Book Review

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

accidentally read a right-wing novel; thoughts about returning to work mid-pandemic

A little over a week ago (date of writing is July 12th, 2020 CE), I went into an independent bookstore for the first time in a very long time.

I mean, that’s not entirely accurate as I have been into both the high-end antiquarian bookstore and the ratty secondhand bookstore close to where I work, but this was the first time I entered a bookstore since the Winter in which one could buy brand new books that I had neither seen of nor heard of before.

Why did I go, in these straightened economic times?

When the danger of browsing in a shop is sky high?

I went because, a) I’ve just started working again and b) it was my lover’s birthday and I wanted to see if I could find her a fun book or two to supplement the other gifts I had bought.

Things did not go to plan, because though I did a bulk purchase of new books from Repeater Books in their recent sale, and though I’ve picked up some intriguing old paperbacks from Bloor Street, it has been a long time since I have glimpsed pristine hardbacks, since I have read blurbs of books published recently enough to be described as “urgent” and “vital”, since I’ve been able to look upon books for sale that reference social media, that explore contemporary political issues that I’m interested in, and – also – the first time I have seen books about vampires for sale that look like they are made for the “average” reader, rather than for creepy goths who listen to terrible guitar music and wear the same Matrix-inspired clothes every day of the year.

Yes, even though I have begun dabbling more and more and more with genre writing (reading it, not writing it (yet, thank god, though as soon as I get a good idea for a plot involving time travel and vampires, “it’s over for you hoes”, as the internet would have said about two or three years ago)), I still hold it in contempt.

Like many of my opinions and behaviours, I have opposing, incompatible ideas about this type of writing.

Shit, instead of writing this post I wrote a garbled 1000 words of genre fiction about time travel and vampires.

There’s nothing in it, it’s shit (it’s genre writing by someone who disapproves of it in principal) but I have to go to work now. More thoughts on this book tomorrow.

///

OK, it’s now the 13th and I’m back.

I have gone back to work and, in true Scott Manley Hadley style, when I work I tend to do little other than work.

I’ve been cycling to my job so haven’t been reading as much or – as I got into the habit of doing during the winter – typing these little blog posts as I waited at frozen bus stops in the middle of the night.

It’s nice to be busy, but it is, of course, strange to be in a hospitality setting when there is still the risk of contamination and community spread.

There seems to be a handle on the infection rate (and certainly the death rate) here in Canada, but as things start to open up – especially the border with the US, which remains closed (thank god!) – there still exists the terrifying potential for a harder, second wave.

We’ll see.

Where I’m working we are sanitising sanitising sanitising and we are all wearing masks, all of the time, and we’re ensuring that everyone wears a mask who enters, but there are a shocking amount of – for want of a slightly less aggressive description – deluded people who sneer at the insistence of mask use.

It’s not hard to wear a mask.

It made me very angry, a few weeks ago, when things started reopening and I was forced to reckon with the volume of mask-avoiders in the city, particularly knowing that MORE PEOPLE HERE ARE WEARING MASKS THAN ARE WEARING MASKS IN THE UK AND AMERICA. Terrifying.

The virus is real, I want to scream at these people.

Nobody benefits from it being a lie.

Wearing masks disadvantages any sinister government control they are worried about, as facial recognition is still reliant (from a distance) on more than just eyes. If you’re reading this and you’re not wearing a mask almost every single moment you’re in public, then you are unwelcome here. I can’t tell you to fuck off when I see you on the street or when I engage with you at work, but TriumphoftheNow.com is formally and forever a repository of emotion and response viewable only by those who don’t believe in their personality infallibility and/or wild conspiracy theories.

Sorry.

///

Anyway, this novel I read, which I read pretty quickly, is far from perfect, but it is fun.

I like vampires and enjoyed the two vampire novels I have read before this one (Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling), but – for me – vampires begin and end with True Blood, HBO’s most entertaining long-form scripted series.

Hendrix’s novel, like True Blood, is set in “the American South”, and – like that show – the vampire is a mysterious quasi-aristocratic outsider who arrives into town and starts charming everyone. But Grady Hendrix’s James Harris, unlike Bill Compton, Eric Northman and all my other friends from True Blood is-

///

Just got into a thirty minute Wikipedia black hole reading about True Blood. It’s easy to do, I have so many wonderful memories of that show. Many of my happiest hours were spent in Bon Temps. Good times, indeed.

So, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires was great in that it gave me an excuse to think about True Blood, but the vampire wasn’t sexy enough, the novel made enough allusions to discussion of race and gender that I felt it might offer some kind of liberating happy ending where the bored southern housewives were able to leave the shackles of their dull, god-bothering home lives. But, no, they kill the vampire, one of them leaves their secret sex worker-shagging husband, but there is no repudiation of the characters’ (and thus the novel’s) inherent conservative idealisation of “family”. The one black character who appears in more than one scene without being eaten by the vampire is the impoverished cleaner to the protagonisty white women of the eponymous book club, who – alas – must work the hardest to destroy the vampire, without anywhere near as much credit.

It’s a right wing novel and it’s very sexually repressed: the protagonist gets bitten one time by the vampire and, though she enjoys it while it’s happening, she only did it to act as bait so the other ladies could kill and then dismember the vampire.

The husbands are off shagging around, while their wives are “taking care of the family” by killing the vampire who threatens to destroy their kids. Luckily – the novel implies – the only people who do get killed by the vampire are young and poor and black and the vampire’s white near-victims are able to recover from being bitten.

None of their vampire-killing would have been possible without the assistance of physical labour from a working class woman of colour, and the white women behave as saviours for the town’s black community, who are indeed more at risk from the non-sexy vampire James Harris due to institutionalised privilege.

I suppose, in that case, I’m basically arguing that this is a racist novel, and it feels strange that a novel from 2020 could have got through the publishing process without anyone noticing.

A racist vampire novel that doesn’t have any sexy vampires in it?

This one is a hard no recommend from me. I retract my comment that it was fun. It isn’t, in hindsight, even if it was at the time.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

1 comment on “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

  1. Pingback: the heads of cerberus by Francis Stevens – Triumph Of The Now

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