The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
|The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix|
|Reviewer: Alex Merrick|
|Summary: Mixing gore, American suburbia and progressive feminism, Grady Hendrix writes a gripping novel pitting housewives against a lone vampire. Patricia, the main character, starts to believe her new neighbour, James Harris, is not what he seems and when children start disappearing, she will show Mr. Harris exactly what Southern hospitality means.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 408||Date: April 2020|
|Publisher: Quirk Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Women, by and large, have always been the subjugated sex. Throughout history they have been confined to mere bit players who occasionally help hold up the powerful man and let nothing stand in his way. Grady Hendrix's new novel The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires gives women their due. It is an ode to the strong selfless housewife. Hendrix illustrates this by having them go toe to toe with a predatory male vampire who moves in to their quiet cul de sac.
A beginning definition prefaces the main bulk of this novel. Housewife (n) – a light, worthless woman or girl – Oxford English Dictionary, compact edition, 1971. With this definition Hendrix is laying out the fact that our main character and her book club are going to be up against not just a lone vampire but against the patriarchy. The OED, a veritable source of truth, or at least what the patriarchy wants to define as the truth, is used here to symbolise the institutions that hold women back.
Yet Hendrix writes these women as strong and resilient. He notes that as a child he was unable to take [his] mom seriously. The Southern Book Club's guide to Slaying Vampires is set in the '90s, the beginnings of third wave feminism. Patricia, the protagonist, is almost a facsimile for Hendrix's mother. Quietly keeping the household afloat whilst her husband spends most of his time at work or at play, she does not complain, out loud at least. Patricia and her friends are three-dimensional characters; you gain a sense of the microcosm of the housewife with all her worries, wants and needs.
This is a far cry idea from the 'stupid little housewife with too much free time on her hands' which has been proliferated throughout popular culture thanks to the ad men of the '50s and '60s. The idea of the housewife who cooks, cleans and has enough time to make herself look glamorous became embedded in the cultural lexicon.
Men in The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires are always lurking in the shadows. The women of the novel tip toe around their husbands terrified of them finding out what frivolity they indulge in, never mind the thousands of dollars the husbands spend on golf memberships. The men push themselves into the women's safe spaces. James Harris, the vampire who has ingratiated himself with the male half of the neighbourhood, becomes part of the book club. The floodgates open and before long men have taken over this feminine space. Mary-ellen alludes to this by stating Why does the man always get to be the main character? In this novel, the men must always make themselves known. They disrupt plans, censor women and at one point even drug them. Patricia argues with the husbands saying, if you haven't heard what we have to say, then you have no right to tell us who we can and can't speak to…If you had any respect for us at all, you'd listen. This idea that men will make decisions for women is prevalent throughout society; it was largely men in 2019 who passed 59 abortion restrictions in the United States and it has largely been men who have fought against feminism at every wave. They are like Cnut telling the tide to halt knowing deep down that they are and will lose.
Now this is not just a feministic work, it is also a strong addition to the pantheon of horror. There is gore and blood aplenty. The gore is mixed into the feminist themes. The final fight between James Harris and Patricia and co. is both gory and frightening, and illustrative of female accounts of rape and assault. The difference in strength of this one man against multiple women is incredible. Hendrix writes, she saw the fury in his face and knew that her arms were twigs in the face of this hurricane. The fact he is stronger than the heroines is always at the front of their mind. It is something at the front of most women's mind. In the United States, 90% of adults who are raped are women and one out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. James Harris embodies this threat of violence and invasion and this makes him an effective horror villain.
Grady Hendrix has written a great feminist horror story. One may balk at the idea that a man could write the female gaze and I myself had trouble writing that sentence. However, is that not the point of feminism, the equality of genders. It is the idea we are all equal and that we can finally see through the eyes of our better halves and understand they have worth beyond being a stupid, little housewife.
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