The Crossings

January 20, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

crossingsThe Crossings by Jack Ketchum

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There was an article published recently about the pointlessness of the violence portrayed in this year’s darling at the movies, The Revenant. I saw the movie, and didn’t think much of it, but the article helped me realize why: there’s a brutality in this world that’s best understood from a distance, but instead it zooms in on the details and puts it right in your face. I’ve given up on horror movies over the last ten years or so, too, since they’re now more about shock than scare, but I still read a lot of disturbing fiction, because it’s easier to stomach that sort of thing in a book than in a movie. That’s a large part of why I haven’t given up on reading all of Ketchum’s work, despite the pointlessness to a lot of his violence, as well.

I think a distinction has to be made, though, between gratuitous and necessary when judging the amount of violence in any given medium. In The Crossings, the violence is understated (at least in terms of Ketchum), but there’s a scene near the end of the novel that stands out as an example of that heartless, pointless brutality that populates so much of the author’s work. Ketchum rarely shows us that intimate brutality without making it necessary to understand his characters; in this novella, he uses it to showcase the brutality of the enemies, but also to highlight the strengths of those who witness it. It’s very necessary for their motivations, their character growth, and the plot, so it doesn’t count as gratuitous, disturbing as it is.

The Crossings is a western story, which at first seemed like an odd choice for Ketchum to write. Then I realized that a lot of his work shows to what lengths people will go when their boundaries and limits are removed, and the Old West is a place where that happened quite a bit. In Ketchum’s world, the genre intersected nicely with his usual style of fiction.

Reading all of Ketchum’s work at once like I’ve been doing hasn’t been easy. I keep returning to this dark, depraved world of his, and over time, it gets exhausting. His stories have a compelling nature that makes it difficult to stop reading them, in part to see what happens next, but also because the reader holds out a touch of hope for things to get better. Ketchum doesn’t always give it to us, but when he does, it makes the rest of the events easier to comprehend.

Ketchum’s other novellas have felt like lesser stories, but The Crossings is better developed overall than his other shorter works. For once, the story didn’t feel to short, as neither the plot nor the characters received short shrift here. It’s not a place I would recommend fans of dark fiction to start with Ketchum, but for those readers who have cut their teeth on his other fiction and are looking for another dive into that darkness, The Crossings is a good choice.

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