By Bentley Little
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if everything you said came to be? How would you react if you found out one of the nation's founding fathers was a murderous cannibal? These are only a couple of the scenarios presented in The Collection, a compilation of the early works from "the master of the macabre", Bentley Little. This book holds 32 short stories, each with their own introduction containing a short description of what inspired them or how they were conceived. One of the major appeals to this book is that just about any curious soul can pick it up and find at least a few stories to immediately pique their interest.
One of my favorite things about The Collection is the sheer chill factor in each separate story. Considering they were all penned at various times and stages in Little's life, they each hold their own flavor and appeal that keeps the experience fresh and with varying degrees of terror and macabre. Very early on, stories like "The Woods Be Dark" and "Lethe Dreams" both delve into odd and/or macabre family situations. Without trying to alienate the many other stories within the The Collection, I will be drawing my review from mainly these two stories as I would rather encourage anyone reading this to pick this book up and experience the many titles and tales within.
In "The Woods Be Dark", which was written during the mid-80's and set in the South, we're given a story through the eyes of a young girl living with her family off a path that leads into a forest. Pretty much beyond this, nothing in the story is normal. From the eery return of "Robert" to the "ritual" our narrator endures. Without trying to spoil too much of the story, here is a small excerpt:
"The bad place looked just like I remembered it. The leaves of the trees was all black and brown and they twisted together to make a roof over the clearing and completely block out the sky. It was always night there. On the sides, small trees grew in between the big trees and made a solid wall except for the entrance where I was coming in. The middle of the clearing was covered with bones and skulls and the teeth of rats, all lain out in little rows, like crops. Dead possum skeletons hung from frayed old ropes in the trees, and they was swinging but there wasn't no breeze." -- "The Woods Be Dark", Bentley Little
Next we have "Lethe Dreams" which is a short that was originally published in 1987. In the paragraph preceding the story, Little states it was published in Night Cry, a digest-sized sister publication of Twilight Zone and that it was the turning point in his career. This story presents the couple, Marc and Cindy as they try to adjust to their new life as parents. While Cindy seems to be maintaining, Marc struggles with constant headaches brought on from exhaustion and broken sleep as well as wild, vivid dreams that plague him occasionally when he does actually get rest. Raising kids ain't easy.
"The images frightened him, made him afraid to get out of bed, made him want to fall back asleep, made him unable to fall back asleep. He could see them, or feel them, sneaking around the edges of the room, hiding in the shadows just out of range of his peripheral vision. He wanted to wake Cindy up, to have her comfort his nightmare fears the way his sister used to, but something held him back. Instead, he reached over and ran his fingers through the thin part in her silken brown hair, the part which remained perfectly straight and untouched even through the dishevelment of sleep She stirred under his touch, her back snuggling even closer against him, and he ran his hand down the soft flesh of her thin arm." -- "Lethe Dreams", Bentley Little
The Collection is the kind of novel that keeps you enthralled from one story to the next with unique and imaginative narratives and situations. Each story is a milestone on the road to the Bram Stoker Award earned with his first novel, The Revelation (1990). For a concise biography of Bentley Little, I would suggest visiting here as there really isn't much to be found on the internet besides fan sites and a Wikipedia posting. As a matter of fact, this little snippet would explain why that is:
"Bentley is one of those rare authors who prefer to be judged by the merit of their work and not through self promotion. That being said, he avoids going on-line and has no regular access to the Internet. Though he does occasional interviews to get the word out about his new books, he generally avoids getting involved in major promotional activities." -- The Horrifying World of Bentley Little
As an added bonus, one particular story in the book, The Washingtonians, was adapted as an installment in the horror anthology, Masters of Horror. The trailer for this episode can be viewed below.