Spooktober | A Meta Slasher for Horror Fans: My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

It’s slasher season (aka October). And because slasher movies aren’t enough, why not branch out into slasher books as well. Enter: My Heart is a Chainsaw.

Who, What, Where?

Seventeen-year-old Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father and an absent mother, who finds solace and consistency in her love of horror movies. Her specialty is slashers, films in which masked killers seek revenge on those who have wronged them. But when bodies start to turn up around Indian Lake, Jade begins to believe (and hope) that a real-life slasher is taking place in her small town of Proofrock. But are the deaths connected to the new celebrity-rich development going up on the other side of the lake? Or perhaps one of the area’s spooky local legends? Regardless, Jade knows this pattern and catastrophe is coming. All she can do is try to ready the most likely Final Girl, town newcomer Letha Mondragon, and watch the carnage unfold.

Name that Horror Film

MHIAC is bursting with horror movie references. Being completely obsessed with slashers, Jade views almost everything around her through slasher goggles. She’ll constantly relate events and people back to her favourite films or bring them up purely to chat trivia. These mentions are essential for Jade’s character, but as a reader they can be overwhelming and confusing if your horror knowledge is limited. I’m extremely lucky that at the time I read this I was undertaking a horror movie marathon which allowed me to grasp some references that would otherwise have gone over my head. While Jade does explain some of her more important references, it’s still easy to feel lost at times, especially when she alludes to lesser-known films. Scattered throughout the novel are also a series of school papers Jade has written for her history teacher, Mr. Holmes, on elements of the slasher genre. I thought these were an interesting and fun touch, even though I didn’t always agree with Jade’s analyses, and they may prove helpful for any slasher newbies.

Beginning, Middle, End

This book required a lot of patience on my part. The opening is excellently done and sets the story up in perfect slasher fashion for an exciting and creepy read. However, after this, I found the pacing very slow until the last quarter, even with the occasional body turning up. It seemed like I was just following Jade around town as she kept track of the unfolding slasher timeline, half-heartedly tried to convince others of her theory (adults/police are useless in slashers, after all), and pondered preparing Letha for her supposed Final Girl destiny. Once things eventually kicked into gear though, boy – did they kick-off. It was go-go-go from that point onward. Gore, violence, run for your lives. I read most of this section in one session, eagerly awaiting answers and to see our real Final Girl rise from amongst the slaughter, and I was mostly satisfied. When it comes to the final chapter though, I have mixed feelings. While I appreciate the symbolism and what it meant for Jade’s character, I can’t help feeling like I was left in a place that was somewhat incomplete. But I guess that’s what sequels are for.    

What Was I Saying?

One of the major obstacles to my really enjoying this one was that I didn’t gel with the writing. MHIAC is written in limited third person from Jade’s perspective, but it’s done so in a way that tries to reflect how real people think and speak, which isn’t always the best approach. Why? People ramble, rapidly change trains of thought, pause, backtrack, let ideas trail off… In other words, the writing can be jumpy, hard to follow, and off-putting. I found this to be the case not only with Jade’s thoughts but also other characters’ dialogue. I had particular trouble with a transcript of an interview Jade conducts with Sheriff Hardy about the Lake Witch legend, a story that’s quite important to the broader narrative.

Missing Connection

Another issue I found while reading was difficulty connecting with the characters. Jade is a memorable and well-crafted protagonist with a fleshed-out backstory, offbeat personality. and gradually unravelled scars and motivations. And yet, I didn’t click with her until the later parts of the book. It was at this point that I came to understand her better and found myself rooting hard for her to not only survive but realise her own worth & power. The side characters, on the other hand, such as Sheriff Hardy, Mr. Holmes, Letha, and Jade’s father, are all distinct but never really develop into anything compelling or deep. They each have a couple of baseline personality traits and simply show up as the plot demands, which is a shame considering their potential. Such a thing could possibly be glossed over in a 1½ hour movie but a 400+ page novel, not so much.

Native American Stories

It was great to see some Native American representation with this book, especially in a genre that’s often said to be very white-centric. Jones touches on issues such as American colonialism, economic and social disparities for indigenous peoples, and domestic abuse in indigenous families in meaningful ways. *SPOILERS* Plus, there’s something so powerful but tragic about a young Native American woman who originally believes herself to be too damaged and strange to be anyone’s hero coming in and kicking ass only to flee, knowing that the narrative will be rewritten in the aftermath simply because of who she is. It hits hard.

If you’re a horror movie buff on the lookout for something self-aware and are willing to wait and concentrate long enough for a solid (and bloody) payoff, My Heart is a Chainsaw will probably be the read for you.

3 Stars

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