From the first sentence, Bentley Little’s perplexing new novel, Gloria, is instantly captivating, and lays out out a creepy, affecting tale of love, loss and grief from a perspective that only Little could muster. This is probably his most emotional, approachable, and fantastical novel to date – a true feat – and quite different in tone from his other work.
In his latest book, Gloria is hosting a reception after her mother’s funeral, when a much younger version of her mother shows up at the door. Gloria is relieved to see her but confused and then alarmed. Her mother is dead. Who is this person pretending to be her mother? The question becomes not who she is but rather what is she, and can she be trusted? No one else seems to recognize this woman, not even her own sister, making Gloria question whether she's lost her mind. It’s so unnerving, sad, and chilling to think of your loved ones, once cherished, as dangerous and part of a larger nefarious scheme. It’s downright diabolical.
The complex structure of the narrative will test many readers with a repetitive nature that presents one puzzling scenario after another. Then haphazardly jumps in space (and time?). Separated into six books, each new section deepens the mystery, tempting the reader to be extremely detail-oriented, but it’s best to just accept the proceedings at face value. What’s unmistakable is the indistinct dread mounting steadily in the background. What is going on? Is Gloria insane? Her journey of self-discovery leads to some bizarre and otherworldly places.
Gloria may not please long-time fans of Little’s hard, psychosexual, grotesque horror but I welcomed this softer direction. His books are usually plot heavy but he spends more time developing Gloria’s inner thoughts, feelings and desires. He wrote a very compelling and likable heroine, and keeps us rooting for her, and I often even identified with her. I’m not sure that I can recall another book of his with such a strong female protagonist.
Ultimately, Little maintains his brand of strange, outlandish fiction, building nightmarish worlds and making them seem utterly plausible. It’s terrifying how he gets under my skin. Each book I read of his makes me momentarily question reality and the cosmos themselves. And then as usual, his abrupt and abstract ending delivers a satisfying finish, and I am glad to be done with this world. It such an unsettling, dark experience every time, and exactly what you want from a horror novel.