I am the type of person who loves the beginning of horror films. You know, the first few minutes when you meet the characters who have seemingly perfect lives and everybody is happy. Ben Winters starts his novel similarly by introducing Susan and Alex Wendt and their daughter Emma as they take their first look at the perfect New York brownstone apartment for their little family. Maybe its just the ominous title that set the tone in my head, but even the fairytale beginning seems to have a very creepy undertone.
Winters sets a pace that accelerates slowly from the time the couple settles in to their dream apartment until Susan finds the first, small drop of blood on her pillow. As the bedbug illustrations multiply by the masses, Susan’s paranoia kicks in to high gear as she is finding her body and belongings bitten and bruised from what seems to be a bedbug infestation. Of course this seems like a real possibility as Susan hears stories of New York City’s (real life) bedbug problems. The only problem is, the landlord and handyman can’t find anything. What began as one drop of blood, then a few bites, then a painting canvas resembling swiss cheese turns in to full-blown hysteria as you witness Susan’s psyche deteriorate.
…sorry, I was just itching my skin for no apparent reason just thinking about it!
While the story only has a few characters, it is Winters ability to give the reader a very detailed insight into the minds of these characters that helps build suspense and create very vivid imagery in the minds of readers. Despite the fact that I often had a hard time relating to Susan, the struggling artist who never painted and just spent money all day, I found the characters to be likable. I appreciated the fact that there were no lulls in the story line and it read like the frenzied movements of an infestation of bedbugs.
I would not recommend this novel to anybody who loves the horror story beginning, but does not care to step into the darker side of life. Winters has created a wildly unique story that stimulates one’s most uncomfortable senses, and offers readers more than just a gross out subject matter. It is a suspenseful mystery novel that uses human fear as a vehicle to evoke empathy from its readers.
No spoilers here…but just as bedbugs like to hide out under mattresses just out of sight, there is also something else lurking just below the surface of this likable couple who lives in the “perfect” brownstone.
4 out 5 Stars