Book Review: My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
By Doreen SheridanSeptember 1, 2021
My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones is a unique and intelligent thriller set in the quickly gentrifying rural lake town of Proofrock, Idaho, where local resident Jade uses her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films to navigate a serial killer wreaking havoc on the town.
Seventeen-year-old half-Blackfeet, half-white Jade is facing the uncertainty of life after high school graduation in the small town of Proofrock, Idaho. She barely talks to her parents and spends most of her free time watching the slasher movies she’s loved since she was 11 years old. Jade doesn’t really have any prospects—college, career, or otherwise. She hardly has friends, either, and especially not any her own age.
But with the moneyed Terra Nova development rising across Indian Lake from Proofrock comes new girl Letha Mondragon. Letha is beautiful, gracious, and kind, and with her appearance, Jade is certain that the last piece necessary for a new slasher cycle has arrived. You see, Jade is convinced that her sleepy town—situated on the edge of a supposedly haunted lake—is ripe for a visitation from a serial killer, à la Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, the fictional characters who wreak havoc through dozens of horror movies. Jade has absorbed so much slasher lore that she’s certain she’s identified all the signs leading up to a new cycle even as she knows that she herself could never be the heroine, or “final girl” in the genre-specific parlance, of the story.
No, she can never be a final girl.
Final girls are good, they’re uncomplicated, they have these reserves of courage coiled up inside them, not layer after layer of shame, or guilt, or whatever this festering poison is.
Real final girls only want the horror to be over. They don’t stay up late praying to Craven and Carpenter to send one of their savage angels down, just for a weekend maybe. Just for one night. Just for one dance, please? One last dance?
That’s all Jade needs in the world, she knows.
When bodies actually start showing up around Indian Lake, Jade is both gleeful and grim. This is just what she expected, and she’s happy to do her part to midwife the story to its inevitable and grisly climax. She’s not a killer herself, but she is happy to eavesdrop, tamper with evidence, and bear witness to the inexplicable deaths that are soon troubling Proofrock. Most importantly of all, she wants to help make sure that Letha is ready to step into the role of final girl and put an end to the murderous madness when the right time comes.
Letha, of course, thinks that her new friend needs help of a different kind. She’s certain that there’s a reasonable explanation for everything despite Jade’s claims of a serial killer on the loose. But as the body count racks up and Jade’s personal life takes a turn for the worse, Jade starts to question her own role in the proceedings. She’s supposed to be the horror girl, the misfit sidekick who knows the history and sees the irony of it all. Once she realizes that the killings aren’t nearly as cut and dried as she’d imagined, she begins to awkwardly morph into an investigator and heroine in her own right.
Do people really kill for golf stuff, though? She wants to say no, except … Jason did kill that one guy for littering right?
But if greed or envy or gain is the motivation, then this is a giallo Proofrock’s in, not a revenge-driven slasher, and since this isn’t Italy in the sixties, she has to suspect there’s some other motivation, one that feels a lot more righteous.
And? She’s not supposed to have it all figured out yet, is she?
Doesn’t mean she can’t be trying, though.
As the murders ramp up to a Fourth of July slaughter, Jade has to fit the pieces together in order to figure out who’s behind all the death and horror and to reconcile her own worldview with what’s actually happening around her—even if it means confronting ugly truths about herself and her town.
This wildly intelligent thriller is a sheer treat for horror movie fans! Even I, who puts slasher films way down on my Must-See list, was thoroughly entertained by this multi-layered examination of the genre. I loved the way Stephen Graham Jones constantly flipped the script, rendering My Heart Is a Chainsaw almost the 21st-century literary version of Wes Craven’s Scream, which itself was at once a loving homage and a complete reimagining (not to mention revitalization) of the slasher concept. The love for slasher movies is palpable throughout this book, and I certainly learned a lot more than I ever thought possible about this corner of the cinematic world.
Above all, though, Jade is a wonderful creation—troubled and scarred but resourceful and determined—not quite a final girl but the girl you’re rooting for regardless. I was genuinely worried for her throughout as she faces one awful setback after another but uses her love of slashers to overcome all obstacles. The ending isn’t exactly happy, but it is breathtaking and one I’ll remember for a very long time.