It is a well recorded fact that I am a chicken.
Scary movies? Can only watch them in the day time or on planes. Horror mazes? I once held onto my friend’s boyfriend’s hand tighter than she did durign a Walking Dead themed one. However, throw in a vampire to the scary equation and suddenly I know I’ll be hooked, no matter how creeped out I might get.
Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires was the August pick for my book club. Cute, huh? We have read a mixture of vintage classics, contemporary feminist takes on Greek mythology and much more, so this immediately felt like a nice change of pace for us. Hendrix is sort of famous for his vintage horror take on literature, managing to embrace every trope and cliche of the genre whilst simultaneously turning it on its head. The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires (TSBCGTSV for short) does exactly this, in abundance. As Hendrix explains, he wanted to take the classic ‘teenager/vampire lust story’ and switch the focus to the parents, an oft forgotten and maligned group within blockbuster vampire tales. No only does Hendrix give us a middle aged woman as our protagonist, but Patricia is a former-nurse-turned-housewife whose entire identity is wrapped up (whether she likes it or not) in her husband and children. She’s coaxed (for want of a better term) into caring for her frail mother-in-law whilst her husband, Carter, works long hours leaving her to bear responsibility of being mother, home-maker and carer to Miss Mary. It all, reasonably so, seems like it’s taking its toll on Patricia and her book club of fellow ‘Southern Moms’. They start with the best intentions, to tick off those big classics from their reading list but quickly turn to reading gruesome true crime and dissecting the drama that they don’t experience in their day-today lives. Then suddenly, with the arrival of the mysterious and charming James Harris, the drama arrives a little too close to home.
Without giving any major plot points away, James Harris is exactly what you think he is. In fact, Hendrix plays on this knowledge and familiarity of the Vampire so much so as to make it almost comical for the reader. We know what’s coming, we can see what our protagonist takes an agonisingly long time to realise. However, don’t be fooled into thinking James Harris is just a carbon copy of the Cullens, oh no, he’s got a fair few twists and turns himself.
With humour, a few knowing winks to the reader and some charmingly Southern characters, Hendrix keeps a sense of warmth and lightness to a novel that can at other moments make your skin crawl with intensely detailed descriptions of grotesque extremes. There are some scenes where his style of writing, with its painstaking description of the minutiae of some of a human being’s instinctive worst nightmares. In fact, when we discussed it in Book Club we all unanimously agreed that there are moments in The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires that are among the creepiest we have ever read.
That being said, even I, the self-proclaimed chicken, was compelled by every sentence. Whilst the moments of terror and anger (not just aimed at the vampire!) were truly terrifying, there is a power and a fight within Patricia that kept me reading to see her, and her fellow book club members’ fates.
If you are after a read that keeps you hooked from cover to cover, makes you chuckle, has you wanting to shake and yell at various characters throughout the read then this is it for you. You’ll love it. This is especially true if you love a good bit of vampire lore and some late 80s/early 90s nostalgia thrown in. The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires has got it all. If you’re not putting something by Grady Hendrix in your Halloween reading list (everyone makes these, right?) then you’re missing out!