It feels weird to call a blood-soaked horror novel writhing with creepy-crawlies a delight, but these are strange times, and indie horror writer Grady Hendrix...is the patron saint of strange ... as unexpected as its title, a Southern-fried feminist take on well-worn lore that makes it feel fresh ... Amidst the blood bath that ensues is some sophisticated social commentary on the nature of feminine bonding and about the appeal of true crime, and why women in particular gravitate toward cautionary tales of real-life horror ... Make no mistake: This is a proper horror novel and not for the squeamish (if you have a particular aversion to vermin, consider yourself duly warned). But its incisive social commentary and meaningful character development make The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires not just a palatable read for non-horror fans, but a winning one.
... This is the crux of the book ... When you realize that it’s not just a horror story, but a story about misogyny, rage, anger, and the indignities that women had to endure in order to survive, to be respectable, to be considered proper women. Grady Hendrix does not shy away from the indignity of women’s lives in the nineties in the south ... The gory, bodily horror is truly horrific, but the way that grown-ass, capable, responsible women are treated, dismissed, and denied the ability to think for themselves, is what really makes you want to scream ... Book Club doesn’t ignore the intersection of classism and racism that makes this community vulnerable. The book itself tries very hard to make the white women aware of their complicit systemic racism and harm that they inflict on the Black community, but without a deeper inspection of the Black characters and problems, it feels at points like a literary bromide ... .. Hendrix is a master of characterization. The members of the Book Club are all beautifully faceted and sharp, tart and prim and proper, and all at once fierce and furious. They are also peak Southerners ... I will stress, one more time, that while this book has a soft start, which feels like it will be a slow ramp up to desiccated horror fest, it is instead a fireworks display. It lulls you into watching, waiting for the horror, and when it comes it is startling, visceral, disturbing, and hard to read. Like all great fireworks shows, the horror is not easy to predict, and it’s hard to watch without flinching. This isn’t your mother’s vampire story ... It’s a brutal book, and the happy ending comes at a high cost. Book Club lures you in with the bucolic setting, charming women, and Southern affect, but when it turns, it does a hairpin one-eighty, goes and spins sedys in the police parking lot while screaming obscenities, then turns around and delivers the vigilante-style vindication that we—and Patricia—so desperately deserve.
The title already tells us what to expect, so the reader anxiously waits for Patricia to realize what’s going on from the ample evidence ... By the time Patricia ventures out to uncover the mystery, the action is overdue. The author’s usual knack for pacing and structure ends up uneven here, in part because the breakneck fun of the vampire stuff is hampered by the underdeveloped characters. Still, it’s enjoyably breezy pulp ... he author remains excellent at staging page-turning sequences of excitement and anxiety ... Still, it’s a bit of a letdown from an author who’s better at dealing with characters who act and think in simplistic ways for more understandable reasons. The gimcrack pleasures of Slaying Vampires are like its undead antagonist: flashy and engaging in the action, but strangely hollow at its heart.
What I’ve come to love about Hendrix’s fiction is how he uses horror tropes, whether those are demonic possession, supernatural heavy metal bands, or vampires, to shine a light on political and social issues ... Yes, the book club and Mrs. Greene do join forces to confront the vampire in a climax that is as empowering as it is bloody, but it’s telling that James Harris, a metaphor for all that’s wrong with a deregulated free-market – the insatiable greed, the lack of accountability – only gets a toehold within the community because of this social and racial divide ... Hendrix, though, never forgets that, first and foremost, his job is to scare the bejesus out of his readers. He does have a bit of fun along the way; once she witnesses James in action, Patricia purchases every vampire novel in her local bookstore. But, for the most part, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires plays it straight. Hendrix’s take on vampires (no spoilers) is an inventive, if gruesome, twist on the mythology, but the star is James Harris, a truly malevolent creation, beguiling and charming (at times he seems so reasonable you forget he feeds off children), but when threatened, utterly ruthless and savage. There is a nerve-wracking scene in an attic involving Harris and Patricia (again, no spoilers) that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. It’s this ability to terrify, while also having something worthwhile and insightful to say, that makes Grady Hendrix one of my favourite contemporary horror authors.
Some may consider this novel a long and rambling one. It is indeed long and it does seem to ramble, but in the end, every word and every digression comes into play and falls into place. After all, it takes a bit to set the scene, to explain how Southern lifestyle, manners, and the place of women in that life fit together and enable the story to unfold as it does. Those Southern readers, especially of an older generation, will perhaps recognize themselves or family members ... Filled with tongue-in-cheek observations on Southern etiquette and a way of life slowly drawing to a close as the Eighties slide into the Nineties, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a refreshing change from the usual moldy castle escapee of a vampire tale. Goaded into action, these Southern Stepford wives will match Scarlett O’Hara for sheer determination and surpass Buffy the Vampire Slayer with their courage, while giving the reader an unexpected ironic chuckle or two along the way.
In his funny, gory new romp, Grady Hendrix conjures horror heroines out of a surprising demographic—the carpool moms of 1990s suburbia ... Hendrix writes in an author’s note that his latest novel was inspired by the strength of his own mother and others like her: women easy to write off, but hard to defeat. 'I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom,” Hendrix explains. “As you’ll see, it’s not a fair fight.' ... In turns heartwarming and enraging, bloody horror and social critique, this genre-bending vampire story helps cement horror as a frontier for feminist storytelling.
It’s gratifying to see [Patricia] grow from someone who apologizes for apologizing to a fiercely brave woman determined to do the right thing—hopefully with the help of her friends. Hendrix...cleverly sprinkles in nods to well-established vampire lore, and the fact that he’s a master at conjuring heady 1990s nostalgia is just the icing on what is his best book yet ... Fans of smart horror will sink their teeth into this one.
Hendrix draws shrewd parallels between the serial killers documented in the book club’s picks and Harris’s apparent vampire persona, loading his gruesome story with perfectly-pitched allusions to classic horror novels and true crime accounts. This powerful, eclectic novel both pays homage to the literary vampire canon and stands singularly within it.