Described as a mix between Dracula and Steel Magnolias, this newest horror novel from Grady Hendrix is a true hit. There is much here to be a fan of for, as Kirkus Reviews states on the back cover, “smart horror” fans.
The title tells you all you need to know: a Southern ladies book club in Charleston, SC find themselves in a predicament with James, a new vampire in town. Hendrix provides an entertaining vampire hunting story with some interesting twists, while also still giving us his known signature brand of irony and pop culture weaved into some sharp social commentary and satire. James seems like a great guy until our main character, Patricia, starts to put some clues together. Then she’s on a vampire hunt. She just has to convince the girls first.
There are some really amazing female characters in this novel that find their agency and rage throughout the progression of the novel. It was a thrilling journey to be a part of as a reader and the characters truly felt like human beings.
This novel is smart, fun, and a true piece of horror camp. There are some scenes that are just absolutely disgusting. Hendrix has chops in the horror writing department. However, what I truly appreciate about his prose is that horror does not serve a singular purpose. This novel acts as strong social commentary.
I have seen some reviews of this novel that condemn its allegedly racist and sexist views. I will be addressing this below in detail, but I am unable to do so without the use of mild spoilers. If you prefer to read this novel without my mild spoilers, you can just know that any racist or sexist events in the novel are for a purpose of utmost clarity in my mind. Knowing Hendrix and his use of social commentary in all of his writing, I explain my take on the subject of racism and sexism in the novel below.
Mild Spoilers Ahead!
As social commentary, this novel is an allegory for the racist and sexist oppression of black communities and female spaces in the 1990s. Suburban, white neighborhoods (like that which our book club members, and eventually their husbands and James are a part of) in the time period of the novel (the 1990s) became wealthy from the war on drugs. Patricia even believes that James is dealing drugs to the children who have killed themselves early on in the novel. Hendrix makes these connections clear. These white neighborhoods became wealthy from this war on drugs at the expensive of poor black neighborhoods. James is a vampire who preys on the black children in the novel, sucking their blood and leaving them to commit suicide, while helping his book club friends make money off of investments and building a new community in the same black neighborhood where he is preying off of children, slowly gentrifying their space and forcing them out.
I have seen many reviews criticizing this novel for its racist and sexist events/views. As a fan of Hendrix, I know this to be a conscious choice and his style of underlying critique of a certain time period or event. He is creating historically accurate portrayals of such behavior to make a point. If you’re not uncomfortable reading something, I don’t think you have learned anything or been made to think from a piece of writing. Hendrix nailed it with this novel, just as he has in the past.
This novel has serious camp, while being gritty and full of important criticism underneath the surface. Hendrix does it again.(5 / 5)