Off Season by Jack Ketchum

There’s no way to describe Jack Ketchum’s book, Off Season other than to call it torture porn. I was called out for this label, but I stand by it. It’s so gruesome, so over-the-top, it’s impossible to call it straight up horror.

This book caused quite a sensation way back in 1980 when it was first published. It was Ketchum’s debut novel and the editorial team at Ballantine wanted to make substantial changes to the book’s vivid (for lack of a better word) writing and pretty damn depressing denouement. Ketchum was reluctant, but also pretty excited about having his first novel published. Ultimately, he went along with the changes. He tells the whole story in the Afterward of the Leisure Fiction edition  of  Off Season, which is uncut and uncensored (and by this I mean, the story appears as Ketchum had intended it to appear all those years ago.) And, likely for some readers, the book is unpalatable.

I’ve got a pretty strong stomach. Thank God because this book was pretty horrific. It tells the story of a group of six friends who are about to spend a week together in a remote cabin on the coast of Maine. This is Deliverance country, folks, only ten times as nasty. Ketchum does a good job of moving the story along (the whole thing plays out over a couple days), of giving us characters we can root for (although not necessarily keeping them alive) and of grossing us out even as we’re turning the pages.

It’ll only take a couple hours to read the book, but I don’t recommend you do it at night or if you have a queasy stomach.

And, while I’m here: I read Ketchum’s novel The Girl Next Door a couple years ago. Based on true-life events, that book was a riveting story of how people are able to justify extreme cruelty against innocence. It was even scarier, for me, than Off Season because the narrator was, despite his compliance, likable.

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