Ian Mond reviews The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix – Locus Online

The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group, Grady Hendrix (Berkley 978-0593201237, $ 26.00, 352pp, hc) July 2021.

With his fiction and non-fiction, Grady Hendrix has spent the last five years analyzing and redefining the tropes that made horror fiction so popular in the 70s and 80s. His column “Freaky Fridays”, that he wrote for Tor.com In 2017, it was Hendrix’s hilarious look at the out-of-print, garish paperbacks that many of us surely consumed as our teens while waiting for Stephen King’s next novel (on that note, “Stephen King Reread “from Hendrix series, also for Tor.com, should be required reading for anyone with minimal interest in King’s work). While “Freaky Fridays” is no more, Hendrix’s paperback love letter to horror has found a second life in its mailing list, “Paperbacks from Hell” (borrowing its title from the Hendrix’s 2017 story of the horror paperback boom of the 70s and 80s). Along with all of this goodness, Hendrix redefined the familiar basics of horror – exorcisms, heavy metal rock bands, vampires – not by subverting them (though there are a few of them) but by using those tropes to explore. complex social and political issues. For his seventh novel, The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group, Hendrix turned his attention to mean videos and slasher flicks to shed light on victimization, trauma, and male toxicity.

Whether deliberate or not, the vanity of The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group builds on Jamie Lee Curtis’ portrayal of 2018’s “The Last Girl” Laurie Strode Halloween. In the film, she is portrayed as a paranoid survivor who spent 40 years planning an inevitable showdown against Michael Myers. Likewise, Hendrix protagonist Lynette Tarkington is the last girl who two decades ago survived the Santa Claus killer and has since turned her tiny apartment into a real fortress, her only true friend a potted plant that she calls Fine. When Lynette leaves her bunker, it is to attend a monthly support group made up of five other final girls and their psychiatrist, Dr. Carol. While the meetings are less therapy sessions and more of an excuse for women to yell at each other, their shared experience of unspeakable violence means that despite being politically and economically misaligned, they have continued to come forward for a long time. 16 years old. As Lynette puts it, “We are the women who kept fighting no matter how much it hurt, who jumped out of the third floor window, who dragged us to that roof when our bodies screamed at us. go back and die. . Once we start something, it’s hard for us to stop. When Adrienne, the founding member of the support group, is murdered in a massacre, Lynette believes it is part of a larger plot to take down all the last girls. The problem is, no one, including the support group, believes her.

As an ardent horror fan, I’ve watched my fair share of gore-tastic slasher and serial killer movies, including most episodes of the Holy Franchises: Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street. And while I’m sure I haven’t picked up every Easter egg or reference scattered all over the place The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group, what I recognized brought me a knowing smile. I burst out laughing at the revelation that Bruce Volker, Ms. Voorhees’ analogue of the Friday the 13th films, “never had a son who drowned in Red Lake.” In fact, he didn’t have a son at all. Bruce Volker was just a lonely old man with a fixation on children and a good swing. I also liked that the action sequences were as violent, coincidental, and over the top as we would expect from this genre of film (although notably, the climax brilliantly subverts that). I was also impressed with the construction of the world of Hendrix. I love how in Lynette’s reality the slasher franchises exist, but they are (quite) based on real events; or how there is a non-supernatural analogue for Freddy called “The Dream King,” whose acts of violence are more twisted than anything on Elm Street; or how there is a huge market for “Final Girl” memorabilia, including a truly disturbing museum that honors, rather than berates, the killers.

For all the winks to the public, The Girls’ Ultimate Support Group do not hide the misogyny contained in these films. At the start of the novel, Lynette observes that “men don’t have to be careful. [to the world] the way we do it. Men die because they make mistakes. Women? We die because we are women. This simple and shocking truth is emboldened by fictional film reviews and academic articles inserted between each chapter that deconstruct the “Final Girl” genre, with one essay describing these franchises as an opportunity for “slave male fans” to play their part. “violent sexual”. fantasies. It’s not Hendrix’s intention to ruin anyone’s adoration for the slasher genre. As I note above, he’s clearly a fan. But as Hendrix has often shown in his fiction and non-fiction, he can enjoy horror in all its modes and narrative forms while being aware of its flaws. the last girl supporting group is the most recent example, a novel that pays homage to the slasher genre while acknowledging that dominant views have changed over the past four decades, that those who have can no longer ignore sexual and physical violence. perpetrated against women; that these movies, as much as we can love them, can no longer be seen as just bloody, harmless fun.

Ian Mond likes to talk about books. For eight years, he co-hosted a book podcast, The Writer and the Critic, with Kirstyn McDermott. Recently he relaunched his blog, The hysterical hamster, and once again publishes mostly vulgar reviews of an eclectic range of literary and genre novels. You can also follow Ian on Twitter (@Mondyboy) or contact him at [email protected]

This review and more in the July 2021 issue of Place.

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