Darnell’s Garage: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Welcome to Darnell’s Garage where I peak under the hood of books to see what’s working and what isn’t. I’m gonna be looking at The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, a book I mostly enjoyed but still have a few criticisms. I’ll try and keep this spoiler free.

(By the way, long novel titles are a pet peeve of mine. I think they should be reserved for short stories. I dunno why.)

Southern Book Club is about, you guessed it, a group of suburban, southern women in a book club who discover there’s a vampire in their town. The vampire targets vulnerable members of society while ingratiating himself with the more affluent. The protagonist is Patricia Campbell, who tries to convince her friends and family of the danger but runs up against systemic racism and misogyny.

Any book with vampires in suburbia is going to be immediately compared to Salem’s Lot. This probably isn’t fair, but King’s shadow looms large. Also, Hendrix doesn’t do himself any favours by making two direct references to the Lot. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite have that gift King has for fleshing out a town. Hendrix’s setting just doesn’t feel as realized as the Lot. But, the good news is that this isn’t a Salem’s Lot imitation. Hendrix makes some cool innovations on vampire cryptozoology and uses the trope to explore territory unexplored by King.

Ultimately, I respected Southern Book Club more that I loved it. The execution doesn’t quite live up to the premise.

First, Hendrix lets the cat out of the bag very early in the book. The moment Patricia discovers the vampire is an excellent moment, filled with verisimilitude and humour, but it really kills a lot of the tension for the rest of the book. She doubts herself about whether he’s actually a vampire or if her imagination is running away with itself after all the dark fiction she’d been reading in her book club. But it’s obvious to the reader that it feels pretty tedious.

Secondly, there just wasn’t enough moments of terror. Hendrix has the horror chops. Too much of the book is focus on Patricia’s suburban milieu. As I mentioned in the synapsis, this book has things to say about racism and misogyny, particularly in late 80s/early 90s bourgeois, southern culture.

On the one hand, I admire Hendrix in this regard, not only because he’s tackling heady topics, but also because he doesn’t take the easy way out. He could have easily reduced the rich white women to nasty stereotypes, but he’s unafraid of grey areas.

But, on the other hand, he kinda pulls his punches with the intersectional issues he’s gesturing at. I liked how he drew on how serial killers targeted minorities to fly under the radar. There’s some nice meta-fiction at play when he has the book club discuss famous true crime and serial killer books. But it seemed like Hendrix was self-conscious about a) depicting scenes of the vampire attacking black people and b) didn’t want to come off as preachy. Understandable. These are tricky things to write about. But by nibbling around the edges, it comes across as timid. So, what we get is a book that kinda buries its lede.

After a promising first act, I got really frustrated with the book’s mushy middle, but it really catches its stride again in the third act. Once the plot reaches its endgame, it really clips along and lands with a satisfying climax. It may seem like I was very down on the book based on what I’ve written here, but I gave it a 4/5 on Goodreads. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re into vampires.

~ by braddunne on May 3, 2021.

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