Stranglehold

January 9, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

StrangleholdStranglehold by Jack Ketchum

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Ketchum has taken us to dark places. Feral cannibals. Unrelenting torture. Disturbed individuals. He also shows us great strength of character, and peppers his stories with enough hope to keep you reading, wishing for a happy ending for all involved. But when he gives us the darkness without the hope, it gets much darker.

Stranglehold is about how abuse is passed down through generations. The story begins somewhat innocuously, with the introduction of two individuals who will eventually become married, and shows how they’re raised to respond to abuse. We meet them when they’re very young, so a good chunk of the novel is the two of them growing up, becoming who they are. One of Ketchum’s strong points is his characterization, so this isn’t boring exposition we’re talking about, but once the story does get going, it flies like a shot from a railgun.

Stranglehold is about sexual abuse performed by parents. After the main characters get married, they have a son, which triggers a rash of abuse from the father. Originally isolated to the mother, it’s later transferred to the son. He begins to exhibit odd behavior in response to the abuse, and the mother’s protections elicit terrible violence from her husband one evening. After a terrible beating, she files for divorce, which, given the circumstances, is fairly uneventful.

Stranglehold is also about the limitations of the justice system. After their divorce, the parents enter into a custody battle once the mother discovers what the father has been doing. Without any strong evidence, or even a confession from the son, the proceedings become tense, emotional, and frustrating. The readers know exactly what happened, and what needs to happen, but Ketchum teases us with the possibility that he just might get away with it. It’s an excruciating experience, as Ketchum also portrays the helplessness the mother feels regarding the system.

In Joyride, as well as in The Girl Next Door, Ketchum allows his protagonists a reprieve from their punishments, based on the idea that they had suffered enough. In Stranglehold, he takes this away from us. In a way, it’s disappointing, but it’s a strong reminder that sometimes life simply isn’t fair. Sometimes, life perpetuates its own pattern of abuse.

Ketchum’s novels are the sorts of books you don’t want to finish, yet you feel like you need to. This is no less true for Stranglehold, considering the important themes of this novel.

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