Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she—and her book club—are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.
What is The Southern Bookclub’s Guide to Slaying Vampires about?
The book starts with the life of a Southern housewife, Patricia. In seeking to join the right parts of her community she seeks out friendships in a book club, only to find herself with utterly different friends in a completely different book club. Reading only true crime and thrillers, Patricia notices some red flags popping up in her community after the arrival of a stranger. But by the time she does anything about those red flags, he’s already embedded into the lives of her friends and family and refuses to be uprooted.
I went into this book thinking it would be more akin to urban fantasy, but boy was I wrong. This book is so firmly horror. There are incredibly vivid and bloody descriptions of the action, and times where the story takes a turn that’s shocking but also highly genre appropriate.
Tropes: Gentlemen’s Club
One of the major recurring tropes (gotta love some continuity) is that of the Gentlemen’s Club. In the South especially, it’s common for men of a certain community to band together and keep one another’s secrets, as well as enforce the written and unwritten laws of their community. In some cases, this also perpetuates violence when the Club becomes a vigilante mob.
Plot: Preying on Small Town Sensibilities
The nature of the suburban community Patricia is a member of is very important to the story. It allows insiders to get away with a lot more than they should, so long as they follow the guidelines of the community and do not betray certain principles. It also allows the right facade to work for a stranger entering their midst…
I loved the narrative symmetry throughout, with Patricia’s relationship to Miss Mary being tangibly important to the story and the repeated history aspects going on. I enjoyed the fact that the Bookclub fails multiple times in its goals, and that the characters act and feel like cowards. The vitriol and anger of Patricia towards her husband was powerful, and the consequences for not helping those in aid equally so. I liked that everything that was mentioned had a purpose. Imagery wasn’t just for the visualization but because the peach tree meant something, the weird phrases used meant things. All in all, I think this was a masterfully written book.
Though often important to the moment and the story itself, some of the descriptions were wildly uncomfortable. Not just gore, either; descriptions of bodies and trash and other little things were so detailed and shocking. It felt like this was the point, often, and so it didn’t feel so out of place in the story but I was not prepared for those descriptions to be so vivid.
I think that some of the characters received the wrong message from their own actions and the subsequent consequences, which leads to some murky narrative waters. Some characters view their cowardice as better or worse in certain situations, and there’s a lack of empathy among all of them. Or perhaps misplaced empathy, as the characters do fall prey to their own privileges when deciding what they will and won’t care about.
There are so many parts of this book that only work because they work together. It demonstrates a lot of storytelling skill on the part of the author. The recurring themes and images used throughout are well employed and the characters fully fleshed out and realistic. I enjoyed the slow burn consequences to their decisions, as well, because it felt more realistic than a rushed conclusion after a week or less of action–which is often how these stories fall into place. The more I reflect on this book, the more impressed by it I am. Though the jarring descriptions and weird use of empathy did stick out to me, they don’t ruin my enjoyment of the story and all that’s there. I think this is a wonderful piece of fiction, a subtle critique of small insular Southern communities, and an impressive addition to the horror genre.
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