Critics of horror love to call the genre sensationalist or lowbrow, but the horror subgenre that earns the most and the most severe critical barbs is the slasher. Focusing on physically attractive yet mentally unobservant characters who are merely there to die in horrible and creative ways, the plot in these tales are often seen as just a way to get the victims in front of the killer. But horror is also great at subverting expectations and Stephen Graham Jones has greatly subverted the expectations of slasher critics with his latest book My Heart is a Chainsaw. Not only does this book give a beating, feeling heart to the slasher genre, it may also be Jones’s most poignant and emotional work.
The book follows Jennifer “Jade” Daniels, a young girl who just graduated high school, but she doesn’t have much to look forward to in life in small-town Idaho by scenic Indian Lake. With her mother abandoning the family and her father being the town drunk, no one really expects much of Jade. But Jade knows that a killer as evil as Freddy Krueger and as unstoppable as Jason Voorhees is coming to her small town to lay waste to it, just as a cadre of billionaires are ready to spend massive amounts of money to build their vacation homes here. But money won’t stop the terror that’s coming. It falls to Jade and her encyclopedic knowledge of horror movies to find a final girl to stop this evil and save everyone, if the town even deserves saving.
If there is one thing one can expect from Stephen Graham Jones is his ability to take a reader’s expectations and turn them on their head. Yes, he demonstrates his love and knowledge of the slasher genre, especially in the chapters displaying Jade’s extra credit assignments, but there is more to this book than blood and body counts. This is a heartfelt, tragic, and soaring story that showcases all of Jones’s talent as a writer along with his love of horror. Jade is put through the emotional wringer in this story, but so is the reader. The ending of this book is one of the most powerful I have ever experienced. Yes, there will be blood and death and destruction, but its emotional core is what makes this book so powerful. This book is indeed like a chainsaw and the heart of the reader will be cut through like a block of wood.