Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bed by David Whitehouse

   David Whitehouse's debut novel tells the story of Malcolm (Mal) Ede, a very bold, quirky young man who, on his 25th birthday, decides to never get out of bed again.  Despite his eventual weight gain of hundreds of pounds, Mal sticks to his decision.  Soon he becomes a local celebrity and folks line up outside of the Ede family's house to catch a glimpse of massive Mal.  His health quickly deteriorates, but Mal's mother couldn't be happier to have her son need her in such an obvious, physical way.  She spends her days cooking meal after meal for him, and as he gets bigger and bigger, Mrs. Ede adds bathing her son's massive body and cleaning his bedsores to her list of daily duties.  Meanwhile, Mal's father has retreated to the attic where he spends day and night tinkering with mysterious inventions, and Mal's ex-girlfriend, Lou, is still in love with him and waiting for him to drag his gargantuan body out of bed so they can resume their relationship.

   Mal's bizarre story is narrated by his younger brother, who simultaneously despises and adores his strange sibling - mostly because he's in love with Lou, and Lou just can't seem to get over Mal - no matter how many ways he rejects her.  The eccentric story of the Ede brothers spans more than 40 years and is told through short little vignettes with an ending that is just as abrupt and peculiar as the novel's opening lines:
Asleep he sounds like a pig hunting truffles in soot.  It isn't snoring, more of a death rattle.  But for that it is a quiet morning, the morning of Day Seven Thousand Four Hundred and Eight-Three, according to the clock on the wall. (p.1)

The Ede family purchased a clock to measure Mal's bedridden days in hopes of motivating him to get up.  But 20 years in, when the book begins, Mal is "an enormous meat duvet"... "every rise of his chest triggers a seismic shudder through the room."

   Bed doesn't lack for descriptive imagery but there is a lot of it, and by the end of the novel, many of the images and metaphors have been repeated too many times to be effective any longer.  Whitehouse goes on for paragraphs about the enormity and repulsiveness of Mal's body, which is sometimes quite impressive and sometimes superfluous - but it does appropriately reflect Mal's story.

   David Whitehouse is obviously a good writer, and I think with a little more practice and discretion he could write an amazing novel.  But for me, Bed was not amazing.  The story was interesting enough to keep me reading and some of the imagery is very memorable, but it lacked a sense of unity and purpose.  When the book was first released, Janet Maslin from the New York Times said: "Mr. Whitehouse’s great talent for outlandishly clever description is not matched by a gift for storytelling."  I agree.  I wasn't very impressed with Bed, but David Whitehouse is talented and definitely someone to keep an eye on for the future.

Overall Rating: