4 out of 4 stars
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The Bedwetter is a horror novel by Lee Allen Howard, a personal journal exploring the mind of a psychopath. Russell Pisarek is twenty-six. He lives with his sister Becky and his four-year-old nephew Aiden. Russell works with rabbits at an animal testing facility. He still wets his bed, a problem carried over from his childhood. As a kid, he also lit fires and killed animals, the other two components of the "homicidal triad" of a serial killer in the making. He has a cat-skin rug he stitched together during his adolescence from the cats he killed. As he says in his journal: "I keep it as a reminder of what being treated like sh*t does to me." From the age of six, he has regular dreams of murdering his abusive mother in a horrific way. Now an adult, Russell struggles to fit into society. With a part-time job and his continued bedwetting problem, making adult connections is difficult. But he has an admirer in Uma, the receptionist at his work, whom he longs to shave as per his dark fantasies. One night in a dream, he sees an apparition he calls The Piss Fairy, who sets him on the dark path toward his true destiny...
From the first page, Howard pulls no punches. The opening scene, Russell's dream of killing his mother, is excellent: raw, coarse, and sickening. We know immediately that the author of this journal has major psychological issues. There are some great illustrations of Russell's inner turmoil about his bedwetting: "I got a urinary tract infection once. NO, IT WAS NOT AN STD—I was just a kid." This neatly shows his paranoia that the reader of his journal will immediately think the worst of him. He recalls his hatred of his abusive mother, "Melanoma" (Melanie) indirectly at times, such as when discussing his nephew Aiden: "Never once have I tied him to the kitchen table. I changed his diaper a ton a times and never teased him or screamed at him for wetting. Not ever, NOT ONCE." Russell clearly has major pain and resentment from the abuses he suffered during childhood. We see his regular flashes of anger in his capitalised words and phrases such as those above.
The unique spellings and special phrases in Russell's journal (such as "for realz" and "LOLz" and "spuke") are intentional, the story written in his own personal inner language. He also includes occasional smiley faces and some great phrases peculiar to him: "He dirtylooks me." Applied regularly along with capitalisation and exclamation marks, these add realism to Russell's personality. Russell's characterisation is so good that when he placed a personal ad to find a female with whom to share a house, I accurately predicted his reaction to the first response to his ad even as I read it.
I also like the flashes of humanity we occasionally see from Russell, such as his admiration for his sister and his love for his nephew. It's good to see he isn't just a monster and that he does have some love in him, despite his mistreatment as a child. I actually grew to sympathise with him somewhat, despite his unhealthy psyche and inhumane tendencies, simply because of his mother's abuses as he grew up. Russell definitely seems more a case of nurture (abusive mother and absent father) than nature (genetics). Setting the book as a journal in the first person is a great way to generate empathy from the reader. I also found the book's ending stark, powerful, and satisfying, with many loose ends from Russell's past tied up neatly.
Concerning negatives, there are a few minor typographical errors, but I found less than ten in the entire book. There was nothing else in this book that I didn't like, so I rate The Bedwetter 4 out of 4 stars. It is a brutal, dark, compulsive read exploring the sick mind of a killer, from an abusive childhood to an adulthood filled with pain, rage, and confusion. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychological horror about serial killers; just be warned: it is graphic, violent, sickening... and brilliant.
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