My Heart is a Chainsaw
My Heart is a Chainsaw
by Stephen Graham Jones
Published August 31, 2021
by Gallery / Saga Press
Rating: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, New York Timesbestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.
“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”
Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.
Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.
Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian 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.
Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.
Oh my gosh, where to begin? My Heart is a Chainsaw is a beautifully written, evocative novel of excruciating wit, knowledge, and social commentary. This book was totally outside the scope of my regular genre (psychological suspense) but I am so glad I took a chance on it.
While I don’t believe I have seen any of the horror films so thoroughly cataloged by Jones (except of course for Jaws), I am certainly familiar with all of the tropes, masks, costumes, and jump scares he describes. There were many sections where I was just plain in over my head. Having said that, Jones does such an amazing job of placing the films in context that I found it didn’t matter – I was able to figure out (or skip over) parts that I didn’t understand.
And can we just talk about the language/metaphors/similes for a moment?
“She Holden Caulfields it across the lawn.”
“The sun goes down and the overhead lights become more important.”
“Jade positions her fingers at the keyboard version of ten and two.”
Then there is the story, a heart wrenching tale of a brilliant, inventive teen who feels alone in the world, covering up her scarred upbringing and loneliness through slasher tinted glasses. She is the town crier, warning every one of the carnage to come, while she is patronized, and worse, punished for her beliefs. Even when the prediction comes true (come on, you knew it would, right? no spoiler here!) she doesn’t get the hero worship, fame or glory she sort of anticipated, even if she couldn’t admit it to herself. She allows the myth of the final girl to play out.
One final suggestion – read the acknowledgements. They answer the question all authors get – where did you get your idea/do your research for this story. And just FYI, the final sentence (yes, of the acknowledgments) had me in tears.
Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Saga Press for an advance reader’s copy.