Book Review: The Girl Next Door – Author Jack Ketchum

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
by Jack Ketchum
Published by Leisure Books
Publication Date: 2005
Format: Black /White – 370 pages
Price: $7.99

“We were juveniles-not criminals but delinquents.
So that under the law we were innocent by definition, not to be held accountable for our acts exactly, as though everybody under eighteen were legally insane and unable to tell right from wrong.”

Fuck me Freddy!!! Seriously… sh*t f*ck damn aaaaaaruuuuugaaahhhlaaahhhh! This book was recommended to me by a friend whom I am not sure if I should thank immensely or beat mercilessly with a crutch. I still can’t quite aaaaiiiiiiiieeeeee! But I will try to explain. Essentially, The Girl Next Door is a coming of age story involving a young boy and the sisters who move in next door after their parents die in a car wreck.

Of course, if you have read anything by Jack Ketchum (or even the back of the book) you know better than to trust that. As he makes a point to mention early in the story, 50’s suburban America may have been a simpler, more innocent time but only if you ignore the McCarthy trials and racial issues and the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation. It was also a period of “strange repressions, secrets, hysteria.” Not only does he realize that our innocence is nowhere near as innocent as we like to believe, but every inch of this book exists to illustrate that fact. Strange things have been happening next door, a pattern of abuse that is spiraling out of control and sucking in the kids from around the neighborhood.

Auntie Ruth doesn’t like her new children. Auntie Ruth is going a tad insane. Auntie Ruth has a new game for the neighborhood kids to play and her new girls are at the center. Something that could, in lesser hands, have ended up as senseless violence for the sole sake of shock is tempered with Jack’s completely human characters. Even when they are doing incredibly f*cked up things, they feel like real people with motivations that make perfect sense to them. But that is also what makes the violence even more shocking. Where many people talk of the cruelty children are capable of, few speak of this extent. How many of us have been the ones chucking words (or even stones) at the outsider? If there were no limit to what we could do and we were actually encouraged where would we have stopped? Ketchum knows the dark, ugly corners of our own minds that we try so hard to forget exist and he also knows that innocence is ignorance of repercussions.

This is one of those books that forces you to look deep inside and ask the kind of questions about yourself to which few of us really want to know answers. It also stands as a marvelous denunciation of those so-called salad days of suburban America during the Fifties, a time as notorious for its conformity and xenophobia as it was famous for its innocence. And of course a denunciation of the all-American ideal that difference itself is a sin. We may not have caused the problems of that decade but we sure as hell didn’t do anything to stop em until it was too late. I can see the same things in my own generation.

How many of the children of the fifties wore human-ear necklaces during Vietnam? How many of us that grew up in those happy-happy eighties were torturing prisoners of war in the Al-Garib prison? How many more forgave them and even cheered their actions? Even past our innocence, we are still throwing stones at the outsider. Notice similarities to the themes of Lord of the Flies?

But where Golding was commenting on war, Ketchum hits much closer to home with the violence in our own homes. Or you can just read the book saying: “HOLY FUCK I CAN’T BELIEVE HE JUST DID THAT!!!!”.

Available at Leisure Books

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About Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of DEAD SOULS, THE GHOST IS THE MACHINE and D.O.A. II as well as continuing to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he will most definitely not watch your pet shoggoth this weekend, but he is interested in taking that new brain case for a spin through the cosmos.
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