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  • Cover, and sympathy for a murderer

    As is blatantly obvious by now, I’m a huge Jack Ketchum fan. I’m going through everything the man has written, in the same way as a teenager I voraciously flipped through the pages of Stephen King. Once I latch onto a writer, I dig in and try to read everything they have to offer. I’m the same way with directors.
    So, a year ago I read Cover. You might wonder, well, why the delay on a review of it then? Well, I’ll tell you, you nosy son of a bitch, and by the way, if you think you can do any better, I’d like to see you…
    Because I’m an epic procrastinator. But, most importantly, I love this book. Often, when faced with something I truly love, I don’t want to review it. I feel like I won’t be able to do the work justice. Same reason I’ve yet to write a review for my favorite book, The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. I don’t want to half-ass it, and make these great works sound anything less than what they are.
    Enough self-indulgence. Here is why Cover by Jack Ketchum is one of the single best books ever written.
    It makes you feel sorry for a man who kills innocent people.
    (Side note, the one sentence paragraph thing, yeah, it’s a Ketchum staple, and every time I do it, I’m paying homage to his style. And or ripping him off, whichever you prefer. The incomplete sentences are mostly me. When I abuse semi-colons, I’m paying homage/ripping off King; let’s face it, this whole parenthetical pause is a King homage/ rip off also. If I ever use gibbous or eldritch, well, take a wild guess with that one. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.)
    All you really need to know about the plot, is that it involves a Vietnam vet, who has terrible PTS, and flashbacks. As a result, he has to live in the woods, his wife and child are forced to leave him, and he has to work as a Marijuana farmer. He’s so out of it, he can’t work with regular people. He’s too dangerous to live anywhere but alone, deep in the woods.
    Your heart will bleed for this guy, Lee. The woods are his home, and all he has left is his dog. Some unlucky campers decide to camp out in Lee’s woods. Lee goes into flashback mode, and suddenly these regular people become the Viet Cong. And trust me, you don’t want to mess with Lee when he’s in war mode.
    Now, the campers are interesting. We get some chapters from their perspectives, an author, his wife, his mistress, and a photographer and playwright. For some reason, the wife knows about the affair the author is having with the mistress he brings along on the trip, and is completely fine with it, and her. This subplot of the novel is a bit odd. If there is one part of the book that seems somewhat off kilter, it’s this. But, you’re still glad he fleshes out the innocent victims. It makes it so much worse when they bite it.
    It takes a writer skilled in handling complex emotional landscapes to make a murderer, even one with flashbacks he can’t control, seem sympathetic. Yet, Ketchum does this with ease. You find yourself feeling sorry not only for the people Lee kills, but for Lee himself. You actually feel bad for the guy who is killing innocent campers with booby traps!
    This is one of Ketchum’s lesser known books, and that needs to change. Do yourself a favor, and track down a copy of this book, especially if you are interested in PTS, and war vets. It’s heartbreaking, nerve-wracking, and powerful until the last page.