The Game: Something so terrible that you can't look away

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"The first authentically shocking American film I've seen since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer over 20 years ago. If you are easily disturbed, you should not watch this movie. If, on the other hand, you are prepared for a long look into hell, suburban style, The Girl Next Door will not disappoint. This is the dark-side-of-the-moon version of Stand By Me." - Stephen King

The following is information that I got off of Wikipedia regarding the actual true story that Ketchum based his novel on:

Sylvia Likens and her younger sister Jenny were left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski, a single mother of seven children, by their parents, who were traveling carnival workers. As the months passed, Sylvia became the target of horrendous abuse at the hands of Baniszewski, who not only senselessly beat the young girl, but allowed her children to do so, as well as the neighborhood children who frequently visited the household. The final days of young Sylvia's life were spent locked in the basement of the home, where she was tied up, starved, beaten and tortured. Only three months after arriving in the home, Sylvia Likens succumbed to her injuries and died.”

A lot of my friends have watched or read Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into when I picked up the book. I must admit that even though I knew what to expect… I was still a little weary of it as I started reading.  It wasn’t that I was scared per say, but rather constantly waiting for the torture or the abuse to begin.  I honestly was surprised at how unnerved I truly was while reading the book.  But even so…I couldn’t put it down; that’s what I want to talk about in my blog today.

Just as I couldn’t stop reading…the children in the novel couldn’t stop watching.  It’s a very creepy psychological hold that consumed us both regarding the characters of Meg and Susan.  It reminded me of how people react to a car accident.  You witness something that is so horrid, and so gruesome, yet you can’t look away from it.  It captivates you, and even though it brings you closer to death and allows you to look into hell….you can’t help it.  In a way, I guess that is what attracts us to horror.  We have the need to see how even the most terrible situations will end at the end of the day.  That’s kind of how David thought.

I’ll admit to being very frustrated with him throughout the story because he seemed so taken by Meg, yet waited till the end of the novel to actually begin to help it.  He had nightmares about the things that both Ruth and the children did to her, but was never man enough to talk to his parents or go to the police.  BUT, even though I feel like a terrible person for saying this, I feel like I can almost understand his predicament.  Here we have a young child who is clearly going through puberty, and he is in a home where his parents are dealing with the difficulties in their relationship and are talking about divorce.  That alone would make it hard to talk to them about anything, let alone anything serious that might end up forcing them farther apart from one another. Another matter would be that this was his closet group of friends that he was dealing with, and he felt as if he was betraying them by going against them.  I mean…in the beginning, they weren’t doing anything different from what they did to people in The Game right?  But even with that said...matters clearly escalated to a point where things went beyond punishment.  David knew Ruth was (basically) starving Meg, he knew that she was beating her and abusing her both physically and verbally, and he saw the effects that her words/actions were having on Meg-someone that he supposedly cared about. Sure, as a teenage boy he must of boy, he was interested in the sexual portrayal that the family positioned her as, BUT, this wasn’t some random girl hanging in the basement that he had no emotional ties with.  This was the girl that he dreamt about…that he wanted to love. That’s why I have to wonder why it took him so long to act on it. 

Another issue in the story that fascinated me in the story was the psychological turmoil that Ruth went through, and as to how the fact that was the adult figure in the book, not only gave her power, but invincibility in the eye’s of the children.  Ruth’s mentality was clearing deteriorating before the girls came to live with her, and it seemed to break when she realized that she had to more kids to take care of. Two more emotionally and physically unstable ones at that.  The fact that her husband left her with their two children, clearly screamed to Ruth that the man only wanted her as a sexual object, so therefore the female body was the problem in the relationship.  That’s why she was trying to get through to Meg.  To tell her that a man only wants her for her body so in order to prevent the pain of losing a lover….you had to destroy the body.

Now I pride myself in being able to read books and not cringe or have nightmares, but I’ll admit that this one got to me.  I cringed and got chills throughout the entire story, and even had dreams about it for a while after reading it.  It truly is a story that once you read it, you can’t get it out of your mind.  Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is horror and psychological pain. 


Mike Arnzen said:

Bravo. You earned the right to have that pride! And I love the way you put this: "Just as I couldn’t stop reading…the children in the novel couldn’t stop watching. It’s a very creepy psychological hold that consumed us both regarding the characters of Meg and Susan. It reminded me of how people react to a car accident." The psychology of repulsion/attraction is an interesting facet to the genre at large... consider how this relates to Misery?

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