The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Grady Hendrix is the Stephen King of modern horror... but not in a good way. In the same manner that "The King of Horror" captures our attention with brilliant ideas - and then sometimes fails to live up to those captivating concepts - Mr. Hendrix has once again fallen short of his potent potential. That's not to say that The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is a worthless waste of time; on the contrary, the book is a unique take on the tried-and-true vampire story that will undoubtedly please hordes of horror fans. It just misses the mark, like a stake through the appendix rather than the heart.
Here's the basic plot, broken down in simple, succinct terms: a housewife and her family move to a southern town in the 1990s and do their best to fit in, but a mysterious stranger interferes with the mundane comfort of their lives. Spoiler alert: it's a vampire. As would be expected when the Undead appear, situations spiral out of control and things get weird. Really weird.
You will find no sparkle-skinned heartthrobs in these pages, nor will you encounter Transylvanian trauma. Instead, Hendrix has conjured up a villain who comes across as more of a child molester than a champion of evil. In that regard, Hendrix has reclaimed vampires from the neutered necrophilia of the Twilight series and updated Bram Stoker for a new generation of horror junkies.
There are moments when Hendrix's humor sneaks through (my personal favorite is a cringe-worthy scene in an awkward book club meeting when the hostess hasn't read that month's selection), but much of the novel focuses on the dark undercurrents of modern suburbia. These true-crime-loving housewives aren't only squaring off against the town's new vampire: they're also facing the trials and tribulations of child-rearing, finances, religious faith, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and a flurry of other Faustian issues. At times, it's hard to determine whether the malevolent antagonist of the novel is more frightening than the insensitive, manipulative husbands who undermine the stability of their wives' lives. In the end, these women will need all their strength - and a supportive community - to overcome the variety of vicious villains in their neighborhood.
I would like to give this novel a rating of 3.5 stars, but GoodReads doesn't allow half-stars for reviews. Because of Southern Book Club's clever twists and intermittent humor, I'll round up to four stars. I wish that the final product could have warranted more, but sometimes our expectations fall short of reality. However, as Shelby in Steel Magnolias says, "I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special." For now, I'll settle for four hundred pages of an engaging Grady Hendrix novel if the other option is no Hendrix at all.
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Mild-mannered librarian by day… and a mild-mannered rock & roller by night.