Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Book Review: The Woman by Jack Ketchum
Many spoilers ahead.
In The Woman, the last survivor of the feral cannibal clan from Off Season and Offspring - aptly given the name "the Woman" - is captured by hunter Chris Cleek. He restrains her in his fruit cellar in an attempt to tame her, with the help of his wife and children.
When first reading the synopses for this book, I thought that the character of the man who captures the Woman would be a normal guy who was really actually trying to help her to stop being a feral cannibal killer. This most certainly turns out not to be the case.
So how could anyone not get angered and/or offended by what they read in The Woman? Is Ketchum simply out to shock his readers with the most vile things he can think of? To a point... maybe he is. It's what has gotten him noticed and sells books, but, and I know I don't the man personally, he doesn't seem like that kind of guy to me. I like books and movies who take things to the extreme, I like people who have the balls to show us the ugly side of things, and not just because they can but because sometimes really profound things can actually be learned. Ketchum proved that with the complexity of The Girl Next Door - another book that on the surface is simply full of cruel acts of torture with no moral compass. But TGND brings up many important moral and societal issues, as does The Woman - so why does it matter what means Ketchum uses to convey these points?
Okay, wait, hear me out. This is a common thing with Ketchum's works. He often hides the most poignant messages and insights into society underneath the most brutal stories and unlikable characters. The Woman gives us the epitome of the worst man in the world put up against this physically strong and powerful woman who doesn't really give a shit what he does to her because those things don't matter to her. She's a survivor and a fighter and Cleek is no match for her, despite what his male ego tells him. In the end, all of the women untainted by his evil mindset come out the winners and go on to survive and thrive, living the way they want to.
Fans of Ketchum and gorehounds alike will probably enjoy The Woman for its nastiness, but I'm not ready to dismiss it just yet as nothing but sleaze. Looking deeper, I see something more to it and I hope others do, too.
I'm still a bit confused about the inclusion of the last section of the book entitled "Cow." It is essentially an epilogue, but quite a long one, and though it reveals what I thought the end of the book meant for Peg and the Woman's future, it's an odd way to present it. It's told from the point of view of the women's male captive, and if you've read Off Season and Offspring, you know what it means when this guy is known as a "cow" to the women. Not saying I didn't like it, just that it was different.