Bently Little’s The Town was published in 2000, and I think even 10 years later it holds up as a good story. I found Bently’s take on small-town horror refreshing in many ways, even though the idea of horror in a small town isn’t so unique by today’s standards. The story involves a family of six who move back to the father’s home town after winning the lottery to simplify their lives and exchange the dangers of LA for the assumed tranquility of McGuane, Arizona.
Once the family moves, a very serious and diverse set of circumstances occur. Several deaths take place, the town is slowly overrun by evil spirits, and some very bizarre possessions happen–one involving a Molokan church growing hair.
I really appreciate how Bently handled the characters. Winning the lottery is supposed to be a good thing–as is anything that brings a person into money–but in this case, Bently provides what feels like a more realistic take on the matter. The father, Gregory, finds himself at odds because he no longer has purpose. He doesn’t have to work for money and is no longer tightly connected with the town. He finds some pet projects, one of which is to help an old high school friend redevelop his café into a small entertainment venue, all of which wind up backfiring. Everything Gregory experiences in the book, the supernatural as well as his well-intentioned actions, drive him slowly insane. I cared about this man, and the rest of the family, because even though they had money their lives were tough. I was reminded of the main characters in Ed Lee’s The Golem–also rich–and the reason I didn’t care much for them was that they had options. I felt they could have walked away at any time and that their hardship was self-inflicted. In the case of The Town, the money won from the lottery was paid annually (I think @ 80K), the family spent most of the first check on the new house, and there was no walking away. They were stuck in their situation for at least a year, until the next check arrived. To make it even worse, the house they bought had a sordid history–unknown by Gregory at the time of purchase–and there was little to no chance of them reselling it.
Bently also tied the events in the story up very well in the end. So many strange things occur, that mid-way through I found myself thinking there was no way everything related. But through an interesting convergence of Molokan and Native American mythologies, Bently came up with a satisfying explanation that unified the deaths, possessions, and general craziness of the town. And to have the solution to the hauntings require the cooperation of the two cultures–through ritual and force–really reinforced the explanation of the hauntings.
I was unfamiliar with the term Molokan before reading this book, and while I didn’t read it for a cultural lesson I found myself reading up a little on the culture. They’re a fascinating sect of Christianity from Russia, and I think Bently’s use of Molokans instead of the more familiar Catholics gave the book an interesting take on christian spirituality and mythology.
If you like small-town horror and supernatural horror, this book should be on your list. I’ll definitely pick up more of Bently’s work down the road.