Sunday, September 27, 2009

Catching Up #42: Off Season by Jack Ketchum

Okay so this post ain't exactly noir, but it sure a shit is for the fucking basement crazies. If you're a fan of the more macabre and intense shit (like the great Allan Guthrie's novels) the Nerd raves about, you're gonna love horror writer Jack Ketchum. The guy is hands-down one of the gutsiest motherfuckers working in genre fiction today. Two of his novels (Right to Life and The Girl Next Door) I had to read in single sittings for fear that I wouldn't have the sack to pick them back up again. And make no mistake: the Nerd is not just being characteristically hyperbolic here - the guy's shit is seriously that fucking inense.

Also let the Nerd make clear: this ain't no Halloween-is-coming post either. Just like I don't need a holiday to drink a bunch of booze, I don't need a holiday to make me like horror either. Both are great any time of year.

Off Season, Ketchum's first novel (now available uncut and uncensored!) from 1980, proves that Ketchum has had those globe-sized balls since the beginning of his career. If you like your thrills with a gigantic fucking safety net, then you best leave this one to the fucking professionals.

Off Season tells the story of three NYC couples who go to a remote cabin in coastal Maine for a week of sex and drinking, only be preyed upon by a feral family of cannibals that live in a cave.

Seriously - that's all there is to it. Sounds like the plot of a forgettable horror film that you pop in late and pass out before it ends, never bothering the next morning to see what you missed. But Ketchum makes that shit come alive, dear reader, alive in ways you probably didn't want to ever think about.

Essentially, this is the ultimate Deliverance-style story. You take a bunch of realistic, recognizable characters with common insecurities and problems then throw them into the most extreme situation imaginable and watch all that petty shit melt away till nothing is left but the will to survive. In addition to the struggle of the couples, Ketchum also sheds some light on the lives of the in-bred cannibals, even dropping almost plausible hints as to how such a clan has managed to stay hidden and fed for so long.

Like most of Ketchum's work, there's no supernatural shit going on in Off Season if that kinda stuff bothers you. Basically, this is a disgusting, agonizing story story told breathlessly and without compromise. After all the players are laid out for us, the attack goes down and the second half of the book takes place over just a few hours and good fucking God is it hard to put this beast down once you're in the shit. For a book with a shit-ton of action and suspense, you're never less than completely clear about what's going on and how while also never skipping ahead because you're bogged down in details. You ever notice how in a suspense sequence, authors will always over-explain shit to the point where it takes a lot of will-power to not just skip ahead to see what the outcome of the scene is? That shit never happens with Ketchum, dude is always on-the-money.

And according to an afterword by Ketchum in the edition I read (Leisure Books June 2006 edition), the original version of Off Season did not have the perfect, devastatingly bleak ending that the current version does. So if you read this book years ago, I strongly suggest you pick it up again. You gotta admire a book that, in addition to being cannibals raping, cooking and eating people, manages to have an even more dire climax than you could have ever imagined.

Like I said, dude goes all the fucking way. If you think you've got the stomach for it, the Nerd strongly suggests you follow his ass.


PokerBen said...

Been wanting to check Ketchum out, now I have no excuses!

Unknown said...

the difference between Ketchum and the pointless, derivative horror porn of the last ten years of cinematic sludge is that Ketchum wrote Off season in 1980, and in 1980, this book was considered nearly unpublishable and utterly original.