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Thursday, September 27, 2018

What I'm Reading: Bedfellow

The current issue of Booklist features my review of Bedfellow by Jeremy Shipp, an author who will also be appearing next month as part of my annual Why I Love Horror series on the horror blog.

As usual, this post contains my draft review and bonus information.

Shipp, Jeremy C. (author).
Nov. 2018. 256p. Tor, paper, $11.99 
(9781250175298); e-book, $3.99 (9781250175281)
First published October 1, 2018 (Booklist).

A large, disheveled stranger comes in through a window of the Lund’s house, late one evening. After initially fearing the worst, the family- father, mother, teen daughter, and pre-teen son- come to understand that this is the man, Marvin, who saved the son from choking in a restaurant earlier that evening. From this extremely unsettling opening scene, Shipp ratchets up the anxiety, full throttle, as Marvin and his increasingly disturbing powers begin to encroach on the Lund’s lives, pitting them against those they love, all in an effort to be a part of Marvin’s miracles. But as Marvin’s hold on the family grows stronger and darker each day, it may not be possible for all to survive. Told from the alternating perspectives of each family member, the dread is magnified as the reader can never be sure who is the reliable voice, while the constant narration shifts also keep the story moving at a compelling pace with readers obsessively turning the pages to see what is coming next, even as they are simultaneously afraid to know. Filled with claustrophobic fear and a terrifying occult frame, this is a great choice for readers who like to pair their horror with side of intense psychological suspense like in Straub’s A Dark Matter, Tremblay's Cabin at the End of the World, or McMahon’s Winter People.
Further Appeal: This is a book that starts out at a high tension moment and never really pulls back enough to let you catch your breath. Well, that's not exactly right. It makes you think you are catching your breath until you realize, nope, breathing yes, but every muscle is squeezed. You feel the tension. And then, as you keep turning the pages to see what terrible thing is going to happen next-- because lets face it, we all have a sadistic part deep inside of us-- the entire story starts digging into you. Not physically of course, but it kinda feels that way. You can't shake it off; it's burrowing in. You want to stop, take a break, and do something else to clear your head, but you really cannot. You only have a few more pages and it is moving quickly. But... oh my, things are getting even more tense and who is telling me the full truth? Probably no one, but I have to see for myself. And then whoah.....what?!?!

I understand what I just wrote is kind of odd, but it accurately represents how Bedfellow made me feel while I was reading it.

The intense first person narration does the heavy lifting here. Each family member gives us their version of the situations, often recounting the same scene from their point of view. Each of them is reliable and unreliable in turns. Marvin himself never get the chance to talk to the reader directly and that also increases the dread and tension because we never get a full picture of who "he" really is. This is both a figurative statement, and a literal one which the characters  comment upon at times.

The occult issues at the heart of this novel are also highly satisfying for horror readers. I am not sure how more traditional psychological suspense people will react, but as long as readers know ahead of time that this is just like the books I list above and in the readalike section below, that there is a supernatural frame here, they should be fine. All of the listed books [with the exception of the Strand title below] have proven wide appeal.

This title is published by Tor, so it will be easy for libraries to add [in print at least] and they should, in droves. It is a short, fast read that will satisfy a wide range of readers.

Three Words That Describe This Book: uncomfortable, family centered, alternating first person narrations

Readalikes: First the titles that appear at the end of the review-- The Straub suggestion is for the cult like charisma characters and occult frame that both books share, while the Tremblay and McMahon are family centered. All three rely on the extreme dread and tension found in all psychological 

Other super intense psychological suspense, especially with a family frame like those by Sarah Pinborough or Gillian Flynn will work here too.

This novel also reminded me of an old favorite, Dweller by Jeff Strand which shares the complex theme of the “friend” who is also an actual monster. While that is the major thing these books share, I think for some readers it will be enough.

Finally, although The Grip of It by Jac Jemc is more of a haunt house story, both books made me feel a similar way. These books share a frame of a family being torn apart by an occult situation and both have intense first person narrations that alternate. This POV choice ratchets up the tension and unease as we see the same events but with different versions being passed on to us depending on who is talking.

All of these links will lead to even more readalikes.

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