Jade Daniels is not a final girl. As a resident loner and slasher film expert, ‘half-Indian’ Jade knows better than to think she could be anything other than a spectator to what she’s sure will be her small town’s big break into slasher history. When the perfect final girl arrives in town in the form of the enigmatic and wealthy Lisa Mondragon, Jade makes it her responsibility to prepare the girl for her big moment, even if that means confronting personal horrors she’s long locked away.
In My Heart is a Chainsaw, Stephen Graham Jones explores small-town angst, mixed-race complexities and real-life horror through a character who uses her obsession with slasher films to mentally escape the confines of her physical life. In Jade, Jones has created a complex, unreliable narrator who has a lot to say but not many people to say it to. In Jade’s world of small towns and slasher films, Jones has created a setting that is all too familiar and viscerally strange in the way only places where everyone knows your name can be.
In all honesty, when I first started reading Chainsaw, I wasn’t sure this book would be for me. Jones’s writing style is different from what I’m used to, in ways I’m not really sure I can adequately explain. Even so, the concept of Chainsaw kept me reading until I hit my own rhythm, and by that point, I was hooked by both the story and the main character. When I say that Jade Daniels is now one of my favourite complex characters I’ve ever read, I don’t do so lightly. She’s an unreliable narrator in the very best way because we read not just what she wants us to believe, but what she has made herself believe in order to survive in a world that has not been kind to her.
Jade’s obsession with slasher films, and her reliance of their reliable step-by-step narratives, echoes, I think, how many of us use our own obsessions in daily life. They are a buffer between us and the often-harsh realities of our lives. We can be safe in a narrative that follows strict rules – that we can predict and prepare for –, but the only steadfast rule of life is that we can’t change what happens, we can’t rewind to ‘before’, we can’t make a part two or three or four in an attempt to try again. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where one’s own horrors mean something? Where the very worst of what has happened to us didn’t happen for nothing other than the fact that life sometimes sucks?
Though I started this book thinking I’d only mildly enjoy it, I now know it’s one I’ll never forget. One that I’ll never stop analysing in the back of mind. One I’ll go back to in order to find the names of all the slasher films I still haven’t seen, but that I’m now convinced I need to watch – if only to escape into a horror that can’t hurt me.
My Heart is a Chainsaw is now available in print and digitally.