There is a vulgar beauty, a luscious insanity, an offensive attraction in the work of Hal Bennett, that reeks of a certain time and place and mindsets, hopefully now buried, mindsets strange and weird beyond all knowing, that Bennett in prose vital, and with vision that appalls you to the point of almost shutting the book in disgust in one sentence, before being waylay-ed by the next sentence which drags to your utter surprise, sounds very much like cackling laughter from your unprepared lips.
It is the work of a master satirist, working from levels on high… and down below. Hal Bennett is a writer… to read. Cautiously, fearfully, and uncomfortably, but ultimately very additively, humanistically. He’s not one of these writers tossing shock and absurdity and offensiveness for its own sake, Bennett is a true writer, he wants to tell you a tale, that might your dark unspin. Unlike some writers who all they want to do is revel in darkness, put offal on the page and rub your nose in it (such as the work of Jack Ketchum, and writers of his ilk, that I have no use, or patience for. I think it is the literary equivalent of a snuff film, that finds a real life victim of atrocity, and victimizes them again in detail and with fervor to make money, it debases, dehumanizes both reader and read) the fiction of Hal Bennett aims higher than that, using the vulgar to tell us something visionary.
It is not just drama, and not just horror, and not just fantasy, and not just satire, and not just scifi, and yet there are elements of all of that in the criminally under-read fiction of Hal Bennett. Hal Bennett is a genre onto himself.
Case in point, our short story of the day:
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HENRY OATES from the collection INSANITY RUNS IN OUR FAMILY
“There were many things he loved– large women’s asses, the smell of chitterlings and red beans cooking on a winter morning, the onslaught of good whiskey on his groin that sent it thumping like a triphammer before the effect subsided; but what he hated more than anything else in the world was machines. Aside from the fact they were ugly and loveless, they were as prolific as rabbits, one machine spawning another in far less time than it takes to make a Black baby. Since Henry Oates had no children of his own, at least none he knew about, he felt surrounded by machinery that seemed bent on destroying him. Not just automation, but by the machinations of government and society as well. Sometimes he felt like a man standing on the last edge of an island that is being chewed away by steel-tipped waves.”
That’s a great paragraph, that using an unlikely pov character offers, in scant words, insights that resonates with the high and low. That’s the ability of Bennett, to tell a simple, intimate story, with characters you seemingly have nothing in common with, and yet show you the common and sometimes uncommon hopes and fears and desires that bind us all.
The work of Hal Bennett, particularly INSANITY RUNS IN OUR FAMILY, deserves to be rediscovered and widely printed, rather than relegated to the out of print pile. If ever an author deserved the lavish attentions of a specialty press, and nicely printed tomes, ala Ligotti, it’s Hal Bennett.
Seek him out.