Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Scary Books

FOR RENT: Top two floors of beautifully renovated brownstone, 1300 sq. ft., 2BR 2BA, eat-in kitchen, one block to parks and playgrounds. No broker’s fee.

Susan and Alex Wendt have found their dream apartment.

Sure, the landlady is a little eccentric. And the elderly handyman drops some cryptic remarks about the basement. But the rent is so low, it’s too good to pass up.

Big mistake. Susan soon discovers that her new home is crawling with bedbugs . . . or is it? 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. The landlady insists her building is clean. Susan fears she’s going mad—until a more sinister explanation presents itself: she may literally be confronting the bedbug problem from Hell.
So reads the back of Bedbugs by Ben Winters, a book I finished not too long ago. A book that still has my skin crawling all day, and keeps me up all night with images of the ending still burned into my mind. Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration... but not too far from the truth. My co-worker Keller can attest to how much this book freaked me out.

I read the last one hundred pages of the book alone in my apartment. My roommate had been out for a while and the place was eerily quiet. I even had to go and sit out on the balcony just to hear some human noises and remind myself I wasn't inside the book. Just as I had reached the crux of the book, when the poop hits the fan and everything falls into its horrifying place, SLAM!! Keller (who's also a friend of my roommate) slammed his hands against the sliding door. I jumped out of my seat and into defense position (which in my case is just getting ready to run away or cry) and my heart pounded my ears. Keller, obnoxiously pleased with himself, laughed at my shakiness. I was tempted to take my book and shove it up Keller's nose, but then I wouldn't be able to finish it, so I didn't.

Was I overreacting? Yes. But there is nothing that makes me more tense than a scary book. Scary movies might shock me or make me nervous, but whatever images they throw at me are nothing compared to the freakish terrors stored in my imagination.

So the question that comes to mind-- what makes these books so scary? I know my imagination plays a big part in making a book scarier than a movie, but what sparks that imagination? For Bedbugs, the answer lies in the ordinary. This book reads like a modern haunted house story, but with all of the elements like iPods and cell phones that make the setting immediate and relevant. The horror of this book also lies in the ordinary. Upon first reading the description on the back, I thought the book would be a bit creepy, at best. Maybe it was the suprise that scared me so much, too. When expecting nothing special, I found something that terrified me way beyond expectations.

What exactly makes something scary is different for all of us, but I applaud anyone who can write something genuinely frightening. Fear is a difficult emotion to pull off, with most scary movies these days resorting to just grossing us out instead. So, what's so scary about Bedbugs? You'll have to read it yourself to find out, just make sure Keller's not anywhere nearby when you do.

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