Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters
Susan and Alex Wendt are the prefect couple in search of the perfect brownstone – and they find their dream house in the heart of Brooklyn Heights. Sure, the landlady is eccentric, and the handyman drops cryptic remarks about the previous tenants. But the rent is so low; it’s too good to pass up.
Big mistake: Susan soon discovers the brownstone is crawling with bedbugs – or is it? She awakens every morning with fresh bites, but neither Alex nor their daughter Emma has a single welt. An exterminator searches the property and turns up nothing. The landlady insists the 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.
On the face of it Susan and Alex have it all. He is a professional photographer with good prospects; she is an ex-lawyer who has given up her career to focus on her passion for painting. They have a toddler called Emma and are blissfully happy with their lot in life. The only fly in the ointment is that their current residence is just a little bit to small for them all to comfortably live in. Susan happens upon a listing for potential new home on the Internet and after a cursory visit, they decide to take a chance and move straight in. Everything seems fine at first but over the following weeks Susan becomes convinced that the new property has an infestation of bedbugs.
The horror that you’ll find in Bedbugs builds at a very slow, gradual pace. Is Susan imagining the whole thing? Is she losing her mind? This story is firmly focused on the torment of a single person. The intimacy in the narrative is the novel’s strongest feature. The reader is present with Susan every step of the way and gets a grandstand view of her as she starts to come apart at the seams. As Susan becomes more and more anxious about the situation her fragile mental state starts to affect her relationship with Alex and everyone else around her.
I particularly enjoyed the internal conversations Susan has with herself, the rational and irrational coming together and battling it out in her head. Ben Winters has a great eye for detail and a good ear for dialogue. The whole of the Wendt family seem very real. Alex, Susan and Emma could be any young upwardly mobile family in New York. Their interactions are believable and very natural.
I was reminded of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. Susan’s escalating doubts over the state of her sanity, and everyone’s initial indifference to her plight has a classic feel. I think it also helps that there is something marvelously creepy about insects. As the novel heads towards its climax, there are enough unpleasant situations that will make the most stout of heart exclaim ‘Ick’ or ‘Arghhh’ out loud.
Bedbugs is only around two hundred and fifty pages long and I think it is safe to say this falls into the quick read category. If you enjoy psychological horror that you can rattle through in a couple of easy sittings this would be a good choice.
I have a confession to make. While reading this book I did find myself feeling a little bit itchier than normal. I assume that this is normal? I defy anyone to not feel the same.
Bedbugs by Ben Winters is published in the UK by Quirk Books 0n 6th September 2011.