Horror fans have all had that feeling. A change in light comes through the window. A stranger rounds the corner. One moment life is business as usual, and the next you can’t shake the surreal feeling that you’ve stepped inside a horror movie. Or perhaps stepped inside isn’t quite right. Rather, you’ve been enveloped. Taken in. Absorbed. In the blink of an eye, you’ve left the world of free will. Now, moments are preordained, the ending already penned.
Of course, in the real world, the moment passes. The flare of red sunset in the window fades to night without incident. The man on the corner crosses the street and disappears. Yet the thrill of possibility sticks with you. What if, you wonder, puzzling over what could have been. If the moment had been the start of a horror movie, what type would it have been? And which role were you destined to play?
In Stephen Graham Jones new novel, My Heart is a Chainsaw (Gallery / Saga Press), Jade Daniels finds herself in just such a moment when a series of deaths begin to pile up in her rapidly gentrifying rural town.
For Jade, life is a constant struggle. Her home is a war zone, thanks to her abusive, alcoholic father and absent mother. School is nearly as bad, surrounded as she is by a sea of peers who would prefer to remain strangers. Even her job as a custodian at the local school is made worse by the presence of a lecherous older coworker. But, for all the awful around her, Jade finds solace in horror movies—slashers, to be exact. From Halloween to Dead and Buried, there isn’t a slasher film Jade doesn’t know by heart, and that encyclopedic knowledge makes her the perfect person to see through what’s happening in her hometown of Proofrock. For everyone else, the recent string of strange deaths is just bad luck, but Jade knows better: a slasher cycle has begun.
It’s too easy to call My Heart is a Chainsaw a “love letter to slashers.” This book is an immersion, a story told in the language of sub genre. Horror fans will revel in Jones’s references to everything from My Bloody Valentine to Scream. But make no mistake, no matter the many nods to classic slasher films, this book is singular. Even as Jones carefully lays out his plot and moves his character’s into place, readers will be hard-pressed to predict the exciting conclusion. Jones’s story twists and flips like a fish in a net. This tale is alive, and living creatures all have one thing in common: they’re unpredictable.
What sets Jones apart from his contemporaries is that his stories feel dangerous. While other authors obfuscate their terrors with metaphor, Jones meets the horrors at the center of his story head-on. The result is a tale that feels simultaneously familiar and fresh, modern and timeless. As you read, you won’t be able to shake the feeling that something terrible is lurking just out of reach, waiting for you behind every page.
My Heart is a Chainsaw publishes August 31, 2021, from Gallery / Saga Press.