You’ve read this vampire story before: a handsome stranger comes into town, people start disappearing, then the stranger turns out to be a—wait for it—vampire. A Van Helsing archetype rounds up a posse, hunts down the vampire, and drives a stake through its heart. Ding-dong, the vampire is dead.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is one such vampire story, complete with some tell-tale vampire tropes. It is also much, much more than your typical vampire story.
A Vampire in Suburbia
Patricia Campbell is a typical eighties housewife who seems to have it all: a nice house in the suburbs, a nuclear family, and attends a book club with other neighbors-slash-housewives. The titular book club isn’t your typical book club: their selections lean toward Helter Skelter and Psycho, with a small sprinkling of book club staples such as The Bridges of Madison County.
Everything seemed to be going well for these fine Southern families, until James Harris entered the picture. He’s mysterious, he’s handsome, and he can’t bear to stay under direct sunlight. He also doesn’t have any identification on him, but Patricia’s mother-in-law seems to recognize him as someone from her younger days.
After his arrival, people, especially children, start disappearing. Someone close to Patricia gets attacked by a horde of rats, in the most gruesome way possible. The know-how Patricia gleaned from her reading helped her uncover the truth. She becomes the Van Helsing figure that the quiet suburb of Charleston didn’t know they needed.
That Escalated Quickly
One would think that every vampire trope, from comedic to academic, has been exhausted. One of the strengths of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is that it doesn't pretend to reinvent vampire lore. Credit has to be given to the author for giving James Harris a physiology that made him more The Strain and less Twilight. Take it from someone who cut his teeth at an early age with Dracula, Salem’s Lot, and uh, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Mr. Harris ticks all the right checkboxes.
I can’t honestly say I liked the mid-eighties to early nineties setting, if only because I can’t help lumping it in the same (pine) box as the Stranger Things, or the recent film iteration of Stephen King’s It. It's one of the better vampire stories I’ve read, but with minor changes, the story could have worked in a modern setting. Having said that, I loved how the book escalated from family sitcom to Fright Night in the span of a few chapters.
Rally the Troops
Having said that, I loved how the book is told from Patricia’s perspective. We get to see what a typical eighties housewife is like. Everything seemed to revolve around housework, taking care of the kids, and socializing with the neighbors. Their husbands don’t seem to think much of them. There is one infuriating scene where the husbands went all bro on her and decided she’s crazy when she revealed what she knew about the vampire in their midst.
Patricia eventually summoned her inner Van Helsing and rallied the troops to save the day...or night, in this case. You know the vampire will meet its end, one way or another. How it happened, though, is reason enough to own a copy of this book.