Have you ever read the title of a book and thought: “This was made for me?” That’s what happened when I saw The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires on a list of new books coming out in 2020. I was pretty sure that author Grady Hendrix had been watching me as I binged Buffy The Vampire Slayer, read any of Anne Rices’ vampire chronicles I could get through Interlibrary Loan, and attended my library team’s book club in a Southern state. In other words, I felt attacked.
Because apparently clever titles make me open my wallet, I bought The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires as soon as it came back in stock (it was sold out instantly on indie bookstore websites). I waited two days with the book sitting on my desk at home because you’re supposed to quarantine books in case of COVID-19 traces. Finally, I curled up on the couch by my husband, cracked open the spine, and settled in. A few hours later, I slammed the book shut dramatically and told my husband everything about it. I don’t usually read books in one sitting unless I absolutely can’t put them down, and this was one of those special stories that actually lived up to its title and cover.
Spoiler-free summary before you read further: this novel is about exactly what the title says it’s about.
Mild spoilers ahead.
What The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires gets right: This is one of those rare books where a man author actually wrote from the perspective of amazing women characters with understanding, wit, and great empathy. The main character, Patricia, was so relatable and heartbreaking as she shouldered all of the emotional labor (and literal physical security) for her household that I was pleasantly shocked to find out that the author was a man. Her sense of guilt that she’s not doing enough for everyone in her life was palpable. Yet as Patricia slowly makes strong friendships with the women in her book club and in her own home, she begins to emerge as a fiercely driven, free-thinking character that still has plenty of flaws. For a fictional character in a horror novel, she’s pretty real.
Patricia’s characterization shines against the foil of her husband, Carter, who acts as if Patricia is crazy, cheats on her repeatedly, and snuggles up to the main villain of the story just because he makes a lot of money. It’s frustrating to read about, but don’t worry- there is some justice. I’ll give Carter this- he made me hate him more than the actual vampire in this book; Carter is like the Umbridge of this novel.
This is not just a book about Southern true crime-loving women, although that part is definitely awesome and I 100% want to talk with them about Helter Skelter. This book tackles gentrification, racial injustice, sexism, gaslighting, and vampires all in one story, and it does this flawlessly. You will be thrilled, shocked, and horrified all at once. I certainly was.
What The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires gets wrong: There are a few moments that seem a little tone-deaf. Racism thrives in the town’s community, and while it is addressed and called out as wrong, it is disappointing how the main black character, Mrs. Greene, has to save herself and the white women again and again without any help while her neighborhood suffers. There’s a big message here about acting like you can’t see the problems of others as long as you and your family are safe.
Who should read The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires: If you’re a Southern lady in a book club with a bent for true crime, obviously pick this one up. However, men and non-Southern women will also enjoy this novel if they are fans of horror, suspense, vampires, and humor.
Who shouldn’t read The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires: This novel is best for mature audiences.
The library doesn’t currently have this book, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan once it is safe to do so, or you can check for it at your local library.
Content note: language, brief sexual scenes, emotional abuse, violence, racism, sexual assault, attempted suicide. Reader discretion is advised.