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Aftermath
Chuck Wendig
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Samuel R. Delany
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Charles L. Grant

The Town

The Town - Bentley Little I've said before that I feel like I've outgrown horror. I still like a good scary story, but the genre overall can be insipid and ridiculous. The stories can depend too much on gratuitous scenes of sex and/or violence, and some of the scenes that are supposed to be scary are just laughable. For a long time, my go-to example for that sort of scene was one from Joe Schreiber's Chasing the Dead, where the protagonist is attacked by overgrown lobsters from the back seat of her car. Now, though, I'm going to have to use one from The Town where one of the characters gives birth to a Saguaro cactus. That was the first point in the novel where I just about gave it up.

Later, one of the secondary characters is attacked by a book, the Bible, specifically. It gains life and starts flying around the room and attacking him. He throws the book off, but it flies back at him, undeterred. Does this sound like Army of Darkness to anyone else? In Army of Darkness, the story at least had that undertone of campiness to make us recognize the scene has humorous, but Little is attempting to go full horror with his version of the same scene. I'll laugh at both scenes, but only one of those was intended to be humorous.

The story is about a small, off-the-beaten-path town that has a high percentage of Molokan Russian residents. The town has a history of hauntings, which have been idle for many years. One of the people who moved away years ago returns with his family, and with his return comes a new wave of murders and inexplicable events.

I realized with this book that Little does a lot of telling instead of showing. His narrative moves quickly, and it's easy to get caught up in his stories, but it doesn't have a lot of subtlety, either. It's also disjointed, without much focus. It's like he had a grand idea to make the story about the terror of a haunted town, but then he got too bogged down with trying to make the next killing more creative than the last. It reminds me of the Final Destination and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, where they just devolve into different ways for people to die. There were a couple of unsettling, creepy moments in the story, but you have to wade through all of the tertiary characters getting killed off to find them.

As I was reading The Town, I was continually reminded of Stephen King's Desperation; both books are set in Arizona, in a small town that exists off the grid, feature an abandoned copper mine, and are about evil spirits that exist in said town. To Little's credit, the story is different enough that no one would ever confuse the two books, but every time I was reminded of the setting, I thought of Desperation. I think Little has more of a claim to the setting than King, but it was still distracting.

Oh, and Little also has one of his characters buy a book by Phillip Emmons, which is Little's own pseudonym. *eye roll*

Speaking of King, the story feels like it owes a great deal to The Shining. Little takes the concept of the hotel slowly driving its caretaker mad and applies it to an entire town. The man who has returned to the town is the one being driven mad, so the territory is somewhat familiar. In fact, there's an odd moment near the end of the book where he's apparently trapped, but is later freed without much mention on how he was un-trapped. I think Little was attempting to throw in an homage to the ghosts freeing Jack from the freezer, but it also felt like there was a large section of the story missing that would explain that. But then I realized that the rest of the novel is enough of a mess to conclude it was just poor writing.

Little is a decent enough writer, but this book is terrible. I've not reached the point where I've given up on him, but I wouldn't recommend anyone start with this book. Or even read it after reading his better books. It's just not worth it.