That quote by Kafka comes to mind when I think of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. It’s how Ketchum tells his stories. He pulls them up from the gut and presents them without apology to the reader, saying, “This is what it is.” Under the harsh white glare of a fluorescent light, he turns over the rock and shows you the thing that squirms and writhes beneath. It’s usually painful, ugly, and hard to look at. Yet you can’t look away. Because as readers we seek the underlying truth inside the lie that is fiction, and a good writer understands the importance of telling that truth.
Jack Ketchum is such a writer.
The Girl Next Door is a gripping novel, a glance into the dark corners of the human psyche. It’s the story of a typical American neighborhood in the 1950s. But that neighborhood, and one family in particular, harbors an unspeakable secret. Ketchum shows us that, even—and sometimes especially—in the ostensibly idyllic world of Elvis, ice cream trucks, and Schwinn bicycles, things aren’t always what they seem to be at first glance. That there can exist a dark underbelly which people prefer not to think about, much less openly acknowledge, because it doesn’t fit into their mundane world of washing the family Chevy on Saturday morning and watching Ed Sullivan on TV on Sunday night. And the fact that these people turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to such evil is the very thing that allows it to live among them.
In the book’s afterword, Ketchum talks about how wickedness makes him mad. And doesn’t anger stem from fear? That’s what makes this story (which is inspired by actual events) such a suspenseful read. Ketchum is writing about what scares him, and what no doubt scares you.
I know it scared the hell out of me.
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