Book Review: My Heart Is A Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press (August 31, 2021)
Length: 416 pages
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones tells the story of teenager Jade Daniels, a half-Indian high school senior obsessed with slasher horror movies. It’s an oddity that makes her stand out in the rural town of Proofrock, Idaho, though truth be told, Jade already has a lot of unwanted attention due to her troubled home life as well as a recent suicide attempt. With just a few months left to go until graduation, she returns to school following her recovery at a treatment center and writes an extra credit paper for her history class entitled “Slasher 101.” In it, she explains to her favorite teacher Mr. Holmes the ingredients that make up a true slasher film, and based on the available evidence, why she also believes that a real-life slasher plot is in the midst of unfolding in Proofrock this very moment.
First, there is the town’s bloody history. On the shores of its lake is an abandoned campground which the locals call Camp Blood because of the horrific murders that took place there half a century ago. Now a new Terra Nova housing development in the works, not far from where a young tourist couple went missing not long ago. The head of the project is a real estate tycoon with a sweet, beautiful and painfully naïve teenage daughter named Letha Mondragon, whom Jade believes possesses all the characteristics of the classic final girl. Everything is falling into place, or so our protagonist believes. Unfortunately though, it’s going to be hard to convince everybody else.
This is my third novel by Stephen Graham Jones, my first being The Only Good Indians which kind of fell flat for me, the second being the novella Night of the Mannequins with which I fared better despite its relatively short length. In fact, looking back now, the fact that it was so short could be why I enjoyed it so much, due to the unconventional writing style and the unique voice of the protagonist. In many ways, Jade’s narration felt very similar here, employing a stream of consciousness technique with this run-on, almost breathless quality to it. In small doses, I found it easier to take in Night of the Mannequins, but with the longer novel format of My Heart is a Chainsaw, it quickly became grating and tiresome.
And that’s the thing: Jade loves slashers. By that, I mean she lives them, breathes them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be passionate about your hobbies and interests. I admired Jade for her enthusiasm for something that is clearly very meaningful and important to her. And yet, after a while I couldn’t help but feel like I was being held hostage, forced to endure a relentless tide of trivia about movies like Halloween, Scream, Friday the 13th, and even Jaws. Now, I like slashers as much as the next horror film buff, but still. In the face of this single-minded, incessant rambling, at some point you just have to say enough is enough.
Anyway, that was my frame of mind by the time we moved into the second half of the book, and while I have to give credit to the author for coming up with an extraordinarily creative and fascinating concept for the novel’s premise, this was also where my focus and attention started to wane. No doubt this was probably due to a combination of factors, including the writing style and frenzied nature of our protagonist’s voice, but quite simply put, I just started to lose interest. It’s a shame because Jade could have been a great character, but her obsession ultimately got in the way of any significant exploration into her feelings of loneliness, anger, and being trapped. By the time we reached the story’s conclusion, I can’t say I had strong feelings about the ending either way.
Ultimately, the book felt a little too long for its particular narrative style and structure, and I guess I’m simply not interested enough in the subject matter of slasher films. At this point it might aso be time to admit Stephen Graham Jones’ style just isn’t for me, though that’s not to say I’ll be parting ways with the author completely. I do think he’s a talented writer and has some amazing ideas, but in the future I’ll probably be more circumspect when deciding which of his books to pick up.