Posts Tagged ‘off-kilter’

Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters

October 31, 2012

Bedbugs CoverTitle: Bedbugs

Author: Winters, Ben H.

Publication Date: 2011

Pages: 256

Geographical Setting: New York City

Time Period: Present Day

Genre: Horror Stories, Suspense Stories

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: When Alex, Susan, and little Emma Wendt move into a New York City brownstone boasting a prime location and an amazingly cheap rent, they happily embark on a new chapter of their lives.  Sure, the landlady may be slightly eccentric, and the previous tenants may have disappeared inexplicably, but these are small grievances compared to the perfection of the place.  Until the bedbugs show up, those notoriously hardy pests swarming ever-increasingly across the city.  When an exterminator finds no trace of the insects, Susan’s sanity shows signs of cracking.  Where are these bugs?  Why aren’t Alex and Emma being bitten, and what exactly is in the basement?  Winters’ story preys on our collective fear of creepy-crawlies delivering a good, old-fashioned horror story wrapped up in a modern-day package.  He draws inspiration from the best conventions of great horror classics: the hopeful beginning, the slightly off-kilter secondary characters, an ominous warning to stay out of the basement, the escalating psychological torture of a progressively unstable narrator, even a portentous portrait a la Dorian Gray.  This fast-paced novel will keep the pages turning until the chilling and twisted end; it will keep the lights on much longer than that.

Appeal Characteristics: creepy, menacing, fast-paced, foreboding, paranoid, plot-twist, details of New York City, dark, resolved-ending, off-kilter, manic, unsettling, compelling, plot-driven, suspenseful, movie-like

Subject Headings: New York City, Brooklyn, Bedbugs, Family, Haunted Houses, Secrets, Apartment houses, Paranoia

Three Terms Best Describing this Book: Creepy, Unsettling, Fast-Paced

Similar Fiction: 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This horror classic shares many themes with Bedbugs chief of which is the unstable nature of the narrator’s mind.  Where Winters’ tale is completely resolved, Jackson’s leaves the reader with a little more ambiguity.  Read this as both source material and a genuinely scary story.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Another classic horror story this time featuring the psychological torture of a young woman by neighbors whose eccentricities begin taking on a malevolent tone after Rosemary becomes pregnant.  The similar frame—everyday life slowly replaced by darkness—and paranoid feeling of this novel should appeal to readers who enjoyed Bedbugs.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

For anyone who wants a terrifying read with plenty of turns and surprises set in the modern landscape, look no further.  The menacing bed bugs are replaced here with a menacing—and very real—ghost.  Similar to Winters, though, Hill adds layers of poignant everyday struggles that interweave with the overall fight against the supernatural.

Bonus Watch-alike: The Innkeepers written and directed by Ti West

During the last operating days of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, Claire and Luke, the last remaining employees, are determined to expose the ghosts that haunt the one hundred year old building.  As the final night wears on, Claire’s psyche begins to unravel as the line between reality and imagination begin to blur.  A modern-day ghost story that feels like an homage to its predecessors, the movie finds plenty of common ground with Bedbugs.

Similar Non-fiction:

Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart

This natural history contains not just the story of the bed bug but all manner of creepy and devilish insects.  Stewart proves that bugs don’t have to be supernatural to be scary.

Death Sentence: The True Story of Velma Barfield’s Life, Crimes, and Punishment by Jerry Bledsoe

The horror story staple of sweet, grandmotherly, ladies hiding a menacing secret isn’t just fiction, as proved by this true crime.  An account of the life and murders of the only woman executed in the US between 1962 and 1998, this book will chill readers with accounts of Bledsoe’s crimes as much as it shows redemption by prison.

Songs from the Black Chair: A Memoir of Mental Interiors by Charles Barber

A closely detailed look at mental illness and the real tortures of the psyche from the mouths of the sufferers, this book is part memoir, part investigative science writing.  As a man himself living under the dark shadow of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Barber tells the stories of the insane with balance and respect.

Name: Jessica