Friday, November 30, 2007

Off Season by Jack Ketchum (1980)

I have to admit that in terms of horror novels, I haven't ventured too far from Stephen King (my all time favorite) However, when I heard about Jack Ketchum due to the two movies coming out related to one of his books, I dropped by Borders to see what was in stock. There wasn't much of a selection, so I settled on Off Season.

Off Season, Ketchum's first book, was initially heavily edited in order to be released. Many saw the book as not much more than violent pornography, but I believe horror fans will have a different view.

Overall, Off Season was a fantastic read, and in fact, I finished it in about two days. It begins with a young woman from New York, Carla, who rented a cabin in rural Maine in order to finish a project. But before delving into her work, she has invited some friends, including her sister, Marjie, to visit for the week. Everyone arrives and settles in for fun and relaxation, but little do they know (dun-dun-dun) that there is a family of cannibals residing nearby, complete with several maniacal children.

I was truly impressed by the way that Ketchum represents the cannibal family. These are not Hannibal Lecter types -- otherwise civilized humans with a taste for liver and fava beans, or even comparable to the family in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- inbred Southern hicks that have gone a little off the deep end. Ketchum thoroughly describes the cannibals as they are -- primitive animalistic humans who have been living this way for generations and have no understanding of civilization or even modern tools and technology. In no part of the book do you ever feel compassion or understanding for these individuals.

My only minor complaint with this story (and I've heard this in reference to other Ketchum works) is that it was a little hard to keep track of the characters at times -- he uses names for the "humans" in the story, but the cannibal family are all referred to with vague monikers (man in red shirt, tall lanky man, pregnant woman, etc.)

This book is extremely graphic in terms of sex and violence, but I found it very gripping, enthralling, and interesting. Shortly after I finished reading, I found out that there is a sequel (The Offspring) and I am heading over to put my order in at Amazon. Definitely a good read for a hardcore horror fan, but not for the weak of heart.

Grade: B+ (SK's The Shining -- before you saw the Stanley Kubrick movie)