Jack Ketchum

Overlook Connection Press / 211 pages / Limited edition, 1 March 2005

ISBN: 1892950553

If you read Off Season when it was first published in 1981, you may be thrilled to see an unexpurgated version available. Then again, you may be thinking of how you barely made it through that reading; no point in rushing into a hasty second go. This is a book that was genuinely horrifying in its tamer form and, of course, even more shattering in full. And is it ever back in full. Whoo boy!

That may not be enough of a warning, so let me emphasise right now that Off Season is not for the faint-hearted or those with a powerful gag reflex. Ketchum tackles virtually every taboo subject bouncing around in polite — and even impolite — society. The scenes are brutal, revolting, disturbing… come to think of it, mere words cannot describe the depth of the atrocities on almost every page.

Maybe you think no one has ever really created horror. Obviously, you somehow missed Off Season. Well, here’s your chance to erase that little misconception.

Carla is taking advantage of the off season quiet to get a rest and get some editing work done. The house she has rented is small, but comfortable. The privacy is just what she was looking for. Being out in the country relaxes her even more than she had hoped. Her sister, her lover, and more of her friends are coming to spend the weekend and christen the hideaway properly.

All in all, renting the house is the worst mistake she ever made.

Something deadly is prowling the area. Something lethal is preying on the good people of Dead River. And even the few who suspect there may be a problem have sadly underestimated the extent of the danger. Before it’s all over, many will pay a terrible price for that poor judgment.

Ketchum was really taking his career in his own hands when he created Off Season. This is the kind of novel that can make an author “untouchable” in the eyes of publishers. Only ten pages into the book, readers will understand quite clearly why the original editors felt the need to tone it down. Yes, censorship is wrong, but if you want it take it on full strength, you’ve got to be ready to get roughed up a bit.

Be ready to take your lumps. Ketchum doesn’t — boy, I really don’t want to say “mince,” but nothing else works — mince words. The language is too razor-edged and direct to soften any of the blows for you. Often, you may find yourself thinking that x abomination can’t possible be about to happen; you’re so right — it’s going to be much worse than you can imagine.

What, though, makes the plot of Off Season so bloodcurdling and abhorrent? Nothing in the book couldn’t happen. That is at the root of all darkest, dark realism: it could as easily be true. And, like all effective fiction, it changes the way you look at the world around you. Read it, and I don’t see any trips to the country in your foreseeable future.