Saturday, November 3, 2012

"You're not gonna believe this,” he said to Rule.

“We got a shooting out on I-89. Lady in a station wagon. Is this piece-of-shit day never gonna end?”
~Joyride - by Jack Ketchum (2010)

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I put off reviewing this novel for a couple of reasons. One: I'm often one of the first to submit a review before reading other writers' critiques in my SHU program. I decided to do things differently this time. Second: I'm afraid I'm a real freak. I love Jack Ketchum's writing. Not just his writing, but his stories. What does that say about me? I've read how others feel that his novels are a bummer. A trip down the filthy alleyways of a twisted humanity that only exists in the worst of nightmarish dreams. And maybe it's true, but it doesn't bother me. If anything, I'm appreciative. His prose is real, and he dives into storytelling in a way that is different from others.

The first part of the story, Wayne witnesses a murder and it thrills him. His sentiment about it is not so different from those who enjoy reading about serial killers, or those who look on the internet for fatality crashes and are amazed at the blood and aftermath. Is he so different from the person who drives a car and just for a moment wonders what it would be like to plunge her/his bumper into a crowd of people taking their time crossing the road when the light is green...the person who is waiting to turn right but can't because that person dosen't dare?

"It was not the product of the kill, which was nothing but meat and emptiness when you got down to it, though the person you killed wasn’t there anymore and that was something. But the act itself, the moment of the taking and the losing. That was classy. That was important."
Ketchum (Kindle Locations 425-427). 

And that is what is important in this story when you read it. Something you need to stick in the back of your brain as your fingers turn the pages.

Another thing I really liked about the way Ketchum put this book together is that he plays with your thoughts as you read. An example is when Lieutenant Rule reflects on what he knows about Carole. Where you might think at one point she's one hell of a bitch, later you discover she had real reasons for wanting her ex-husband dead. But then you have to consider, is there ever a real reason for wanting someone dead? And does the wanting ever justify the actual act?

As a writer and student of writing popular fiction, there were some POV errors I noticed now and then. None of them seriously bothered me, but I noticed them just the same. The way the story flowed I caught myself wondering if we're too hard on POV changes in manuscripts. Perhaps. I also had a problem with some of the sentence structure. There were places on the pages that a comma would have been beneficial and kept me from reading the same sentence over a few times to catch the meaning.

I've heard others call this book "in your face" writing, but I'd rather describe it as "stare in the mirror" prose. If you enjoy traveling a road where the scenery isn't pretty, but you can acknowledge the loveliness and complexity of a sewer or waste-treatment plant, this story is for you. If you're afraid to stare into the pupils of your own reflection, or you gag at the stench of decaying muscle or mounds of stinking raw feces . . . then don't inhale the words written inside this masterpiece. This is a book best devoured by those who have a palate for the nuances of evil mixed with the subtleties of a timebomb. Overall, this was an excellent read and anyone who disagrees is going in my notebook.



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  1. Definitely not disagreeing :-) I thought this book had a raw and disturbing atmosphere. I admire Ketchum's (alas, we're not on a "Dallas" basis) comfortable ease with the seamy underbelly of humanity.

  2. "Is he so different from the person who drives a car and just for a moment wonders what it would be like to plunge her/his bumper into a crowd of people taking their time crossing the road when the light is green...the person who is waiting to turn right but can't because that person dosen't dare?"

    This the question you pose in regard to Wayne. What's interesting about the character Ketchum has created is he takes the person you describe and removes restraint. He says what if a person like that didn't consider the consequences of their actions. The answer is you get Wayne and to a lesser extent, Carole. Is the debate in the book one of justifiable homicide vs pleasure killing?

    Not the book I would choose to read if meandering down the aisles of a bookstore and not because I have a negative feeling about the subject matter or the writing. Structing a story in a way that gives multiple points of view takes a very special subject for me to get into. The views have to be very different and not just a literal point of view of what is happening at the moment for all of them. Even so, I can see reading more of his work.

    1. Great point, Dwight. Here's the question. What does it take to remove that restraint? Even in the book you're working on, your main character removes that restraint. For him, it's a motive. For Wayne, it's a release. A physical excitement and pleasure. For others. . . who knows? That's one of the ultimate questions I ask after reading this book. What does it take? Does every person have their breaking point where they would ultimately kill? In the book "Lightening," by Dean Koontz, the son of the main character (Chris) discusses with his mother (Laura) the two greatest evils in the world. One is killing for pleasure and the other is being a total pacifist (not killing even out of necessity to save someone's life or their own). Are they the ultimate evils? I wonder.

  3. Amen! Well stated. I like your assessment of this as 'stare in the mirror' prose. Much better way of saying 'in your face'. I have a physical reaction to reading Ketchum's work, and while I wouldn't say it's a really good, touchy warm feeling, I still enjoy it. I guess it makes me feel like I'm still in possession of quite a bit of my humanity because he can make me squirm on the inside.

  4. Sorry, Cyn. Looks like I'm going in your notebook.