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Off Season

Off Season - Jack Ketchum I read some of Ketchum's fiction back in the '90s, and what I remember is that his stories were brutal, and psychological. He didn't tend to write much supernatural horror, instead focusing on things that could actually happen. They were also fairly graphic, which seemed at the time to be pretty cutting edge. Even then, though, I preferred the kinds of stories that affected you emotionally, instead of just being all about how much blood and guts an author could put into a story. It seemed like his fiction was effective, and somewhat memorable, and I figured I would include him on my list of authors to revisit.

I never read Off Season back then. It wasn't for lack of interest (I think I even owned it at the time), but I never got around to it. The story is the first in a series of books Ketchum wrote about a family of cannibals that live in the backwoods of Maine. There's really nothing more you need to know about the story other than that. The idea of cannibals is the entire premise behind the horror.

I'm starting to think that the problem with horror -- or at least with horror from the 1980s -- is its misogyny. I wrote about this at length in my review of The Ignored by Bentley Little, but after reading Off Season, I think it extends further than just that one author. Women in danger, especially women who are free-thinkers who enjoy themselves for who they are, seem to make up the heart of horror from that era. Some authors rise above this -- I've never seen Stephen King's fiction as misogynistic -- but when I look at the authors from that time who wrote paperback originals, I can't help but see that as a large component of the fiction.

In Off Season, both men and women are killed, but the men are just killed outright; the women are tortured, physically and emotionally, and in one case, that torture is prolonged just so the male character doing the torture can enjoy it. I'm not sure if the story is intending to show that this kind of misogyny is horrible, or if there's something deeper behind it. It doesn't seem to have much point beyond being shocking, and in that way, it reminds me of the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It wasn't even all that frightening to me.

I read the e-book version of Off Season, which was a frustrating experience. There were several OCR errors (Carla was Carta more often than not), run-on sentences, missing quotation marks, and the like. I understand that publishers want to save money, but having someone read through the text after running it through the OCR program goes a long way toward making the experience better for the reader.

Given that this was Ketchum's first novel, I intend to keep going (if nothing else, I need to read The Girl Next Door, which frequently pops up on lots of best-of lists), but I couldn't find anything redeeming in this book. Ketchum's lengthy afterword shares some of the history of the book, but it didn't make much difference in how I felt about it. Readers of splatterpunk might like it, but I can't think of a reason to recommend it to anyone else.