Saturday, 24 July 2010

Review: Author Jack Ketchum

Hi all!

I've spent a happy few hours reading two books by Jack Ketchum, an author I'd heard much about but never read before.

The books are: Off Season and The Girl Next Door. Both are horror. Neither are for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. By the way, the version of Off Season is not the neutered one that Ballantine Books produced in the 1980s but the revised and partially recovered one that Ketchum produced much later. So if you've read the earlier version (apparently) the later one is much, much nastier.

Unlike Twilight, which I guess most people have read by now, Ketchum might be a new name. I suppose not many have read his works. So I will try very hard to avoid spoilers.

Off Season

This is certainly one of the goriest, most violent works I have ever read. And yet, none of the gore and violence is gratuitous. It's there because it needs to be. Written in 3rd person limited POV, that shifts often (sometimes confusingly), it's a story that offers scant rays of hope and goodness. The predominant feeling is bleak, savage and dark. From a kick-ass start, it maintains a fast-paced writing style, flowing natural dialogue, good characterization, frequent dizzying blows to our expectations throughout, and ends in a chilling and thrilling climax. This book kept me going non-stop. It gives several nods to other icons of horror such as Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and is similar in style, perhaps, to some of James Herbert's more misanthropic works, but its style - I have come to discover - is uniquely Ketchum's own.

I give it an unhesitating 4 stars.

The Girl Next Door

This is in many ways totally diferent to Off Season. We start with an idyllic country scene, young boy in the 1950's playing in a stream, hunting crayfish. Reminiscent of Stephen King in IT.

Told throughout from the point of view of this twelve-year-old, the story takes us through a gradually intensifying maelstrom of horror, made much worse by the sheer prosaicness of the setting. We join in the creeping paralysis and helplessness that besets our protagonist; unwilling yet fascinated voyeurs with him in the flow of events. Reminiscent perhaps of A Simple Plan in its portrayal of the banality and lack of imagination shown by evil.

This one disturbed me more, because it could happen to the girl next door (if there were a girl next door).

Another 4 stars.


Neither book has the slightest trace of the supernatural or paranormal in it. Both portray, unflinchingly, the evil that man can do to fellow man.

But the greatest similarity is this: both books depict creatures of human shape, human DNA, human ancestry that walk among us, yet are stranger and more alien than the amoeba. Human they look, but they do not share anything in common with us apart from physical shape - no emotion, no compassion, no fellow feeling. They aren't humane beings, and they barely deserve the title of human beings.

All done without recourse to magic, soul-stealing or any other typical mechanism of much horror fare.

These are both books I'll read again. And probably again.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe you've never read Jack Ketchum. Hmm. I haven't read Off Season. Must go check that out.

    How long did you say you spent? Wow. Good stuff Mr. Hardworking-man.