Author: Grady Hendrix
I’m not a Grady Hendrix fan, or at least I wasn’t, but my book clubs keep selecting his offerings. And I admit, I’ve been curious about this one for a while. So, I dove in.
It begins with Patricia and her family. Her no-nonsense, all-business, absentee husband; her weird, Nazi fascinated child (Blue); and her declining and sometimes presciently creepy mother-in-law. Patricia is your everyday suburban mom: stressed, bored, trying to keep it together. Mildly affluent. Mildly happy. Mildly fake.
This all changes one night when Patricia goes to take the trash out and is attacked by an elderly neighbor woman gone feral. The neighborhood is certainly changing. Soon after, a new, mysterious man moves into town, and he works on Patricia’s heartstrings. She helps him despite his weird sun allergy, the suitcase full of money, the lack of documents, and the creepy murderer-101-requirement of a broken-down van with tinted windows. She believes him . . . right up until she doesn’t.
What would you do if your neighbor was a vampire? What would you do if he was attacking vulnerable children in a nearby (read bad) part of town? What would you do if the only people who might listen were your book club friends, each of them with their own boring, imperfect, clean little suburban lives?
As with everything Hendrix, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is unapologetically weird. It combines the normal, everyday world of fancy China, polite middle-class ladies reading true crime, and clean mowed lawns with unmitigated supernatural violence, social commentary, and a viciously dark humor. Sometimes when Hendrix does this, it’s just hokey (as in the Final Girls Support Group and Horrorstör) and sometimes it is sheer brilliance, a slightly less somber version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When the later happens, Hendrix’s campy weirdness becomes addicting. Hendrix was full-force fantastic in The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying. I started putting my other, more traditional horror books to the side. Somehow, I was just engaged. I get it now, why this particular book keeps popping up in book clubs and discussions. It’s actually worthy of the hype.
As the story escalates, so too do the stakes (haha, get it, vampires and stakes?). Not only do we have the vampire drama, but there is also personal drama among the book club members, showing the human side of this suburban supernatural gorefest. It’s engaging. I wanted to know how the vamp would get taken down, but I also wanted to know more about the hidden, sometimes tragic lives of these ordinary women who were silently devastated by their own choices, by their own inabilities to ask for help or express their fears: loosing status, loosing marriages, loosing position, loosing face.
What follows then is a powerful story, one that is at times fun and at other times disturbing (especially that bathtub scene . . . yuck!) and always unique. The conclusion cranks it up a notch to an unforgettable degree, one that is absolutely brutal and at times hard to read: housewives turned desperate butchers.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, coupled with my enjoyment of How to Sell a Haunted House, has caused me to reevaluate my approach to Hendrix. While I’m not ready to call myself a fan yet, it’s not entirely impossible at this point. The combination of the everyday (similar to Bentley Little’s style) with the abnormal and monstrous does have a certain appeal, and here Hendrix is in full, inspired form. Highly recommended.
– Frances Carden
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