Jack Ketchum is an author whose works have been in my digital to-read pile for ages. I'm loathe to admit it, but he's one of those writers synonymous with the horror genre whose work, for whatever reason, I just hadn't read yet. I decided to correct that in 2018. Last week, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, Jack Ketchum lost his battle with cancer. His passing ignited an urgent need in me to finally discover exactly what I had been missing. I wanted to get to know a bit the man who so many fellow authors called either, or in some instances both, a friend and an inspiration. I decided to start with Off Season, Ketchum's first novel.
Holy crap, what a first novel! It's not entirely perfect - the characters are a bit thin, many of them barely rising out of cardboard cutout territory prior to their victimization - but it is compulsively readable and utterly engrossing.
New York book editor Carla has retreated to the Maine woods for a working vacation, one that, if her nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic pays off, will be more vacation than work. She's invited her sister, friends, and lover to visit and enjoy the quiet. The home she's rented for the month would be idyllic if not for the hungry cannibals whose primal interests her visit has drawn. What follows is an absolutely brutal, nightmarish siege of frenetic violence and misery. Hope is sparse as the blood flows freely from one shocking, nerve destroying, encounter to the next.
I've read previously that Ketchum was inspired by the films Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and boy-howdy do those influences shine through. Ketchum, though, is no pale imitator. Whatever thematic resonance of those films he rode high on while writing Off Season are run through the proverbial meat-grinder twice-over and once more for good measure. There's no joy to be found, and any moments of humor are of the blackest pitch. This is not a fun, action-packed creature feature romp. This is horror shone through the prism of reality, and it's one bleak, serious as a heart attack, motherfucker of a book.
It's also damn good. Damn good.
I may be shamefully late to the party, but I can guarantee you I'll be sticking around for a while now.
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