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.

Failed Fiction Forays

I don’t usually set reading goals, but at the start of this year I felt that I’d fallen into a bit of a rut. A bit of a rut. A bit… (thud!) So I devised what middle management types call soft goals (unless I made this term up), meaning that it’s not so important whether I achieve said objectives. Mostly I’m looking to stretch myself in new literary directions, hence the vague guidelines for choosing reading materials.

Goal number one is to read fiction books written in 2015. Titles tackled so far include:

Pic 1

The problem is, other than The Rosie Effect, none of these books have captured my interest enough to finish reading them. This is a bit unusual for me, to hit so many titles in a row that I put down unfinished. And once again I find myself turning to comfort books: detective pulp, cozy mysteries and nostalgic books I’ve read before. Maybe this makes a strong statement about my current psychological state, but for today let’s just look at the books I have abandoned.

Doctor Death:  A Madeleine Karno Mystery (2015) by Lene Kaaberbøl
This book contains a perfect blend of elements I look for in stories: Victorian times, early criminology techniques and a strong female character trying to transcend the role assigned to her. And yet, after about two-thirds of the book, I had no interest in continuing. Perhaps the story itself is not compelling, or a bit confusing, but this is one I really wanted to like but did not. Briefly, Madeleine’s father is a coroner. She assists him but is not allowed to do any of the fun, dirty work that she wants to do. When he’s injured and a murder occurs, she is called upon to do work that would normally fall to father. Finally, she gets a shot at the big league (so to speak). My excitement for the book is rekindling as I type this description, but still I cannot overlook that the story was slow-paced and didn’t seem to move forward.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society (2015) by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
Described as quirky, even “Twin Peaks meets the Brothers Grimm,” by The Telegraph, this book seemed right up my alley. And there were some odd moments that partially fulfilled my need for the bizarre: classic books in the library rewriting themselves until discovery and destruction by the librarian, an incestuous group of authors bound together since childhood who regularly engage each other in a brutal game, and the supernatural disappearance of their mentor (amidst spontaneous localized weather inside of her house). However, the quirkiness was more sparse than expected and I found this to be another book I wanted to like but ultimately did not.

The Last American Vampire (2015) by Seth Grahame-Smith
The concept – vampire mythology mixed with historical events – is a potentially engaging one, but its realization (being interviews with and narratives by the main character done up in a journal/scrapbook fashion) left me cold. Then again, I have a low tolerance for vampires.

Dorothy Parker Drank Here (2015) by Ellen Meister
What if the ghost of Dorothy Parker spent decades haunting the barstools of the Algonquin, waiting for a worthy partner to spend eternity with? Well, what if? I became interested in Dorothy Parker through a historical fiction series set in early Hollywood, so I thought I might enjoy this book as well. Admittedly I’ve not got very far into the book, but on the other hand I don’t feel motivated to continue reading.

So what have I learned from this exercise? I seem to have entered my dotage. Rereading favorite books and sticking with favorite characters is where I’m currently at in the world of fiction. It’s not a bad place, and I’ll continue to try new titles, but for now … what were we talking about?