A friend bought me a copy of this book when she got hers so we could read it together. We were so excited to read it! The title promises an interesting story, and general reviews rate The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires at about four out of five stars. Unfortunately, I found that this book doesn’t live up to its title or any of the hype.
Patricia Campbell leads a boring, thankless life as a housewife in a little southern suburb. She misses her nursing job, and most of her time goes to caring for Miss Mary, her senile mother-in-law, her emotionally absent husband Carter, and her two children, Korey and Blue. The one thing that brings her true happiness is her small true-crime book club, made up of other housewives: Kitty Scruggs, Slick Paley, Maryellen, and Grace Cavenaugh. The book club allows them to entertain sordid stories and escape their domestic lives for a little while.
However, Patricia’s life—and their book club—soon get disrupted by the arrival of a newcomer, James Harris. His great-aunt, notoriously grumpy local Ann Savage, attacks Patricia in the middle of the night, chewing her ear off. Mrs. Savage dies not long after, and James quickly settles into her home. Patricia suspects that James is harming poor black children in nearby Six Mile thanks to a tip from Mrs. Greene—Miss Mary’s part-time caretaker—and presents her evidence to the book club, but their husbands intervene and force them to apologize to James. They infiltrate the book club and start controlling that, too.
Three years later, Miss Mary’s ghost tells Patricia about James’ nighttime activities, and that she should go see Mrs. Greene, who’s furious at the book club ladies for abandoning the kids in her neighborhood to their grim fate. Patricia eventually convinces the other women to help them again, especially now that Slick is dying from an ‘autoimmune disease’ since James raped her. While their husbands are distracted, they finally manage to confront James and put an end to his gruesome activities, which gives Patricia the courage to divorce Carter.
While I enjoyed the first third of this book, the last two left me disappointed. After the book club forms and Patricia gets attacked, most of the other women spend a lot of time doubting her suspicions and evidence against James, even when she goes with the realistic accusation that he might be dealing drugs. They have little to no camaraderie, and Mrs. Greene isn’t even a part of the book club, she just happens to work for the Campbells. Instead of slaying vampires at night and reading books by day, these women are gaslit by their husbands into ignoring the singular vampire in their presence for three years.
Not only is the title misleading, the characters aren’t very likable, especially once Carter graduates from being emotionally absent to emotionally abusive. He practically forces Patricia to take Prozac and convinces their kids that she’s crazy. He tries to convince her of the same. None of the other women have remotely kind husbands, either, and they all put up with their unhappiness because—they have to save face. They choose to cling to their unhappy lives in order to stop embarrassing their husbands in front of James, their new investor friend.
Is this book set in the 1990s or the 1950s? It certainly feels like the latter.
These women aren’t particularly brave or clever. They don’t stand up to their husbands or operate within the limits of their domestic lives to act behind their backs. Even Grace, the only woman who appears to have any sort of backbone, gets forced into submission via physical abuse. She’s also the only one who claims to be happy as a housewife, but it’s hard to tell if that’s true or a trauma response. Patricia doesn’t summon the courage to divorce Carter until James gets dispatched, and even then, she’s incapacitated from James’ bite during the fight. Their whole plan involves using her as bait—no one objects to this.
Slick also suffers from sexual abuse at James’ hands, which eventually kills her and nearly spawns another vampire. I spent the last two-thirds of this book feeling furious at all of the male characters for what they put the women through, but the women also don’t care about the vampiric threat until Slick’s dying and Patricia’s children are in danger.
What about all of the poor black children that died before and after the time skip? Mrs. Greene cares about them, but that’s it. Lots of racist and sexist things occur in this book, but the main characters let the racism happen and suffer from the sexism at every turn. This book could have been an excellent commentary on both things with cool female characters, but Mrs. Greene is the closest thing we have. If she was the main character, the story could unfold in a more satisfying and compelling way that befits the title.
There’s also a lot of gore and gross detail in this book that substitutes for suspense. Patricia first loses an ear, and we’re treated to a scene where she’s hiding from James, and a cockroach forces itself into her remaining ear. Without the cockroach, the scene could have been suspenseful, especially since Patricia’s read several vampire books at this point, but she isn’t entirely sure how James’ powers work. Can he hear her heartbeat? Is he simply toying with her? These fears would have kept me hanging onto every word, but instead, I wanted to put the book down.
I’m giving this book 1.5 stars for a promising start and an unsatisfying ending, but maybe it just wasn’t for me, especially since a lot of people have praised it. Have you read any of Grady Hendrix’s works? What did you think?