Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Girl Next Door-Jack Ketchum

The Girl Next Door
Jack Ketchum
Leisure, Feb 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780843960976

Suburban 1950s New Jersey is a great place to raise kids; just ask twelve year old David, who loves playing in his idyllic neighborhood where crime is nonexistent. Next door Ruth Chandler, single mother of David’s best friend Donny and two brothers, takes in two young distant cousins whose parents died in a horrific automobile accident. The older sister fourteen years old Meg seems to have fully recovered; the younger sibling Susan needs crutches and wears heavy metal braces on her legs while mentally she is totally broken.

David is immediately attracted to the lovely Meg and they begin meeting at places like "Big Rock”; they make a charming cute couple. Ruth lives in the past when she was the office manager of a large firm; she hates suburbia and being saddled with five children. She takes her growing rage out on her new charges, physically and mentally abusing Meg and Susan, especially Meg who reminds her of all she gave up to have kids. Her sons by omission support her actions. David also knows that Ruth is violent towards Meg, but though he loathes what she is doing, he is also fascinated by her dehumanizing the one person who reminds her how far she has fallen.

This reprint of a 1989 deep psychological study focuses on the watcher-narrator David who learns about abuse and helplessness when he fascinatingly observes the pain a human inflicts on another while neighbors ignore the truth. The story line hooks the audience from the opening line as a wizened David understands pain and never lets go as the serene middle class suburban neighborhood enables ugliness to hide behind the scene (mindful of the Kitty Genovese killing in 1964 Queens). This book also includes two short stories and an interview with Jack Ketchum, but cannot be considered padding since the novel is 340 pages. Readers will be shocked by the horror of customized violence that society chooses to ignore when it happens to THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.

Harriet Klausner

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