Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery/Saga Press for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: August 31st, 2021
Synopsis: In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.
“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”
Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.
Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.
Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.
Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph. (Goodreads)
Jones’ The Only Good Indians was one of my favorite horror novels of 2020 so I’ve been eagerly looking forward to diving into My Heart is a Chainsaw, especially when I saw the cover and read the premise. After spending the better part of the week making my way through it, I have to be honest and say this is one of the toughest books I’ve had to rate and review since I began this blog seven years ago.
The first chapter was fantastic and immediately hooked me, but then for about 60% of the novel, the story stuttered along at an excruciatingly slow pace. In fact, it was so bad that at certain points I have to be honest and say I skimmed a few sections, which I hate doing because I feel like I’m cheating. The chapters are overly long third person expository-style and are only broken up by Jade’s first person “Slasher 101” papers she’s writing for extra credit for her history class. Thank goodness for these breaks from the otherwise tediousness of the story, because I think they’re the only thing that kept me going. You see, seventeen-year-old, half-Indian, Jade, is a Slasher expert, and her papers are full of fun facts and Easter eggs about film franchises such as Scream, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and more. She’s also convinced that there’s some sort real life Slasher that’s materialized in her small Idaho town, and that it’s tied somehow to the new gentrified development across the lake. Jade is a tough character to get a hold of and I spent a good portion of the story flipping back and forth on how I felt about her. She’s the poster child of unreliable characters, yet there’s something uniquely vulnerable about her that makes you loathe to turn away without discovering what lies underneath her puzzling and unlikable exterior. When the truth is finally revealed, it’s as horrifying as the overarching plot itself, and I found myself firmly in her corner rooting for her.
As slow as the the first half of the book is, shortly past the midway point the story takes off like a bat out of Hell and all the teasing little plot points and what seems like an endless amount of minutiae, come together in a bloody and gory crescendo of mayhem and carnage that left me breathlessly wondering who was the killer and who was going to be the Final Girl. If you asked me when I was halfway through the book what I thought, I would have replied that I was disappointed and was probably only going to give it 2.5 stars. But that all changed because of those last 160 or so pages. I still can’t say I loved My Heart is a Chainsaw, but I can say that Stephen Graham Jones being called “the Jordan Peele of horror literature” is pretty on point. I finished it three days ago and it’s still interfering with my sleep. If you decide to give this a try, my advice would be to expect the slow burn of all slow burns. But if you have the time and patience the payoff is worth it…mostly.