Jack Ketchum died recently and his death reminded me of the one book of his that I read some time ago, Off Season. I remember thinking it was good but really graphically gory and violent. In need of some real horror (I get desensitised with all the horror I watch) I thought I would pick up his most infamous, The Girl Next Door. I expected it to be violent and graphic but it really went above and beyond. David lives next door to his best friends Donny and Woofer. Their mum Ruth is laidback, cool and lets the boys have beers. When Meg and Susan, recently orphaned, move in with their Aunt Ruth, David falls in love with Meg. Susan is a cripple and Meg cares for her sister a great deal.
Ruth begins to feel threatened by Meg's beauty and youth. She used to have the neighbourhood boys wrapped around her finger, little toys for her to use to make herself feel wanted and powerful, but now all of that is slipping from her grasp. She struggles with aging and alcohol. And she blames Meg for all of this. At first she begins to punish Meg in small ways, calling her a whore, slapping her occasionally. When the abuse ramps up to feed Ruth's insatiable need to punish for her own failings and disappointments, Ruth uses Meg's love for her sister to forced her compliance. Before you know what's happening, Meg is strung up in the basement where Donny and Woofer, David and various other visiting teenagers are allowed to abuse Meg in some of the most vile and horrific ways. As Meg sinks deeper into the humilation and pain, Ruth sinks deeper into alcoholism and depression and they are both stuck in the situation. Only, it's just Ruth who is enjoying it. David, at first has twinges of guilt but his teenage fantasy and obsession with Meg sort of manipulates him into joining in for a while before he has an awakening and tries to help.
This was a deeply uncomfortable read. Deeply uncomfortable. Horror at its finest is when the events are easily imaginable. There is no boogeyman, no ghost, no supernatural stalker - just a screwed up mother with screwed up kids. It does state on the back of the book, that it is based on a true story, and yes, I am pretty sure these things happen, but bloody hell, it's extremely uncomfortable to read. At one point I wondered if I would actually get to sleep after reading.
So, difficult to sum up. As a horror story it is hugely successful; it is horrific, scary and affects you as a reader on a visceral level. Did I enjoy it? Golly, I don't know. So, you have been warned.