Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Girl Next Door

Until this semester, I'd never read a horror novel. I was nervous about this semester, but we started out tame, with classics and short stories. Even the Stephen King movie didn't freak me out too badly. I was handling it. I was cool.

And then I read "The Girl Next Door."

Correction, then I read all but two chapters toward the end. I couldn't do it. I psychically could not force my eyes to focus on the words, I was so horrified by their meaning. I literally felt sheer, unadulterated horror.

And that's the point of a horror novel, right? All popular fiction is designed to wring an emotional reaction from the reader. And this did it. Boy, did this do it. This is what I was scared of when I signed up for this class. Correction -- this was horrifically worse than I could have ever expected.

I found it interesting that the setting seemed to add a whole new level of horror to the book that no other setting could have done. First, you have the uncanny: the bomb shelter turned cell. I'm sure that through WWII and the Cold War, many such bomb shelters were built in homes. It was safe, protective. Something familiar that we no longer needed. And then it turned into something to restraining rather than protective. The nice, familiar, suburban town with the Leave it to Beaver feel. And rather than June Cleaver tucking the Beave into bed, we have Ruth Candler torturing and raping little girls.

In his article at the end, Ketchem says, "If you lived through the 1950's, then you know its dark side. All those nice, soft comfy little buboes of secrecy and repression black and ripe and ready to burst" (pg. 338, 2008 edition). And this probably would have only worked in the 50's. In a time when abuse and suffering was hidden behind polite smiles and pearls and dresses. When Meg talked to a policeman at the fair, I sighed with relief. Here was help for her. But it wasn't until 1974 that children had legal protection from their parents. There was no social service hotline to call, no reports to fill out. Each adults excused Ruth's actions, though they surely didn't know the extent.

But it wasn't just the repression of the 50's. It was the innocence too. The quiet streets and bikes and carnivals in church parking lots and catching crawfish. And against the backdrop of these two extremes was torture and pain and suffering.

This kind of horror has happened in today's day and age, but the reactions are light years apart. I would pray that today, a neighborhood of adults wouldn't turn a blind eye, and that even children would know how to help her.

I'm still disturbed by this book, and struggling to analyze it through the haze of, well, horror clouding my thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. I applaud your bravery. This is a TOUGH read. It is both morally appalling and written in a way that lures us into reading forward, searching for hope that seemingly never comes. I think Ketchum is really unsettling us to get us to really take greater stock of our interest and care for other people without sugar coating it. It's like reverse psychology. But it's a tough book to read. Thank you for enduring the pain.