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  • Writer's pictureBailey Smith

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

★★★★☆ 4/5

Grady Hendrix's 'The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires' is a gripping exploration of the dark underbelly of Southern politeness, where a book club faces an unexpected supernatural menace that will leave you riveted. When first approaching this novel, I did not anticipate the gruesome horror that lay within. Hendrix lures you into the world of Southern hospitality and then slowly closes you in with some truly unthinkable horror writing. While very enjoyable during my late October spooky reading kick, this book contained some elements that I felt were unnecessary and left me with some unresolved feelings on tone and messaging.

In this modern comedy-horror novel, we're introduced to a charming but enigmatic stranger who upends the lives of a tight-knit group of Southern women in a tranquil town. What begins as a seemingly ordinary tale takes a riveting twist as they gradually unearth the newcomer's spine-tingling secrets, thrusting them into a suspenseful battle against an otherworldly malevolence threatening their community and their husbands’ disbelief.

Set in the suburban town of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, 'The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires' juxtaposes an idyllic Southern town of well-kept neighborhoods with the malevolence that emerges within it. The contrast heightens the tension and makes the horror elements of the story all the more shocking. While the horror builds, the presence of the book club allows moments of humor and levity to exist in the setting. The characters that make up the vampire-slaying book club represent a variety of types of southern women, from a god-fearing eccentric over-spender to an overrun farmer’s wife. Their differences lead to some hilarious interactions, including my favorite line of the whole novel: “I am not sure what the appropriate gesture is to make toward the family of the woman who bit off your ear, but if you felt absolutely compelled, I certainly wouldn’t take food.” It is clear, both in the setting and in the humor presented through the main group of women, that Hendrix was a keen observer during his life in South Carolina and depicts some strikingly real descriptions throughout the novel.

This novel, though engaging, struggles with pacing. There are long stretches, especially in the middle of the book, where the action slows and gives way to long spans of angsty overthinking and inaction that can feel, at times, demeaning. I found myself screaming at the main character, Patricia, to do something, anything, about the situation. While I understand that the social structures confining these women are rigid, when faced with some damning evidence, these women shy away from taking action much of the time. This frustration did build the tension but also made it clear to me several times that this novel, while being about women, is written by a man.

Another critique that I had with 'The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires' was in its foggy messages and themes. The vampire in this novel is unlike any other blood-sucker I have come across in literature, and while I typically enjoy vampire novels for their discussions on the soul and religion, this novel focused on consumption and community. Hendrick’s vampire is in contrast to his protagonists by being a lone-wolf whose only priority is to eat. This message was clear: that the Southern woman gains strength from her community and her dedication to her family and friends. She is not alone. However, the undercurrent to this message was a distorted line of thought touching on horror’s relation to sexuality and race. The first of these was downright disturbing at times. The fact that Hendrix chose the main vehicle of horror for this novel to have blatant sexual overtones gave me immediate pause and has left me to ponder his real opinion of the women that raised him. While other vampires in the genre are notoriously sexualized, the vampire that these women are faced with takes victims in a way that feels very unvampiric and literally violates many female characters throughout the novel. It leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and the assumption that the most horrific thing that the author could imagine happening to women is for their sex to be violated. While horrific in and of itself, what was more horrifying to me was that characters in this novel found their assaults pleasurable despite their grotesque and violent onslaught. On top of this, Hendrix also brings in a discussion on race that is not treated with care and is left open-ended in the resolution of the novel. On the whole, the messages throughout are not well cared for and leave some pretty damning interpretations up in the air.

Even given the critiques above, Hendrix’s "The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires" has garnered significant critical acclaim and has been met with enthusiastic reader reactions since its release. Critics have praised Grady Hendrix's unique blend of horror and humor, noting that it breathes fresh life into the vampire genre. Readers have been equally effusive, celebrating the book for its gripping narrative, memorable characters, and its ability to elicit both spine-tingling chills and hearty laughter. This novel is primarily tailored for fans of horror-comedy and those who enjoy narratives that defy traditional genre boundaries. As with any work, there have been some criticisms and controversies, with some readers expressing that the book's horror might not be to everyone's taste and is too extreme. Other criticism is similar to mine, noting Hendrix’s controversial use of sexual horror and mixed messages with his female main characters. Some may find the blending of horror and comedy challenging to reconcile, but this duality is precisely what makes the book stand out. While it may not cater to the most orthodox vampire enthusiasts, those who are open to a different, more light-hearted approach to the genre are likely to find this novel an engaging and entertaining read.

I have given this novel 4 stars because, while it has issues, it was a great read for the Halloween season. I was emotionally engaged throughout the book, and the horror was real and compelling. In the times of action, I couldn't stop reading. Hendrix does a fantastic job of writing the horrifying while not alienating his reader. It is the slow-building, disturbing prose that makes this novel fantastic. His characters are emotionally relatable and honest. I couldn't help but root for them, even when they were dithering over the way forward. The book club provides grounding for this tumultuous plot that kept me coming back for more. By the end, I truly felt that these women were my friends, that this was our book club, and that we had fought this great evil together. This novel is a great addition to any fall reading list if you can stomach the gore.

**TRIGGER WARNINGS: descriptions of sexual assault, gore, extreme violence, bugs, rats, domestic abuse, pedophilia, blood, talk of AIDS, cheating, divorce


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