Review: Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters

Published by Quirk Publishing
Released September 6, 2011
256 pages
Where I got it: ARC received from publisher at BEA
Rating: 2 stars

Susan is dying to move into a bigger place in Brooklyn, but doesn’t know if she and her husband will be able to afford it since she’s recently quit her lawyer job to take up painting. Then, the perfect apartment becomes available, and with such a low price, they move in immediately. Everything seems wonderful, except for the room Susan has chosen to be her studio. As her concerns with the apartment grow, so does the strain on their relationship and domestic situation. And Susan is also waking up with mysterious bites. Bedbugs are running rampant, but it seems that she is the only one who can see them or is getting bitten. Susan is left to question whether they are really bedbugs, or something more demonic.

I wanted to like this book. It had all the trappings of a fun psychological thriller, with dark tones and was capitalizing on a recent American fear. Who hasn’t heard the sensationalist stories of bed bugs in New York hotels? Plus, many people are very afraid of insects, so the thought of tiny creepy crawlies can result in the kind of book you don’t want to read at night.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting through it. The main character, Susan, was really annoying to me. She’s always complaining about something, yet she doesn’t work and doesn’t ever paint, even though they’re paying a nanny to watch her daughter during the day to free her up for making her art. And even though they’re struggling to make ends meet on her husband’s salary, she’s constantly going out to eat and even goes to the salon for a manicure, pedicure, and wax. I just kept feeling like this is an example of what is wrong with America. The book would have worked much better for me if she would have been a person I could root for, instead of against.

There was also repeated mention of something that happened at the beginning of the book (not a spoiler). She notes that a mother pushed her twin babies off of a rooftop, killing them.  I kept expecting the story to cycle back to this, to tie it in in some way, but it didn’t. It was just there, maybe meant to flavor the novel?  I couldn’t tell, but it irked me that it never was worked into the larger plot.

Things got better about 2/3 of the way through. It seemed that the book was really going to go the psychological route, which pleased me greatly. The tension increased, and Susan began having “issues.” Then, the entire spirit of the book did a big 180. I don’t know why he did it, but the bedbugs ended up being something entirely different than the story was working them up to be, and it didn’t work for me. The ending left me feeling absolutely incredulous, and very unhappy that I had invested so much time for such a poor payout.

I think this book will find its audience, but that audience was not me. I also think that Winters writes well, and the idea for the story was really good. It came down to characterization and ending for me, which bummed me out. Still, there were some nice moments of creepiness, and I felt itchy when going to sleep after putting the book down.

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2 Responses to Review: Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters

  1. Infanticide seems like kind of a big deal to gloss over, lol. Geez. This is the second time I’ve seen this book around, and it really doesn’t capture my interest.

    And I’m not a fan of creepy-crawlies. :P

  2. I don’t think I would enjoy this book either. I’m not a fan of insects, and it sounds like it was lacking key elements. If the main character is annoying, I would have a hard time enjoying the book as well.

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