Book Review : Jack Cady - The Off Season (1995)
Every man dreams of immortality. Not necessarily to conquer death, but being remembered until the end of the world. Time is powerful adversary in this quest for it will flood the minds of the living with constant novelties until the memories of you, however potent, overflow into oblivion. I had no clue who Jack Cady before receiving a copy of his novel The Off Season from Resurrection House. Didn't even know he wasn't among us anymore or that he once won the Nebula, the Philip K. Dick and Bram Stoker Awards. Time went to work on poor Jack Cady, but a passionate and dedicated editor has been bringing him back to readers for the last couple years. The work of Jack Cady has a fierce and undeniable originality to it, but I highly doubt The Off Season is the sole reason why he once was a celebrated author.
The Off Season is the story of a small town called Point Vestal. It would be your average scenic coastal town if it wasn't populated by ghosts from other eras. The people of Point Vestal don't really die. They roam the streets in different eras, meet new people and exist among the living consequences of their passage on Earth. The multiple narrators of The Off Season are writing a books that aims to chronicle the troublesome and otherwise inexplicable history of their town. The precarious balance Point Vestal has established in order to peacefully exist is threatened by the reemergence of a 19th century criminal named August Starling who plans to keep his stranglehold over the quiet town for as long as he pleases.
The online reviews for The Off Season have been polarizing and it'll only take you a couple pages to understand why. This is not a very accessible novel and it's narrated by protagonists who are the equivalent of the asshole at the tearoom. Early in The Off Season, one of them makes a quip about teenage sex being Edwardian. What the fuck does that even mean? Am I not worldly and erudite to read this novel? It's also quite complicated and hard to follow. There are no multiple timelines that separate the living from the dead in The Off Season, everybody's trapped together. I liked the boldness of this aesthetic decision, but it makes reading quite a chore and I'm sure it turned some readers off. It's not a very user-friendly novel. It requires hard work and mental gymnastics.
I couldn't bring myself to dislike The Off Season, though. Not even one bit. Jack Cady's novel is fiercely original and when you read an unhealthy number of books every year like I do, originality becomes a rare and valuable commodity. The only comparison item I could find for Cady's hyperactive imagination is the works of masterful and revered Japanese storyteller Hayao Miyazaki, the creative force behind animes such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Cady's main meta-protagonist (the protagonist within the story narrated by the protagonists) Joel-Andrew, a defrocked priest with no one to turn to but God, is very Miyazakian himself. That's what's so tragic about The Off Season, it's interesting and original, but it wasn't that far from being special and quite possibly transcendent.
I don't know if you guys are going to bother reading this review. Time and dust already have ol' Jack Cady trapped up to his waist and The Off Season isn't his ticket to immortality. It would be tough to begrudge you if you took a raincheck on this one. Jack Cady doesn't deserve oblivion, though. He was an original and imaginative writer fascinated by the weight of history on the living. His work is riddled with ghosts, religion and people trying to learn from the mistakes of the past. The Off Season might not be THE definitive Jack Cady novel, but it would be tremendous adaptation material that could assure him immortality if it was handled by the right people. I would say The Off Season offers inspiration material for writers more than it offers straightforward entertainment, but keep Jack Cady for when you want to change the pace. There definitely isn't anyone like him out there.