The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is a dark read to distract from these dark times | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is a dark read to distract from these dark times

click to enlarge Grady Hendrix - PHOTO: ALBERT MITCHELL
Photo: Albert Mitchell
Grady Hendrix
During these strange, strange times, the last place I expected to find relief was an extremely graphic book about housewives fighting a vampire, but here we are.

Grady Hendrix's newest novel, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires, is a fast-paced and gory tale that centers around Patricia Campbell and her circle of Southern housewife friends joined by their love of risqué books. Each month, their book club alternates between true crime stories such as Helter Skelter and The Stranger Beside Me and steamy romance novels like The Bridges of Madison County. The chosen book topics aren't something the women's husbands approve of, and when book club member Patricia feels something is amiss after being attacked by an elderly neighbor, the R-rated content is the root of the blame.

The real change in their small South Carolina town, however, is the appearance of James Harris, the elderly neighbor's nephew who is allergic to the sun, handsome and charismatic, and doesn't seem to have any ties to anyone or anything except his aunt who passes away shortly after he comes to town.

In 2016, Hendrix released another horror novel, My Best Friend's Exorcism about two teenage girls living in Charleston, South Carolina during 1988. It's the height of the Satanic Panic and is written from the teenagers' point-of-view as they become convinced that one of them is possessed by Satan. Set around the same time, Hendrix says that The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is not a sequel to My Best Friend's Exorcism but a similar version of the story from a parent's point-of-view, taking place in the same neighborhood. 

While I thought the hardest parts to read would be the
violent parts — I read reviews talking about how explicit some of the content is (and that holds true) — it was the underlying current of racism and privilege that was even harder to swallow. The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires centers around rich, white housewives living in the south, and Hendrix portrays them as having a blatant disregard for the neighboring poor black community, who Harris knows to prey on first because of the no one cares if poor black children go missing.

If the book were an actual guide it would read: Ignore your instincts, listen to your husband, and don't take action until your family is gravely affected.

It was uncomfortable and hard to read the when women ignore the facts that are right in front of them, when they chose to look the other way because acknowledging what's going isn't proper, it's not what "good Southern women do." But that's real life — it was true in the '90s and even to this day — and that's what makes Hendrix's novel even better. The stories in the news that make us feel something, whether that be anger, discomfort, sadness, while also entertaining us are the ones that stay with us. The fiction stories that align closely with our climate, even when the main character is fighting a vampire, are the ones that resonate. 

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is one you will read and won’t soon forget.

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