Joyride by Jack Ketchum – response

The latest work for my Readings in the Genre course at Seton Hill is Joyride.  Yep, nothing with joy there.  Just a psychotic, murderous, rampage for 200 pages.  I did not enjoy this at all.  I will try to focus on what I have learned as a writer and how to craft a villain.

First, an interesting quote towards the end of the novel:

“A victim will do some crazy things to stop being a victim, and maybe you did, too.  But that doesn’t make you crazy, and it doesn’t make you evil.” (page 190 Nook version)

I’m not surprised to see this at the end of the novel given what we were discussing over this last week in class.  What is the definition of crazy or evil?  The real truth we found is that all things are in the eye of the beholder.  As a Christian, my beliefs of what is evil is defined by the doctrine of Christ as revealed through the ancient prophets, himself in the New Testament, and as revealed through his living prophets today.  But I had to step out of that for a minute to examine the villains in these stories.  There is a simple matter of perspective and upbringing.  My Christian upbringing teaches me one thing but a Muslim upbringing would teach me something different.

I did not like how nearly everyone in the novel is damaged.  I was going to say “messed up” or “evil” but stopped myself because that is my perspective.  But it did feel like every character was deeply flawed.  And not just flawed in common ways like low confidence or something like that.  It felt like everyone had a history of abuse or abuser.  Usually sexual and physical but also neglect.  Now, my undergrad was Sociology so I know that studies are showing a rise in physical and sexual abuse and I’m not downplaying the severity of those crimes and what it can do to the victim.  So, I don’t really blame what Carol decides to do in the novel.  Especially to find that she had a history of this victimization since childhood.  But it got to the point in this novel where I didn’t want to continue because it felt forced.  I bet that was a method for the writer to really drive home Wayne’s purpose.  But he’s pretty messed up as it is.  (Think of the closet).

So I didn’t need to have what felt like all the other characters involved in abuse of some kind.  I think it could have been fine to give the other characters some attribute that bothered Wayne to the point of retaliation.  I have wonderful neighbors.  I trust them to babysit my girls.  But I hate their dogs.  And I’m a dog lover.  Just not theirs.  That’s similar to Wayne and Roberts.  What I’m trying to say is that from my perspective, it felt like every person in the novel had a blaring streak of evil.  Even Lt. Rule.  I just don’t think I needed such deep wounds in all the main characters.  I know that drew a commonality between them to tie them all together for Wayne.  But they started blending together instead of being individuals.  As the hero of the story, I’m fine with him having a flaw to make him more human.  Maybe I just read this novel at the wrong time in my life because it was really depressing.  I know we all have our past baggage.  And current baggage for that matter.  I certainly do.  But it was too depressing reading about all the abuse.  I know it’s out there but I have absolutely no patience with abusers.  So I found it hard to read the novel for that alone.

Here’s the other thing I’ve noticed over the course of these readings.  I’m fine having an uber-villain in the story.  And I thought I wanted to know more about what was going through their head and their motivations.  But I’ve found that for myself.  I’d rather keep them more as an enigma that the hero must conquer.  In my writing I’m all about deep loss and struggles to force out of my character the best they can be.   Because I know that life can be hard!  And I think there is more value in find the character who overcomes all odds to stand up in the end, victorious, over their trials.  I think that is what many people need.  Someone, whether real or fictional, that encourages them to greatness.  It is for that that I don’t understand the people who read about killers for the sake of diving into their lives and worshiping psychos.

So, ultimately, I have found the importance of finding a balance when writing about villains and heroes.  The balance, for me, is finding just how much do you NEED to write about the villain to get across the idea that they need to be taken out by the hero? How much is too much?  I generally right dark fantasy as the darkest I go.  Not straight up horror.  So, I may be pulling back on the details of my killers so that I’m telling just enough without crossing the line into what I consider horror.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings. Now, off to my day job.

7 thoughts on “Joyride by Jack Ketchum – response”

  1. This is one of the things I enjoy about reading Ketchum’s work, the unrelenting pace and heaping of heaviness throughout. I agree that I can only take so much of it at one time, and couldn’t possibly read two of his books back to back.

    But that heaviness is one of the things that works so well because when it’s all over, you can only breathe a sigh of relief that it’s just a story and that it’s over. And then there’s the little voice in the back of your head that says, “Well, it’s over for you…what about someone who’s really living that life?”

    And this helps the point of the stories have relevance outside the book. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love Ketchum’s work, and I’m just getting a taste of it. It’s not for everyone, but “The Woman” was wonderful, and I gotta say I loved Joyride. In my own work, it’s hard to figure out who to root for, so I identify with a lot of his novels that I’ve read so far. (The Book of Souls and Off Season: Excellent!)

    “Now, my undergrad was Sociology so I know that studies are showing a rise in physical and sexual abuse and I’m not downplaying the severity of those crimes and what it can do to the victim.” My MPH and PhD work is in Violence as it relates to Public Health and I have a strong medical anthropology background. Here’s the thing with these studies. . . other sociologists/anthropologists will argue that there is not a rise in physical/sexual abuse. The Internet and mass media as well as increase in population have just made those crimes more apparent to the public. People with social media are able to admit to the abuses and the younger generation has a greater sense of freedom at discussing these incidents and therefore the numbers are higher. We’ve seen this in the military where more men are reporting being victims of sex crimes where they never would have reported before and this is because of confidential reporting and other available avenues today. I think it’s difficult to say there’s a rise without taking many factors into consideration.

    That being said, you bring an interesting perspective and it’s good to see someone step out of their familiar shoes and try to see other points of view. I enjoyed your post.

  3. I agree with Querus’s comment: there’s not a rise in the crimes but a rise in the awareness. Verbal abuse is gaining momentum in awareness because we’re realizing just what ramifications such abuse can create. Men who a few decades ago wouldn’t admit to being abused due to fear of emasculation are coming out and reporting that their spouses, although not violent, are abusive.

    I wasn’t a fan of this book either, but I had different reasons. I can buy into a twisted world where everyone is severely damaged, and I enjoy getting into the head of the killer, learning their motives. But I do enjoy the killers like D from Red Dragon who was rational, identifiable, and struggling with his demons. That seems more realistic, or at least more entertaining, to me than a person set to kill as many people as quickly as possible.

  4. Did you really think Rule was damaged? The only problem he had was that he couldn’t get over the fact he lost his wife. How many times have we seen that story? Lee wasn’t damaged either, he wanted to protect the person he loved. Only Wayne and Carol were damaged in that book, which goes back to my assertion that Rule is more supporting than main character material.

    I think, also, your post helps show the inherent problem with books that have splatterpunk influences. We are trained to only see the horrific visuals of these books, focus on them, yet they account no more than 10% (guesstimation) of the written material. At that point you might as well judge it by its cover. And it’s a problem you see all the time in horror and why the genre has a lot of negative stereotypes outside it.

  5. After reading the Killing Joke, I think this book actually has more merit. We have all the flawed characters as you point out, and they are all trying to sort through their “one bad day” the best they can. We see different degrees of behavior; from the killing spree, to the planned murder, to the damaged cop just trying to make it through the day. All in all, not an in-depth look at anything, but interesting all the same. Good post.

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