Right to Life

January 22, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

lifeRight to Life by Jack Ketchum

—–

Sara Foster. She’s an ex-wife, mother to a son who died at six years old several  years ago, lover to a married man, and pregnant with his child. For a variety of reasons, she’s decided not to keep the baby. The day she goes to the clinic, though, she’s kidnapped by a pro-life couple who are determined to see her through to keeping her child.

Right to Life feels like a throw-back to The Girl Next Door. Both stories involve a woman, captive, suffering torture at the whims of a psychopath. The stories are different enough, but the core of the two works are significantly similar. The main difference is that in The Girl Next Door, the torture is something that gets out of control as the participants remove all limits on their game, while in Right to Life, the participants recognize their limits. They lose control in themselves near the end, but the fact that they’re keeping her captive because they want her child keeps them in check for much of the story.

The other difference between the stories is that The Girl Next Door is an up-close, personal, unflinching look at what people are capable of doing. Right to Life, on the other hand, looks at the events from a distance, even though much of the torture is told from Sara’s perspective. It seemed a step removed, somehow, like Ketchum was afraid to get too close to the horrors he portrayed in The Girl Next Door.

Parts of the story felt rushed, too, while The Girl Next Door had an almost casual pace to its telling. Sara was kept captive for three months, but the bulk of the story only covers the first six days. Ketchum tells us what happens in the time between his narrative, which contributes to the feeling that there’s distance in how he tells the story. The ending was sudden, almost shockingly so. I’m used to protagonists having at least two attempts before they finally succeed against the antagonist, but here it just happened, over the course of about three pages. It wasn’t an unsatisfactory ending, but it felt so rushed that I found myself questioning if it had really happened.

All of this makes me think that Ketchum wanted the point of this story to be its theme. He portrays the pro-lifers ironically, as they’re clearly killers, and he touches on the issue of abortion as a woman’s choice and right. Even then, though, the story feels ambiguous, as by the end of the story, not only has Sara had her baby, but she’s also content with her decision (such as it is; she’s been held captive so long that it’s no longer a choice to keep it). I can see people on both sides of the argument finding support in this story.

This was a re-read for me, and while I took more out of the story than I think I did the first time around, I still don’t see it as being a great story. Ketchum has a reputation for not holding back, but it felt like he did with this story, making it less effective. It certainly belongs in his body of work as an example of what he writes, but neither is it an example of his best work. For that, readers should still focus on The Girl Next Door or Hide and Seek.

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