill Davis’s fear is that his town and family’s way of life is threatened. He fears the enslavement of those around him driven by their lust for consumerism.

The Store capitalizes on these fears by taking over the government, schools, and police force. Death is only a penalty for those who resist the new way of life and there are many (particularly Bill’s daughter, Sam) who embrace what The Store is doing. She was a popular, beautiful girl at the top of her class, but finds herself willing to throw away everything she has and believes in to rise the corporate ladder. This contrast between Bill and Sam reaches a pinnacle where there is no turning back for either of them.

There is nothing genius about this novel and it reads like a paperback you might find in an airport kiosk. It has short scenes and is full of dialog, but I really like what Bentley Little has done. He has taken a broader and deeper subject and made it into a no-apologies horror novel that in no way tries to be anything more. It is one you will read very quickly and in the end, probably won’t think a whole lot more of it than realizing it was a fun read.

Even though the premise and many actions of the people in the town are totally unbelievable, the novel continued to work for me. The stark contrast between Bill and his daughter also worked even though their actions did not fit what any reasonable person would do in the same situations. If you are looking for a horror novel that isn’t about serial killers, vampires, or werewolves, give this one a try. It is horror the way it should be written — not at all pretentious and appealing to the feeling of dread and fear of the unknown rather than the cheap use of glorified violence and gore to shock the reader.