THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP. By Grady Hendrix. Berkley. 352 pages. $26.
What if the worst thing possible in your life happens when you’re 16? What kind of adulthood follows that? And what if someone wants to revisit the traumas of your past to end any possibility of your future?
Mount Pleasant native Grady Hendrix (“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”) once again turns his remarkable fount of knowledge of horror films and fiction into an inspired novel of perseverance and female empowerment, with a healthy infusion of good humor and a splattering of gruesome nightmare fuel, as well.
“The Final Girl Support Group” interrogates the culture of violence against women through scenarios adapted from iconic slasher film franchises of the 1970s through the mid-’90s, from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “Scream.”
In Hendrix’s novel, six “final girls,” once the intrepid teenaged survivors of horrific massacres committed by male attackers, continue to gather together years later with their counselor, Dr. Carol Elliott, to process their respective traumas, seemingly safe from the prying eyes of the media machinery which has turned their tragedies into marketable products, and turned them into celebrities — some more willing than others to embrace that fame.
But that safety proves fleeting when a member of the group is murdered and the others are hunted by an unknown assailant determined to overshadow their legacies and end the run — and the lives — of this sisterhood of ultimate survivors.
Narrator Lynnette Tarkington, post-traumatic stress disorder-riddled lone survivor of the 1988 Slay Bell killings, believes that our monsters always come back. She trusts no one, not even her support group compatriots. The closest connection she has is Adrienne Butler, the group’s original final girl, survivor of the 1978 Summer Slaughter massacre, who has turned her trauma into a self-help and empowerment platform.
Adrienne serves as mentor and peacemaker of the group. Survivor of the 1991 Stab killings, wheelchair-bound Julia Campbell took a similar approach, amassing a protective layer of degrees until she was always the most qualified person in the room.
Adrienne and Julia’s successes are surpassed by the wealth of Marilyn Torres, survivor of the 1978 Panhandle Meat Hook killings, who subsequently married a private prison mogul and spends her time throwing lavish galas and ignoring her past.
Survivor of the 1980 Babysitter Murders, Dani Shipman is most like Lynnette, secluded and committed to ensuring her safety. Unlike Lynnette, Dani is not alone, also protecting her wife Michelle and their ranch for abused and abandoned horses.
Of all the final girls, 1986 Deadly Dreams survivor Heather DeLuca is plagued by the least healthy coping mechanisms. Her inexhaustible addictions make her a constant source of concern for the group.
Amid the different paths the final girls have taken since the deadly encounters of their teen years, Lynnette is the most haunted by her past and the least willing to engage with the outside world. Her paranoia also raises questions about whether anything she experiences is real.
Hunted again through a crucible of chaos, Lynnette finds confidence in her instincts, and her compassion for her fellow final girls compels both her and the readers forward as she learns to trust and risk again. Her resilience becomes undeniable as she clambers her way out of disaster after disaster.
Despite the different ways these women confront the agonies of their past and the dangers of their present, Hendrix consistently portrays them as inherently powerful. In the absence of hope and in the presence of unfathomable loss, they still fight on, and that capacity for hard-won courage defines them.
In addition to his sextet of final girls, Hendrix’s memorable cast also includes a meddling journalist, an alpha-male cowboy lawman, murderabilia enthusiasts and a rogues gallery of archetypal serial murderers.
Harrowing escapes, cinematic reveals and grand set pieces carry the novel swiftly to its final showdown. Hendrix also makes dexterous use of a variety of mediums to further ratchet up the societal implications of this story, from doctor’s notes and article clippings to movie reviews and social media comments. These narrative augmentations reveal a culpability for systemic violence against women that extends from the killers themselves to an audience all too eager to glorify depravity and participate vicariously from the other side of a screen or keyboard.
Upending the tropes and conventions of the slasher genre, Hendrix explores both the cycles of abuse committed against his protagonists and the ways in which an enabling media and bloodthirsty audiences further perpetuate these cycles as forms of morbid entertainment. Even as Hendrix skillfully delivers shocks and suspense, he cleverly questions why we want him to do so.
“The Final Girls Support Group” is ultimately a novel of courageous self-discovery as damaged, flawed, but nonetheless determined and capable women face decks fatally stacked against them. But in the lessons learned from their grisly pasts and shared among their supportive circle, they never lose their potential to become not just survivors, but saviors, to be the awe-inspiring heroes of their own stories and of one another’s, as well.
As Lynette so aptly encapsulates the unspoken bond of the group, “when the monsters come, we help each other.”
Reviewer Jonathan Haupt is executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center. Holland Perryman is the Conroy Center’s first student intern.
#Review #Inspiring #sisterhood #survivors #face #deadly #common #foe #Hendrixs #Book #Reviews