I do not usually read scary books nor books about people having psychological crises. And yet…
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is a scary book about a woman facing a mental breakdown. Initially I expected humor, and there is indeed a bit. Early on Patricia (the main character) encounters the inexplicable when an elderly neighbor, who’s found eating a mangled raccoon, attacks her and bites off her ear. We don’t know why the old woman acts this way, but the book’s title does include the word vampire so… assumptions could be made. This situation struck me as humorous (which might reflect more on me than on the author’s intent). You know, old woman in night clothes eating raccoon intestines and attacking a much younger woman. Ha. Ha ha ha.
What attracted me to the book, aside from my misassumption that it was a funny story, was the prose; it got good words. And the setting is an idyllic southern community in the 1990s, a place where people know their neighbors, help each other and don’t lock their doors. Mythical America. As a child of the 1970s suburbs, I’ve always found small town bonhomie an appealing concept. Patricia’s Charleston neighborhood is as good as it gets. Yet just under the veneer of perfection, housewives struggle with boredom, lack of appreciation, second-class status.
Patricia is especially susceptible to these issues. Her husband is seldom home leaving her to raise the kids, keep the household going and take care of her dementia-ridden mother-in-law. She is not happy with her lot in life. The arrival of James Harris, great-nephew of the elderly ear biter, is a happy distraction for her. He treats her nicely, seems genuinely interested in who she is. But, just so things don’t get too normal, the mother-in-law starts rambling incoherently about Harris having a different name and killing her father some 60 years earlier. While looking exactly the same as he does now.
Say it with me: Vampire.
But one of the things I loved about this book is that we’re never entirely sure if Harris is a vampire or if Patricia is losing touch with reality. Author Hendrix does an excellent job of leaving both possibilities viable. Until the end where we find out… well, you’ll just have to read the book.
The potential vampire is plugged into modern society brilliantly. No fangs, no death by sunlight, no fear of holy water. He charms people not with mental abilities but by helping them gain money and power. He insinuates himself into the close-knit society until his own position is one of power. While Patricia does witness some events that make her think Harris is a vampire, friends and family mercilessly mock her and attack her sanity, leading Patricia to question her own memories and perceptions.
After completing this disturbing story I discovered that the author also wrote Horrorstör, another vaguely funny largely troubling book I read some years back, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. So I’m declaring Grady Hendrix an author you might well enjoy. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is hitting the shelves any day now. Don’t be the last kid on your block to scream in terror when… well, you’ll just have to read the book.