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September. A beautiful New York editor retreats to a lonely cabin on a hill in the quiet Maine beach town of Dead River—off season—awaiting her sister and friends. Nearby, a savage human family with a taste for flesh lurks in the darkening woods, watching, waiting for the moon to rise and night to fall...

And before too many hours pass, five civilized, sophisticated people and one tired old country sheriff will learn just how primitive we all are beneath the surface...and that there are no limits at all to the will to survive.

308 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1980

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About the author

Jack Ketchum

80 books2,402 followers
Dallas William Mayr, better known by his pen name Jack Ketchum, was an American horror fiction author. He was the recipient of four Bram Stoker Awards and three further nominations. His novels included Off Season, Offspring, and Red, which were adapted to film. In 2011, Ketchum received the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award for outstanding contribution to the horror genre.

A onetime actor, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk, Ketchum credited his childhood love of Elvis Presley, dinosaurs, and horror for getting him through his formative years. He began making up stories at a young age and explained that he spent much time in his room, or in the woods near his house, down by the brook: "[m]y interests [were] books, comics, movies, rock 'n roll, show tunes, TV, dinosaurs [...] pretty much any activity that didn't demand too much socializing, or where I could easily walk away from socializing." He would make up stories using his plastic soldiers, knights, and dinosaurs as the characters.

Later, in his teen years, Ketchum was befriended by Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, who became his mentor.

Ketchum worked many different jobs before completing his first novel (1980's controversial Off Season), including acting as agent for novelist Henry Miller at Scott Meredith Literary Agency.

His decision to eventually concentrate on novel writing was partly fueled by a preference for work that offered stability and longevity.

Ketchum died of cancer on January 24, 2018, in New York City at the age of 71.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,506 reviews
Profile Image for Kat.
270 reviews80k followers
May 23, 2020
*sighs* this seems like the time to quit reading cannibal stories and just rewatch tcm instead, until i die.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
October 7, 2011

While I really liked this book, I feel compelled to make a few introductory remarks before I discuss the specific merits of the story. I will give Mr. Ketchum the benefit of the doubt and say that I do not believe it was his intention in writing this book to come across as a snobby, elitist, “anti” cannibal bigot. However, the fact remains that this novel is yet another example of popular media perpetrating the negative stereotype of cannibalism. I feel it's long past time to give a more balanced view of the subject in the hopes of fostering greater understanding of this alternative lifestyle.

As far as the specific plot elements of Ketchum's story, I thought they were fine. I find cannibalism, graphic torture and human dismemberment just as funny and amusing as the next guy and thought that the author did a nice job of providing an authentic and detailed representation of the practices discussed. While I do not currently practice cannibalism, I did experiment with the lifestyle for a time in college. During this time I learned a lot about the “Same Species Sustenance” Community and met a lot of wonderful people, several of whom I still count among my close friends (as long as I am armed). Thus, defending the rights and the dignity of the cannibal community is something about which I have strong feelings.

I believe that cannibalism, practiced in moderation, has the potential to be a very positive influence. For example, it's an excellent way to bring families closer as it provides a wonderful mechanism for siblings to spend "quality time" together. This can help to further strengthen bonds among family members and promote the forming of more “intimate” attachments with one another. This last quality is very important for families living alone in remote rural areas. In fact, statistics confirm that families that practice cannibalism, even if only once a week, are 7 to 10 times more likely to remain together across multiple generations.

In addition to strengthening family bonds, cannibalism is also a very effective way to stay in shape, especially if one makes a conscious effort to do their own stalking, trapping and dismembering. The fact is that obesity among cannibals is less than 1/10th of what it is in the general population. Plus, for those unable to participate in family hunting trips, there are excellent "home workout" vidoes for that can produce very positive results.

Finally, I believe it's critical to recognize that cannibalism is an excellent way to make a positive contribution to the environment. In addition to using very few fossil fuels or other products damaging to the environment, consumers of humans also help prevent ecological damage that can arise in areas with excess population growth. They are one of the most ecologically conscious consumer groups and have long been associated with the “Green” movement.

Plus, once processed through the digestive system, humans make a phenomenal natural fertilizer which provides further benefit to Mother Earth.

I hope the above makes clear that despite the ill-informed, slanted view of cannibals at times portrayed in this book, this community has many positive qualities and deserves to be treated fairly and with respect. I just wish the author would have made the brave choice and not pandered to the more powerful "anti" cannibal segment of the population.


Despite my above gripes, let me say again that I really liked this book. While there are some graphic scenes and some very disturbing imagery, the book kept my interest from the very first page and I basically read it straight through in a single sitting. Well written, well paced, high levels of tension and some very memorable scenes (disturbing, yes… but memorable).

The story concerns a close knit family of cannibals living a very “green” existence in a remote area of Maine. The book starts off great with a group of the younger family members out at night and cleverly fooling a passing female motorist to stop for them. This is a very exciting and suspenseful scene as it quickly becomes evident that the children are hungry but you have no idea whether they are going to be able to catch the woman who, thinking only of herself, flees into the forest. Well, I won’t give away what happens but I was instantly pulled into the narrative and the plight of this large extended family living a subsistence existence constantly on the border of starvation.

After a great beginning, the central plot gets rolling when the bad guys, 3 couples from Manhattan, arrive to stay at a remote cabin near where the family lives. The family, consisting of several dozen members ranging from an elderly matriarch to children under 5, decides that the 3 couples will provide several weeks worth on meals and go about planning to acquire them. That sums up the basic outline of the plot and it is really in its execution that the novel shows its chops.

I really liked the way the family members worked together while hunting and how they reacted to the many devious and unexpected actions of the scheming Manhattanites. I don’t want to give away spoilers here but I do think it is important to advise readers that several of the cannibal family members don't survive the story *sniff* so readers should be prepared. There are some very graphic and detailed descriptions of slaughter and the tension level is often extremely high.

As alluded to above, I did have several issues with the book. First, I thought the portrayal of the life of the cannibal family was rather negative and seemed to me to be evidence of the author’s bias against that lifestyle. The family is described as being fairly harsh and brutal towards one another with very little warmth among siblings. That is certainly not consistent with the portaryal depicted in the most reputable cannibal periodicals that I have seen. I can see members of a same species sustenance families taking offense at this portrayal.

I also did not really like the two prominent male family members (no names are given but I would describe one as "Mr Red shirt" and the other as "Mr Large and Bald." Don't get me wrong, they were very effective and were certainly "contributing" members of the family. I just found them personally to be very cold, unapproachable and even a little callous. This made it hard for me to identify with them and so I had a more difficult time caring about the hardships they encountered at the hands of the evil tourists.

I also had a problem with the significant time spent introducing the readers to the 3 couples after their arrival at the cabin. You see, the story takes place around winter time and it was very troubling to read page after page of these 6 self-involved assholes being all warm and cozy inside the cabin eating, drinking and fornicating while just outside the windows members of the family watched, cold and very, very hungry. It just seemed a little much but I guess that is why they call it horror.

Finally, I was somewhat taken aback by the ending which I found to be just over the top in its gratuitous violence. I won’t say any more beyond that I can not believe the author would have members of the police force acting with such brutality against local residents. Shocking and a bit of a sad commentary on the nature of our society.

Notwithstanding the above, I did find the book overall to be excellent. It is high octane, dark, brutal, extremely graphic and very effective for what it is. This was my first Jack Ketchum novel and I plan on reading more books by his very soon. I just hope he is a little more even-handed in his portrayals of cannibals in the future.

4.0 stars. Highly Recommended (with reservations).
Profile Image for Larry.
76 reviews8,740 followers
June 18, 2020
Well, not the worst I’ve read. Guessed the plot within the first 40 pages, which I’m never able to do. I need to make better choices...
Profile Image for Mort.
674 reviews1,350 followers
May 30, 2018
For the last 25 years, I have told anybody who would listen that IT by Stephen King is the best horror novel ever written. Right now, I’m not so sure anymore. This book simply blew my mind.

I was fortunate enough to read the author’s uncut, uncensored version. Even though this book was first published in 1980 – that’s right, 38 years ago – I’ve never had the opportunity to read that version. After reading the Afterword, it might have been a blessing. I don’t know if that particular ending would have sat very well with me. I happen to agree that this uncut version had the ending this story needed to give it that extra impact.

The idea behind the story might seem like a simple one (these days):
Take a tribe of primitive, inbred cannibals. Give them six out-of-towners and one full night without help from the outside world. See who can survive.

Maybe this was a fresh idea for 1980, but there have been many stories with this basic premises over the years. Don’t worry, I’m not going to compare it to any of them – they should be compared to this superior novel, if you want my opinion.

However, the writing is absolutely fantastic. Nobody dies in the first 130 pages of this 270 page story, and it takes an absolute master of the craft to be able to build the tension for so long without ever boring the reader. And when the shit hits the fan, you will be on the edge of your seat until this story is over.

I love – no, LOVE the idea that Ketchum took this story to another level. People were so used to horror stories and the tricks they tried to pull, that it was becoming predictable and sometimes even laughable. So Ketchum simply said:
Do you want to be scared again? I mean really, gut-wrenchingly, shit-your-pants scared? I will show you…I will give you something beyond your wildest imagination…I will fuck with your perception of horror…and I will never apologize!

It’s sad to think this author died earlier this year, but I think he will leave a legacy like few before or after him.

I’m going to end with a quote from the book, something that I really liked:
“Black coffee’s a lot like whiskey, you know? All devil and no trimmin’s. Always liked my sins pure and take it as it comes.”

Ask me again in six months what the best horror novel is…
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
March 20, 2014
An editor goes to a remote cabin in Maine to get away from things and work on editing her latest assignment. When her boyfriend and a group of friends arrive, they think they're going to have a relaxing week. Instead, they get a night of hell!

As part of my continuing education in horror, I decided to give Jack Ketchum a chance. Off Season was one of the works suggested to me by the crew.

Off Season is a tale of feral cannibals setting upon a cabin full of city folk in the Maine woods. That's pretty much the entire plot. It's a combination of survival horror and gore horror, particular emphasis on the gore.

This is one brutal book, as is expected when cannibal feral hillbillies are on the prowl. Shocking, bloody as hell, and not for the squeamish. Seriously. If you're inclined to squeam at all, you'll be squeaming all over the place. People getting gutted and eaten, raped, chewed up, you name it. Have I yet conveyed how much revolting stuff happens?

At the end, I wouldn't say I liked it but it was powerful and engaging. Ketchum doesn't just cross the line, he covers it with blood and intestines and drags it for a couple miles through the woods. Three out of five stars. I'm willing to read another Ketchum book but it'll be a while.
Profile Image for Joshua.
36 reviews13 followers
September 17, 2023
Welcome to Vacationland. Ketchum gives an entirely new definition to tourist season... hunting them instead of catering to them. He picked an ideal setting for a family of inbred cannibals to make their home. It is a place we call ‘Fah (far) Downeast’ where few of the family trees have branches.

The publisher splashed a quote across the front cover from Creepy Uncle Steve to promote the book: Who is the scariest man in America? Jack Ketchum. To be real, it worked because it’s what got me to read it.

There seemed to be two authors writing this. A Janus -faced writer who produces butter smooth sentences depicting horrific graphic violence, and then another who disregards basic writing rules and shleps the flow with awkward clunky sentences. When flexing his chops, the writing is brilliant, but the story between the action lacks the same level of fluidity. I try not to let that aspect bother me because on my best day I struggle to write at Ketchum’s worst. Who am I to judge? However, the incongruity of writing acumen between the narration and the action weaved throughout the book was a tad annoying. Now that I got that gripe off my chest, I can focus on the story.

The gore is on the level of The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn movies. The scariest aspect is the possibility this story could happen. A documentation of what the human animal is capable of in its ignorance. Superstitious troglodytes who kill for a purpose aside from having a hankering for long-pig. A “what could happen scenario” if people accepted pain as the supreme divinity and chose to believe we are all suffering spirits who need to be released from our meatsuit. Think about that the next time you stare into some unfamiliar woods…
Profile Image for Ron.
394 reviews97 followers
April 24, 2022
It'd be impossible for me recommend that others read this book. I don't think I've ever started a review by saying such a thing. Look above and you'll see four stars, so obviously I did not dislike what I read. There are two ways to look at it though. The first is, it scared the you know what out of me. At times my stomach churned, and I had to remind myself that what I was reading wasn't real. It was only on the page. And that's the second way to look at it. Jack Ketchum had once again put me in that space. Has another author done the same? Yes, but not in the same manner, and certainly not with two books. He makes what shouldn't feel real, all too real. I can't explain exactly how he does it, except to say it's in the writing. This being his first novel (published in 1981), the writing is not quite on the level it would become. Then again, at this date I have read only three of his books, so I can't say that with all knowing truth. I can say that the writing in “The Girl Next Door” is yet a step up, while at the same time being the other book difficult to recommend.

Off Season: Unexpurgated. It's the version I just completed. Jack Ketchum explains what the word means in the afterward. Ballantine Books wanted to publish Jack's first novel. With a few revisions. So after a sit-down, and some haggling with an editor, he agreed to a round of cuts and alterations. And that is the version I hold in my hands. Holy shit, I thought. The book which then made it to the shelves, the 1981 published version, had taken a second round of cuts. If you've read that version, there were some further modifications that had mattered to Jack, including a change to the ending. The way he explains it, that change was crucial, both thematically and dramatically, and much darker. The book didn't sell the millions of copies the publishers had promised. In fact, it took a beating for its violence, and Ballantine backed off on the publicity and the sales. Still, the book would have a major impact.

Anyway that's it. I know I didn't explain much about the plot. I can't find the right words to do so. But, if you happen to have read my review, and then somehow find yourself reading the book, don't I hadn't warned you.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,219 reviews9,920 followers
July 31, 2015
Ten ways to review Off Season, a book about cannibals!!

1. Let's go to the movies with Jack Ketchum

Some Like them Hot
Stir the Right One In
The Incr Edibles
Bringing Up Baby
The Best Ears of Our Lives
The Green Bile
No Recipe for Old Men

(this could go on)

2. Off Season, the Musical

He Will Tear us Apart (sung by Laura)
Everybody Spurts (sung by the chief cannibal)
Stir it Up (sung by his female companion)
Oops! I Did it Again! (sung by the chief cannibal)
All I have to Eat is Spleen (an old Everly Brothers song, sung by the grumpy cannibal teenager)
This Arm Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us (sung by the grumpy cannibal children)

(etc etc)

3. The Really Rough Guide to Maine

Off Season is The Rough Guide to Maine as written by Jeffrey Dahmer. It's a wild and gruesome envelope pushing ride, indeed, the envelope is pushed so far you can no longer see it, it's just a dim memory, er, was that thing an envelope? I can't remember, maybe there was an envelope once, but not any more (etc etc)

4. At the tutorial

I see by the amount of green in your faces that only some of you have made the time to read Off Season. This is of course the unexpurgated edition of a novel which has been heralded as er er er..a founding text of splatterpunk. So how, we may ask, hmm, does it stand up, post-Saw, post-Hostel, and post, indeed indeed, hmm hmm, yes, splatterpunk itself? (etc etc)

5. i don't know anymore

Think of Off Season as something Dr Hannibal Lecter would have woke up screaming from. Mainely because of the pedestrian writing, the dubious psychology, the atrocities-by-rote, and the desperate lack of any decent chianti.

6. Ah those fanboys

Strictly for gorehounds and unless they're as degenerate as the kutthroat krew of krazed kannibals with which we which who how, then their cup will be running over with human brains, ha ha ha! (Etc etc)

[sorry about that. I think I was drunk when I wrote that. i don't know what it means.]

7. on and on and on

Off Season is the 1980s version of the Sawney Bean legend or to put it another way a rewrite of The Hills Have Eyes (1977). You know the score, every other horror movie has the same plot. But this is not the right stick to beat them with. If you take blues or doo wop music, the same rigid structures are in place for every blues or doo wop song. A tiny variation here, a nuance there. This is genre, and the appreciation of genre lies in your relish of the variations and the nuances of the same thing endlessly cycling round. (Etc etc)

8. nearly over now

Off Season presents us with the very unlikely idea of a tribe of degenerate cannibals living undetected in the USA of the 1980s. Okay, they're descended from people who'd been trapped on an island, but anthropologically speaking this novel is all over the place, it has no theoretical underpinnings, Ketchum is clearly making it up as he goes along. He clearly knows nothing about clan structure and language patterns. The tribe is still in the hunter-gatherer stage and yet they have a fully formed English grammar. What Margaret Mead or Levi-Strauss would have made of Ketchum's cannibals one shudders to think. (Etc etc)

9. the personal note

I wonder why I read the occasional horror book & watch the occasional horror movie – what is it about these sadistic fantasies that draws me in – why only the other day I laid aside my copy of Edna O'Brien's delicate coming-of-age novel about two 14 years olds in rural Ireland in the 1950s to watch Shuttle, the critically reviled horror flick from 2008 (mumble mumble etc etc)

10. How very ironic!

Of course you could review this penny dreadful horror novel in a lightly humorous ten-different-ways-to-review-the-unreviewable way and then in the last section you could satirise your own desire to write wacky reviews, which would be the perfect way to end, don't you think?
Chief cannibal : Not if I've got anything to do with it, mate! (Speaking bizarrely in perfect English even though in every other way he epitomises human degeneracy and extreme lack of manners).

Sound effect : Crunch! Munch!

P Bryant: Aaarh! arrgh! How can I write reviews without any fingers??

Chief cannibal (speaking with his mouth full, as usual) : You could dictate.
Profile Image for Johann (jobis89).
674 reviews4,302 followers
August 2, 2021
4.5 stars. It was fucked up and disturbing and disgusting and I couldn’t get enough. My only complaint? I wish it was LONGER.
Profile Image for Blake Crouch.
Author 83 books47.1k followers
July 2, 2016
Originally published in ITW's THRILLERS: 100 Must-Reads

Jack Ketchum, a pseudonym for Dallas Mayr (1946 - ), owns some of the blackest real estate in the world of thriller fiction. A former literary agent and actor, Ketchum published his first novel, Off Season, to the dismay of the mainstream literary establishment and the delight of what would grow into a cult following. Over the last quarter of a century, he has published numerous novels, novellas, and works of short fiction. However, only in the last five years has he gained notoriety, largely due to the praises of Stephen King. In 2003, while accepting the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, King said, “There’s another writer here tonight who writes under the name of Jack Ketchum and he has also written what may be the best book of his career, a long novella called ‘The Crossings.’ Have you read it? Have any of the judges read it?” In his approach to thrillers, as typified by The Lost, Red, She Wakes, and The Girl Next Door, Ketchum defines fearless and unflinching.
Off Season isn’t Jack Ketchum’s best book or even his most disturbing. It is, however, his first and his most important, since as Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho (1960), altered the landscape of horror films, Off Season remapped the boundaries of where writers could go in the name of suspense.
But as often happens when something different arrives, the critics didn’t understand. The Village Voice condemned Off Season as violent pornography, and even Ketchum’s publisher and distributors were stricken with a late case of buyer’s remorse, finally losing their nerve about giving the book the full marketing and publicity push they had originally intended. Then there were the edits Ketchum was strong-armed into making—the toning down of the most brutal scenes (no recipe for man-meat jerky or cock-stump spitting), and a deal-breaking ultimatum from his publisher to let a character live whom he had every intention of killing—so that the 1981 publication, while still chockfull of groundbreaking unpleasantness, did not embody Ketchum’s initial vision, which was to write, in his words, something with the “kind of teeth pretty much unseen before in mass-market fiction.” Following its initial 1981 publication, the book promptly went out of print until Leisure Press finally released Ketchum’s uncut, uncensored version of the novel a quarter of a century later in 2006.
Enviably accomplished for a debut novel, Off Season draws its inspiration from the legend of Sawney Bean, the Scottish leader of a 15th or 16th Century clan which engaged in mass murder and cannibalism until their capture, torture, and execution. Off Season’s narrative structure, while by no means revolutionary, is deceptively simple and ingenious. Six friends meet at a remote cabin in the Maine woods, not far from the coast—Nick, Marjie, Dan, Laura, Carla, and Jim. One of the most intelligent choices Ketchum makes is not to rush anything. The first 130 pages are essentially violence-free and dedicated to the introduction of the six main characters, along with foreshadowing of the horrible events to come. The sense of increasing dread is palpable, and by the time the family of cannibals gets around to attacking the vacationers at the cabin, the suspense has been ratcheted to an unbearable degree.
If the first 130 pages is foreplay, the last 140 is the roughest, nastiest, most brutal thriller you will ever read. “Unflinching” is thrown around liberally these days in blurbs, to the point where the word has lost its impact. But Ketchum truly is unflinching in a way that few other writers have dared to be, and this is what sets him and his debut novel apart. The author’s chief talent lies in creating scenes of overwhelming violence in such a lean, straightforward, and disinterested style, that it is simultaneously torture to read but impossible to look away.
Witness Ketchum’s portrayal of the second character’s death:

"In a slow, deliberate motion he reached into the chest and touched the heart. It was still warm, still beating. He severed the veins and arteries with the knife and lifted the muscle into the light, and still it beat, steaming in the cool air. For the man this moment was the nexus of all mystery and wonder, the closest thing he knew to worship. He stared until finally the heart was still."

At the center of the carnage and mayhem stands the character of George Peters, the decent lawman, appalled and disgusted by what he sees, an early incarnation of Sheriff Bell from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, and Police Chief Marge Gunderson of Fargo fame. Sheriff Peters is order, or the attempt to restore order in the face of pure depravity, and like the reader, if he escapes harm, it is only a physical escape. His and our psyches will never recover.
Though Off Season was published at a time when such independent slasher films as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) were challenging the shock value of Psycho, there is little to compare. Those films are comical, cheap, even childish in their treatment of violence, in a way that is completely diametric to the very adult study of violence that is the foundation of Off Season. If anything, the novel was a nod to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and a precursor to Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial novel, American Psycho (1991), Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003), and the best work of Takashi Miike, the prolific Japanese director of such ultra-violent films as Audition (1999) and Ichi the Killer (2001).
What makes Off Season so effective and important is Ketchum’s masterful manipulation of the reader. Just as in Psycho, Off Season’s erstwhile hero, Carla, is killed first and most horribly. This is Ketchum grabbing the bullhorn and screaming at the reader: “No one is safe or off-limits in this book! Not even you!” And while Off Season muses on such “big ideas” as the rational v. the natural, the family unit, and urban v. rural, its most enduring message concerns the abrupt ugliness of human violence, and how people face such extreme situations and horrors that come out of nowhere. The violence that occurs in this book touches us so profoundly because it is perfectly reminiscent of the awful and sudden turns that life can take. It is ultimately the unpredictable, uncompromising way Ketchum rains his terrors down upon his characters and the reader that earns Off Season a place in the canon of classic thriller fiction.
Off Season may upset you. It may even make you sick. But it won’t make you feel cheap. Whether you have the nerve to survive Ketchum’s tale and hear what he has to say about violence and the human condition is another matter. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Profile Image for Sadie Hartmann.
Author 21 books4,854 followers
August 18, 2021
In Jack Ketchum’s universe, a primitive, human family lives in a cave by the ocean. The men, women, and children of this clan hunt and kill other humans for food. Our story opens with a heart-pounding prologue that gives a little taste of the unflinching brutality and violence to come.
There is a surprising amount of set-up and character development. It is not at all an exaggeration to say that this book is the gold standard by which all other extreme horror novels should be measured. A professional woman is on holiday in a cabin by the sea waiting for her sister and a few friends. The dynamic between this friend group is intimately explored through individual perspectives. The reader becomes acquainted with each character’s personality and the way they perceive the world and their circumstances.
Meanwhile, in the sleepy beach town nearby, local authorities are doing a half-assed job investigating a series of strange cases. Of course, the prologue has given the reader information the town sheriff doesn’t have, so it’s a lesson in frustration to anticipate how blindsided these police officers are going to be when they discover who (or what) is behind these disappearances.
All of this to say, by the time the feral human monsters descend upon their prey all of the up-front emotional investment makes it an extremely uncomfortable experience. The kill scenes are brutal but more intense than the graphic depictions of violence are the up close and personal real-time experiences of the victims as they are being tortured, burned, and eaten alive. More than once, one of the characters expressed a thought or an idea that hit way too close to home. Ketchum truly thinks about what he’s putting his characters through and then uses their struggle to reach right out from the page and poke at the reader. I felt everything. It’s a very disturbing, emotional experience. I don’t feel this is a five-star read like RED was for me because the storyline is not complicated or intricately plotted. No twists. No turns. Just one bleak moment after the other.
Profile Image for Iloveplacebo.
384 reviews214 followers
September 18, 2020
No me puedo imaginar este libro censurado, así que me alegra que lo publicaran como el autor lo escribió desde el principio.
Este libro sin la sangre, la violencia, la crudeza, el sexo..., pierde todo.

No es el tipo de terror que suelo leer pero me ha gustado mucho, más de lo que pensaba. También he de decir que pensé que me iba a dar más asquete todo el tema gore, pero no. Supongo que me impresionan más las películas (lo visual), que los libros (mi imaginación); y eso que es muy fácil imaginar todas las escenas gore, porque el autor te las describe de una forma magistral.

Personajes creíbles, una historia dura y cruda, mucha acción, mucha sangre, y un final más que digno.
Muy recomendable.
Profile Image for Chad.
Author 85 books669 followers
July 26, 2021
Well, that was brutal!
Quite the page-turner. Finished it in three days, which is pretty fast for me. I'm not sure reading a book like this that fast is great for the psyche, but it was about time I got around to one of my favorite author's first book.
Profile Image for Tressa .
541 reviews
April 4, 2009
For me, this is the horror book to end all horror books. It is the apex of terror tales. No book has come close to topping Off Season, and I doubt that any ever will.

In a rural area off the coast of Maine live a tribe of cannibals. Over the decades travellers and townspeople have disappeared here, but these have been chalked up to the nature of an increasingly mobile, exploding population. People disappear every minute all over the world, don't they?

The tension begins immediately and never lets up. Six adults—two of them sisters—are vacationing in a cabin. As they eat, sleep, and relax in nature, they are silently being stalked by the cannibal clan, who soon set off an unrelenting assault on the cabin. Before you can say "pass the A1," several have been killed, one has been roasted on a pit, and two of the women have been taken back to the cave. And it's in this cave where we see just how these men, women, and children flourished all these years . You'll be tempted to flip to the last page to see how this book could possibly end. If you managed to make it all the way through, you might want to catch up with the inbreds in Offspring.

This is the book that made Jack Ketchum a legend of the horror genre. It must have been a badge of honor to Ketchum for The Village Voice, of all publications, to criticize this book for its "violent pornography."
Profile Image for Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede.
1,937 reviews797 followers
January 9, 2016
Oh my god what a disturbing book. There were moments when I dreaded to continue reading it because I just knew that things would go horribly fucked up with a lot of gore. And it did. This is not the kind of books I usually read and I honestly don’t know if I want to read more of its kind. Not that the book was bad, it was good, just a bit too disgusting for my taste I must admit. I prefer paranormal horror that makes you wonder if you should check under the bed and the closet before you sleep not the kind that makes you feel sick.

Profile Image for TK421.
561 reviews267 followers
March 30, 2011
This may be one of the most disturbing novels I have ever read. Enough said. (Although, I cannot agree with the previous establishment of rating this novel as "violent pornography". In my estimation, if more horror writers took half the amount of chances in thier work as Ketchum does in his, this genre might be more respected.)


(This recommendation must be clarified: I do not condone cannibalism in any form.)
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,214 reviews3,215 followers
October 11, 2020
2.5 Stars
This was an incredibly gruesome horror book involving cannibals. Unfortunately, I was not very invested in the characters or storyline so I did not actually find it very disturbing. I am realizing that hillbilly cannibals is just not a subgenre I tend to enjoy. Also, the oversexualization of women really annoyed me. 

I got to read the uncut version and it was interesting to read the author's note that outlined what was cut in the original publication.
Profile Image for Brandon Baker.
Author 14 books4,621 followers
October 3, 2022
The best way I can think to describe this book is if the movies The Strangers and The Hills Have Eyes had a baby. Inbred mutants stalk and attack a group of unsuspecting friends vacationing on the Maine coastline during the off season. Brutally violent and gory. I’ll probably have nightmares tonight. It’s that kind of book!!
Profile Image for Plagued by Visions.
200 reviews567 followers
February 1, 2022
A more thorough review and discussion to come on my channel, but I’ll give a few words here:

I first read this as a senior in high school, and was simply shocked and transfixed by the violent nature of the story.

Now, 10 years later, I was able to appreciate more of what is going on beneath the surface of this tale. Off Season is, above all, a merciless, suffocating, and unbelievably effective study of time and its horrific grip on our mortality. It’s everything, from the way each chapter is titled after the grueling passing few hours through which the entire story unfolds, to the treatment of time in terms of the way it affects our environments and psyches: seasonal shifts, the fast nature of urbanity, the languid and derelict pace of rurality, the heart-stopping violation of flesh, putrefaction, the suddenness and quickness of violence, the numbing of the brain against an overload of life-altering changes, etc., etc.

Everything here is spoken of in terms of temporality, and with Ketchum at the helm, the theme is worked within an inch of its life. He really deploys his mastery and deep, philosophical understanding of the effects time has on our volatile bodies, and how cannibalizing is, more than anything, a self-enacted death drive. I know calling a horror book about backwoods cannibals “beautiful” might be a bit unhinged, but that being said: This novel is stunningly beautiful, captivatingly brutal, and one of Ketchum’s best works.
Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews841 followers
October 27, 2017
Off Season: A Dash of Fear

From ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties, Good Lord, deliver us--Old Scottish Prayer

Some time ago a woman with an angelic face asked me if I had ever read anything by Jack Ketchum. Well, I hadn't. Until now. Off Season is my first venture into the novels of Jack Ketchum. Let's say it's a book for the reader with a taste for the different.

After a little research into the author, I was intrigued. Ketchum is a four time Bram Stoker Award winner and was named Grand Master of Horror in 2009. His mentor was Robert Bloch Bloch praised and supported Ketchum's writing. Their friendship began in the 1980s and continued until Bloch's death in 1994. Pretty strong credentials, Mr. Ketchum.

So I, being the completeist reader, decided to start at the beginning with this nasty little tale of six Manhattanites staying in an isolated cabin on the Dead River in Maine. The cabin is just a short distance from the coast. Across from an island, formerly the location of a lighthouse with a long history of light keepers and their families meeting less than pleasant demises.

The plot is quite simple. First there were six New Yorkers. Then there were five. Then there were...you get the picture.

As for that old Scottish Incantation that appears at the beginning of this review, forget it. It won't do you any good. After all, the most horrific monsters are human. Or of human creation.

The monsters that prey on the civilized enjoying a cabin in the off season is a savage family of few adults and a brood of children. They have a taste for meat. They prefer human flesh. This group instinctively knows that fear makes flesh more tender. They are masters of inflicting terror.

Ketchum depicts one hellish night of horror. His writing is lean and mean. His sentences are short, declarative. Ketchum has said that his major literary influences were Charles Bukowski, Jim Harrison, Ernest Hemingway, and of course, Robert Bloch. Ketchum is a master disciple of those he admires.

Originally published by Ballentine Books in 1980, this novel became a hit for readers of horror, with sales in excess of 250,000. And that was the expurgated edition. This review is of the novel as Ketchum originally wrote it, published by Overland Connections in 2006. Steven King asked, "Who's the scariest guy in America? " His answer? "Probably Jack Ketchum." I'd have to agree.

I'll warn you. This one is not for the squeamish. Ketchum makes the hair on the back of your neck prickle. It will make you wonder what's really behind that angelic face of a lovely woman who asks "Have you read any Jack Ketchum?"
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,415 followers
March 25, 2012
The biggest flaw of Off Season is its publishing date - 1980. As it was a debut novel, the publishing house had quite a lot of power over the author, and made him cut and edit the book the way they wanted. Upon publication the book raised extreme controversy, due to its violent and graphic nature. It got so bad that Ballantine, who initially published the novel, decided to stop supporting it and withtdrew it from circulation after the first printings.

In 1999 a small publishing house specialising in horror fiction - Cemetery Dance - picked it up for an reissue; this time including the author's original version, including the text which has been cut from or edited in the first publication. The result got a glowing blurb from Stephen King who called the author "probably the scariest guy in America". After 19 years, readers can finally read the work as the author intended it.

And it turns out that there's not much to swoon over, if anything. The storyline is absolutely basic - a group of friends go to a small coastline town in Maine for a vacation, where they are targeted by a group of inbred, cannibalistic savages, who live in a small cave and go out hunting at night. Such plot might have been original or groundbreaking in 1980, but since then it has been done to death (get it?) in horror movies and novels. The characters are cardboard and boring, the most interesting being the savages. The novel is driven almost entirely by the horrific acts of violence, described in gruesome detail. The violence is extreme and the author pulls absolutely no punches, but that's pretty much all the is to it.

The second biggest flaw of Off Season is that it's an one trick pony; there's no meat to it, if you'll pardon the pun. It has little re-read value, and aims more at the gross out and shock factors than anything else. Not that it's neccesarily bad; it's just that it's not what I would expect from a novel praised so highly. The copy I was reading had an extra short story at the end, "Winter Child", which I thought was much more atmospheric and climatic than the whole novel.
Profile Image for Carlos González.
Author 27 books44 followers
November 8, 2021
Descubrí este libro por casualidad, trasteando por Goodreads. Aunque prefiero el terror paranormal, el canibalismo es un tema que me genera una inquietud atávica, primitiva. Algo que rechina en el fondo del cerebro como uñas sobre una pizarra.

En Off Season encontrarás gore extremo. A raudales. Y con extremo me refiero a que el autor no se guarda nada. Detalles sobre amputaciones, sobre cómo cocinan carne humana, sobre cómo huele, sobre cómo queda la carcasa de lo que hasta poco antes había sido una persona preocupada por cosas como si le gusta más Fulanito o su amigo, o sobre si debería darse una ducha antes de dormir o al despertarse. Una carcasa que ya no parece más que un objeto. Algo desechado en un rincón, mirando con ojos vacíos cómo esos salvajes se ceban con las distintas partes de su cuerpo.

En algunas escenas agradecí tener en estómago vacío.

En el libro se indica que esta es la versión sin censura. Pero al parecer hubo durante años otra en la que se habían censurado varias de las escenas más truculentas.

Durante la primera mitad de la novela, se presenta el entorno, las leyendas sobre el lugar, se va creando el ambiente. Los personajes, unos amigos que se reúnen en una casa en el quinto pino, sin nadie más a kilómetros a la redonda. Así que ya empiezas olerte el pastel, y a hacer apuestas mentales acerca de quién sobrevivirá y quién terminará como happy meal para caníbales.

La segunda mitad, es en realidad una única escena que no da respiro. De hecho, pensaba leer un rato, y terminé devorándolo de una sentada.

En fin, salvajismo puro. Como una peli de serie B a altas horas de la madrugada que no se guarda ni un detalle. Morbosidad truculenta no apta para estómagos sensibles. Es lo que es, y la he disfrutado.

El estilo (puede que por contraste con gran parte de lo que se publica estos últimos años) es efectivo. A pesar de que esta (si no me equivoco) fue su primera novela publicada, se nota el oficio que ya llevaba a sus espaldas. Resultan interesantes los saltos que realiza de cuando en cuando hacia el punto de vista de los caníbales. También juega mucho a hacer pensar que todo ha terminado, justo antes de pasar a una escena aún peor. Y lo hace con maestría.

No es una historia que releería. Pero me acompañará mucho tiempo.

Y, me temo, muchas noches.

Estilo: 7’5/10
Historia: 5/10
Diversión: 8/10

Puntuación final: 8/10
Profile Image for Michael Hicks.
Author 36 books442 followers
January 31, 2018
Jack Ketchum is an author whose works have been in my digital to-read pile for ages. I'm loathe to admit it, but he's one of those writers synonymous with the horror genre whose work, for whatever reason, I just hadn't read yet. I decided to correct that in 2018. Last week, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, Jack Ketchum lost his battle with cancer. His passing ignited an urgent need in me to finally discover exactly what I had been missing. I wanted to get to know a bit the man who so many fellow authors called either, or in some instances both, a friend and an inspiration. I decided to start with Off Season, Ketchum's first novel.

Holy crap, what a first novel! It's not entirely perfect - the characters are a bit thin, many of them barely rising out of cardboard cutout territory prior to their victimization - but it is compulsively readable and utterly engrossing.

New York book editor Carla has retreated to the Maine woods for a working vacation, one that, if her nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic pays off, will be more vacation than work. She's invited her sister, friends, and lover to visit and enjoy the quiet. The home she's rented for the month would be idyllic if not for the hungry cannibals whose primal interests her visit has drawn. What follows is an absolutely brutal, nightmarish siege of frenetic violence and misery. Hope is sparse as the blood flows freely from one shocking, nerve destroying, encounter to the next.

I've read previously that Ketchum was inspired by the films Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and boy-howdy do those influences shine through. Ketchum, though, is no pale imitator. Whatever thematic resonance of those films he rode high on while writing Off Season are run through the proverbial meat-grinder twice-over and once more for good measure. There's no joy to be found, and any moments of humor are of the blackest pitch. This is not a fun, action-packed creature feature romp. This is horror shone through the prism of reality, and it's one bleak, serious as a heart attack, motherfucker of a book.

It's also damn good. Damn good.

I may be shamefully late to the party, but I can guarantee you I'll be sticking around for a while now.
Profile Image for Tracy Robinson.
491 reviews151 followers
June 27, 2019
Review tomorrow! I’ll read the Included short, WINTERS CHILD, after I read SHE WAKES.

Ha! Apparently I need to work on my definition of “tomorrow”.

So. This book is absolutely brutal and gory. Content warnings for rape, graphic abuse. Just wanted to give a heads up for any reader friends this might be triggering for.

Off Season covers a family of cannibal killers and their “interactions” with a group of friends who are just looking for a relaxing cabin getaway. Yeah - not happening.

Ketchum’s writing is, as always, masterful. There are no words wasted and the ending is just DARK. The author notes in this edition that when this was being readied for its first publication, the big press he worked with wanted to make massive changes. One was to the END. I’ll not be reading that version and I’m glad I didn’t. If you’re coming to this book, I highly recommend reading this edition (Leisure) - the changes in the other would RUIN the meaning.

I’ll be going on to read Offspring in July. Can’t wait to see what’s happens!
Profile Image for Wayne Barrett.
Author 3 books107 followers
April 13, 2017


There is some extreme grotesqueness in this story but somehow it lost its punch as it neared the end. The condition and character of the children in the opening scene grabbed my attention and I knew I was in for a macabre ride.


I wouldn't say the book necessarily ended badly so much as I think my senses had just become numb and grew tired of the chase. This was a story of survival against the cruelest, cannibalistic scenario possible, made even more terrible because most of the assailants were feral children. And even though they were just children, I couldn't wait to see them getting their tiny little heads blown off. This whole story was a chase and a battle that started with blood and guts and ended the same way.

This was a great addition to my Halloween season read, but there wasn't much depth in the way of a plot. It's like abstract art... take a handfull of intestines, throw them against a wall leaving a gory splatter and say... frame it!
Profile Image for Melissa.
446 reviews
March 1, 2016
I can see why this book was a bit of a game changer in 1980. I'm glad I got to read it in the format intended by the author (albeit still not the original manuscript, which no longer exists) instead of the cleaned-up version. Warning: It is graphic and even this seasoned reader of horror novels winced several times! Some "gross" books have zero story line and bore me to tears. This one had a simple plot, but it was still engaging because the characters...even the CRAZY cannibals...were skillfully brought to life (and death) within these pages. Had I a copy of this book back in the early '80's, I would've hid under the covers for a month. Now, I just gag, laugh, and keep reading.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
182 reviews398 followers
August 25, 2022
I’ve finally found a book that scared me!! 🎉🎉

The tension and anxiety and buildup in the beginning of this book was absolutely *chefs kiss* (and to the point where my husband walked thru the door and I practically threw the book bc it startled me so bad)

This book is GRUESOME and graphic and horrifying and absolutely does not hold back. I was disgusted and just could not stop reading. I even read the Authors note at the end, which I never do! Because I wanted to know more more more.

On to buy more Jack Ketchum…
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