After reading Bedbugs you might want to fumigate any apartment you rent. You also might want to call in an exorcist.
Ben H. Winters, who authored the mash-ups Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina, takes on a modern re-working of the classic horror novel Rosemarys Baby and adds other gruesome touches.
Alex and Susan Wendt, with their young daughter Emily, rent a Brooklyn brownstone from its kindly landlady, Andrea Scharfstein. The apartment comes with an extra attraction a secret room that Susan falls in love with, intending on making it her painting room. A part-time nanny takes care of Emily, freeing up Susan to work on her canvases.
Almost immediately the action starts. There are ominous smells and mysterious pings from somewhere in the building.
Finding a picture of a former renter, Susan uses it as a basis for a portrait that suddenly shows signs of bedbug bites bites that werent painted by Susan.
She becomes possessed with the idea that there are bedbugs in her apartment. The Internet, with all its informational bedbug sites and horror stories, compounds her paranoia. Even after noted bedbug eradicator Dr. Dana Kaufmann pronounces the apartment clean, Susan doesnt give up on the idea. Shes obsessed by it.
The quiet horror of Susans delusions of the blood-curling bedbugs is enough to make a readers blood run cold.
They scuttled up her stomach and bit her chest, her shoulders, her neck and face. In the dream she couldnt lift her arms to wipe them away, could only lie helpless as they sank their horrid needle-notes into her undefended flesh stinging pinching biting and then disappearing, skittering back to the air shaft, crawling into the cracks between the glass and the wall.
Most of the time one isnt sure that the bedbugs exist except in Susans over-excited imagination. Then the ceiling falls in and the plot heats up as the bugs chow down. Its a book for the strong-stomached horror reader.
By the end, you may be scanning your bedding every night just in case.
Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters; Quirk Books, Philadelphia (256 pages, $14.95)