When a novella starts off with a line like, “Turn left at the screaming woman with a collapsing face,” I’m going to sit up a little straighter in my chair and pay close attention. And that was my reading posture during the duration of time it took me to get to the one hundredth page. Focused.
This story is not for the lazy reader, and I don’t mean that it’s too intellectual or complicated, I just mean that this was new territory, and I needed to pay attention. Almost immediately, I was immersed in the rich, gothic atmosphere. The protagonist, a governess named Ms. Valdez, winds her way through a disturbing hedge maze to find herself on the steps of the Stockton House — the destination of her newly acquired job.
Once Ms. Valdez enters the premises, the reader is taken on a very strange, dreamlike (nightmarish) journey that I can only compare to a Guillermo del Toro-esque adult version of Alice in Wonderland.
The reader is forced to either enjoy the ride, or question everything. My recommendation, if you want to enjoy the book, is to just be a willing spectator to Shipp’s imaginative prose. Suspension of reality is required.
Shipp definitely takes some risks with the story that I’m sure some readers will feel are a little jarring. One minute you’re reading about a stained glass window depicting a parade of headless humans carrying their own skulls, and the next minute a character is marveling at the beauty of a colorful butterfly or randomly listening to the theme song of Who’s the Boss. I was tempted to be put off by it, but the writing is so compelling and Jeremy C. Shipp is so talented, I found myself easily ignoring my own pestering questions.
My only real complaint is with the ending — I’m not really sure if that was the resolution the author was heading towards all along; it felt a little hurried or unfocused in comparison to the micro-precision intentionality of the rest of the book. But despite that small issue, my last thought as I closed the book and stared at the beautiful cover one more time was, “I cannot wait to read another story by this author.” Lucky me, Bedfellow, which comes out in November, is waiting for me on my nightstand.