“Do you like scary movies?”- Scream (1996)
Sometimes movies take their inspiration from books and sometimes books are inspired by movies. In the case of My Heart is a Chainsaw, author Stephen Graham Jones lets his “horror movie fan” flag fly inside the soul of his teenage protagonist, Jade Daniels.
Not only is Jade a horror movie cinephile, but slasher films are the framework of support she has built around herself out of self-preservation. She is an outcast at her school, a burden to her dysfunctional family, and part of a marginalized community in her small town of Proofrock, Idaho. To cope, she loses herself in the comfort and dependability of formulaic horror tropes. At first, Jade comes off so strong on the page, it’s difficult to relate, but give it time. She grows on you.
In between glimpses of Jade’s bleak home life and scenes at school, life in Proofrock is getting interesting. There’s a new housing development called Terra Nova, catering to a specific demographic.
Members of high society are enticed by Terra Nova and targeted by a killer. The local authorities are pressured to get a lead in their investigation and make Proofrock “great again.
Of course, Daniels, with her extensive knowledge of horror tropes, is also on the case (much to the annoyance of resident officials and grownups).
This story has a totally different vibe than Graham’s huge 2020 hit, The Only Good Indians. Readers showing up for a similar storytelling tone should set early expectations for Chainsaw to be somewhat lighter horror fare.
Jade is quirky, unpredictable, and sassy, which makes for some hilarious dialogue exchanges with other characters. It’s fun being in Jade’s head as she wrestles with her potential as the town’s “final girl.”
Jones generously seasons the plot with slasher movie references. Those unschooled in the ways of “slash & bash” can either feel totally out of their element or choose to embrace it as a learning opportunity.
The recommendation is to hang on and go for the ride. The payoff is worth it in this modern coming-of-age horror story capitalizing on themes of revenge and redemption.