My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones #BookReview

CriminOlly thinks: A masterpiece of horror fiction and horror film criticism with an unforgettable heroine. This is the book The Final Girl Support Group wanted to be. 5/5

Title: My Heart is a Chainsaw | Author: Stephen Graham Jones | Publisher: Titan Books | Pages: 496 | Publication date: 7th September 2021| Source: Publisher | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No


Review

There have been at least two other recent horror novels about slasher films. The James Patterson-lite The Final Girls by Riley Sagar, the criminally disappointing The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (review here). In much the same way as film directors in the 80s suddenly rediscovered the monster movies of the 50s (The Thing, The Blob, Invaders from Mars, etc), it feels like sufficient time has passed for these decades old films to be re-invented by the modern creators who grew up with them.Stephen Graham Jones’s My Heart is a Chainsaw joins this mini-wave and the good news is that it’s far better than either of the books that preceded it. In fact it’s quite brilliant.

Set in 2015 (for reasons that become clear in the afterword), it follows slasher obsessed Jade. A 17-year old of mixed Native American/European heritage who struggles to find happiness and purpose in the small rural American town, a place about to be taken over by the millionaires who are building a secluded settlement nearby. Following the discovery of the body of a tourist, Jade’s slasher movie conspiracy theories seem to be coming true as locals start to die and a new girl she identifies as a final girl starts at her high school.

As in his excellent, The Only Good Indians, Jones mixes commentary on the plight of America’s rural poor with out and out horror. My Heart is a Chainsaw has an easier narrative style than the more complex earlier book. The plot moves like a freight train as Jade finds her suspicions ignored by the local sheriff and her teachers, even as the body count rises. The sense of the helplessness of teens in the face of dismissive adults is palpable and adds wonderfully to the overall tension. Jones also does a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing as to the credibility of Jade’s theories.

Neurotic and misunderstood, Jade is a wonderful protagonist, one who it’s impossible not to root for, even when you don’t know whether to believe her. Her pain and frustration seep from the page and her determination to do what she believes is right, even when the cost to her is great, feels almost inspirational.

Best of all for horror fans, Jade’s dissection of slasher lore and constant references to classic movies is beautifully woven into the tale. In other books this can feel like a gimmick, here it works perfectly, drawing the reader into Jade’s world. What’s more, Jones’s knowledge of the sub-genre is impressive to say the least, meaning this may be the best ever blending of fiction and movie criticism.

It’s been a long time since a horror novel as fresh, readable and powerful as My Heart is a Chainsaw has come along. This is the book The Final Girl Support Group wanted to be. It intelligently examines and plays with the genre without ever descending into naval gazing, it’s gripping, gory and fun from page one, and in Jade it has a truly memorable, believable heroine.


Synopsis

Jade feels like she’s trapped in a slasher film as tourists go missing and the tension between her community and the celebrity newcomers to the Indian Lake shore heads towards a tipping point, when she feels the killer will rise. Jade watches as the small town she knows and loves begins to head towards catastrophe as yachts compete with canoes and the celebrity rich change the landscape of what was designated park lands to develop what they call Terra Nova.

Warnings

Content Warning: Racism, child abuse, self harm, incest, attempted suicide

Tolerance Warning: All good

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