The Girl Next Door
By Jack Ketchum
As children, I'd be willing to bet that nearly every person commits one or more minor crimes. Whether you lift a candy bar from the supermarket on a dare, sneak a look at your Dad's Playboy Magazines or write graffiti on a school wall, the act can make your heart race. There's fear, but also a sense of exhilaration that you might get caught.
If you're like me, after the exhilaration came the guilt, guilt that someone somewhere was hurt by your actions. When I got older and got into a few punch-ups, whether I was on the winning or losing side, I still felt guilty. This guilt could last for quite some time and leave me pretty depressed.
Whatever guilt I felt is nothing compared to what the main character of Ketchum's The Girl Next Door feels. But then again, the crimes committed by David and the other kids in his neighborhood are way...way...way worse than anything I and 99.9 percent of children ever do.
Sure, they are goaded on by a woman slowly going insane but even the usually kind David, who knows what's taking place is wrong, participates in the crimes. It's freaking awful but oh, so well captured by the author. David's guilt is palpable and unnerving and sits over the book like an anvil.
Guilt isn't the only feeling Ketchum expertly captures in this novel. The tension is thick and heavy. I'd say suffocating and as the violence ramps up it just gets worse and worse. Just when you can't take it anymore the tension breaks, but it breaks for a morbid scene of horror!
This novel is a runaway train, you can't stop it and it will not stop for you. Ketchum's writing is excellent this time around. He captures the mentality of children and the horror of insanity in gruesome detail.
The "on screen" violence isn't as gory and over the top as something like his novel Off Season, but that is what makes it so awful. It's realistic and therefore horrifying and evil.
(I assume every fan of horror literature knows this story but if not, here is a quick synopsis: girl goes to live with aunt after parents die, nutty aunt tortures girl and gets the neighborhood kids to join in. It's based on a true story.)