Book of the Day
If you’re a fan of author Jack Ketchum, you probably expect cannibals and sadistic backwoods tribes to cause trouble for hapless victims in isolated situations. He built his reputation on such novels with the likes of The Girl Next Door, Off Season, and The Offspring. His newest book, however, shirks his tendency for over-the-top brutality for more subtle, psychological shocks.
Co-written by Lucky McKee, The Secret Life of Lost Souls follows the life of eleven-year-old child star Delia Cross and her dog, Caity. Delia’s natural ability to wow both producers and directors on set, coupled with her young age, make her the perfect target of her parents, who take advantage of her and milk her earnings for their own personal gain.
A playful prank gone awry by Delia’s twin brother, Robbie, quickly changes everything. Horribly disfigured and lucky to be alive, Delia’s career appears to be over before it’s really begun. Her parents, though, see opportunity and devise new ways to exploit the tragedy that has befallen their daughter to their benefit. Things snowball from there resulting in a horrifying finale reminiscent of Stephen King’s Cujo.
Ketchum and McKee—who teamed on two previous novels—do an admirable job of developing each character’s mindset, their inner feelings, hopes and fears. You come to care for Delia and, oddly, more for her dog as the story progresses, while secretly yearning for the chapter where her parents get their comeuppance.
At just over 200 pages it is a swift read. Unfortunately, Delia’s obsessive and callous parents don’t come across as all that shocking — not when the nightly TV news is chockfull of such true-to-life stories already. You almost wish something more would happen, like an attack by cannibals or zombies.
When he’s not working on his own novel or screenplays, G. Robert Frazier writes about other writers and their works on his blog and other sites such as BookPage and US Review of Books. He is a script reader for both the Austin Film Festival and Nashville Film Festival screenwriting competitions and is a member of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association. He used to write and edit stories for several newspapers in the Nashville area until the industry caved in on itself and set him free. And he once won a flash fiction contest in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, so there’s that.