Rating: 4 out of 5
Jack Ketchum’s rural horror novel Off Season takes place in September of 1981. Carla rented a cabin so she could get some work done. For the first weekend, she invites some friends to stay for a couple of nights–Jim, her lover; Marjie, her sister; Nick, her ex; Laura, Nick’s current girlfriend; and Dan, Marjie’s boyfriend. Unknown to Carla, a man is already stalking her before her friends arrive. That night, the neighbors come to play–a small tribe of cannibalistic, feral people who are used to making off with the occasional tourist. This fight, however, will be too big to cover up. And it comes right as the local police are figuring out that maybe they have a trend of too many missing people.
This is pretty cut-and-dried as to what you’d expect from a rural horror novel about feral cannibals, apart from a few surprises here and there. If that’s what you’re looking for, this will absolutely hit the spot. The cannibals come with only a little explanation, some of which doesn’t entirely make sense, so suspend your disbelief (not that difficult to do). The group of friends and lovers consists of some fairly interesting people considering some of them don’t live very long.
I did have to roll my eyes a bit when one of the three women has to get a frozen-in-shock naked woman into some clothes and even though she just saw someone die, she’s checking out the other woman’s body. (Definitely one of those “men writing women” moments.) Also, although one of the women turns out to be pretty strong, at one point all of the women are catatonic while all of the men are running around fixing things, and it’s like, really? These small issues are why I had to give this a 4 instead of a 5.
The police had some interesting things going on, and I found it fascinating as they got caught up in things. It was also interesting to see what the most long-lived of the characters ended up doing to save themselves or others. This is definitely a fun read with a ton of action–it really doesn’t wait long to throw you into the deep end!
Content note: death of pest animals; news articles about animal death; animal abuse; brief talk of rape fantasy; explicit sex; rape; dismemberment; immolation; cannibalism; child harm; child death; blood; gore.