Book Review: Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum

Title: Helpmeet

Author: Naben Ruthnum

Genre: Horror Novella

Number of Pages: 94

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes

Holy crap, this book was fucking weird. It’s one of those books where it’s really best to go in knowing next to nothing, so I’ll try not to add too much detail about the plot. Helpmeet is a combination of gloomy gothic marital drama and bizarro body horror and doesn’t divulge the ‘why’ of everything until the insane final reveal. It’s set in 1900 and focuses on Louise, the devoted wife of perpetual philanderer Edward.

Edward is suffering from a strange and gruesome disease and Louise cares tirelessly for him. At first doctors thought it was syphilis but that turns out not to be the case. The details of Edward’s illness are super gross. I actually put the book down the first time I tried to read it because of the nastiness of his physical deterioration.

His nose falls off and he loses his eyes; Louise has to put gauze in the eye sockets and change it regularly so it doesn’t get infected. The skin on his penis starts flaking and then it falls off too. I wondered why Louise was so willing to care for his grotesque symptoms when he had been such a bad husband.

Edward wants them to move to his family home, which is next to an apple orchard. They decide to be secretive about the trip and Louise helps them with transportation and moving their luggage. He also helps transport Edward, who is utterly weak and helpless. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this novella, but this certainly wasn’t it.

I kind of thought Louise might be secretly playing a part in Edward’s illness, like Munchausen syndrome by proxy. She was so unfailingly loyal even though her husband was a man-whore and I thought that loyalty might be a front. This wasn’t the kind of story that I had a particularly strong emotional reaction to. It’s best as a short work where it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, but the author gives a strong sense of unease and the growing co-dependency of the couple. It’s a different kind of horror story that successfully kept me guessing throughout.

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