Throughout his supernatural thrillers, Grady Hendrix has shown a remarkable facility for suspense. He writes page-turning action sequences that increase the momentum of his high-level narratives. Whether it’s nervous confrontations between teenagers The exorcism of my best friend or a race against time with the living dead in The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Killing Vampires, he excels at creating passages where readers can get lost in the frenzied thrill of just seeing what happens next. With his latest work, The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group, he turned that talent into an almost book-length workout, a go-go acceleration exercise that hits the gas soon after starting and doesn’t stop until the last pages. It’s not the deepest, but it’s certainly his most exhilarating work to date.
The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group takes its title from Carol J. Clover’s term, found in her book Men, women and chainsaws, for the last one standing in many horror movies – the “last girl” who survives to the end and defeats the killer, and usually serves as an audience stand-in. Hendrix, who clearly knows the concept (to be expected from someone who wrote a horror story from the 70s and 80s), sprinkles her new novel with snippets of fabricated research papers and fictitious police transcriptions involving final girls; in its history, these women not only exist in the real world, but are also celebrities of sorts. The types of murders that populate films like Friday 13 and Halloween actually happened in this version of America, and on the same timeline as their cinematic counterparts (think 1970s to ’90s) before fading out of fashion in the 21st century. The women who survived became household names for a while, their traumatic experiences fueling tabloid pop culture.
From this universe comes protagonist Lynette Tarkington, whose experience with a deadly killer more than 20 years before has left her paranoid and lonely, her daily life being a series of movements calculated to keep herself isolated and safe from any harm. potential threat. Her first-person account leads us to the titular therapy session: a monthly reunion of women who have become definitive girls in the public eye, and who have dealt with their psychological damage in very different ways. Having done without the essentials (we get the briefest of sketches of the other five women, whose personalities don’t begin to become clear until later in the book), Hendrix was quick to pull the trigger on her plotline: When one of the women misses a meeting, Lynette realizes that someone is planning a well-coordinated attack on all of the survivors, trying to finish what their bogeymen failed to achieve the first time around. . As she hits the road, Lynnette frantically tries to keep her friends safe, while struggling to expose the killer before it’s too late.
The wicked pleasure of Hendrix’s book comes from how efficiently it sets the life-and-death stakes of Lynnette’s situation – and how clearly she and the other women seem to outdo. This means the tension and hectic pace never really slackens, for even when Lynnette stops to get a well-deserved night’s sleep or walks into the heavily guarded house of another survivor, the threat of an attack never looms large. never fades. This is driven home in an early sequence when a hail of gunfire rips through the fortress that is Lynnette’s apartment, shattering her illusion of security and shattering the convention that killers need closeness to implement. their death and destruction. Hendrix does a good job of expressing Lynnette’s panicked desperation and the feeling that she can’t trust anything or anyone she thought she knew, and he maintains the urgency through a series of increasingly busy sequences en route to a showdown that both pays homage to the slashers who inspired this novel and offers a clever meta-twist.
This does not mean everything about the works of novels. Hendrix struggles to set the stage at first, with some awkward throat clearing and telling, instead of showing, the themes of why we as a culture are so fascinated by violence, and especially violence against women. His attempts to speak harshly can be terrible; in his eyes, it seems, whenever women want to be rude and rude, they turn into childish spit in a college locker room. (“I’ve been dealing with some top-level astral bullshit that would have you drop a log in your satin panties,” explains an unfortunate effort.) The strangest choice is to base all the girls’ final experiences on well-known films: The traumatic meeting of a woman is just a tale of Halloween; another is a barely edited version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Given that The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group recognizes the existence of all kinds of real pop culture, it is shocking to meet the thinly veiled plots of Scream and scream 2 (among others) reused for the stories of its characters, especially when films like Extraterrestrial not only still exist in the book world, but are referenced by name everywhere.
Yet once the action kicks in, those missteps are forgotten and the hectic excitement takes center stage. Hendrix puts aside his usual supernatural attributes; everything that’s going on is firmly in the realm of too human and monstrous homicidal tendencies and things. The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group isn’t necessarily scary – its sensations are of the action-packed, not biting variety, but it offers its fair share of gore. People are gutted and dispatched in all kinds of dark ways, especially in some of the more heinous stories of these tragic characters, so anyone looking for a little bloodletting will be rewarded. But the artfully arranged nature of the story is far more gratifying. This is a nice redesign of a genre exercise: plump without feeling trashy, conventional without feeling unintelligent, and always geared towards maximum pleasure. It was about time we had another great beach slasher read.
Author photo: Albert Mitchell