My Heart is a Chainsaw
By Stephen Graham Jones
Genre: Horror/Speculative Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: No (though one might make the argument that the lead is implied to be queer)
QUILTBAG Minor Character: No
Main Character of Color: Yes
Bechdel Test: Yes
If Jade knows one thing, it’s slasher movies. She’s been obsessed with them for years, memorizing every gory detail. The end of high school looming before her, Jade is watching the town she’s always known become increasingly gentrified as the wealthy elite build across the river. But when a series of events start to look a lot like her favorite films, Jade decides it is up to her to prepare for what is coming: the real-life slasher ready to take out the town.
A Little Bit of a Disclaimer: I received an advanced reader copy (ARC) of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The fact that this was an ARC in no way changes my review or how I felt about the book.
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
I can tell you the exact moment that I fell in love with horror as a genre. I was sitting in the theater with two of my best friends watching Get Out. It was a Thursday afternoon and there were only a handful of people in the theater with us. In the last few minutes (spoilers ahead), a black man whose body has been forcibly taken from him levels a gun at the woman who helped enslave him. The gun went off and I, along with the rest of the theater, cheered. I had never left a movie with my heart pumping so fast. We talked about it for hours after, taking it apart practically frame by frame. After that screening, I went looking for horror that made me feel that uptick of adrenaline, that edge-of-your seat thrill. I narrowed down what I did and didn’t like. One of the subgenres of horror I haven’t gotten into is the slasher film. Now that I’ve read My Heart is a Chainsaw I may have to rethink that choice.
To say that this book is a love letter to the slasher genre is putting it mildly. Jade is a horror buff, with encyclopedic knowledge of every slasher, every bloody murder, and every woman left standing at the end of the film. Jade has been waiting her whole life for a slasher to settle into her small town, knows exactly what shape it would take, exactly when they would strike. But when there actually does appear to be a slasher in her town, it isn’t exactly like she’d imagined.
What makes Jade such a compelling character is that she is so brilliant, seeing things that everyone else around her misses, while also being blind to her own truths. Jade has buried secrets so deep down that by all rights they should have suffocated. Indeed, Jade it is suffocating in her town, the only indgnous person, the ‘weird kid,’ the one with a drunk for a dad and no hopes of getting to college. Over the course of the novel, those secrets come out. They come out bloody and screaming, like the best kind of horror.
My Heart is a Chainsaw is a masterful work of storytelling. The narrative structure is finely tuned. Stephen Graham Jones, like all truly great horror writers, knows where to be descriptively bloody and when the unknown, shadowy places are more terrifying. From the very first line, the narrative is tense with possibility, with the knowledge that there is truly something wrong, even if Jade is the only one who can see it.
The true brilliance of My Heart is a Chainsaw isn’t in any of that, however. No, the genius of this book is how it emotionally rips you apart. I was sobbing as I read this, both because it touched my heart in a very real way, and also because it’s just so good. I can’t get over the rush of it, the highs and lows it took me through.
Since watching Get Out years ago, I’ve devoured my fair share of horror in the form of novels, movies, and podcasts. I have loved much of what I’ve consumed and spoken about much of it with friends and family. This book is moving to the top of my favorites in the genre. It is almost criminal that you’ll have to wait until August 2021 to read this but go preorder it right away. It is completely worth the wait.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love My Heart is a Chainsaw? Leave a comment telling me your favorite horror movie or book. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.