Patricia has ninety minutes before she has to lead the discussion of Cry, the Beloved Country for the Mount Pleasant women’s book club. She had worked so hard to get into the exclusive little group, and now, for her very first discussion, she hadn’t had time to read the book. She had read the first sentence several times, but something always happened, such as when her daughter had to be driven to one of her many practices or the time her son had to be rushed to the emergency room because he had stuffed 24 raisins up his nose. Despite all of her excuses, she was tossed out of the club. Walking back to her car, she heard, “Pssst!” from the darkness. Some of the other women had decided to start a club of their own, and to Patricia’s shock and dismay, they were going to read true crime novels. Within days, though, she knew that she had found her tribe.
Taking out the trash a few nights later, Patricia was startled to find her unpleasant elderly neighbor rummaging through the cans and snacking on a raccoon. When she heard Patricia, she turned and attacked her, biting off part of her earlobe. The old woman died in the hospital, and her only known relative was her great-nephew James, who had recently shown up to care for her. Patricia thought it would only be proper to bring James a casserole—it was the Southern thing to do. So, with the stitches still adorning her ear, Patricia walked down the street with a taco dish in hand. James didn’t answer the door, so she pushed it open and found James lying down, not breathing. Patricia’s nurse training kicked in, and she immediately started to administer the CPR that he so obviously needed. Except he didn’t.
I am not a reader of horror books, but after the historical fiction novel I had just finished, I was looking for something light. The cover of this book is irresistible: peaches, one with two puncture marks dribbling blood. Furthermore, it’s 1) Southern (check), 2) book club (check), 3) vampires (um…). I don’t know a lot about Grady Hendrix, but he has absolutely nailed the culture—and especially the women—of 1990 Charleston, SC. We lived there for five years in just about the same time period in which this novel is set, and the excruciating correctness is spot on. Although all of the members of the book club are individuals, they display various facets of Southern women of a certain class. Their homes are perfect, their children are in all the right activities, and their world is amazingly narrow. The husbands are in authority, controlling their wives’ choice of friends, activities, and books. This would be a horror novel if only for the husbands.
Hendrix’s writing is absolutely hilarious. He skewers upscale Southern culture with a fondness that reveals an intimate acquaintance. On the other hand, he also scared the daylights out of me. A friend warned me that some of the scenes were gory— and they were— but the scenes of psychological tension were the best. I have had nightmares before where I am running around the house, trying to get all of the doors and windows locked before someone outside gets to them first—or pops up in the glass right in front of me. Yeah, that was in there. I don’t think I breathed for page after page, terrified for Patricia and her children. There were other such scenes that fill the reader with such creeping dread that you can’t turn the pages fast enough.
The tension builds throughout this delicious novel right up to the horrible, disgusting, and totally well-deserved ending. Even though the plot is all about ridding the old-money neighborhood of monsters and McMansions, Patricia is actually finding out about real friendship, women who will show up for you even when it means ruining their shoes and their manicures.
If you have a strong stomach and don’t mind a couple of weirdly sexual scenes, y’all, this book is a hoot.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which will be available on April 7th. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. #LibraryReads