Bedbugs Paperback – 5 Oct 2011
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this novel feels both modern and yet surprisingly retro at the same time. Bedbugs is a very enjoyable helping of old school psychological horror. It's a quick read (250-ish pages) and so much better than you may think from casual appraisal. It's a book that is as much about relationships and trust as it is about bloodsucking bugs. But do beware when reading this, you may find yourself scratching every now and then... --Kamvision, Sept, 2011
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 ...The Eloquent Page, October, 2011...Ben H. Winters very slowly builds the tension until things really kick off at the end. I was reminded of Rosemary s baby crossed with a more standard thriller. I was surprised how much I liked it. The book is simply but well written. It is also fairly well-paced but I did feel that the ending, while satisfying, seemed as if too many things kicked off at once. It gets very intense very quick but I suppose that could be the point. This was a minor gripe though, as it was an exciting and surprising ending that I didn t see coming. The characters are well rounded although it was here I had my only real problem with Bedbugs. I found the main character Susan a bit too neurotic and paranoid from the start. Curiously, once she starts getting bitten and her paranoia is justified I found myself warming to her. So it isn t that much of a problem as my empathy was there by the time the final scenes started to escalate. Ben H. Winter s Bedbugs is enjoyable and well written. It s a quick read, with some genuinely chilling moments and tension ...Sci-fi Ward....Mr. Winters does a fantastic job of expounding on the public paranoia (especially in New York). The setting, especially the borough of Brooklyn, is rendered perfectly in the book, too, from the hipster coffee shops to the trendy, yuppie young families so populous in Brooklyn Heights...The Book Smugglers, October, 2011....Bedbugs is a gothic novel (among Winters previous work is the novel Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters ) convincingly moved to our time and our neighborhood. It has a refreshingly modern take and while I can t give away the outcome the story had me in its pincers start to finish...Brooklyn Bugle, Sept, 2011....The book is a lot of fun and a great fall read for when you re bundled under a pile of blankets that may or may not be full of creepy-crawlies. The uneven start leads to a pretty crackling finale; just stock up on calamine lotion before you start flipping pages. . --Den of Geek, October, 2011
About the Author
Ben H. Winters is the author of the New York Times bestseller SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS (Quirk 2009). More recently, he published the critically acclaimed YA novel THE SECRET LIFE OF MS. FINKLEMAN (HarperCollins, 2010). He spent ten years living in Brooklyn before a battle with bedbugs sent him scurrying off to Boston. Website: benhwinters.com Twitter: twitter.com/ben.h.winters Facebook: Ben Winters.
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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.Read more ›
The writing is also a lot better than I was expecting (I know, I know I shouldn't pre-judge...) The slow build up of events is well timed, the relationship between the central characters totally believable - although the husband is very forgiving - there's some good dialogue, and the appropriately used internal monologue of the central character is excellent. Susan, is not the easiest person to like, she's neurotic and selfish at best, and in fact she got on my nerves a great deal of the time, but she's very engaging (which is the only thing that matters in a novel, in my opinion) and her descent into increasing paranoia - if that's what it is - is deftly handled.
Aside from Susan, her husband Alex, and daughter Emma, the other characters in the book are used largely to keep the reader guessing about the true nature of 56 Cranberry, the apartment that becomes the source of the family's nightmare. There is the overly friendly old lady who owns the apartment, the strange elderly caretaker and the feckless nanny. There is also the mystery of what happened to the previous occupants. Finally, of course, there is a rather large amount of little bloodsuckers...
The bugs, whether real or imagined by Susan, are used in a very interesting way in this novel.Read more ›
BEDBUGS is another of those Scary Old House stories. Here, the yuppie WASP couple of Susan and Alex Wendt, along with their adorable (of course) two-year old daughter, Emma, move into a Brooklyn Heights brownstone - built in 1864 - being rented by Andrea, a seventy-something grandmother-type. I'm surprised the author, Ben Winters, didn't have the landlady baking cookies for her new tenants.
In any case, as usually happens with such tales, the tension starts off slowly - here, a faint, nasty odor in a closed off room - and builds to a crescendo. I mean, what's with that minute gap between two floorboards that seems to be slowly widening as if something is trying to get out? Perhaps it's time to nail down some lino.
Accepting its lack of originality without too much prejudice and laying aside the nagging question of why (just) Susan is targeted, BEDBUGS is actually a pretty good story wherein the horror and "yuck" factor build at just the right tempo. It is, for the most part, a tense psychological thriller with an ending that may compel you to stock-up with calamine lotion and pyrethroids at your local, warehouse super-store. And it's the perfect novel to be reading in bed late at night when your attention is diverted by the feel of something crawling up your leg.
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Most of the strange activity in the apartment seems to be centered in a small "bonus" room that Susan uses as an art studio. The sole artwork she produces is a portrait of one of the previous tenants, people she only knows only from a photograph she found. These tenants were a couple who, according to the elderly landlady, vanished without paying their rent. The landlady, who lives downstairs, is accommodating and friendly. The almost equally elderly "handyman" is by turns kindly, threatening, and a bit dull; although he tells Susan he retired as assistant principal at a local school.
Susan comes to believe that the apartment is infested with bedbugs and that she has been bitten. Her husband and her daughter do not see or experience anything. Even when the highly recommended, and slightly oddball, exterminator finds nothing after an extensive examination, Susan continues to insist that the bugs are there. (I need to note somewhere, and it might as well be here, that I didn't find Susan to be an especially sympathetic character, even before her alarming personality change.) The bedbug obsession grows and Susan's grip on reality loosens until the ultimate confrontation with evil near the end of the book.
The first half of this novel was a real page turner, with great atmosphere. Somewhere around the middle, the wheels started to come off. It's hard to explain why I think so, but I just didn't enjoy the second half nearly as much. It seemed forced. Also, in a novel like this, I would expect to be left guessing at the end as to what was real and what was imaginary, or supernatural. This one spelled most of it out. When the mystery was revealed, it rang false to me. I can't explain why without massive spoilers, and I'm not sure I could articulate it anyway.
So, not a terrible book. The author definitely can write. It's a moderately short book (I finished it in an afternoon) and worth a read.
The Wendts, Alex and Susan, find the perfect brownstone in Brooklyn from a Craigslist ad. It's owned by a somewhat charming elderly landlady named Andrea who takes a liking to them. The couple decide to move into the home where their toddler Emma will finally have a room of her own. Alex is a photographer who owns a business, and his wife, Susan is an artist. She plans on painting in the small well-lit bonus room. Things are exceptionally great at first. They have a sitter who watches Emma during the day and Susan runs errands and fixes up the place while Alex works and helps out the best he can at home and the family enjoys the idyllic location which is close to shopping and historical New York landmarks.
There is also talk of bedbugs. People seem to dread the unwanted insects and they are a horror to get out of the house. Rumor has it that hotels have closed for fumigation and people have moved to rid themselves of the pests. Extermination can work, but sometimes, the bedbugs come back. Susan learns more about the dreaded infestations on the internet when she suspects that she has been bitten. She believes the culprit is a bedbug, and things begin to go a little off kilter.
A recommended exterminator gives the place a clean bill of health, but it doesn't help Susan's fears. She becomes consumed with the thought of bugs, and she starts to have horrible dreams. Also mysterious is the couple who used to own the apartment who left without paying their last month's rent. Susan finds a mysterious picture of the couple stashed away in a window sil. The handyman, Louis, tells her about them.
This is a fun read. You'll probably stay up late, if you dare, into the night because you won't be able to put it down. It will be a great book to read when the chilly weather of Autumn rolls in. This book is smooth, polished, and very well done. It's a creepy escape that you're going to love.
The story is set against a backdrop of a New York City in the grip of a serious bedbug problem. That would be the real New York City, by the way. Here in Cincinnati, Ohio, we have the dubious honor of being the "bedbug capital of the US", and so I know only too well what it's like seemingly never to go a day without hearing or reading some story about how the situation is getting worse, how the hotels, the libraries, the schools, have become breeding grounds and hideouts for the disgusting, blood-sucking little parasites. It's enough to make even the most well-balanced person a little bit paranoid.
Thing is, this book's central character, Susan, shows signs right from the beginning of maybe being a little unbalanced and paranoid, as well as not an especially easy character to like. She's introduced as a former lawyer who gave up working eighteen months prior to the start of the story in order to "concentrate on her art", employing the services of a nanny six hours a day to look after her daughter while she paints, although she hasn't actually got around to doing any painting yet. Susan seems to pretty much loathe the nanny, a pleasant, easygoing graduate student whose character she makes plenty of unpleasant and unsubstantiated judgements about. At one point Susan arrives home from one of her forays into the neighborhood to find Emma bawling inconsolably because of the traumatic experience of having an old black man speak to her. Susan, rational human being that she is, is furious with the nanny for allowing her charge to be put in such mortal peril, and sends her home for the day in disgrace, chalking this incident up among the poor girl's many other "offenses". She is also constantly anxious that her husband, Alex, is secretly angry with and resentful of her for giving up work only to become a slacker when she has the luxury of being able to paint full-time. Alex himself is a photographer and Susan recognizes that he would love the opportunity to go back to taking "real" photos, were it not for the wife and daughter he has to support singlehandedly in their expensive new digs. It seems Alex is worried about the couple's finances, so what does Susan do? Oh yeah, she throws in his face that if the worst comes to the worst she can be working and earning three times what he is by the following week. Nice, huh?
OK, so I think we've established that Susan isn't a character I felt any great warmth towards, and also that she may be a little on the hysterical and flaky side. But that's half the point, I think. Within days of moving into their new Brooklyn brownstone, the Wendts start to suspect they may have a bedbug problem. But do they? Or is it something more? The story starts to get progressively darker and weirder as it shifts from an ordinary enough tale of family tribulations to something more sinister by far, but the reader is left wondering what's real, what's not real, and what's an exaggeration on the part of the neurotic Susan, whose sanity seems to be unravelling further with every page turn.
There's not really much more that I can say without venturing into spoiler territory, so I will wrap it up here, but I'll finish by saying that this is a very well-written and well-paced book, with a creeping sense of unease that gradually builds into outright horror. I pretty much read the entire thing in bed last night between the hours of midnight and 6am, night owl that I am. In retrospect, I would definitely advise against this approach, as if there is one place you do NOT want to read this book, it is in your bed. Now excuse me while I just go burn all my sheets. I may just have to sleep on the couch tonight.
This young woman convinces her husband that they need to make a move to another apt at the very time his business is struggling and they can't afford it. Then she slowly is convinced they made a horrible mistake, but move again? When they couldn't afford the first move? It puts her in an "I'm trapped here" situation. Some of the action is predictable. So if this review sounds like I'm undecided on whether I liked this or not, I'll say this. It's not great fiction, but it's good enough to read in bed on a stormy night and keep your interest. Especially if one of your major creepy phobias is any kind of creepy crawlers and creepy landladies.