May 31, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Woman" by Jack Ketchum & Lucky McKee

The Woman
by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

Jack Ketchum has taken a turn or two into the realm of supernatural horror, but the vast majority of his work is firmly rooted in the real world. The man knows how to plumb the darkest elements of the mundane, amplify them, and hurl them full-force into your face as you read his work. But, how does the guy who offers a veritable masterpiece in The Girl Next Door fare when collaborating with the likes of Lucky McKee on a novel and film?

Chris Cleek, an authoritative family man, stumbles upon a wild woman bathing in a woodland stream while he's out taking his gun for a walk. Entranced by her existence, he's immediately drawn to her and sets out to capture her and confine her within the basement of his home. His stated goal is to domesticate her, to civilize her. But, even his wife, Bell, and three children, Brian, Peggy, and Darleen, something is else is going on with disturbing addition to the household.

On the other side of the coin, the Woman is savage and primal in nature, and sees Cleek for what he is: a threat. Not only do we see her through the family's eyes, but we also see them through her eyes. She sees the complicit nature of the wife, the burgeoning menace of the son, and the fearful signs of pregnancy in the eldest daughter.

In fact, as the story progresses, it becomes more and more a story of the eldest daughter, Peggy. She's pregnant, but has kept it secret from everyone to a point of absurdity as she wears baggy sweaters and ostracizes herself from family and friends. When a teacher at the school approaches her in an effort to reach out and help her through the ordeal, she panics instead of sighs a breath of relief. The teacher wants to tell her parents, but for Peggy that is simply not an option. The teacher doesn't drop the matter though, and eventually threatens to bring Peggy's world crashing down--if the Woman chained in the fruit cellar doesn't do it first.

The first two acts of his novel avoid the more extreme elements of the subject matter, instead establishing the stakes, the behaviors of the characters, and the setup for an inevitable showdown. It's the third act, however, that throws the playbook out the window and goes full-bore. There was a bit of a speed bump for me with regards to the teacher and her prospective involvement with the family, which felt like a forced play by Ketchum and McKee. I may have to re-read that part sometime, but regardless of whether I'm right or wrong on that point, it did nothing to detract from the intensity and haunting nature of the story.

I remember a few months back there was a bit of controversy over the film adaptation when it was screened at--I believe--Sundance, labeled "misogynistic" and "abhorrent" by a couple of cranky audience members (viewable for a good laugh on YouTube), If the film can stay reasonably loyal to the source material though, and given it's directed by one of the authors I see no reason why it shouldn't, I would very much like to see the movie and find out if it's as chilling on screen as it is on the page.


  1. Tough not to enjoy Jack Ketchum. I read Joyride a little while ago, and it was terrifying, as much for its plausibility as anything else. I'll definitely be picking up more of his stuff.

  2. I've got Joyride on my wish list. Well, I've got a few of his books on the ol' wish list.

    I'll be receiving Off Season from another blogger this summer, which I think was the first novel he did involving the east coast cannibals. Kind of a precursor to The Woman, I suppose.