My Heart is a Chainsaw (Book Review)
by Stephen Graham Jones
Aug 31, 2021
4 / 5 Stars
I received this book as an e-arc from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
This is one of those books that is a solid read throughout but has an absolutely killer ending. The last 10% of the novel is utterly fantastic. What is the novel about? This is from the blurb and one part of it I actually think simply the book too much and I disagree with, but I’ll get to that.
Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indigenous 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.
After the utterly creepy and tone-setting first chapter, the story takes a little bit to acclimatize to, as the novel follows Jade in third person, but also manages to contain the unreliable narrator trope. Jade hides things from the reader, people who care about her, and herself. It’s clear she’s suffered a lot in her young life, and she hides this pain in her obsession with slasher films. Despite what I blurb says, it’s too simplistic to say that Jade identifies with the slashers in the films - what Jade wants is to be a “final girl”, a good girl, a girl not only with a loving family but a girl able to overcome the horrors she is faced with. Jade wishes she had suffered the terrors of a final girl in a slasher because that trauma is preferable to her real life. But Jade does not think she deserves this. She believes she’s simply a minor character intended to help the final girl along. This novel does a fantastic job with Jade’s characterization and arc while keeping her from becoming the stereotypical typical final girl she so wishes to be. You just want to envelop her in a hug and tell her it’ll be ok.
I also thought the not-so-subtle comments on the treatment of Indigenous peoples and lands were well-delivered and tied well to the overall end of the novel.
The novel is also very clever. Calling the town “Proofrock” was a fun allusion and a bit of foreshadowing, but I mean more in terms of the slasher movie aspects. It’s clear Jones loves slasher films and his breadth of knowledge is superb. He references not only the main films we’ve all seen but very obscure ones like Prophecy and Thankskilling and The Burning. While slashers are not my favourite genre (I prefer ghosts), my partner is obsessed with 80s horror movies so we have seen almost everyone that Jones mentions. How Jones ties in the themes from those movies to the themes of My Heart is a Chainsaw was so much fun. Yet, the plot idles for a while before it revs up to full throttle (chainsaw joke). The novel lulls quite a bit in the center and at times I wasn’t sure where it was going. The prose was also a little confusing at times, where I wasn’t sure what had just happened or I felt like I was missing something.
Also, it’s not very scary for horror, the first scene aside. I do wish the rest of the novel kept up that vibe, but aside from that part, nothing about the novel really scared me. Slashers though, don’t scare me at all, so this might be part of it. I’m of the mentality that “if it bleeds I can kill it,” so I’d more likely go after a slasher person with my own weapon than run away screaming from them. Ghosts though …
There was also one kind of big thing in the novel that didn’t make sense to me because it should have drastically impacted the action later on but seemed to be forgotten. That irked me a bit.
I’m also of two minds about the little “essay” chapters. They grew on me as the story unfolded, but at first, I found them distracting. One of the last ones, about Jaws, was really interesting though.
I really enjoyed this novel. I didn’t love the book enough to give it five stars, but I think those who love slashers will definitely appreciate it, as well as those who like their horror thematically poignant and not just for scares.