Jeremy Shipp has a unique brand of psychological horror. I read his novella, The Atrocities, earlier this year and was taken aback by Shipp’s bold, almost reckless storytelling choices. It seems like anything can happen in his books which can be quite unexpected for the reader. I would say more often than not these strange, almost absurd plot details are successful in creating an enjoyable reading experience; but sometimes, they’re not.
Bedfellow was an example of how the unusual can cast too long of a shadow over the story, mudding the waters and creating confusion.
Bedfellow is the story of a family unexpectedly visited by a strange intruder that slides in through the living room window. The family members react to this event in such a calm, casual way — I was bothered by it immediately. Especially the father, Hendrick, who begins to converse with the odd man. As other members of the family investigate, the alarm over the intrusion fizzles out to plain old curiosity. Eventually the man is asked to stay the night in the guest room.
My reading experience at this point was so perplexed. There were no explanations as to why the family was so agreeable to this bizarre event. I wish I could say the story gets easier to digest from there but it doesn’t. It takes a good, long while to get a firm grasp on the slippery, insidious story wriggling and writhing beneath the surface. Even when I figured out what was happening, the newfound knowledge was no benefit in helping me navigate through the narrative.
Just like with the Atrocities (which was pretty weird but I would say a little less experimental than this book) the reader is left to bumble about through the plot, not really certain of what exactly is going on. Shipp gives you just enough bread crumbs along the narrow dark trail so you’re not completely lost — not lost enough to abandon the story altogether. Frankly, the last half of the book is so sick and twisted, there was really no letting go at that point. With the ending and resolution in sight, one must go on to see how this inventive, disturbing tale is going to end.
I’ll say that if you can get through the first one hundred pages of the book and really hang in there with the story, the rewards will be paid in full at the end, leaving fans of subtle, slow-building horror feeling totally satisfied with this dark fantasy/horror hybrid…but only if they can forget working so hard to understand the author’s intentions in the beginning.