Sunday, August 27, 2006

Books: Dispatch • Bentley Little

• Bentley Little redefines the poison-pen letter.

Genre: Horror
Published: 2005
Verdict: &&&

Jason Hanford is a persuasive letter writer. His interest in correspondence awakens with a school penpal project in which he portrays himself as everything he's not — popular, athletic and from a prominent family. Later, he begins to pen complaint letters to fast food joints and theme parks, yielding free food and leisure. Realizing that his letters have the power to affect change, Hanford becomes bolder, tackling city problems and stirring debate in the newspaper editorial pages for his own amusement. Naturally, in the hands of Bram Stoker Award-winner Bentley Little, the application of Hanford's talent becomes deadly serious, particularly as Hanford struggles with an abusive family life. Little has a talent for Twilight Zone-esque ideas, but with a darker bent. Reading Dispatch, I was reminded of Stephen King's short story "Word Processor of the Gods" and, to a greater degree, Little's own novel The Ignored, in which a man whom people simply don't notice anymore discovers that there are others like him, and they become joined in a common cause. Essentially the same happens in Dispatch: Hanford is recruited into a letter-writing business and discovers that the other employees share his unique talent for correspondence that gets things done. Dispatch also shares The Ignored's pervasive tone of modern ennui. Little excels with the maudlin, such as in this nugget from Hanford's first-person narrative: "There is a point, I think, where life starts to seem sad, when a person adopts one of those live-in-the-moment philosophies because looking back on all of the missed opportunities is too painful, and looking forward, there does not seem to be the time to create a new future with a different outcome." Hanford is, at times, a tough character to like, and a recurring thread involving a witch feels unresolved, but Little's ode to the written word keeps the pages turning. Some readers may prefer the body of this dispatch to the closing, which delves a tad too far into conventional horror as Hanford finally meets the ultimate letter writing nemesis.

1 comment:

Smythe said...

Bentley Little!! Man! for a while there I read all of his stuff! The Walking was really a weird one! I think there was one called the Mailman or the Postman which was pretty strange also. Thanks for bumping me on the arm about this other worldly author.
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