Coming off the success of his previous book, The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones returns with another deeply investing story. My Heart Is A Chainsaw follows Jade, a half-Indigenous teenage girl living in the small town of Proofrock, Idaho. With an encyclopedic knowledge of slasher films, she becomes obsessed and entangled in what she believes to be the next Halloween going on right in front of her eyes. It’s with this background in fictional killers that she tackles the problem, going over what each would do and, with an almost mathematical-like precision, tries to decipher what will happen next. In typical fashion to the movies she loves, there are twists and turns and over-the-top deaths written with wonderfully gruesome detail.
For horror fans it’s like a box of your favourite chocolate–the references and inspiration for Jade come from a place of love to all our fellow weirdos. Jade excitedly recites memorable scenes from the best slashers, from Friday the 13th to lesser-known favourites like Popcorn. Jones knows these films as well as we do and it just made me smile page after page. It’s not often I read a book that directly talks about so many things I know. It’s an interesting experience to have Jade name drop famous characters like Sidney Prescott or Laurie Strode who are so familiar to fans of the genre but rarely mentioned in books unless they are “horror films you should watch” style lists or deep analysis into the genre as a whole.
Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword and makes the book a bit difficult to come at from a casual (aka not a slasher fan) angle as many of these direct references will go over the layman’s (for lack of a better word) heads. If you’re reading this review you are definitely in the right demographic for Chainsaw though—this is Horror Obsessive, after all. The sheer amount of movies mentioned is impressive and made me want to have a movie marathon.
In addition, Jones has truly mastered the art of writing from a teenage girl’s point of view—a difficult task at the best of times. Often, it tends to come off as over-the-top, forced, and unrealistic but I don’t find that to be the case here. From personal experience as an angry teenager dealing with self-harm and family troubles, it hits close to home. The simultaneous need for attention and praise while also never wanting to speak to other human beings again, rebellion (especially against authority), and attempts to understand our place in the world.
Throughout the book are Jade’s writing assignments for school, full of run-on sentences and “see, I told you so!” attitude—hilarious and helping break up the tone as events get darker. As these are to her kindly-and-now-retired History teacher, they read as a horror aficionado explaining the ins-and-outs of slashers to someone who probably looks at you funny. Even with these interludes, it does feel like a lot to digest, however. Jade’s enthusiasm is on full display and the desire to have someone understand why you love something so much is basically why websites like this are started, and why I myself began writing in the first place!
The town of Proofrock has many details to make it feel more realistic. The history surrounding the lake, urban legends, and local celebrities weave together to create something that’s fairly close to reality, or at least, reality in a horror film. Just like Nightmare on Elm Street, the adults of Proofrock don’t believe Jade when she tells them something is wrong because she’s just the local troublemaker, right? Not only a well-known trope in horror but a common occurrence as a child and teenager, to have the adults in your life dismiss you or even come to the wrong conclusions. This leads to two results: never talking about personal problems again and/or taking matters into your own hands.
Jade obviously uses her fixation on slashers as an escape but it’s also her passion. It’s an interesting irony that horror fans are stereotyped to be just as violent and wild as the subjects of these films but are some of the gentlest and empathetic people on the planet. She worships the concept of the Final Girl, studies it, and has it down to a science. Seeing the triumph over the faceless terrors of the Michael Myers-es and Jasons is a cathartic experience. It’s this energy and determination that propels Jade, and many like her, through life’s hurdles. The intensity of being a teenager rivals that of the best horror films.
I did find the book had a bit of a slow start. Perhaps it’s from having such a movie-like plot stretched over 400 pages. This does add a lot of backstory and set-up for the events to follow but I found it hard to really get hooked until about the halfway mark. There’s an early scene where Jade rambles to a confused stranger about some of the many, many slashers she’s memorized inside-out that comes across the same way it does to this unsuspecting man—a bit much and maybe she needs to slow down there a bit! This is how we are introduced to Jade’s personality and how she interacts with other people, and even with my own personal knowledge, comes off like you are only getting bits and pieces of the conversation—like Jade’s constant inner-monologue going in and out on the radio.
For some, it may be a challenging read, both due to the dense insider facts and slow pacing. While I’m generally a fast reader, Chainsaw took me much longer to finish. I’d simply lose interest for a bit before picking it up again. The plot does pick up and through the final act—it went by at a blinding speed. I feel like I’m still processing what happened in the last 50 pages or so. I’m not sure if this is a book I would come back to re-read but I’m very interested in hearing what die-hard slasher fans think of this tribute to the community.
A copy of My Heart Is A Chainsaw was provided by Simon and Schuster for review purposes. It is expected to be released on August 31, 2021.