Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Jack Ketchum/Joe R. Lansdale

Posted by Mike on March 13, 2006

Wanted to say a few words on recent reading. I didn’t get much of a chance to reduce bookload over the weekend, but I did give in to temptation again and read a few stories in Lansdale’s High Cotton collection.

Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door was one of the few horror novels I’ve read that resonated long after the final pages. It’s the story of a kid growing up and witnessing the abuse and torture of two children (the friend who recommended the book said it was like a twisted It, Boys Life or Summer of Night), driven and sanctioned by an increasingly unstable adult. I’ve read and seen enough horror to be immune to even some of the most brutal scenes, where a good novel ought to get you is in convincing you, to some extent, that such an event is not outside the realm of possibility. I feel Ketchum gets close, there are occasional moments where you realize that this could have happened to any group of kids, to any neighborhood. But I’m not sure this was taken far enough to my satisfaction. It’s not enough that what happens to the girl is horrible, in fact one expects this from the very synopsis of the book. Where it really worked for me were those moments where you could see the kids pulled in as silent conspirators, set up well by the introduction of “The Game” as a device to explain why things went in a certain direction. A very good book overall, a bit muted of an impact but a very fast read.

Lansdale’s work is clearly the work of a major stylist. Given that I’m reading what is ostensibly a “best of” collection, it’s not a surprise that every one of these stories is tightly plotted, incredibly told and utterly compelling, no matter how variant the voice is. I’d come into the collection understanding that he writes “southern fried/redneck” horror stories reflecting the cost of utter stupidity, and indeed there’s an amazing example here, “Steppin’ Out, Summer ’68.” What becomes very clear is how Lansdale pulls the humor out of what are increasingly absurd situations, at least once or twice in every story is a laugh out loud moment, and we’re not talking just a chuckle. But I’d expected this sort of thing, what I didn’t expect is a story like “Not from Detroit” where an old couple reaching the end of their lives decides they wouldn’t be able to live apart only to get a visit from Death himself. His sensitivity may be more obvious here, but it’s even in the most shocking places, even in some of the most hilariously brutal and funny demises many of his characters undergo. I basically read through “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road,” which I’d seen before in a recent Masters of Horror episode. The story is a little tighter than the episode, which is fairly unusual, but pretty close in all the important ways. Anyway, I could have easily polished off the book but I added it to the pile so I could go through a little slower. Every single one of the 4-6 stories I finished was near-perfect or better.

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