The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix (Blackstone Publishing 2020)
First line: “This story ends in blood.”
This book… was a surprise. I had heard positive reviews of it from a couple of different sources, and had fun listening to From the Front Porch’s episode where they cast their dream movie adaptation. Several of the reviews reference Steel Magnolias (maaaaybe my favorite movie ever), and used the word “hilarious.” My pop culture vampire comparisons include Buffy and Trueblood, both very humorous and light-hearted takes on the genre with vampires you kind of love despite yourself, so that was my impression going in. And it was that way, for a while. But then some CREEPY VAMPIRE SHIT STARTS HAPPENING.
Okay, so it’s set in 90s Charleston with a group of women who defected from the prim and proper book club that had rules and read terribly snooty books. When Patricia was chastised publicly for not reading that month’s selection, this group of five women split off and decided to read the things they really wanted to read: true crime books, the more awful the better. Which is perhaps why Patricia starts to pick up on some suspicious things about her handsome new neighbor down the street. (And also why she tries to convince herself she’s imagining things.) I mean, I know I had a clue going in, given the title and all, but I knew the second James Harris forced Patricia to truly invite him in to her home, DUDE’S AN EFFING VAMPIRE.
It’s hard to describe all the horror that goes on throughout the rest of the novel without spoiling it all, but let me just say that it involves ears, rats, cockroaches, rape, child sexual assault, and very bloody gore. Basically, if you’re an HSP (highly sensitive person) STEER CLEAR, MY FRIEND.
At this point, you might be saying, why Emily, it sounds like you didn’t like this book very much, which is an understandable assumption. But the thing is, I did! Partially, I know that is because it was read by Bahni Turpin, and I’m not sure I could dislike anything she narrates. But I also just haaadddd to know what was gonna happen. This is a 13+ hour audiobook, friends. Not a quick read. And yet, I spent hours at a time listening.
**Mild Spoiler Warning for this paragraph!** I had seen some reviews suggesting there was some problematic content in this regarding both Black characters and female representation. Grady Hendrix is, after all, a white man. (Although, the featured 1-star review on Goodreads commenting on this problematic content is… also from a white man.) Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track down any negative reviews from #ownvoices reviewers, so I’m interested to read what they thought was problematic. If you know of any such reviews and can direct me, or if you have read it yourself, please comment below! I’d love to get a better sense of that. The Goodreads review I saw mentioned white savior complex, and I strongly disagreed with that idea. The Black housekeeper, Mrs. Greene, is the ultimate hero of the book, and is essential from start to finish. Yes, she tried to get help from Patricia to get police attention on the fact that Black children from her neighborhood are going missing. But Patricia fails spectacularly on that front, and it’s Mrs. Greene who will come to their rescue instead. There is some horrifying violence toward women and children that felt unnecessary. I do think that is a choice that would have been made differently by a female author. This phenomenon of violence toward women in mysteries and thrillers is one that is pretty well documented, and in fact there is now a book prize specifically for thrillers that don’t feature violence toward women. That being said, it’s the women that kick ass in the end, without help from any one of their waste-of-space husbands.
I did love the female friendship representation in this novel. These women look out for each other and take care of each other. They have their disagreements, but when push comes to shove, they will stand together. I’m hopeful I will have a similar group of women by my side throughout my adulthood, vampires or no vampires.
Not at all what I was expecting, but a surprise I enjoyed nonetheless. Although, I could have done without the cockroach in the ear thing.