The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4/5 cats
“I am not sure what the appropriate gesture is to make toward the family of the woman who bit off your ear, but if you felt absolutely compelled, I certainly wouldn’t take food.”
the thing that i am always forgetting about grady hendrix is that although his books have these zany and hilarious premises and are all decked out in wink-nudgey cover design:
monsters of metal!
the stories themselves are not played for laffs. that’s not to say there’s never anything funny in them, but they’re not the campy adventures the covers might lead you to expect.
this one, for example, pitched as “Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula” sounds like pure farce: a ‘bless your heart’ southern ladies’ book club whose town is infiltrated by a bloodsucking creature. it conjures up images of well-mannered housewives whittling their rolling pin handles into shanks, but the novel’s actual humor is much drier; the sort where the club’s guilty-pleasure true crime tastes are glossed into respectability:
”We just read a wonderful book about life in a small Guyanese town in the 1970s.”
She didn’t mention that it was Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People.
his books are also always a little less horror-focused than i’m expecting. he tends to use horror themes as seasoning; many bad things happen here—missing children, suicide, domestic abuse, rape, deep-fried sexism and racism—but the supernatural influence is only responsible for a portion of the evil. it’s somewhat lynchean in theme if not execution—dark forces going unnoticed in everyday life, which—once acknowledged—become more powerful, impossible to unsee.
this was, to me, the least-scary of his books so far, although it is possible that i would have felt differently about it had i read it at any time other than mid-pandemic, my queens neighborhood surrounded by several of the hardest-hit zip codes. it’s hard to be affected by horror while living in a nightmare.
it’s not an eek-scare book, but it has one of the best inspiration-stories i’ve seen. from the author’s note:
This is also a book about vampires. They’re that iconic American archetype of the rambling man, wearing denim, wandering from town to town with no past and no ties. Think Jack Kerouac, think Shane, think Woody Guthrie. Think Ted Bundy.
Because vampires are the original serial killers, stripped of everything that makes us human—they have no friends, no family, no roots, no children. All they have is hunger. They eat and eat but they’re never full. With this book, I wanted to pit a man freed from all responsibilities but his appetites against women whose lives are shaped by their endless responsibilities. I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom.
As you’ll see, it’s not a fair fight
i love this whole idea of reimagining the vampire as a serial killer. a while back i read Quiet Dell, based on the crimes of harry powers; a drifter in the 1930s who targeted widows through lonely hearts ads, charming his way into their lives before taking their money and murdering them. that’s the first thing i thought of after reading this introduction—envisioning harry as a more literal beast preying on the most vulnerable. and to have such a man cross paths with a (mostly) true crime book club of women who are underestimated by their husbands and indoctrinated in politeness, one of whom wishes “something exciting” would happen to her, is the icing on the (three layer, perfectly frosted) cake—anything they suspect about this fella, any accusations made can be dampened by gaslighting, written off as hysteria, explained away by the susceptibility of bored, silly minds exposed to the lurid trash they read.
it’s set up to be this perfect storm of genres and themes and conflicts, but it doesn’t quite shazam. i love that the entity is a little newfangled spin on the traditional, but the character work of developing the women apart from patricia is pretty bare and there is some…prolonged downtime in this book, where nothing much is happening, or rather, nothing is building; and then there’s a time-jump, and it’s all a little messy and uneven.
there are definitely standout scenes that get intense. like v.c. andrews, everything that happens in the attic is gross and wrong and full of things going into places they have no business going. i’ve always had squeam when it comes to eye-horror, but this is my first time ever squirming over ear-horror, which was not the ear-biting referenced in that opening quote. you’ll know it when you read it.
as a preview, here’s a (relatively) cute version of aural invasion. it’s cute if you think, like i did at first, that it’s a ring-tailed lemur in some sort of cave but then OH NOOOOO!
i liked it more than it sounds like i did here, but less than i expected to like it. but again, everything is broken, so it’s probably me reading it wrong. you will tell me how wrong i am.
trigger warning: the destruction of a library book.
i love how committed grady hendrix is to design. and details. please admire this underthecover stamp:
over a cliff, grady hendrix…