"The Pale White" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Crystal Lake Publishing

Written by Chad Lutzke
2019, 90 pages, Fiction
Released on 27th September 2019


I’ve been enjoying the fiction of Chad Lutzke for a couple of years now. The majestic Skullface Boy was one of my favourite releases of 2018 and features in my top ten of the year of 2018 on Horror DNA; the superb Out Behind the Barn, co-written with John Boden, is just as good and is also highly recommended. Lutzke then changed direction slightly with The Same Deep Water of You, which, although it has its moments, I did not truly connect with it. Lutzke, as with that previous release, abandons the supernatural aspects of horror in The Pale White and looks at modern day American sex-slavery in this grim story of three caged and abused young women.

For such a heavy subject this is a surprisingly easy book to read and can be finished in a single ninety-minute sitting. On deeper reflection, perhaps it is too short and the subject matter merits a more detailed exploration? Although some of the story is told in flashback, The Pale White deals with the immediate aftermath of two young women and one girl attempting to escape from sex slavery  Thankfully it is not exploitative in any way and is not written to titillate or shock, neither does it contain much in the way of graphic violence. It is told through a first-person narrative from the point of view of seventeen-year-old Stac, who has been held captive for around a year.

Much of the success of The Pale White rests upon how successfully the author’s voice authentically reflects the voice of a systematically abused teenage girl. There is no denying the book has a lot of very powerful sentences.

We rarely get to bed before noon. That’s Doc’s doing. Nobody wants to rape a girl in broad daylight, the sun spotlighting their sin.

But equally so, I am not convinced a sex-slave would refer to herself as “taboo ass” or use some of the other language peppered throughout the story and this reduces the book’s impact.

The living circumstances of the trio is particularly horrific, and their captor ‘Doc’ starves them if they step out of line. Alex, of the three, has been held captive the longest and has developed mental problems, believing she is a vampire of some sort. Kammie is the youngest, cannot talk, and potentially has never been outside. The internal monologue of Stac reveals some of the daily trials of the three, referring to her ‘clients’ as ‘demons’ or ‘living scars’ and the various uniforms she is forced to wear when she has company.  There are also flashbacks to Stac’s previous life with her alcoholic mother and the chance circumstances which led to her being abducted.

Lutzke should be applauded for tackling a very difficult subject which, over the years, has been addressed in varying ways. In the mainstream, Emma Donoghue’s Room is perhaps the best-known recent example in which the little boy has no knowledge of the existence of the world beyond ‘Room’; the other extreme could be Jonathan Butcher’s What Could Girls Do, which is very graphic and features exceptionally unpleasant brainwashing with horrific consequences. However, in the horror world, Jack Ketchum’s fiction deals with this type of abuse most frequently; he had the ability to weave complex stories whilst maintaining full emotional impact, an aspect which is slightly lacking in The Pale White. However, it is not particularly fair to compare a talented up-and-coming author with one of the genuine giants of the genre.

In a story which is a brief ninety pages, it is very easy to glance over aspects of the narrative which might deserve more coverage in a longer work. For example, the Kammie has never tasted most foods and it mentions in passing when she tastes Pop-tarts for the first time. Also, Kammie’s reaction to being outside, potentially her first time ever, is a second area of development which is ripe for expansion and is glanced over.

Even if The Pale White is short, you will still be invested enough for the finish, which can go either way right up until the final pages and it certainly kept me hanging on a string. Ninety pages barely scratches the surface of sex slavery and Lutzke wisely keeps his tale tightly focused on the three girls and their experiences. John Hunt’s brutal novel Doll House attempts something slightly more expansive, with much of his story dealing with the long-term psychological problems after his leading character escapes. The Pale White does not have the same vicelike grip, even if it is easy to whizz through.

Chad Lutzke correctly ascertains that modern-day sex slavery and abuse exists beyond the walls of houses that look very normal and is perpetrated by men who are probably our neighbours or friends. It is a tough topic to write about, but the plight of Stac and her friends is handled sensitively and shows that horror does not need demons or monsters, other than those of the human type.


Overall: 3.5 Star Rating Cover
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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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