In THE STORE by Bentley Little, a Walmart-type giant store comes to a small Arizona town, promising huge economic gains. At first, the citizens of Juniper are dazzled at the amazing array of products on the shelves offered at discount prices. Then the giant retailer begins to suck the life out of the town like a giant parasite, killing local businesses and soon after the local government with lack of revenue and commitment to expensive concessions. Little’s a great writer and the story flows along, focusing on one man who fights back to protect his family and try to save his community.
The basic plot suggests a social realism novel about the proven costs and benefits large discount retailing has on small communities, and it delivers on this. But Little goes much farther than that into something that reads like both satire and a cautionary tale. The giant retailer, The Store, takes over the town government, issues its own laws, builds a bizarre cult of personality among its employees around the corporation’s founder, sells unsafe and bizarre products, hires sadistic managers, violates privacy, humiliates its workforce, forces people into debt with dire consequences for default, and many other horrible acts.
But this is a horror novel, and the extremes to which The Store goes to control all aspects of life in the town, the sadism of its top managers, the Night Managers, the ritual humiliation of the employees, the evil at the core of the corporation and its founder, and the understanding that the Store is spreading everywhere around the country, puts it squarely in horror territory.
Good horror titillates but occasionally makes you think, and THE STORE accomplishes that. But the horror elements are purely seasoning for its social realism and satirical goals. For this reader, THE STORE is primarily a dystopic vision of corporate power run amok.
I was far more horrified by how easily the town surrendered everything it treasured for a wider selection of products at lower prices. I consider myself a citizen first, a worker second, and a consumer third. As a citizen, I want just laws and maximum liberty. As a worker, I want to sell my labor without being exploited. As a consumer, I want access to things I want at a reasonable cost. I sometimes feel like America’s greatest weakness is we’ve become a nation of consumers, with severe consequences. THE STORE embodies these fears, taking them into the realm of horror.