‘Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.
One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbour, bringing the neighbour’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well travelled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind―and Patricia has already invited him in.
Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted―including the book club―but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighbourly kindness gone wrong.
A fun vampire novel whose setting was one of its strongest features, divided between middle class white suburbs and poor black communities; it built tension well in the first half but revelled a little too much in visceral body horror to the point where it became inadvertently funny.
What I Liked
- The reimagining of the vampire mythologies
- The setting: the juxtaposition of the entitled middle class women of the book club with the deprivations and sufferings of the black community that they fed on as much as the vampire did
- The humour and wit
- The solidarity of the women
What Could Have Been Different
- The horror was dwelled on for too long for my taste and, whilst Hendrix was able to generate tension well – the moments when patrician feared an intruder was on the roof for example – there was an over-reliance on horror elsewhere
- The ending – the final confrontation was anti-climactic in many ways and became (inadvertently?) funny.
Would a group of middle class, privileged women whose biggest concerns were completing the reading for their book club on time and managing school runs and summer camps recognise or be able to deal with a real threat if it arrived?
Hendrix posits this question as Patricia, wife, mother, book club member, comes into contact with the enigmatic James Harris. Unlike her husband, James seems to listen to and respect Patricia’s views and he shares an interest in reading and can talk to her son about Nazis. At the same time, a spiral of horrifying events coincide with Harris’ arrival: he is brought into town becaise his aunt mysteriously attacked Patricia and bit off part of her ear; children in the neighbouring black township are going missing and killing themselves with mysterious injuries found in intimate areas; Patricia’s mother in law, who lives with her and her husband is killed in an invasion by a swarm of rats.
Coincidence? The photograph that Patricia’s mother-in-law found from generations earlier showing an unchanged James Harris might suggest not.
I cannot deny that I enjoyed reading this book. It had a great pace to it and the writing felt clear and fresh throughout. The social observation of book club’s women were witty and sharp and warm and their ability to find solace and support and strength in each other was tender. Although the women of the book club were all distinct – and distinctively written – their collective faith in each other and strength was great. The men in the novel were, without exception I think, all appalling: arrogant, self-centred, drunk, work-focussed, unfaithful… predatory.
I found the structure a little frustrating. Hendrix seemed to write this as a novel of two halves: Patricia learns the truth about Harris in the first half, informed through additional literary endeavours, but reaches a climax where she ends up stepping back from that realisation. Her family’s lack of belief in her, her husband’s ‘diagnosis’ of depression and paranoia, her medication, the book club members’ husbands taking James Harris’ part all beat her down. And the book jumps forwards three years to where Patricia was passively witnessed her community’s growing reliance and dependence on Harris’ investments and acceptance of him as a cornerstone of the community. And then Patricia has to re-learn what he is all over again.
I also found that Hendrix revelled in the horror just a little too much. It’s just a personal taste thing in the main, but I started to find those moments a little drawn out. And the ending for me was … odd. I think that Hendrix was going for horror and shock, but for me he missed here more than anywhere else. And this final bloody scene became really rather absurd, silly and laughable. Maybe that was the intention… but I don’t think so.
Would I read another Hendrix novel? Yes, I would.
And, this was a far better vampire story than Twilight.
Grady Hendrix is an American author, journalist, public speaker, and screenwriter known for his best-selling 2014 novel Horrorstör. Hendrix lives in Manhattan and was one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival.
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