Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Off Season

Off Season: The Unexpurgated Version was Jack Ketchum's first novel. When Jack worked with Ballantine on the release of the first version so much had to be changed to accommodate the publisher that he threw it out and wrote a second version. That version had to be toned down before the publisher would put it on the shelves. The version pictured here is from the Dorchester Publishing release. Consider this version to be an author's cut. It even comes with additional material from the author like so many DVDs these days have additional director's material. Got it? Good.

Take a good look at the cover here. I hate it when a book, or movie, or anything uses artwork for promotion that doesn't match the actual product. That is not the case with this book. The cooking pot, the bones, the axe and butcher knife, even the kids toys (keep that in mind), are within the pages of this book just as they are depicted on the cover. Consider the cover a warning to the reader: You are about to experience humanity in it's most brutal form. I was very surprised to have seen this book for sale at Wal-Mart for a short period in 2006. They didn't know what they had put on their shelves.

The short version of the book is: Three couples rent a cabin in the woods during the off season. They encounter an inbred family of cannibals. Very graphic chaos ensues. While it sounds like any number of slasher movies or stories you have experienced in the past don't sell this book short.

Jack does an incredible job of putting the reader in the minds of the characters, both victims and cannibals, in this book. I particularly enjoyed reading the thoughts of the family members. It made them scarier because it made them more human to me.

His descriptions of the various settings provide enough detail for you to easily picture what he saw while writing. The sights, sounds and smells are all there for you to enjoy.

The violent acts described in this book leave little to the imagination. While that can be overkill in a movie it works wonders in the story. Jack does not seem to get graphic just to get graphic. Each scene described pushes the story forward and helps the reader understand the mindsets and motivations of the characters.

Beyond the shocking scenes in this book you will find scenes that will scare you. That's what I love about Jack's writing. He can disgust you and terrify you all at the same time. I had somebody walk up behind me as I was reading one particular scene and it scared the hell out of me. Creating that feeling of terror in the reader is something that Jack does with a style and grace all his own.

If your only exposure to horror writing has been the main stream authors you are in for a whole new experience with Jack Ketchum. His work is violent in ways you most likely have not experienced before. Set aside any notions you have on what horror writing is and experience something new.

I am thankful for receiving permission to quote the following from the book:
She watched with pleasure as the water began to boil. They had hunted every animal but there was no flesh like man's, she thought. It was sweet and more subtle than game. Delicate streaks of fat ran through even the leanest meat. If you placed a piece of venison or bear in a pot to boil, it would lie at the bottom like a stone. But man's flesh had life. It would bounce and swirl inside the pot. The other was just meat, just a meal. Her toothless gums worked rapidly from side to side and her fat stomach rumbled in anticipation.

The pregnant girl wandered back to the cage. Three of the children were amusing themselves by poking sticks through the open spaces in the bottom of the cage at the bare feet of the two new captive women. The eldest boy, a year younger than the girl, stood beside the cage and watched them closely. The girl smiled at him but he did not return the smile.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Weed Species

Weed Species by Jack Ketchum is available exclusively from Cemetery Dance in both Limited Edition of 1,500 signed copies ($35) edition and in Traycased Lettered Edition of 52 signed and lettered copies bound in leather with a satin ribbon page marker ($175) edition. As this was my first Cemetery Dance purchase I bought the Limited Edition.

The production quality of the book really impressed me. Because Cemetery Dance is an small publishing house I wasn't sure what to expect. The customer service was above excellent and so was the book quality. The binding, paper quality and book assembly were all top notch. Think about how many books you've seen from the big publishers where it looks like a dull blade was used and the pages are all uneven with ragged edges. You won't experience that with Cemetery Dance.

This was my first Jack Ketchum book and I found it to be very entertaining. Being only 90 pages long you should be able read it cover to cover in one sitting. The cover art is by Alan M. Clark and the interior art is by Glenn Chadbourne. Jack Ketchum has stated this book is the most vicious thing he has ever done. His goal was to make the reader feel repulsed and he succeeded. This book is not for everybody. Read the excerpt at Cemetery Dance before you buy it.

The story opens with the rape of a teenage girl by her sister and her sister's husband. We soon learn this isn't the first rape the couple has committed nor will it be the last. There are a number of sadistic acts in this story. The main character moves through four phases in her life during the telling of the story. Each phase will have you wondering if it will cause her to change her ways. Each will also have you wondering if she could get any more evil. Unlike a lot of movies that get graphic simply because they can Jack works with graphic descriptions like a master artist works with oils or clay. The title is very appropriate for the story line. When you see one weed sprout you are going to see more. Where evil takes root more evil will follow.

The book encouraged me to ask:
What is evil?
If you feel you are doing the right thing, does that make it less evil?
If you cause harm to one you feel has done evil, are you justified?
Is it wrong to enjoy a story this graphic? No, it isn't.

Quoted from the book:
The second girl was named Ashley Link and they dumped her body in a ditch along the roadside. It had been far too much trouble and taken far too long to cut up Stephanie's body and encase the various parts in boxes filled with cement and then drive to the lake and dump them. Owen's chainsaw kept jamming up on such sticky half-liquid substances and once the cement set, the boxes were very heavy. The stench in the goddamn basement lasted weeks.

She figured you learned by your mistakes.

So they stripped her and washed her and dumped her and cleaned up the car and that was that.