This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid . If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.Something breaks and something else, something unspeakable, climbs through the gap. There’s a face at the window, a headache no one can identify. A man who is weirdly familiar but weirdly oot of focus asking about bad movies. Marvin is here. Marvin has always been here. Marvin the family friend. Marvin the uncle. Marvin the brother. Marvin the god. Marvin the eternal. Always there, newly arrived, boring down into the shared lives of the Hendricks family and casually maiming their histories as he makes himself comfortable.
For Imani, Marvin is an itch she can’t scratch so she resorts to her usual solution; work harder. For Hendrick, Marvin is a bro, a buddy. The one person he can confide his squalid little fantasies and lies to. For Kennedy, Marvin is a cool older brother who helps her deal with her borderline abusive best friend. For Tomas, Marvin is a solution to a bullying problem, a nightmare he can’t look at, the empty core of the family. For all of them, Marvin is here. Marvin has always been here. Marvin is here to stay.
Jeremy C. Shipp’s novella excels. It’s almost unbearably tense, deeply terrifying and cheerfully refuses to give you or it’s characters everything. You’ll put the puzzle together, but what Marvin is and why he chose them is, to misquote the Archangel Gabriel, something we’ll never understand, The thing is though, we don’t need to understand and it would damage the book if we did. Catharsis? Absolutely. Closure? You bet. But this is a novella that embodies my favorite kind of horror; that moment something unspeakable brushes against the world and what happens when the shock-wave hits us. It’s brilliant, innovative writing and it succeeds especially in two vital, weird ways. The first is the causal banality of the family, and the way Marvin uses pop culture to put them off their guard. This is classic neuro-linguistic programming but it’s also a really subtle indicator of predator/prey camouflage. Marvin looks and sounds like them so he must be them, right? While he never raises his voice in the novella, his endlessly jovial, banal presence is terrifying. Marvin is never not in control. The calls really are coming from inside the house,
But what’s haunting here is the fact we see behind the curtain. We see just enough to sense how wrong things are, and best of all, we see Marvin work. One of the most terrifying moments in the novella sees him put a room to sleep with the click of his fingers. Another sees a frantic conversation between Kennedy and a part of Marvin that’s erased in a heartbeat. Marvin isn’t a threat because he’s frightening, he doesn’t have to be. Marvin is a threat because he’s everything and everywhere,
He also holds a dark mirror up to the family’s weaknesses. The bullied, sensitive Tomas suffers the most but is also able to sense a lot more about what Marvin is due to his youth and curiosity. Kennedy gets something similar, and that makes the childrens’ decisions in the second half all the more terrifying. They know something is up but not what. They just know how to make it work for them. That’s what haunts you about Bedfellow the way Marvin haunts the Hendricks; he brings everything about them to the fore, good and bad. An endlessly competent woman terrified she isn’t good enough, a charming and ineffectual amoral guy. A pair of good kids and beneath it all,, horror, death, and change. Not all the family make it out. Not all of them deserve to. But even as the novella closes you understand why
they did what they did even if you can’t sympathize. All these people are in hell, all of them grab the wrong hand but only one refuses to let go. And only Marvin is eternal.
Intimate, complicated and chilling, Bedfellow is out now,.