Jack Ketchum’s Off Season should have been his “Carrie” – the book that ignited a young career, and introduced the world to a major new talent in the horror genre. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Instantly slammed by critics and booksellers put off by the books vividly descriptive violence and sexual content, as well as the always taboo subject of cannibalism (made all the worse by the fact that most of these cannibals were children), Off Season’s debut was less than the star-launching affair it was intended to be, but still managed to sell enough copies to make Ketchum a few thousand hardcore devotees. Off Season also featured something of an open-ended denouement that set itself up perfectly for a sequel.
Offspring takes us back to the quiet coastal town of Dead River, Maine, where, ten years earlier, a band of cannibalistic men, woman, and children holed up in a seaside cave, preying on tourists, drifters, and fisherman, living that life for generations until their insatiable hunger exposed them to the “outside world”. While the rest of Dead River’s inhabitants have moved on, no amount of brandy can shake the memories from the retired sheriff, George Peters, but it certainly dulls the pain. That is, until the new sheriff comes knocking at George’s door. There’s been a murder; dismembered corpses drained of blood, a missing baby. It’s been ten years, but there’s no doubt in George’s mind that they’re back, and their work isn’t finished.
Meanwhile, in a secluded house in the woods, Amy, David, and their infant daughter are hosting their recently separated friend Claire, and her troubled son, Luke. Claire’s ex-husband, Steven, has threatened to come up and crash their party, and David is prepared for the worst. Or is he? The sheriff’s office told him not to open the door for anyone, but the young girl outside, she’s naked and battered and bleeding. He’s got his gun, and, besides, she’s only a kid, right?
Offspring, unlike its rapid-fire predecessor, takes a few pages to really get going, but, here, Ketchum makes the most of his setup, crafting much more three-dimensional characters, and piling on the suspense, before throwing our heroes headlong into the sort of bloodbath one would expect for a sequel to one of the most disgustingly descriptive books ever written. While Offspring isn’t quite as shocking as 1999's "unexpurgated version" of Off Season, Ketchum still manages to wrangle up a bounty of truly disturbing moments that will have his fans squealing with delight, while his critics…well, fuck his critics, because this wasn’t written for them anyway.
Long out of print (and commanding a pretty penny on the secondary market), Offspring has been lovingly re-released courtesy of Overlook Connection Press, a company renown for its wonderfully crafted special edition books. Offspring is currently available in a limited edition (1,000 copies!) signed hardcover, a trade paperback, and also in two super-limited editions that are $85.00 and $500.00 respectively. $500 bucks for a book, I hear you say? Yes, but it’s a black-wood-boxed edition with pewter inlaid bones, a sliding door, and a leatherbound, foil embossed piece of literary history that, if I had the cash for, would be mine…oh yes…it would be mine. All versions feature two afterwords by the author.
Offspring is a short, tense, and wonderfully over-the-top gorefest that is just as depraved as its predecessor, but offers the bonus of richer characterizations that really heighten the emotional investment in this outing’s heroes (and villains).
I’m ready for more, Mr. Ketchum!