Societal Expectations and Surreal Horror in ‘The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires’

Cozy mystery meets gruesome horror in the surprising new novel by Grady Hendrix titled The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. The writing here is lighthearted and makes for an easy read, but there’s also a touch of gore that is the trademark of traditional gothic horror. Hendrix has managed to produce an addictive beach-read-esque book that will appall you while also compelling you to turn the page. 

Grady Hendrix has been in the writing game for a while, having previously written for Playboy Magazine, Slate, The Village Voice, the New York Post, Film Comment, and Variety. He’s also one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival and, for a few years, was a film critic for the New York Sun. Don’t let his extensive background in journalism scare you, though. On the page, his writing comes across as light, witty, funny at times, and amazingly descriptive. It will disturb as well as delight you. 

This novel, set in the 1990s in Charleston, South Carolina, paints a vivid picture of the social injustice that many women faced in that time. The major conflict in this story stems from the repression of women and their voices by society and their husbands. At times, this aspect got under my skin. However, this was done so flawlessly and unapologetically in a way that bares the good, the bad, and the ugly of the time period that you are able to completely sink into this world and root for the characters. The fact that those characters are upper-class white women and members of a book club that almost exclusively reads true crime novels just adds color and humor to the page. 

The traditional vampire story is turned on its head with Grady’s own particular brand of horror. Based on traditional lore, the vampire here is close enough to what we know to be recognizable without being like every other vampire we’ve read about already. The real treat of the book, however, is how Grady pits this gruesome, horrible creature against the seemingly stereotypical southern housewife and her book club. Be prepared, though. This isn’t just a fluff read. It will keep you on the edge of your seat, jumping at the slightest sound while you anxiously read “just one more chapter.” 

With this novel, you get a story where women are underestimated and undervalued, where you’re left with a small part of yourself wondering if maybe it is all in the main character’s imagination after all. Add in a touch of the supernatural and you get a book that is equal parts heavy and light, bright and dark, horrifying and hilarious. It takes a great amount of skill to take a situation that is awful and make it funny, and Grady seems to do this with ease: “I am not sure what the appropriate gesture is to make toward the family of the woman who bit off your ear, but if you felt absolutely compelled, I certainly wouldn’t take food.”

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a heartwarming story about mothers and their unwavering devotion to their children and families that is full of guts, blood, and terror. It will make you laugh, and it will make you cringe. It seems impossible that a book can be both uplifting and truly disturbing with gory detail, but there you have it. This is a story about how far a group of women are willing to go to protect all that they love. The answer to that might just disturb you. 

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires
By Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books
Published April 7, 2020