Well, that was different. Refreshingly different in a lot of ways. One of our book club members chose SBCGSV (because this title is a mouthful, so I’ve made it sound like a 90’s boy band) for our January reading selection. I finished it just in time to know what I was talking about at our meeting last night. And what a fabulous book club book, because it’s literally about a book club! I doubt we ever get a chance to do any vampire slaying, and considering what these ladies went through, I certainly hope things stay as boring as usual. I’m good with the wine and snacks, y’all. This begins with an introduction in which Hendrix gives the reason he wrote this book. It’s in homage to his and all the other badass Southern mamas out there who manage to take care of literally everything while making it look a bit effortless. Why not add a little vampire slaying to the mix? They have already mastered everything else.
The book club that’s not a book club forms on a night when all the ladies realize they are sick and tired of reading boring stuff they are told they should be reading by the pretentious ladies of the official book club. In it, they mostly consume gritty true crime books and trashy novels. The focus of the novel is Patricia, housewife and mother of two whose psychologist husband occasionally comes home to assert his masculine authority as a way to feel falsely important but otherwise is usually out “working.” When a series of odd occurrences begin taking place in the safe little town of Mt. Pleasant, all signs lead back to one man, a handsome and charming newcomer named James Harris who has convinced nearly everyone he can do no wrong. Is he really as perfect as he seems? Or is he something much darker and more menacing, something with the power to bring an entire town to its knees?
From the very start, this novel is wildly engaging. At first it’s simply funny. Laugh out loud, “My God, this is relatable,” kind of funny. The audiobook is narrated by a fabulously talented Bahni Turpin, and she effortlessly bounces back and forth between the separate voices, giving a unique quality to each and every character. I can’t say I liked each and every character throughout, but every one of them was touched by an incredible authenticity. Patricia’s initial naivety upon immediately trusting James Harris was quite believable considering her situation in life. I simultaneously liked her and wanted to shake her into snapping out of it. Just when I thought I was reading a rather light-hearted book about a super awesome book club, Hendrix did a complete 180 and put Patricia in an intensely terrifying situation. As the novel progressed, the plot was infused with thrilling an suspenseful moments that both exhilarated and terrified.
There’s nothing particularly surprising about the plot of this book. As a matter of fact, readers quickly learn the identity of the villain. It’s not a story about figuring out the who. It’s a story about women and about friendship. It’s a story about finding the courage to do what’s necessary when no one else will. It’s about badass Southern mamas.
As far as horror goes, this is superb and unique. It is the perfect amount of frightening in all the right places, and manages to keep you on the edge of your seat for a large portion of the narrative. Part of the horror is merely in the grotesque and the uncomfortable. Some of it’s just plain gross. If cockroaches, killer rats, and old ladies pulling raccoon guts out with their teeth is not in your wheelhouse of horrific things you can tolerate, you may want to skip this one. Since I was listening to this mostly on my commute, I have a feeling quite a few people saw me driving around like this:
The genius behind this book, however, wasn’t those direct elements of horror that stimulate our gag reflex or frighten us. Upon consideration, the most terrifying elements of this book were the real life horror stories of a much more subtle but much more realistic and harmful nature. The way Patricia is alienated and rejected upon first opening up about her theories regarding James Harris and his terrifying secret points to the inherent misogyny in our society, especially in the South during this time period. It didn’t matter how much evidence she had or that she’d seen things with her own eyes, she was just a silly housewife to most people. What did she know? As things continue to spiral and Patricia grows increasingly isolated, we watch as her resolve gives way along with her sanity. There’s not just one monster in this book. Some of the monsters are of the human variety. They are the monsters that employ the weapons of gaslighting and manipulation, slowly wearing away the soul of a person until there’s nothing left with which to fight. Honestly, our risk of being hurt by outside threats is nothing compared to our risk of being hurt by those who are supposed to love us. I actually grew very weary of this section of the book. It felt like it went on for two hours of the audio. I actually wondered if James Harris didn’t have some kind of super-human hypnotic ability, because I couldn’t believe the amount of evidence people were disregarding. Upon hindsight, this was an accentuation of the horror and the discomfort, so I’m not entirely sure it’s a bad quality. It wasn’t very enjoyable, however.
Another stark pressing theme in this book was that of racial inequity. James Harris initially preys on the children of the people of Six Mile, a predominantly black community in close proximity to Mt. Pleasant. If white children were to begin dying of suspicious circumstances, the whole world would watch. When it’s black children in a poor community, the world chocks it up to bad parenting and drugs. It’s infuriating and certainly accentuates the real life horror to be standing on the sidelines watching these events unfold, as powerless as Patricia to stop the spiral.
I’ve read a few vampire novels, including the pinnacle piece of literature, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This one really stands out as an incredibly unique take on the lore. There’s always been an overtly sexual component to vampire stories. This book pulled a Tim Taylor on that component and super-charged the hell out of the sexual nature of vampire lore. Most of the time, the eroticism was just uncomfortable, because it was also not so subtly tinged with pedophilia. So, I do want to warn that there are some very serious themes in this book. Trigger warnings for rape and sexual assault. As pleasant as this novel is in the beginning, it reaches desperately low places before the conclusion.
I think the most obvious takeaway from this book is that as women we’re so much stronger together. We’ll often rarely find allies in this world, and we need each other. It wasn’t lost on me that there wasn’t one man in this novel who wasn’t a useless piece of human trash. Is that realistic? No, of course there are some decent men in this world. Evidently none of them live in the town of Mt. Pleasant.
The final thing I’ll say about this is that the conclusion is rather shocking. It poses some questions and possibly leaves room for a sequel. That’s certainly an interesting debate for book club night. Overall, this is a wildly captivating read. Some readers on the squeamish side might approach it with a bit of trepidation, but I think few would regret picking it up. I give it 4 1/2 stars simply for middle section that gave me such frustration.