fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIndignities of the Flesh by Bentley LittleIndignities of the Flesh by Bentley Little

Until I read Indignities of the Flesh I hadn’t heard of Bentley Little, although he’s been published in magazines like Cemetery Dance, which I used to read. Indignities of the Flesh is an anthology containing ten of Little’s surrealistic horror tales. One, “Valet Parking,” is original to this collection.

Bentley Little provides a paragraph before each story, talking about the inspiration. Not surprisingly, many of his inspirations for horror stories are things that frighten him or creep him out; clowns, for instance, in “Rodeo Clown”; valets in “Valet Parking.” Some, like “Documented Miracles,” sprang from experiences Little had as a journalist.

This anthology is a fast read, because many of the short stories are truly short. Little has mastered the tightrope act of being horrifying and funny at the same time, and these stories demonstrate that. Several are just horrifying, and a couple are downright sweet.

My favorite was “Looney Tune,” which is based on a southern California urban legend. A boy and his parents are on the run from a well-funded group of animators—yes, animators. The boy’s father has been blacklisted as an animator, but he still draws. The family moves from town to town, state to state, carrying with them a strange metal cylinder the boy calls “Heaven.” The ending is not much of a twist for people who know a little bit about Anaheim, California, and the history of American animation, but the characters are strange and well-developed in a short space and the loyalty of the family, not to mention some rather strange personal customs, makes this wonderfully surreal.

“Documented Miracles” is a strange and powerful story about faith, skepticism and cynicism –and the difference between those last two. Gregory has reluctantly followed his wife on a tour to South America, to meet with a “psychic surgeon.” I thought I knew where this one was going. I was wrong.

“Happy Birthday, Dear Tama” was the least successful story in the collection for me. I have to say, though, that once you’ve opened a horror story with dead puppies, you’ve set the bar pretty high. The mystery of Tama’s brother, or the monster in the attic, gets lost in the antics of Tama’s zany family. The story is supposed to be creepy, horrifying fun, but Little just tries too hard. I was more entertained by Little’s explanation of the genesis of this story.

“Valet Parking” didn’t really work for me either.  An interesting exercise doesn’t always make a successful story, and that’s the case here.

Many of the stories involve children, who feel helpless in the face of evil that adults either can’t recognize or won’t fight. In “Black Ladies,” Little explores a generational curse and its impact on a family. “Pinata” and “Gingerbread” both follow children who are confronted with the uncanny in their own homes. In “Pinata,” the question is whether the surviving family members can pull together in the face of evil; while “Gingerbread” explores the feelings of loss a young man experiences when his grandmother dies. Of course, it’s not that simple.

“Rodeo Clown” is the most straightforward story in the book. The suspense is not whether there is evil, only when it will act, and whether Patty, the wife of a rodeo-rider, will be able to withstand it. What separates this from other run-of-the-mill evil monster stories is the small and perfect details Little gives us about bull-riding.

The most intriguing story was “Brushing,” an exploration of how an obsession can bind a stalker and his victim in a fatal entanglement:

“On Friday, she went to Sav-On and then to Walgreen’s, looking at toothbrushes. There were so many to choose from! Blue ones and green ones and yellow ones and red ones. Brushes with long handles and curved handles and tapered handles, with hard bristles or soft bristles or bristles of different lengths and colors. She had never noticed before how beautiful and finely designed most toothbrushes were, a perfect marriage of form and function.”

“Even the Dead” is a sad, sweet tale of two friends, one of whom isn’t alive.  There is no trick or twist ending, just the inevitable progression of a situation. It’s done well.

This sampler of stories is a good way to spend a few hours, if you like horror, and, for me, a fine introduction to a horror writer I hadn’t read previously.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.