My Heart is a Chainsaw: Spoiler-Free Review

Dan reviews Stephen Graham Jones’ newest novel, My Heart is a Chainsaw.

Reading books to most people is an escape. It’s a chance to call new and exciting worlds your home. Reading to me is a constant reminder that my brain came out of the box broken in regards to memory retention. Reading frustrates me because I cannot retain the information like other people can. It feels like someone is ramming a chainsaw into my hippocampus and I can watch the knowledge spilling out all over the floor. I always found this to be true, until I started reading modern horror novels. Books that relied on information that I already have with references to films and stories I cherish. Ones that can never be gutted from my memory. My Heart is a Chainsaw is now one of those stories.

The book follows Jade (not Jennifer, never Jennifer) who is a senior in high school on the verge of the unknown next chapter of her life. Calling Jade an outsider would be an understatement. There are some points where I had to ask myself if she was choosing to alienate herself with the pranks and activities that further pushed people away from her. If the reader wasn’t privy to Jade’s internal thoughts, she would almost seem unlikeable. But on the page, Jade was a fully realized person with her own reasons for doing the things she did (I’ll leave that for you to discover when reading). She lives in a very small lakeside town that finds itself being overrun by millionaires building across the lake. These millionaires are called the Founders, and they are even bigger outsiders than Jade in the tiny town. But there is a big difference between them and Jade. She is an ostracized outsider, they are outsiders who are separate and above the local community. Revered and god-like, these Founders are worshipped for the money and jobs they’ve brought into the struggling town. Though most people are thankful for their arrival, not everyone thinks they are there for good reasons.

What Jade lacks in friends, companionship, and a bright future, she makes up for with an encyclopedic knowledge of horror. Not just knowledge of the films or directors, but unique insights onto the structure of the slasher genre itself. There are breaks in the book’s format that go from typical prose to something resembling a book report that give more insight into Jade and her relationship with horror. It’s all so meta in a very fresh way where sometimes words are italicized as a reference to a film and used in the normal flow of a sentence structure. For example, the word Nightmare is used in the text at one point but it’s italicized to reference the film Nightmare on Elm Street without having to directly reference it. It’s a truly unique approach that kept me re-reading portions to catch all the references. I also have to note that any book that can mention both Thankskilling and Cry_Wolf, which are personal favorites, is one I will recommend forever.

I will say that the first half of the book was a little slow for me. It sometimes felt like I was just listening to this poor girl ramble on and on without much movement in the story. As I said, reading isn’t always easy for me, so I was starting to get discouraged. But before I knew it, I turned a page, and the whole story began to take off. The plot started to propel forward at breakneck speeds and it didn’t let up. All those sad everyday life things fell away as the chest of the town was torn open. Once the horror starts, it does not stop. The violence is elegantly described in a visceral way through the eyes of a character who has spent her entire life living through the slasher genre to avoid the horrors in her own life. As someone who struggles with finishing books, I grasped this one so hard after the jump that my fingerprints are etched into the cover. If you love slashers or horror, this is worth every penny.

My Heart is a Chainsaw is out today and available at your local independent bookstore or anywhere fine books are sold.

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