A good Halloween read: Bedbugs

Bedbugs will draw you in with psychological terror …

Clean and taut with soul-baring inner monologues, as well as more everyday glimpses into the ho-hum life of a stay-at-home mom/frustrated aspiring artist, Winters delivers prose that delicately piles on the novel's mounting intensity, using both light humor and doom. His cleverly candid style feels almost too intimate as he draws parallels between the pricks of the bedbugs and Susan's nagging insecurities about her marriage and identity.

We first get to know the Wendts when they are on the hunt for elusive affordable but comfy home in the Big Apple. When they find their dream apartment, they are willing to overlook the the strange quirks of their new household and eccentric landlady, Andrea .

Susan realizes that the spacious and charming home in Brooklyn was indeed too good to be true; it's crawling with bedbugs, but no one believes her. 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. Andrea is of no help, and Susan fears she’s going insane — until a more sinister explanation presents itself.

For the first two thirds of the novel, the new domestic situation gradually gets out of hand. Some mysterious figures from the house's past and peripheral characters add intriguing side notes but unfortunately get short shrift. In the end, Susan's struggle with her infestation and its attendant psycho-trauma are the selling point of Bedbugs.

I can't emphasize enough the comparisons to Rosemary's Baby (and since I've read this, the similarities have been brought up ad nauseam in reviews); but though its reminiscences are unyielding — considering its frail but fierce Farrow-like heroine, Susan; its gaudily dressed and loopy landlady a la Ruth Gordon and oblivious, handsome hubby with semblances to John Cassavetes — once Bedbugs reaches its gross-out climax, the plot becomes more viscerally scary and literal with less subtlety than the 1968 Roman Polanski classic. My preference is a less overt and unspoken sort of fear factor, but Bedbugs captivated with a better-than-average horror story.

Pesky flaws aside, Bedbugs gets under our skin with the best of old-fashioned horror and newfangled gore.


Rosemary's Baby is one of my favorite horror films of all time because of its brilliantly rendered and seething buildup of anxiety and paranoia.

Bedbugs conjures a similar psychological terror — with the added creep factor of demonic insects, which made me itch just reading about them. The book not only plays on our fear of creepy-crawlies, but it brings up the persistent distrust of a woman's mental faculties, as well as that chilling fear of the pervasiveness of evil.

Written by New York Times writer Ben H. Winters, Bedbugs introduces us to Susan and Alex Wendt, a young, yupster NYC family who's attractive, charming, witty and nearly perfect; too unconventional to be suburbanites but too stable to live on the fringe. Winters familiarizes us with his characters lovingly with nuance.

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