Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Jack Ketchum
Published by Leisure Books
There are writers, there are authors, and then there’s Jack Ketchum. Probably one of the most respected and feared wordslingers in today’s society, the man has been responsible for some of the best horror stories of the last few decades. Offspring is absolutely no exception.
Serving as a sequel to his seminal novel The Off Season (review), Offspring takes place 10 years after the events of that book, in which a group of friends getting together for the weekend were besieged by a family of feral humans who had been living in isolation for years. Former Sheriff George Peters is the only one left in Dead River, Maine who was there that night, the only one who had seen all the horrible things these primitives had done to innocent people. So when the local police discover a murder scene that looks too similar to that night a decade earlier, Peters is the first man they call on.
Throughout the book we’re thrown into the tale through Peters eyes, as well as the eyes of the new group who are terrorized by the new clan of cannibalistic savages but, as a way to perhaps give us more understanding into why and how this tribe does what they do, Ketchum puts us inside their brains, as well, as uncomfortable as that may be for most. These multiple viewpoints allow us to get a much fuller, richer story than if it was told only through the eyes of one or two characters, while it also gives more poignancy to the events as they unfold.
A lot of people couldn’t read The Off Season because it was just too brutal. Apparently that had no effect on Ketchum (well, I imagine he grinned a bit when he first heard it…) because Offspring is just as vicious as Off Season, if not more. I suppose that’s the rule for all sequels, but this is more than just some cash-in (or if it is it’s the best damn cash-in I’ve ever read), because you can tell Ketchum really wants the reader to care about every aspect of what’s going on, from the mother and child who manage to stay together long enough to save a friend’s baby, the cannibals primary target, to the estranged husband who picked the worst possible weekend to come up and start trouble with his ex, a character who could easily have been the bad guy in this story if he had just a bit less education and no cannibals to deal with, to the retried police officer who’s trying to make right a horrible, haunting mistake he made ten years earlier.
Because this time we’re given more insight into the workings of the cannibal clan, the horror is made that much more realistic. These are people who have lived mere miles away from civilization but because one girl, a survivor of the first family, believes their way her way is right, she is able to build an entirely new clan of hunters and gatherers, collecting them from neighboring families and teaching them her ways. Somehow that makes it more horrifying; to know that these people could just have easily been left with their families and grown up like you or me, but instead they lived feral; thousands of years of evolution erased by mere whim. That is truly horrifying if you ask me.
Ketchum definitely gave us more insight into the family in order for us to truly see how close we actually are to one another, and yet how easily the rules of society can be ignored and an entirely new culture could exist on the very outskirts of our own. What will sit with you the longest after finishing Offspring isn’t necessarily its brutality, though that is present in force, but just how close to “normal” life it was the whole time, just waiting for a chance to strike out.
So needless to say, you had better do yourself a favor and get a copy of Offspring, especially now that you won’t have any issues finding it like you would have even a month or so ago, because it’s mass market now thanks to Leisure. You don’t need to read The Off Season first to understand enough of Offspring to be sucked in (I hesitate to use the phrase “enjoy it”), but since it’s also an excellent book (and easy to find now, too), you really should.
5 out of 5
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