Bingo category: Rec’d (by Mobius Walker)
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires isn’t exactly what I thought it was, based on the title. I was picturing a silly piece of fluff, full of ridiculous Southern sayings, mint juleps, genteel, condescending white women in Lilly Pulitzer dabbing their foreheads with handkerchiefs and gossiping in between killing vampires. A sort of vampire cozy. To Grady Hendrix’s credit, he wrote something much more substantial than that. It’s completely bizarre and definitely has some issues, but it isn’t fluff.
It’s the early 90s, and Patricia Campbell lives outside Charleston, South Carolina. At the start of the book she has just embarrassed herself at the neighborhood book club because she didn’t read that month’s book (I believe it was Cry, the Beloved Country). She and a few of her neighbors decide to start their own book club, one dedicated to true crime. Meanwhile, a handsome, mysterious stranger–James Harris–moves into town, and soon after Patricia is attacked by James’s aunt, who bites off her earlobe. And in the next town over, Black children are being abducted, murdered, and dying by suicide in alarming numbers.
For first third or so of this book I still thought I was going to be reading some standard vampire fare–something like Charlaine Harris. While the beginning did have some funny moments, including at least once when I laughed out loud, this book is strange and dark. If I’d known HOW strange and dark, honestly, I probably wouldn’t have read it and I considered not finishing it a few times. I don’t like horror, and this is a horror novel.
While I had trouble with the gore and the scares in this novel, there are other things that are disturbing, too. Some of them I felt okay about by the end–this book is about women, but it’s written by a man, and there’s a huge amount of mansplaining and even gaslighting within–but in the end it was clear the women are the heroes and the men who diminish, ignore, and abuse them are the villains. On the other hand, I most certainly did not care for the rape scenes. Spoiler, I guess, but is anyone surprised that a horror novel about vampires includes rape? I mean, really. Wouldn’t it be nice if horror authors could think of some more original way to inflict suffering on their characters? Hendrix’s depiction of vampires has some interesting new twists I’d not read before in other vampire novels, so it’s not like he’s not creative enough to have thought of some other way to get the point across that vampires are Bad News.
The other thing I didn’t love was the handling of the Black characters in the novel. It takes place in the 90s, in the South, so naturally the microaggressions pile up on top of each other, and it’s certainly realistic that the police wouldn’t take much interest in the disappearances and deaths of the Black children. But there is a LOT of suffering happening in the Black community in this novel, and not a lot of characterization. Mrs. Greene, a Black woman who cares for Patricia’s elderly mother-in-law, is one of the most important characters in the novel, but she’s the only Black character in more than one scene. It was interesting to see how Mrs. Greene is treated by the book club members–the heroes of the story–and how they react when she confronts them about their reluctance to do anything about whatever is killing off the Black children–until their own children are threatened. I did like that, at least–Hendrix doesn’t shy away from showing the white women’s hypocrisy and their discomfort when confronted with it.
Oh, and there’s also some weird stuff with Patricia’s son being obsessed with Nazis. I hated that.
I’m really not sure how I feel about this book–I’m not the right audience for it, that’s for sure. But would horror fans like it? I have no idea. It has some interesting twists on the vampire story, and it’s well-written. I had some problems with it, but am I nitpicking? I guess I’m not sure.