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

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Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

With a blurb like this, and with the author’s elevator pitch of « I wanted to pitch my mom against Dracula », I was expecting something a little bit lighter than what I got. This novel feels like a series of punches in the gut, and white most of them are enjoyable, the ones that really, really aren’t are enough to spoil the bunch.

I liked this book, and I would be happy to rec it to certain people in my life. But it certainly feels like a book club read, which isn’t usually my cup of tea. I prefer my books to contain more escapism than not, and that’s why I don’t tend to gravitate towards books that can be described as « stark » and « gut-punching ». And these words definitely apply to this book.

It contains two types of stories, that eventually end up clashing in a very satisfying way. On the one hand, 80’s and 90’s subhurban housewifes who live in the deep south, in a « proper » white community. Which means that the characters are at times relatable, alienating, and sad.

Relatable because each of the five main characters seem to spend every second of their day taking care of their children, their house, and their husband, without ever being thanked for it. The description of the mental load and endless chores of a « traditional » housewife was spot on, and even at times humourous, and I do have to admit having the main cast awknowledge and comment on it made me feel vindicated.

But then the setting of the story catches on, and the casual racism of the south in the 90’s is… not good. Not pleasant to read, and not adressed enough in a story that did feel the stirrings of feminism without ever properly engaging with the concept. No one ever properly listens to the black woman, who was right all along and to be honest was the one who did the brunt of the work, and the main character tried at several points to pull a white saviour, only to be confronted with the fact that she couldn’t actually do anything as she, too, was trapped inside a profoundly sexist community. Which to be honest, kinda feels like the author was trying to say something deep there, and then failed at delivering it.

And then, the five main characters also made me feel profoundly sad. As the story progresses, there’s a gradual dawning understanding that their husbands are not on their side, do not want to be on their side, and don’t even really seem to like their wives as people. The running gag of ‘what do you mean, you don’t have time, you’re at the house all day!’ became less and less of a tongue-in-cheek inside joke with the readers and a lot more frustrating. Which I get was intended, but honestly the ratio of happy ending to female characters suffering is just not high enough in this book to make reading 400 pages of white hetero nonsense worth it. I hated all of their husbands, profoundly, and as a reader it distressed me.

The vampire himself was quite interesting, and very well done. He is the epitome of the dangerous toxic masculinity, he knows how to use appearances and cultural norms to his advantage, and was a truly terrifying and disguting villain. The horror and gory parts of the story were a little too intense for my liking as a reader, but I have friends who I know will absolutely adore it.

For that reason, I would have given this book four stars, which is my rating for « I liked it and would rec it », BUT. But there is one point at which the author lost me. There is a particular event that happens towards mid-end of the story that just feels like a slap in the face for the readers, especially coming from a book that dipped its toes into subjects of feminism and who tried to build up its female characters. That event alone is enough to lower my rating of the book. The way it happened, and how it was handled later in the story, makes it quite clear that the author is a man, and that despite how much he seemed to ‘get’ the female perspective earlier on, this was still a book written to shock and delight in it, and I hated that entire plotline. I could honestly have been handled with much more respect, and there are other ways to make the story progress than stooping to that.

So there you have it. It’s a good book overall, but it has it’s flaws, and it’s not really my preferred genre for reasons outlined above. If I wanted the world to be a dark and unwelcoming place, I would go outside. I hoped to read a fun book about a book club learning how to be vampire slayers, but what I got instead is a novel that is quite good, but just a tad bit too unsettling for me.

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