Grady Hendrix’s books really stand out on the bookstore shelf. In a world where way too many covers feature the same half-dozen design tropes (stop and count the vaguely outlined, oddly eyeless couples on romance novel covers the next time you pop into your local bookstore) Hendrix’s covers are refreshingly different. From the tabletop game vibe of My Best Friend’s Exorcism to the starkness of a red folding-chair against a black background on The Final Girl Support Group, they definitely stand out. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is my first foray into Hendrix’s fiction, and sadly I must report that at least in this instance, the content of the novel is no match for its outward presentation.
The titular book club consists of a group of well-to-do housewives living in a toney suburb of Charleston, South Carolina. Surprise, surprise, these housewives feel underappreciated by their oblivious husbands and their spoiled teenagers. After initially joining a group dedicated to the great western canon, our five main characters splinter off and form a club dedicated mostly to true crime, the gorier the better. The club is a refuge from the housework and childcare that dominate their days. Everything is fine until one of the five is attacked one night in her own front yard and a mysterious stranger is discovered in town.
From there the main drama consists less in the confrontation with the unearthly evil itself, but in the obstacles facing the women as they try to get anyone to take them seriously. They’re dismissed, or worse, by their oblivious husbands, who take any man’s word over that of their wife’s. The weight of maintaining social standing and avoiding shame keeps many of the women from acting on their fears and taking action, with terrible consequences.
The problem is that Hendrix can’t help hitting you over the head with this stuff. There’s no art or subtlety in his presentation. All of the husbands are useless blockheads and secret philanderers. The wives themselves are little more than caricatures themselves with their excessive reliance on Southern hospitality and conventions.
Hendrix also does a poor job presenting his vampire as a real threat. The problem is mostly that Hendrix seems intent on picking and choosing which aspects of the vampire mythology apply to his creation, but then compounds the problem by being inconsistent. It doesn’t give the reader much to hold onto.
The most interesting aspects of the novel are the cover and the title. I don’t know if there is a third interesting thing.