Ah, Halloween has passed, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop reading scary books. I prefer scary media with some comedy. That’s why Young Frankenstein is one of my favorite films of all time. So, when one of my coworkers told me about The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, I knew it had to be strange, scary, and funny all at once. Now that I’ve read it, I have this to say: while it held my attention and was great in the scary department, I wish it had more comedy.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is about a women’s book club trying to protect its Southern suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a vampire. Patricia Campbell’s life has become smaller and smaller after she gave up her job as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother. Luckily, she has her book club to look forward to. They consist of Charleston mothers who love to read true crime and suspense novels. When an artistic and sensitive stranger named James Harris moves into the neighborhood, Patricia is initially attracted to him. However, once some children go missing, she begins to suspect that the newcomer has something to do with it. She starts her own investigation, yet what she discovers is far more terrifying than she could imagine. Soon, she and her book club are the only ones standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and the unsuspecting community they’ve sworn to protect.
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I popped in the first disc, but I’m glad to say that it was anything but boring. Where should I start? It made me feel a whole bunch of emotions. It made me feel happy and supported when the book club had Patricia’s back as well as angry and frustrated when certain people like their husbands didn’t believe them. Patricia’s husband Carter even prescribes her Prozac to quell her talk about the newcomer! Such gaslighting! It all felt too real. Since this is a horror, it shocked me plenty of times. Let’s just say an earlobe gets bitten off and rats come into the house, and they only scratch the surface.
I totally bought Patricia’s frustrations as a housewife and mother. Her husband is distant, and her kids would rather do other things. I can understand her need to seek out something interesting, even dangerous. When nobody believed her about the theory surrounding the stranger and the missing children, I understood her anger and the actions that led into her low point even though I disagreed with what she did to cope. I can’t say what happens, but it does have a happy ending.
Many of the characters are one-note, but they have their moments to shine. For example, Kitty is the loud, abrasive member of the “book club” who gets traumatized by what she sees in James Harris’s attic. Meanwhile, Slick is the socially awkward and super religious one of the bunch, and something truly horrific happens to her. Mrs. Green – a woman who works as Patricia’s mother-in-law’s caregiver – is another standout. She’s the one who also suspects something strange is going on in the neighborhood, and gets pretty frustrated when the book club doesn’t do enough to protect the kids on Six Mile. She even asks them what her kids’ names are.
From what I understand, the novel is marketed as a horror comedy, but there wasn’t much of the latter. There were some funny bits in the beginning like Patricia trying to talk about Cry, the Beloved Country even though she didn’t read it. As the book progressed, it got darker and darker. It seemed like Hendrix wanted to make readers comfortable at first, but then decided to dig a hole deep enough to cover a person, yet shallow enough for one to get out. In other words, Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula is far more accurate of a description than a horror comedy. Despite not having much comedy, the book still has light moments like the scenes when the book club members bond.
As I mentioned before, Bahni Turpin narrates the audiobook. I’ve mentioned her when I had talked about On the Come Up, and she has impressed me even more. Turpin has such a wide vocal range. She’s able to voice a proper white Southern lady, a sassy one from New Jersey with a sad past, and a black one frustrated with the community not doing enough for them. Even the men sound fairly distinct with the seemingly reasonable and pretty distant Carter Campbell and James Harris as a modern Dracula.
Overall, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is a highly interesting and wonderful Southern horror novel. While it doesn’t have much comedy, it’s got enough lightness to get people through the darkness. It also has plenty of horror and gross-out moments, so be prepared. I would recommend it to those love horror books like those from Stephen King (obviously!), Southern characters, and book clubs! Just remember to read it during the daytime. No one will be bored while reading it. I guarantee it!
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