Book Review: Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum


Title: Helpmeet

Author: Naben Ruthnum

Release date: May 24th, 2022

“noun: helpmeet
a helpful companion or partner, especially one’s husband or wife.”

First – huge massive thank you to Michael Kelly and Undertow Publications for sending me a digital ARC of this upcoming release. The previous digital ARC I’ve been fortunate to read from the mighty Undertow Publications was the stunning ‘Armageddon House’ by Michael Griffin and that one turned out to be one of my all time favorite books. Would lightning strike twice?

I very rarely mention a books cover in my reviews, but in this case, I must. Just look at that painting. My apologies, I thought I noted what it was called, but it was from approx. 1825 and not only does it accurately depict the story you’re about to read, but also the sense of unknown dread that accompanies the reader as you crack this one open.

In the advanced praise section prior to the story, author Craig Davidson likens this to the old masters, those who’ve come before who used sparse wording and simply prose, but managed to create massive, monstrous results, IE Algernon Blackwood as an example. Folks – Davidson was spot on.

What I liked: As both a fan of reading and writing novellas, ‘Helpmeet’ delivers everything you want in a novel in a smooth sixty nine pages. Not a word is wasted here and when I finished reading this over the course of about an hour last night, I was exhausted mentally and physically. This is an experience. I would compare it to when you first discovered a horror movie when you were young. You were captivated and had to sit rapt until it was over and you had to question yourself about what you just read.

‘Helpmeet’ delivers the same (as did Armageddon House for those wondering), and it was absolutely compulsive. The story follows Louise, the wife of a well to do doctor, Edward in 1900. Edward has come down with an odd affliction, one that is causing his body to rot, decay and fall off of his skeleton. He hasn’t much time left and needs to get to his out of state property before it is too late.

Ruthnum paints a picture of a dotting wife (who also used to a nurse) caring for her husband, even when he’s been a horrible man. Frequenting brothels, stepping outside of their marriage with other nurses and generally not being there for Louise. But what would normally strain this relationship, has been pushed aside by Louise, as she decides to stick with him and help him as he becomes unable to do most anything. I loved seeing how this one unraveled and when we arrive at an ending, that completely floored me and absolutely opened up a whole world of questions and enormous possibilities, I knew Ruthnum had decided to ‘go there’ for this story. Those who’ll read this will know what I mean. Just so, so phenomenal.

What I didn’t like: Ruthnum fit in a 500 page novels worth of story here, but even after all of that, I still wish we could’ve learned a little bit more of some specific events surrounding the ending. I hate being spoiler free for this specific reason, but boy, would I have loved to learn even 5% more!

Why you should buy this: This is what writing a classic story looks like in 2022. I struggle reading the old masters, Blackwood and Machen and others, because I find their writing can often be clunky and far too often the choice of phrasing is confusing and baffling. Not with Ruthnum, and not with ‘Helpmeet.’

From the first word to the very last word, this story crawls under your skin and I was often times reminded of Iain Reid’s work with ‘FOE,’ in that you know something is off, something not right, but even when you find out what it is, your eyes practically pop out of your skull. This was pristine storytelling and I’ve very thankful to have read this one. It’ll be staying in my head for a very long time.


Direct from Undertow Publications;


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