Narrator: David Stifel
Published by Self Published / Indie on 10 August 2017
Length: 14 hrs and 55 mins
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In a small Arizona town, a man counts his blessings: a loving wife, two teenage daughters, and a job that allows him to work at home. Then "The Store" announces plans to open a local outlet, which will surely finish off the small downtown shops. His concerns grow when "The Store's" builders ignore all the town's zoning laws during its construction. Then dead animals are found on "The Store's" grounds. Inside, customers are hounded by obnoxious sales people, and strange products appear on the shelves. Before long the town's remaining small shop owners disappear, and "The Store" spreads its influence to the city council and the police force, taking over the town! It's up to one man to confront "The Store's" mysterious owner and to save his community, his family, and his life!
©1998, 2017 Bentley Little (P)2017 Journalstone Publishing
In the very late 1990s/early 2000s, I worked at a local big-box retail store for several years while attending college. Employees had to attend pointless, monthly bull sessions, apparently to remind us on a regular basis of how awesome this particular retail chain was and why it should be oh so meaningful to us meagerly paid employees. At one point, my department manager notified me that the higher-ups were preparing to fire me because I was putting in too many hours at school and not enough on the sales floor, trying to con customers into up-selling their CD purchases with overpriced protection plans. If I hadn’t already mentally checked out on that loathsome job, threatening to fire me for going to school was certainly the clincher.
Maybe it’s because of those years of personal dissatisfaction busting my hump for The Man that I was so able to completely relate to Bentley Little’s The Store. I dug the heck out of this book, and nearly all of it was totally on-point for me.
The small town of Juniper, Arizona is about to receive its first high-end, discount retail store – think Walmart and you’d be on the right track. While jogging past the soon-to-be-demolished, and once protected, land, Bill notices dead animals on the lot. (As one character states later, “The Store is built on blood!”) To say that’s merely the beginning of The Store’s impact on Juniper is to woefully undersell this retailer’s impact. Soon enough, the town’s small business owners are in a fight not just for their livelihoods, but for their very lives. The Store sweeps over Juniper like locusts, destroying everything – and everyone – in its path. And that’s just for starters!
The Store is very much a work of social horror, and it has an important message at its core regarding the nature of consumerism and capitalism and highly powerful and influential corporatism versus government. While there are supernatural elements at play throughout, the most frightening aspects of the story are the ones that are absolutely real. It’s positively sinister to watch how The Store corrupts Juniper and its inhabitants, its many various tentacles reaching into the community to sow both paranoia and complicity. The cult-like nature of The Store’s employees, the manager’s fervent dedication to the retail outlet, and the bullying nature of a mega-wealthy retail giant and its corporate lobbying against a small-town local government are all disquietingly familiar. Although some of these horrors operate on a metaphorical level, they still resound a little too close for comfort.
Despite some scenes of violence and one unsettling and graphic sex scene, The Store is a work of quiet horror, and Little ensnares readers with a heavy, dark atmosphere and a highly unsettling tone exacerbated by small-town politics and plenty of personal conflicts. David Stifel excels at narrating Little’s writing, luring listeners in with his friendly, relatable tone, even as a sense of creeping dread mounts. He has a quiet approach that works perfectly in tandem with the material he is reading, giving the listening experience a personable intimacy. As a combined force, Little and Stifel certainly sank their hooks in deep for me, and I was appropriately wowed by both.
The Store was my first experience with Bentley Little’s work, and while it’s not entirely perfect (although I found it to be a little too long, I wish a bit more focus had been paid on fleshing out some of the supernatural elements) it was certainly highly satisfying. Little is now an author whose work I’ll be checking out more of in the future.