Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters
Synopsis From Back Cover:
For Rent: Top two floors of beautifully renovated brownstone, 1300 sq. ft., 2BR 2BA, eat-in kitchen, one block to parks and playgrounds. No broker's fee.
Susan and Alex Wendt have found their dream apartment.
Sure, the landlady is a little eccentric. And the elderly handyman drops cryptic remarks about the basement. But the rent is so low, it's too good to pass up.
Big mistake. Susan soon discovers that her new home is crawling with bedbugs...or is it? She awakens every morning with fresh bits, but neither Alex nor their daughter Emma has a single welt. An exterminator searches the property and turns up nothing. The landlady insists her building is clean. Susan fears she's going mad - until a more sinister explanation presents itself: she may literally be confronting the bedbug problem from Hell.
Normally I love to read horror books once the weather starts to get a little chillier. There is something about having that nip in the air and the shorter days that makes me want to curl up on the couch, with as little light as possible, and delve into something that will scare the hell out of me. Sadly, due to time constraints, I had to read this one when it was over 100 degrees outside and not getting dark until after nine o'clock. For once, that didn't bother me, I was still able to forget about my surroundings and get so lost in the story, that I would be checking my pillows for any scurrying creatures before I would set my head down for bed.
I'm addicted to a lot of the horror novels written in the 60s and 70s, and this one has that retro vibe for me. Two of my favorites, Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin and The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz, even start off the same way. Young couple/single woman moves into a new apartment and everything seems to being going right at first. Of course there are always subtle hints that not everything is as it should be. Eccentric neighbors always seem to be around, strange occurrences that only happens to one of them (normally the woman), and a miasma that seemed to hang in the air, slowly suffocating the inhabitants of the apartment.
This book had all of that and so much more going for it. The author had an almost supernatural ability to balance the home life of the Wendt's with the growing sense of apprehension. A lot of horror books I've read will sacrifice the characters for the story. Thankfully Bedbugs isn't one of them. A story that asks the reader to believe in something so personal as a malignant presence that attacks you in the bed, has to have characters that you not only believe, but care about it. As a reader, you have to be able to relate to them. Susan, Alex, and Emma are fully functional, 4D characters that were a treat to know.
The horror was built slowly, it worked it's way towards a simmer, and then boiled over in such a way that the sheer violence of the climax left me holding my breath and gasping for proverbial air. I was horrified, and thrilled by the conclusion even though I saw it coming a mile away. A good horror book doesn't have to throw out an ending that comes out of left field. A good horror novel will allow the reader to figure out the ending, but still horrify them in the end. It's needs to be believable no matter how outlandish the plot points. It's hard to write a credible story that will leave a reader altering their bedtime habits. Bedbugs not only pulls it off, but it pulls it off in such a way that you won't know what hit you until you are going to bed the night after and you are still checking for telltale signs of an infestation.