The Circle by Bentley Little

From Cemetery Dance:

“The shrine. How does it operate? Do you just pray to it or do you have to bring it something or what?”

In this unsettling novella by Bentley Little, many strange occurrences unsettle the inhabitants of William Tell Circle:

For Helen, a knock on the door brings an unexpected visitor along with lavish gifts, and it seems all her wishes have been granted…but at what cost?

For young Frank and his friends, a fabled neighborhood shrine may answer their prayers for a girlfriend, just as their older brothers hope the same source will grant them money. But the older boys’ improvised ritual turns into something horrible…

For Gil Marotta, a rescue mission to the shrine leads him into a chilling confrontation with the local witch…

The Circle tells the story of a normally quiet community, plunged into the kind of surreal nightmare only Bentley Little can deliver.

Simply stated, The Circle is not Bentley Little’s best work.  I originally read the story about 10 years ago when it was part of the FOUR DARK NIGHTS collection and remember being entertained by it.  After all of these years my opinion of the story has lessened quite a bit.  If you were to take the story apart and examine each of its “components” it works but unfortunately as a whole the thing just comes off as disjointed and confusing.

The story takes place on a typical cul-de-sac in a mundane suburban neighborhood where the residents are as cookie cutter as they come.  Unfortunately for the residents of the circle, there also happens to be a modern day witch living in their midst and they have just pissed her off.  What follows is a series of horrific scenarios as the witch looks to bring retribution on her unsuspecting neighbors.  The actual story was fresh, fun and surprisingly believable.  Things just fell apart in the execution.

Little usually reaches the line where most authors would stop and he crosses it with a grin on his face.  Nothing seems too violent or graphic for Little. This wasn’t the case in The Circle.  On more than one occasion I was waiting for a huge payoff but was left complete blue balled.  Even in the opening (arguably the best part of the story) the premise is absolutely disgusting but it didn’t hit on an emotional level the way Little’s other “gross out” scenes play out. I guess this is what happens when you grow up with an author and then go back and re-read some of their earlier work.  It also explains why I may have enjoyed the story a bit more when a read it a decade ago.

I’m sure most Little fans will scoop this up immediately and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from doing so. As usual Cemetery Dance has done a bang up job with the presentation here and this will look beautiful on any collectors shelf.  Now for those who are not necessarily Little fans or those new to his work, this may not be the best read for you.