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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.




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Stephen King once said that he starts off with something real and then imagines what could happen and that's what makes his books give you the shivers.  I've read many of them and he was right.  I read one that started out with a child having a human eye, amongst other similar things, removed from his brain.  Years later I found out that in the womb one twin can absorb another and the one who survives can indeed have residual 'bit's' from the absorbed twin - not a fully formed eye, though.  


The Girl Next Door is indeed based on a true story (allegedly the murder of Sylvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski during the summer of 1965) and I don't want to read either of them, too horrific for me.  But thanks for the review.

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Yes, I am sure I read that too about Stephen King - I am sure he said something like "the extraordinary in the ordinary" was his favourite thing to write about.


I googled the case, Sylvia LIkens, after reading The Girl...and yes, it sounds horrific. I definitely would be hesitant in recommending the book but then, that makes me feel that it was successful.

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    • By waawo
      Restored Thread
      12th February 2012, 04:43 PM
      Jack Ketchum's name has long been hovering on the periphery of my brain. I see his name every so often and the reviews of detailed, graphic horror that makes your stomach churn, so I thought I would give him a shot.
      His books are relatively expensive here and often out of print but I managed to get a nearly new copy of Off Season from greenmetropolis pretty cheap. This books is of the Hills Have Eyes, cannibals in remote forest, disappearing travellers variety.
      Carla, an editor, takes a retreat to a remote cabin in Maine. Her friends join her later and the very night they arrive a 'family' of cannibals; uncivilized, brutal, incestuous, break into the cabin and quickly try to kill and eat everyone therein.
      It really is terribly graphic and Ketchum's imagination for the distasteful is quite bottomless. If I had read this when I was a teenager I would have loved it and devoured all his other books. As it is, as a adult, it just seemed a little tired and graphic for shock's sake. Eek.
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