Killer Puppets and Adult Grief

Author: Ben Farthing

Jonny and his cousin Brittany are grieving their grandfather, a once famous puppeteer for the popular children’s TV show, R-City Street, who went missing a year ago. Grandpa is likely dead, and both Johhny and Brittany are mourning as they move into his abandoned apartment. Only . . . after a too-real dream that leaves bright blue puppet fur on the floor, Johnny suspects that his Grandpa is still around, living in the walls. As the two stumble deeper into the world behind the walls, they discover a decades old secret, barely contained, bursting at the seams with dark magic and hunger. Will they find Grandpa? Will they discover the secrets in the world between the walls and the truth of R-City Street’s abrupt ending? Will they survive to tell of what they have seen?

I picked up I Found Puppets Living in my Apartment Walls as a GoodRead’s horror book club read. Honestly, I voted for it because the title and the picture alone were irresistible. I expected a funny, perhaps gory read in the style of Jeff Strand (think of his Clowns Vs. Spiders), but, surprisingly, this story is a little more thoughtful and scary, evoking the grimness of childhood fears and troubled sleep.

It starts with grief – both at the loss of Grandpa and at the loss of childhood. It is literally the end of an era, and while Brittany holds on to her R-City Street fandom, Johnny has long ago accepted that those halcyon days where everything was magical, where there was so much to learn and explore, are long since over. He holds onto a bittersweet nostalgia, a longing for something that he knows is over. As the group bands together, following the secret stairs between the walls, going deeper into the past, the story morphs, becoming a grim parody of our childhood fears. It evokes those nights where it seemed that our toys could totally have stood up and started playing . . . that secret terror behind those smiling plastic doll faces and too-blue eyes. Childhood is magical, yes, but our fears were both more absurd and more ominous. Anything is possible. And, indeed, in this world behind the walls, anything is truly possible. Lost childhood may be the backbone here, as are the complicated emotions of losing a dear family member and accepting the bitterness and staleness of adulthood, but there is a boogeyman here too. He’s real. He’s coming for you.

Image by Story-Untold from Pixabay

Author Ben Farthing makes this weird, surrealistic jaunt distinctly creepy and darkly, deliciously imaginative. I never would have thought that the googley eyes of a giant puppet or the deep, felt lined maw could hold such terror, but Farthing effectively evoked the scared child in me. He brought back the memories of being so young, where the shadows of clothes in a darkened room could morph into a hungry monster. Plus, let’s be honest, this felt-lined apocalypse is partly appealing for its absurdity and for its admission that, yes, puppets are darn creepy when you think about it.

I was beyond surprised that this little book, something I was expecting to be mildly entertaining and enjoyable for its absurdity, held some substance. There was grief here, fear, longing, curiosity, nostalgia. The plot itself is surprisingly complicated, with some unforgettable imagery that corrupts the TV mentors of our childhood and morphs them into something feral and darkly playful. The story packs a punch and is just as frightening as it is purposely self-aware. The ending is cataclysmic and leaves us wanting (and hoping) for more. I’ll have to check out more stuff by this author. If he can get me thoroughly involved in a book about killer puppets, believing in it, worried for both the lives of the characters and the future of the world, and wanting more, then he can get me behind anything. Highly recommended.


– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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