Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

My favorite work of Grady Hendrix's is actually his nonfiction collection of essays, PAPERBACKS FROM HELL, which is a loving homage to the horror genre that covers everything from Gothics to ghouls. As someone who reads pulps on the reg, I was excited to see someone else who appreciated trash as much as I do-- there's something about finding an out-of-print gem that nobody has heard of and getting everyone excited about reading it... it's like getting an ARC, but in reverse. I love that feeling.

I've read some of his fiction works, too, but the two that I read-- HORRORSTOR and MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM-- were better in premise than they were in execution. It felt... gimmicky, and the writing really couldn't carry off the story, sadly. That said, I was very excited when I heard about THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES. One: because I love vampires and if its got fangs and hunts at night, I'll read about it; and two: because it's set in the 1990s and books set in the 80s and 90s are so hot right now. They feel claustrophobic because there's no internet & no cell phones. Everyone is a remote island of fear.

Patricia has the ideal life: nuclear family with a doctor husband, and a book club of other well-to-do Southern ladies. Unfortunately, her book club makes the classic mistake of picking the usual slew of boring "book club bait" books and after being caught not reading the book of the month, she and a couple other ladies go rogue by starting their own book club where they do nothing but read true crime, horror, and mysteries. Sounds like my kind of book club! Where do I sign up?

At the same time, an old lady goes crazy and bites off part of Patricia's ear. Her young relative comes home to take care of her and he's kind of weird. His name is James. Patricia feels sorry for James and tries to help him out, even as weird things start happening. Weird things that might or might not be connected to James, the man she has invited into her home and who has become intimate with her family. Everyone thinks Patricia is crazy and that all those books she's been reading have rotted her brain, but Patricia thinks she knows what she sees, and if Ann Rule's memoir has taught her anything, it's that sometimes it's the people who are closest to you who can't be trusted... right?

So, I went into this expecting satire or comedy, and there is a bit of that, but it's mostly written straight. It pays homage to a lot of vampire and horror tropes, but it reminded me most strongly of Fright Night (1985), The 'Burbs (1989), and maybe a dash of STEPFORD WIVES. The slow feeling of doom and paranoia were so well done, and Grady Hendrix might be the only male writer I've ever read who really understands and captures how men talk over and gaslight women. There were sexist scenes in here that literally made me sick to my stomach, because I've been in similar situations and it really sucks being painted as someone who's hysterical or shrill when you have actual concerns.

In addition to the horror vibe, there's also a sense of camaraderie with the women in the book club, and even some surprisingly erotic scenes, which is a must if you're writing in the vein (ha-- vein) of vintage horror movies and books, because a key element of horror was sex. The horror genre is basically the epitome of the Eros and Thanatos drives of Freudian psychology. By the time the book ended, I was actually shocked at how dark and disturbing it was. This was leagues better than anything else Grady Hendrix has written and I honestly can't wait to see what he does next.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 

3.5 out of 5 stars

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