Friday, May 16, 2008

The Town

Bentley Little is, to my tastes, one of the most dependable horror writers out there. I rarely feel his work rises into the “exceptional” category, but his prolific output always falls into the “good” category at least. Since he published a lot during the years I wasn’t reading horror fiction, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and my most recent book of his to read was The Town.

The Town is set, as is much of Little’s work, in Arizona, where the stereotypical ancient evil is rising to prey on the inhabitants of a small town. What sets this novel apart from most is the culture that is predominant in the book, that of the real-life sub-group, the Molokans. The Molokans are ethnically Russians and are a splinter group of the Orthodox Church of Russia (Molokan means “milk-drinker” in Russian, and refers to an act of defiance by the group in Russia, when they drank milk during a fasting period). According to the acknowledgements page, Little has relatives who are Molokans, and it is their beliefs and superstitions that define the supernatural threat faced by the characters in the book.

Gregory Tomasov, who grew up a Molokan in the small Arizona town of McGuane but moved to California, wins the lottery and returns to the town in which he grew up with his wife and three small children, as well as his elderly mother, who is far more religious than any of the younger Tomasovs. Unbeknownst to Gregory, strange things are happening in McGuane. A woman gives painful birth to a cactus with a human face. A man grows a new member from his navel. A church grows hair. This is all linked to Molokan belief and custom, and to protect his family, Gregory must re-embrace ideals he thought he’d left behind.

This is another solid Bentley Little book. It deftly alternates the grotesque and the mundane. If you’re a Bentley Little fan, or a fan of horror who’s never read him, you should take a look at it.

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