The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

I do not usually read scary books nor books about people having psychological crises. And yet…

Southern Book Club

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.

Horrorstor

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.

Patty the Vampire Slayer

In The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, Campbell loves her husband and children, but she thought she’d be living a bigger life than running errands all day, cleaning the entire house, doing loads of laundry, and cooking gourmet meals for her less than appreciative family every night. Oh, and on top of all that, her elderly mother-in-law, in the grips of dementia (the poor soul has almost forgotten how to eat) moves in and Patricia has another person to look after.

Campbell has given up her career as a nurse, married a very ambitious (and now often distant) doctor, and makes herself nearly insane by being part of a book club where execution is the preferred method of shaming if you haven’t read the assigned book. It’s at one of these horrible book club meetings that a smaller faction of women who don’t want to read ‘Books of the Western World’ come together to form their own book club. The new book club includes four other Southern housewives: Slick, Kitty, Maryellen, and Grace.

The new club reads true-crime novels with titles like Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs and Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of John Wayne Gacy. They also choose more well known titles like The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and the oddly chosen Bridges of Madison County because one of the club members thinks the main character is a serial killer who drifts around the country killing housewives. The book club is the only exciting thing in Patricia’s dull life of driving her two children to after school events, packing lunches, and getting no support from a husband who spends most of his days at the office.

One evening, with the thrill of a book club meeting still fizzling through her, Patricia sees that her son Blue hasn’t taken the garbage bins to the end of the driveway. She can’t really blame him since the cans are stored at the side of the house and it’s pitch black and a little scary there once night falls. So she heaves a sigh only a mother can sigh and begins to drag the garbage bins down the driveway. But a noise catches her attention: the slurping, gulping, crunching sound of something being eaten.

In the shadows she sees her neighbor from down the block, Mrs. Savage, a mean old biddy not much beloved by the neighbors. Mrs. Savage is down on her haunches behind the cans with a raccoon stuffed in her mouth. She disembowels the dead animal while growling at Patricia who is backing away from the old lady and is about to make a run for it when the old woman pounces and tears off Patricia’s ear lobe. The cops and an ambulance come and take both Patricia and the old lady to the hospital.

Patricia is patched up and sent home. The next day she hears that Mrs. Savage has died from some sort of blood poisoning. There’s evidence of intravenous drug use on the on woman’s inner thighs, injection holes that have pierced her skin. Patricia knows that Mrs. Savage has a nephew living with her and acting as her caretaker. Like any Southern woman worth her weight would do, Patricia decides she needs to take a consolation casserole over to the grieving man.

When she gets to Mrs. Savage’s house, she sees it’s completely closed up and the blinds are drawn even though it’s a scorching hot day. When no one answers the door, Patricia lets herself in and begins to search the house for the nephew. She finds him lying in a bedroom. She can tell he’s not breathing. Her old nursing skills kick in and she immediately begins to give him CPR. His skin is cold and dry and she’s positive he’s dead until he sits up with a gasp.

This is her introduction to James Harris, a seemingly shy and artistic man with a hint of appealing strangeness to him. The sunlight hurts him and makes him fatigued. He seems helpless in both his grief over his aunt and whatever ailment haunts him. She decides James Harris is going to be her friend (perhaps more?) and helps him get settled as a real resident of the town: setting up a bank account and going to pay his power and water bills because he can’t bear to be out in the light. He drives a white van (the kind that you expect to see ‘Free Candy Inside’ written on the side) with windows that are heavily tinted to dim any light from getting in.

One evening, James comes over to Patricia’s house while the family is having dinner. Patricia’s mother-in-law, Mary, is having a particularly bad night and takes one look at James and starts babbling about a picture she has of him. Her behavior is excused because of her waning mental faculties. Soon, however, Patricia begins to think James Harris is something sinister with his cagey, secretive ways, the fact that he doesn’t go out during the day much, and his creepy van.

She starts to hear stories about children in town disappearing only to return as ghosts of themselves and eventually committing suicide. Not much has been done about it because it’s in the ‘bad part of town’ where most of the people of color live (remember, this is the early 90s in the South). Mrs. Greene who lives in that part of town and who is Mary’s nurse, tells Patricia about the missing children and how they come back.

Curious, Patricia decides to go there and investigate. She finds a very familiar creepy white van in the woods and what she sees happening in the back is something she can’t explain to herself, let alone to anyone else: James Harris with a monster’s face leaning over the prone body of a little girl. Patricia thought he might have been a serial killer but what she sees in the van is a creature from the depths of myth and folklore.

Patricia tries to tell her book club all about it, but they think she’s nuts and let her know they won’t put up with her crazy stories and theories about James Harris, who has become an upstanding citizen and businessman in town. So Patricia decides to go it alone, to get proof that he is indeed a monster that needs to be destroyed. But even crippling James Harris on her own is more than she’s capable of and in the end, it seems like he will continue snatching small children while charming the town and the book club members husbands. That is, until another book club member witnesses something and they band together to take this creature down.

If you like funny horror novels that are just a damn pleasure to read from beginning to end, pick up Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. You’ll laugh, get scared sh**less, laugh again, and find yourself cheering on a group of somewhat cliched Southern belles whose only worries up until that point had been packing lunches every day and making sure their kids make it to swimming practice on time. Much like blood on the lips of a vampire’s mouth, this book will stick with you for a long time. For God sake, go download it and get to reading!!

Need a Scary Book? Just Orsk!

One of the best things about my job as a cataloger is getting to see the new books as they arrive. My primary job responsibilities revolve around entering and coding data into the catalog for each book, ensuring consistency across genres and series, and doing it all in a timely manner. As a bibliovore, sometimes the best part about my job can also be my downfall. Consider the following:

Me: Awesome book! Awesome book! Red alert! Need to check it out!
Inner voice: You already have a ton at home, and over a thousand in your TBR list on GoodReads.
Me: But…this one is different! I will read this one tonight!
Inner voice: Ummm…you’re delusional, lady. Why do I even bother trying to get you to see reason?
Me: That’s right! *sounds of book being checked out*

HorrorstorThe most recent example of a book that so captured my interest was Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix. The book, as you can probably tell, is designed to look very similar to the iconic Ikea catalog, complete with product descriptions and even a mock order form. I totally judged this book by its cover, and I am so happy I did. Had this not looked so dang quirky I would have most definitely passed it by.

Our protagonist is Amy. Amy’s in her mid-twenties, a college dropout, and someone who is always working extra hard just to scrape by. She finally moved out of her mom’s trailer, but she’s always mooching food off of her roommates and the rent is often late. She’s kind of a screw-up but she still has hope that she can change her situation, rise above her humble beginnings, and beat the odds to eventually become happy.

Amy works at Orsk, an Ikea-wannabe that deals in cheaply priced flat pack Scandinavian-style furniture and accessories. She moved from the Youngstown, OH store to the Cuyahoga store when it first opened eleven months ago, but she has recently put in for a transfer back to Youngstown. The Cuyahoga store, despite being extremely busy, isn’t hitting sales projections and Amy would rather align herself with a superstar store than a sinking ship. She’d like to eventually get into a cushy desk job at Corporate, but she doesn’t think she’ll ever stand a chance in Cuyahoga. She’s also fed up with her coworkers, thinks her supervisor is trying to get her fired, and feels like she’s going nowhere fast which is taking a hit on her psyche.

So when Basil, her supervisor, asks Amy and store superstar Ruth Anne to clock in to a covert overnight shift with him to try and catch whoever is vandalizing the store at night, Amy can’t refuse. She can use the brownie points and extra cash. What she doesn’t count on is running into fellow Orsk employees Matt and Trinity, who have snuck into the store overnight for ghost hunting purposes. What none of them count on is the horrors and pain that await them after closing time.

Orsk

Am I being vague? Sure! How’s this for more specific: the first half of the book is a dark comedy that centers on a beat-down retail employee in her natural habitat, navigating the world of work. The second half of the book slams you into a horror story beyond my worst nightmares. As someone who hasn’t picked up a horror book since the Fear Street novels of my teenage years in the ’90s, I was shocked, scared, and actually intimidated. I read the first half of the book in one night, got to the scary part, and went, “Nope!” and put it down again. Thankfully I eventually got the courage to crack the spine again and ended up with the following summary:

It was terrifying and hilarious. And just when I thought the ending was going to be super lame, it turned out to be super good.

Be warned. The scary scenes are truly scary, gory, and heart-wrenchingly graphic. But the book overall was a story that made me so happy I stuck with it. It’s packed with social commentary you won’t soon forget. I immediately recommended this to a bunch of coworkers, who also put it on hold. So you may have to wait a bit but I promise it’s worth it.

Due to the graphic nature of the second half of the book and the fact that it completely intimidated me into not reading it for a whole week, I’m technically counting this as number 3 on my 2014 Reading Resolutions list:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular 
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

So, who wants to help me create an Orsk furniture-based costume for Halloween?