Sean McGovern's Reviews > Bedbugs

Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters
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Aug 11, 12

Read in August, 2012

There's a great episode of CBS Radio Mystery Theater (circa 1970) called "The Real Printer's Devil" - where a married couple (plus one child) rent a "too good to be true" apartment turns out to be just that, with one of those dark endings that doesn't feel tacked on, and leaves you feeling equally sad and invigorated.

Now I told you that to tell you this: Internet Bookstore 002 suggested Ben H. Winter's "Bedbug" to be based on a review I wrote of Joe Hill's "Heart Shaped Box" - and when I read the blurb, I could see why. Both "HSB" and "Bedbugs" both have plots that sound laughable - in the case of "Bedbugs," in an insect invasion with a "Yellow Wallpaper" or "Turn of the Screw" type twist - only the protagonist *knows* that the weird happenings are really happening. And like all the great "beautiful, happy people lose their shit" type horror, all of the elements are in play: Slightly strained marriage,cute kid, and a "too good to be true" element that has just been introduced that can only make their lives better.

As Susan (protg.) and Alex (dorky-yet-vaguely threatening husband) move into their net brownstone apartment in Brooklyn Heights, Susan begins to get attacked by the following - general anxiety, fears that her husband is being unfaithful, the smell of urine, fears that her life is a lie, and the title monsters that only she can see/feel so let's add mental state to the list and be done.

Ok. That's pretty much it - because none of these things (save the last one, of course) go anywhere. There's no growing sense of paranoia or even just the mounting dread that the whole world may be arrayed against Susan - the distant tone of the writing has the effect of making you think that everyone is just "annoyed" - which ended up having the same effect of me. I knew the terror should be mounting, I kept thinking "I should be scared. I should be freaked out." But Susan only really takes action against the bedbugs - everything else is just "Oh, my husband might be cheating on me and it's causing me to have psychotic episodes, dum-de-dum" - she doesn't investigate ANYTHING that is supposed to be making her weaker, more frayed at the edges, more open to the "thrilling" climax of the book.

That smell of urine, the first major "something is very wrong here" moment? Never mentioned again.

Her husband's possible trysting with the nanny? Susan only worries about it when she interacts with the nanny.

Oh, sure, she can whine about how she feels like her life is going nowhere - but she does nothing to correct its course, nothing to make you root for her. She's already a corpse, just one that's walking around. I couldn't even get the thrill of rooting for the bedbugs after -------------'s Bond Villain Speech, because I had guessed the who, the why and the how after reading 50 pages and the back blurb. And there was nothing to make me forget my "Huh-it's X" guess through out, no grip, nothing.

Honestly, go to the iTunes podcast page and give a listen to "The Real Printer's Devil" - at least it's enjoyable cheese.
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