Owlcat’s CBR V Review #26 of Paradise City by Archer Mayor

Although this is, I believe, Archer Mayor’s 22nd novel, I confess to never having read any of his books prior to this, even though he is a semi-local author (out of Vermont) and has even had book signings here in Greenfield, Mass.  I decided, however, to read this book based entirely on the title, Paradise City, which is the “nickname” for Northampton, Mass., and I knew I’d likely be able to relate to the localities in the book.  That turned out to be both a good idea for me and not-so-good because I did, indeed recognize many of the sites within the book, including parts of Northampton, Brattleboro, Vermont, Boston, and even a brief description in Greenfield.  This was unfortunately a distraction for me as I read (my fault, not his) but nevertheless, I did continue reading and for the most part enjoyed the mystery and characters and plot despite the distractions.

Joe Gunther is the main character, a member of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, which gets invited to assist other local authorities when they are unable or unwilling to deal with crimes within their jurisdictions.  In this case, there are major burglaries throughout Vermont that have stymied local police departments and eventually seem connected to a major home burglary in Boston where an elderly woman’s antique jewelry is stolen and she is beaten so badly that she succumbs to her injuries.  Gunther begins working with the Boston police because of the suspected connection with the Vermont burglaries, and he and the Boston police try working with the old woman’s niece to piece together some of the possibilities for her being the target. The niece is not happy with their pursuit, however, believing they are minimizing her elderly aunt’s situation and begins her own attempt to uncover facts and follow them.

They all end up in Northampton, Mass., “Paradise City,” where they believe the jewelry is being fenced. She endangers her own life by being too obvious when she’s asking various jewelers and artisans questions, and Gunther and the Northampton Police attempt to rein her in.  Gunther has a history that’s alluded to of having lost the love of his life violently (several books back) and is uncomfortable with this woman putting her own life in jeopardy.  He wants to convince her to stop and she placates him but continues with her own research and pursuit nevertheless, which ultimately jeopardizes not only her own life but that of Gunther’s irascible partner who himself is just beginning to develop a new approach to life with a wife and child. This all comes to a climax at the end of the novel and though somewhat contrived, it nevertheless “works.”

My only complaint in the ending is that it’s almost too sudden;  whereas the bulk of the novel involves well-developed characters and a meandering plot that sometimes is a bit too convoluted but plausible, although also at times a little difficulty to follow, the ending is achieved in just a few pages and the tension does not develop the way the rest of the novel would have led the reader to believe it would.  There are a few too many “connect-the-dot” situations and coincidences that the characters’ dialogues reveal, rather than just letting the plot continue to meander slowly toward the end.

Within this novel, too, is the secondary storyline of smuggled immigrants, whom the fencers are using to redesign the stolen jewelry, and that storyline is interesting, albeit a bit of a distraction, too, as Mayor develops one of the immigrant characters a bit more, perhaps, than she needed to be.  It was an interesting aside to have her developed but not necessary to the story;  a more generalized description of the smugglers and their captives would have sufficed.

I did find most of the characters, especially Joe Gunther, as very believable, as well as the other law enforcement officials and the private investigator in Northampton who was skeptical about dealing with someone on her “turf.”  I did wonder as I read the story if some of the artisans and jewelers described were based on real people since the descriptions of Northampton locations were so clear! The interwoven plot made me think, too, that this is probably what “real” crime looks like, with misleading evidence and apparent luck as much as anything working against and/or in favor of the investigators.  One word here, one person there.  Mayor was quite masterful at developing those kinds of realities.

I guess I would recommend this book based on an entertaining mystery.  I might try another of his books that maybe would be less distracting for me;  it was too easy to get caught up in, where is that exactly? or, oh, I know that’s Bill’s Restaurant, etc. Next time, I would choose one of his very early ones – though this book did make me realize that although it’s a part of a series, like any good series, it does not really require that I have read any of the earlier ones.  Past references are alluded to enough so the reader gets the gist of why someone is the way they are but without distracting details, and that was very helpful.  I would be curious to see how a non-local person responds to this book.

Owlcat’s CBR V Review #25: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I waited a very long time for this newest novel by Amy Tan.  I have never been disappointed in her books before but I found myself dissatisfied with The Valley of Amazement, despite her very well developed characters and the various story lines.  The latter is part of the reason for this disappointment, as the novel is about three generations of Chinese-American women and their relationships;  like most of Tan’s books, the focus is on the mother-child relationship and the secrets each possess.

The first half of the book centers around the main character, Violet, who is the daughter of turn-of-the-century (early 1900s) Shanghai’s most well-known and respected courtesan.  We meet her as a very young child who is intrigued by the men who come to her mother’s establishment but who begins to suspect, and she becomes aware through some of her mother’s elite customers that she may not be completely American, although her mother has always told her she was.  After the visit of a Chinese artist, Violet begins to suspect he is her father and begins to recognize Chinese characteristics in herself.  She has always suspected that her mother doesn’t really love her and to her, this is verified when her mother learns her son, who was taken from her many years prior, is alive in San Francisco, and she immediately plans to travel there, supposedly with Violet, to find him.  An unscrupulous friend of her mother’s manages to separate the two the day of the passage and her mother sails without her. Violet is then kidnapped by agents of this man and sold to another courtesan establishment to undergo training as a virgin courtesan.

Like her mother before her, after some difficulty adjusting to this life and believing her mother is never going to return to rescue her, she becomes a well-known courtesan. In the meantime, she develops a loving relationship with an American man, and they “marry” (though he is married to someone in the States) and have a daughter, Flora. When her husband dies from the Spanish flu, and her husband’s real wife arrives, she is suddenly homeless and childless as they snatch away her daughter to be raised in a civil society back in New York.  From this point on, the book becomes dark with the terrors of being taken advantage of by a supposed poet, who takes her as his Second Wife and brings her to the village where his family lives. Her life becomes one of desperation and sadness as all she thinks about is escaping and finding Flora.

While she is in this village, we begin getting bits and pieces of her mother’s story, how she was living in San Francisco prior to the turn of the century and had met a Chinese artist and seduced him.  She later followed him back to Shanghai but he was unable to break the Chinese customs and she was abandoned by him and did not prevent his parents from stealing their son from her.  It’s this son she longs for that makes Violet think she doesn’t love her enough, though at the time neither knew about the son’s life in San Francisco.

Eventually, when Violet and her mother reconcile and her mother’s story is told, we learn about Flora’s life through Violet’s mother, who agrees to go to New York and observe to see if she is happy and healthy.  Three lives torn asunder by young peoples’ choices and family decisions based on culture and custom. We learn less about Flora, except that she is very smart, but a sad and unhappy child who was never loved in a conventional way that a parent should love.  She didn’t know the circumstances of her being in New York with her father’s family.

Tan is a fine writer and her characters are very well developed. The culture clashes and descriptions of Shanghai and the village were interesting. However, I felt like this book, even though the abandonment and secrets and mother themes tied it together, wasn’t wrapped well in that thread.  Flora’s situation was just one too many pieces to tie into it and I almost felt she was more of an afterthought, like Tan had decided last minute, we really need to have Violet lose yet one more person so she can share in her mother’s experience.  It wasn’t totally necessary.  It did have the saving grace of making all of Violet’s suffering tenable and gave a nice Hollywood ending to the story in one respect, but it just made the story too long for me and less believable.

The valley in the title is the painting that Violet’s mother had with her that had been painted by her Chinese husband and its presence in the book is a tangible object that connects all of the main characters. I found it a little distracting, except when it symbolized her father’s mediocrity. I’ve seen paintings like that!

I am sorry I cannot recommend the book and others may enjoy it far more than I did.  I would be curious to see others’ reactions to it.  I guess what I felt was that Amy Tan was relying on her reputation and hadn’t really been able to accomplish what she might have set out to do.

Owlcat’s CBR V Review #24 of Marmee & Louisa, the Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Mother by Eve Laplante

NPR thought this was one of the best books of 2012 and as a result, I had been long intending to read it, not only because of their recommendation and high praise, but also because, since my ‘tweens, I had been a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott, totally loving Little Women and Little Men, though not aware then of her other novels, nor her poetry that was mostly addressed to her parents.  Like most people, too, I had been under the assumption that much or most of her influence and encouragement came from her father.

I have to admit, however, that I disagree with NPR and, instead, found this book to be dry and written as if it were someone’s doctorate dissertation.  Laplante is a descendent of Louisa May Alcott and had access to her and her family member’s diaries, the ones that weren’t destroyed by the family as they approached death, and it’s her interpretations of these intimate works as well as historical documents and issues that she uses to establish her premise that LMA’s mother had influenced her more greatly than her father ever did.

She begins the book with a detailed account of her mother’s upbringing and the historic figures and events occurring around her – these followed the American Revolution before and after and life in Boston for the most part. Throughout her own life, the mother was thwarted by society and tradition in terms of education and access to independence and, though clearly an intelligent and creative woman, had great difficulty living under these circumstances.  That time period did not allow a woman to be much more than chattel and to be instead, subservient to her family and later her spouse.

According to Ms. Laplante, Bronson Alcott, LMA’s father, was incapable of viewing his effects on his family that his Utopian philosophies imposed on them.  He tried and failed at numerous conventional jobs as a teacher and when he attempted to establish his own schools;  at first he would do well but as his teachings became more radical, even the more liberal families would take their children out of his schools.  LMA’s mother did much to help with the teaching, supporting him through his various attempts, and eventually even becoming what would be considered a social worker (one of the few positions allowed to a woman) in order to help support the family.  His move to Concord and his establishment of his community there, Fruitlands, resulted in near starvation at times for his family and only through help from friends (including Ralph Waldo Emerson and other renowned philsophers) were they able to cope. Society would pity Mrs. Alcott and the children and would be critical of Bronson because he so often failed and abandoned his family for long tours through the country espousing his philosophy, but society wouldn’t allow Mrs. Alcott to do anything beyond the norm for those times.

Consequently, because she was always the present parent, when she realized LMA’s talents and determination, she seemed to vicariously push her into the direction of writing for a living.  Her health was somewhat fragile over time and LMA also was influenced by this, feeling her father was in many ways responsible for her condition, and it was up to her to help her mother and to give her what she needed to overcome everything she had endured with her father.

We see the early attempts at writing, Louisa’s choices to work in Boston as a governess (which she hated but found necessary to earn money), her brief nursing career during the Civil War, and gradually a sense of the disparity in the social norms that had become even more evident after the war.  In a sense, her mother’s greatest influence was her always sacrificing for her daughter(s) and finding ways to enhance their talents (another sister was an artist who eventually moved to Europe, where social norms were much more lenient), and giving Louisa a sense of permission to override the local norms as times changed.

As time passed, Louisa was afflicted with an apparent autoimmune disease (likely lupus) that would be debilitating at times, and which made writing and caring for her mother, her two great causes, extremely difficult, though she still managed both.  Again, I felt it was more the influence of her mother’s sacrificing everything that required her to do this.

The information in this book is interesting, to say the least.  I particularly enjoyed reading about the early childhood/teen period of her mother but got bogged down by the minute details, particularly around family members, that went beyond explaining Louisa’s mother’s upbringing.  I did learn some things; I hadn’t realized that the family tree on her mother’s side included John Hancock and other well-known Bostonian and colonial persons.  I also hadn’t been aware of the prevalence and importance of ministers within the family on both sides, including her mother’s brother, a prominent Unitarian minister, and that influence on both her mother and herself. Nor was I aware of her autoimmune illness and her stint nursing during the Civil War and the typhus she developed as a result. But again, though interesting, much of the information was not relevant to what I felt was the story being presented and like a dissertation that might lack enough pages, had been added to “pad” the book.  While reading the last few chapters, I began wondering if it would ever end!  I think it could have been half the length it was and we would still have enjoyed the information presented and recognized the connections Laplante was drawing.  I had the sense, too, that she was vilifying Bronson (understandable) but hadn’t enough information to develop the premise that Louisa’s mother was more influential than her father.  This was a very disappointing book, particularly in light of my admiration for Louisa May Alcott.

Owlcat’s CBR V Review #23 of The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna

This novel takes place in rural Northern Ireland near Derry in 1974, with charming, well defined descriptions of the locale and way of life among the characters that contrast with the harsh realities of both the characters’ pasts and present situations.  This is one of the most quiet and poignant novels I have read in a long time, very different in its subject matter and characters. It moves somewhat slowly but in the process, it develops layer after layer of explanation around the characters’ development that makes their reactions to events around them and toward one another more clear than they might otherwise have been.

Jamie McCloone is a small time farmer who has resigned himself to a life of loneliness, but who realizes he wants and needs more to continue living. He has survived to date because he had experienced his uncle Mick’s love and care until his recent death. Now, to cope with both his loss and horrific memories from his childhood before he was adopted by Uncle Mick, he drinks rather heavily and uses Valium prescribed by his local doctor.  His only friends are the ever optimistic and cheerful couple, Rose and Paddy, who live down the road from him, and as much as he appreciates their help and attention, at the same time their life tends to reflect even more what he doesn’t have.  He tries to repress his history and its effects but too often, and particularly now that his benefactor has died, they overwhelm him.

Parallel to his story, we meet Lydia, who is also single and unhappy and lonely.  Although she did not experience the horrendous degradations Jamie experienced, her own childhood was lonely and sad, with no siblings and an oppressive mother and religiously authoritative father who was a minister.  They allowed nothing that might suggest she was her own person, although were willing to accept her becoming a teacher, something that was “respectable.”  After her father’s death, as the obliging, good daughter, she became her demanding and cynical mother’s caretaker and longed for the day when she would be free of this responsibility.

The story itself begins during one of Lydia’s summer breaks from school, when she is reflecting more on how unhappy she is.  Jamie is persuaded by his friends to list himself in the Lonely Hearts section of a local newspaper.  Lydia does the same at the encouragement of her one friend, the local librarian.  This process is addressed both humorously and sensitively by the author and her characters, and I like the course it takes originally, not smooth by any means and definitely realistic.

The most difficult part of this book was reading Jamie’s memories of his early childhood in a brutal Catholic orphanage, where he endured horrendous abuse, physical and sexual, by those who were supposed to be caring for him;  there, he had been known only by a number, 86. Had I not already been aware of Irish institutions such as the Magdalene asylums throughout Ireland (some of which were not closed until the 1990s), I would have thought the descriptions of his life there were dark fantasies from the author’s imaginations.  However, I know they aren’t, and therefore am very appreciative of the fact that she was able to describe his horrific life within the orphanage with enough detail for the reader to empathize and be shocked, but with limited graphic description so that it was bearable – though only just – to read.  His life there, however, accounted for many of his personality traits so was necessary to go into.  The author uses flashbacks, so the memories are not relentlessly long for us to endure, although I did find as I approached each that I was beginning to cringe and wonder how bad this next one would be.

When the two characters finally meet, they encounter a number of obstacles, and the reader begins to think their lives might not be any better for having taken the risks they take. The author, though, has made us so aware of their backgrounds that we understand why things happen and we accept the consequences each time.  The ending, which I will not reveal, is not necessarily a happy Hollywood ending but is satisfactory nevertheless and, in my opinion, the only way it could or should have ended.  Throughout the book, there are a couple of subtle hints, but I only guessed at the ending very near to it and then wasn’t entirely sure.

This is a story of intense loneliness, overcoming the past, developing love and connection, and the alternatives for ending a hopeless existence,  The author has managed to weave an interesting, believable story with humor and empathy and sympathy for her characters.  The Irish culture plays an integral part within the story, too, from that horrific childhood Jamie survived to the music, the social life in a pub, the farm and family traditions.  It was an interesting combination of everything.

I’ve had a difficult time writing this review because I felt the book and its emotions more than being able to put my finger on any one or number of aspects that made it “right.”  I just know that I would recommend it and would hope you feel the way I do after reading it.

(Disclosure:  I am of Irish ancestry and many of the elements within the story resonated with me as a result.  I don’t think, however, that you need have this background to enjoy it.)

Owlcat’s CBR V review #22 of The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

I know there are some who dislike JK Rowling’s decision to discontinue writing Harry Potter books and/or not write other children’s books and, instead, turn her attention to writing the books that these aforementioned books are giving her the opportunity, i.e., in terms of money, to write.  I suspect, after reading this newest novel of hers, these adult books were the ones she was “meant” to write, but then again, I am not a fan of the Harry Potter books, having read only the first one.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a detective mystery set in London.  There are actually two primary characters, a military veteran, Cormoran Strike, who wears a prosthetic leg, who has begun his own detective agency, and a temporary secretary, who has moved to London with her fiance and is in search of a well-paying job but forced to be a temp in the meantime.  The story is frequently told from each of these two characters’ perspectives, although the quirky detective is the prominent character, and they play off one another’s personality well.

Strike is hired by the adoptive brother of Lula Landry, a famous, young model, to disprove her suicide that he is convinced was a murder.  The questions for the detective are whether Lula Landry jumped from her apartment or was pushed and if the latter, who pushed her.  There is a long list of possible perpetrators, although through the story, some become victims themselves and thus are eliminated from his (and our) consideration.  He occasionally takes his secretary with him or has her doing errands once he realizes she is by far the smartest and able temporary secretary he has had and begins to pay her “under the table” to retain her services rather than have her return to the temp agency.  Their relationship never strays from employer/employee until one night when she helps him through a particularly inebriated episode, but even then, it develops into a respectful friendship and doesn’t dissolve into any sexual encounter that a less skillful author may have thought was necessary.

In fact, it’s Rowling’s skill developing her characters that is most impressive.  I like that they are normal people we might meet or see on the street without ever guessing what is beyond their exterior appearance.  She peels away their external protection and we meet complex people among all the characters, not just the primary ones, with all their insecurities and confidence and histories. This goes along with her great descriptions of locations and we see the worlds they are living in and investigating clearly and how they might compare.  There is some humor in the characters, particularly Cormoran, and particularly in his relationship with his ex-girlfriend and with his secretary, but the humor wasn’t contrived and felt very natural, the kind of humor people exhibit around each other.

Although I read this novel knowing who the author was (I’d heard it referred to after someone had disclosed she’d written it using a pseudonym), I quickly forgot it was written by Rowling and instead, was immersed in the stories and characters as presented.  Had I read it thinking the author was one Robert Galbraith, I’d have felt the same way I felt knowing otherwise. So for me, this book clearly had a life of its own and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys detective stories.

 

Owlcat’s CBR V review #21 of The Light In the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors, so I always look forward to reading his newest novel.  Recently, he has occasionally drifted away from the New England locales of most of his novels, for which he has been criticized, although I continued to enjoy his stories like Skeletons At the Feast, with the theme of a defeated Germany in WWII,  and The Sandcastle Girls, with a theme of the Armenian genocide that few Americans know much about.  The latter was particularly good.  Therefore, when I read that The Light in the Ruins was another historically based novel, I did not expect that would be problematic for me.  However, although this was an interesting story and basically well written, somehow the author missed his mark and I came away from it feeling disappointed.

As is typical of many novels these days, there are parallel stories going on, with one story ultimately affecting the other.  In this case, Bohjalian is telling the story of a noble Italian family, the Rosatis, in Tuscany during WWII in 1943/44, who have for many years during the conflict managed to avoid and ignore the worst of it, until the war began turning against the Italian allies, Nazi Germany.  When Germany discards their facade of being allies with Italy and essentially become their occupier, and as a result there is conflict and turmoil within the Rosati family.  Two sons are in the Italian army, Marco in Sicily and Vittore in Florence. The assumption by their family is that they are in “safe” locations. Marco, however, experiences first hand, the Allies’ invasion of Italy and the real horrors of the war.  Vittore convinces himself he is protecting the Italian art world as he works with the Germans and their art thievery. At the villa, called Chimera, the remaining family refuses to recognize the reality of the war that they have so far been able to ignore, living with what they consider some minor inconveniences, and attempting to continue living as much as possible as they always have. They believed the family would be reunited when the war ended and they could resume their prior lives of comfort and wealth.  At the villa are Antonio Rosati, the patriarch of the family, his wife, his son Marco’s wife and two children, and his daughter Cristina.

Gradually, however, the war invades their quiet, “normal” lives. The Germans have intruded on them and neighbors and townspeople are beginning to resent the family’s having German guests at the villa, and become even more suspect when one of them and Cristina begin to fall in love begin to have a relationship. The Germans at the same time, begin to feel nothing but disdain for the family and the villa becomes a distortion of the safe haven it had once been for the family.

This story of the Rosati family is told through chapters that alternate with the story of monstrous murder in 1953 of two family members.  This part of the story is partially narrated by the murderer himself, though the reader has no idea who the murderer is.  I made several guesses and until the end, wasn’t even close.  The other part of this murder mystery focuses on Serafina Bettini, a female homicide detective who had previously been a partisan during the war.  She is badly scarred both physically and emotionally but a good detective, and the Rosati killings result in her own demons resurfacing, so this becomes a story within a story within a story.

As usual, Bohjalian’s characters are well developed, well defined, and each a dichotomy of good and bad.  In other words, they are normal people, if somewhat flawed, dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Even some of the Germans are portrayed with a conscience and conflict within, although some are portrayed as pure evil.  Everyone, including Rosatis themselves, as well as a number of the Germans and even the partisans, are forced by their situations as a result of the war to make choices that are nearly impossible to make.  A good author asks the reader to question themselves as to what they would do in a similar situation, and in this, Bohjalian hits his mark.

Overall, however, I came away from the story tired of the alternating chapters, feeling it was a contrived gimmick, and since the story was told within a 10-year span, don’t think it was a necessary tool to move it along.  A more linear approach would have worked better for me.  I also did not like the murder’s narration, which was generally at the beginning of several of the 1953 chapters;  I found it distracting and not particularly creative. I have noticed a tendency with Bohjalian, too, more recently to focus on the physical horrors within a story to the point that he is beginning to become too graphic and much less subtle than he has been over the years.  Reading this book would make me a little more hesitant to read his next one as a result.  So, I can’t really recommend it and feel badly that I can’t.  I am hoping he returns to his more insightful self-discovery stories and style, which he could still pursue with historical based novels, if those are his choice.  I’m hoping this book was more of an experiment to see what his readers would tolerate and/or enjoy.

Owlcat’s CBR V review #20 of Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters

After reading the first two books in Ben H. Winters’s The Last Policeman trilogy and awaiting the third book, I read the opening chapters of Bedbugs that was offered to readers at the end of the second book.  I was skeptical, partly because of the title, which caused shudders every time I read it, and partly because I knew it would be so different from the trilogy I’ve been reading that I assumed I might be disappointed. But I wasn’t disappointed at all and was quite happy that I did decide to read it. Bedbugs is both a mystery and a sinister psychological thriller.

When the main characters, Susan and Alex Wendt find a dream second-story apartment in Brooklyn Heights that they can afford, they can’t believe their luck.  The landlady is an elderly widow who appears eccentric but not menacing, and the handyman is an elderly gentleman who is a former school principal who occasionally makes comments that Susan in particular finds somewhat cryptic and disturbing.  Overall, however, she and her husband are happy with their choice and quickly move into the apartment, which affords them a separate room (finally) for their very young daughter, and a spare room that Susan assumes she will begin using as her artist’s studio;  she had quit working a year ago to pursue her art career, although had failed to do so and now saw this as incentive.

However, shortly after they move in, the bedbugs emerge, biting no one but Susan and in the process, a portrait she began painting of a previous tenant begins showing “bites” on her face as well.  Susan at first assumes she’s sleepwalking/sleeppainting, although doesn’t understand why.  She is high strung and obsessive by nature and now, as the landlady contends there are no bedbugs, she begins to obsess about them, seeing them when others don’t, scratching at bites that aren’t visible to others.  She begins obsessing about a murder that took place nearby, when a young mother dropped her twin daughters from the top of a building in their stroller to their deaths.  She begins thinking no one is taking her seriously about the bedbugs, although she and the elderly handyman do clean the room where her painting is, scrubbing it, and her husband relents and allows her to have a recommended exterminator come in to examine the apartment and fumigate if necessary.  Everything, however, indicates there are no bedbugs.  Meanwhile, she has scratched herself in so many places so destructively that her husband brings her to a psychiatrist, who diagnoses delusional parasitosis and prescribes Paxil.  She strongly believes he is wrong and without telling her husband, does not take the medication.  Her symptoms continue to worsen and everyone is at a loss about what to do.  She fires their nanny, who she decides brought the bedbugs into their apartment as a result of her promiscuous college behavior.  She sees everyone in a delusional, conspiratorial state.

She spends hours pursuing information on the Internet about bedbugs and finally comes across someone who wrote a book about “badbugs,” which scientists and psychologists have dismissed as the rantings of a delusional man.  She, however, begins to believe this is what she is experiencing, after recognizing all the symptoms of the infestation he writes about.

At this point, we are now in Stephen King territory, with the realization that maybe, despite all the normal signs within the story, she is somehow right in her appraisal of what is really going on.  She is still alone in this, however, and the tension and anguish, and in the end, the threats and fears, manifest themselves in carrying the story to its strong ending. There are elements that are similar to some of Stephen King’s writings and to older horror stories like Rosemary’s Baby, without the blood and gore of a slasher movie.  The story, even the bizarre parts of it, rely on the author’s obvious research into bedbugs, as well as the development of the characters and the tension among them and within themselves.  Everything is essentially believable and therein lies the pleasure of reading this, despite the inevitable “horror.”

I could have done without the illustrations of the bedbugs at the beginning of each chapter. I felt like I needed to brush them off and kill them!  They are creepy and this story was apparently written during all the hype of bedbug infestations within hotels, motels and homes, so it hits a raw nerve.  I had the desire to examine my bed linens and washing them in hot water and bleach by the time I finished the book.  I guess that attests to the realism … and his ability to feed into our normal fears and disturbances.  I do recommend this book if you can get beyond the bugs!