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My Heart Is a Chainsaw (2021)

by Stephen Graham Jones

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Indian Lake Trilogy (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,3475414,365 (3.95)75
Fiction. Horror. Literature. Thriller. HTML:Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest chilling novel that "will give you nightmares. The good kind, of course" (BuzzFeed) from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

"Some girls just don't know how to die..."

Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called "a literary master" by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and "one of our most talented living writers" by Tommy Orange.

Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw "a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre." On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies...especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges...a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.
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» See also 75 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Struggling to pinpoint exactly how I feel about this one.

Through the first 75% of the book, I was so bored with the plot. The only thing that kept me in the game was my enjoyment of Jade’s unique narration and her dissection of the slasher movie genre. At first I found Jade a bit annoying (which is probably the point) but by the end I loved her.

I feel like if I reread it and better absorbed more of that first 75%, the ending would have had a more meaningful payoff. As it stands though, this feels like a 3 or 3.5 star read for me. ( )
  yeffin | Jul 15, 2024 |
Struggling to pinpoint exactly how I feel about this one.

Through the first 75% of the book, I was so bored with the plot. The only thing that kept me in the game was my enjoyment of Jade’s unique narration and her dissection of the slasher movie genre. At first I found Jade a bit annoying (which is probably the point) but by the end I loved her.

I feel like if I reread it and better absorbed more of that first 75%, the ending would have had a more meaningful payoff. As it stands though, this feels like a 3 or 3.5 star read for me. ( )
  yeffin | Jul 13, 2024 |
Great character work and writing, but the story itself never took off for me. Still, I felt like I knew Jade very well by the end and I'm glad for that. Would definitely read the follow-up when it's out. ( )
  Amateria66 | May 24, 2024 |
I received a free copy in a Goodreads Giveaway – this review reflects my honest opinion.

6/19/22:
I really wanted to like this but I can't say with confidence what actually even happened. ☹️ My brain feels like a cottonball trying to understand what this book was trying to tell me. Full review to come.

6/26/22:

Review also on my blog.

My Heart is a Chainsaw follows Jade Daniels, a half-Indian teenage social outcast in her tiny lakeside town in rural Idaho. Jade is angry at the world – she lives with an abusive father and neither her mother nor anybody else in town wants anything to do with her. Jade lives almost solely in her inner world, which is filled with slasher movies. Jade eats, breathes, sleeps slashers, she might as well be a walking, talking slasher encyclopedia.

Jade's hometown of Proofrock is slowly succumbing to gentrification – a group of ultra-rich real estate investors have purchased a former national park across the lake, and want to turn it into their own rural, mountain paradise. But Jade cares little for what they do to Proofrock – she's more interested in how their coming and actions seem to be heralding her town's own, real-life slasher.

Right off the bat, I'll tell you I desperately wanted to like this book, but there were many aspects that were painfully not-for-me. My Heart is a Chainsaw had all the ingredients of a book that I should have liked. I like horror movies – slashers aren't my favorite subgenre, but I liked the idea of a main character that is in love with them, as well as a societal outcast correctly predicting something horrible coming to town.

When I say that Jade is a walking slasher encyclopedia... that is not at all far from the truth. We read from Jade's perspective, so we're stuck in her internal (and external) monologuing about slashers, slasher theory, slasher motifs... yadda yadda. Even the chapters are interspersed essays of Jade's that she wrote as extra credit for her history teacher, talking about the history of slashers and slasher theory. (I eventually skimmed them.)

It felt a lot like reading a Wikipedia page, except with a healthy dose of cringe. Jade holds a sort of authority over others in the story, about how she knows something they don't know, and frankly it made her really unlikable. She believes her slasher knowledge allows her to see the signs that one is coming to Proofrock.

Anyways, without being too spoilery, Jade uses slashers to cope with some pretty horrific trauma from childhood, and to help her deal with the kind of sh*tty reality she's in, as someone extremely poor, with an abusive, alcoholic of a father. Slashers are Jade's escape, and I can respect that – I can understand that the repetition of her talking about slashers in the story is supposed to convey that. But it reached a point where it was just like... please stfu about slashers for 5 pages. PLEASE.

The events start heating up right as Jade is graduating from high school. A few dead bodies show up, and one of the new girls – Letha – from the hot-shot, ultra rich neighborhood across the lake joins Jade's class. Jade sees the signs clearly: the dead bodies are the blood sacrifice, signifying the beginning of the "slasher cycle", and with Letha being involved in finding the bodies in some way or another... she's destined to be the Final Girl.

The first ¾ of the book are really just Jade talking about slashers, and warning everyone around her that it's coming. But nobody takes her seriously, because real life isn't a slasher movie. Can't really blame them. In the last ¼ or so of the book, things finally start to heat up... or so I thought.

Jade talks a lot about "red herrings" – things that are there to distract you from what's really happening. Which I found ironic, because this story is chock full of them. There are so many moments when it seems obvious what's going on, but then the story then pulls a complete 180. It was extremely difficult to follow.

I think the confusing narration is meant to emphasize that Jade is an unreliable narrator. How much of what's happening is actually happening? How much of that is Jade's imagination, there to help her cope? But I just want a little clue at what is real and what's not real. I don't need a hand-hold, but I do like to have some idea of what's going on.

This was also made worse because I had a hard time getting into the "flow" of the writing style. Jade is not only reciting slasher facts nonstop, but the narration is almost a stream-of-consciousness style. I wouldn't say it's a true stream-of-consciousness, but at time things are really choppy and vague – like we're reading pure thoughts and what's going on isn't often revealed clearly. I really struggle with stream-of-consciousness, so I had a hard time finding the will to finish.

So after we trudge through all the red herrings, the what-ifs, and maybe, just maybe having an idea of what is happening to Proofrock and Jade – we get to the true reveal. Maybe. There's a supernatural twist at the end that was fine... but after being faked out by all the other clues, I pretty much didn't care once we got the truth of the matter. I'm actually not even sure if it was truly the end, since everything was so unreliable that I don't know if what Jade says she saw is true. I just wanted the book to be over.

Finally, I also want to take a moment to talk about a Goodreads review I read that really opened my eyes about something in the story that I didn't think much about until I read this review. Andrea Caro's review (This review might be triggering for some) discusses the scene where trauma from Jade's past is revealed. The way it's handled is kind of like tragedy porn – the way the adults in the story react is completely insensitive. Jade even changed her name because of her past, and the adults deadname her multiple times.

I totally agree with why Caro is so upset, and she's 100% right. I didn't think much about the scene at first, but it was definitely a "check your privilege" moment for me when I stumbled across Caro's review – so thank you Caro for writing your review and including this!

So to sum it up – I really didn't like this book. It had moments that were good – Jade has some small victories that were satisfying, but were ultimately overshadowed by a confusing plot and the majority of Jade's moments being annoying. I am happy that some people really liked this book, but there were a lot of elements that turned me off.

Final Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Content & Trigger Warnings:
Sexual abuse involving a minor, sexual assault, suicide/suicide attempt, suicidal ideation, abusive parent, absent parent, deadnaming, racism, murder, violence/gore, death of family members, animal death, underage drug use, tobacco use, mention of teen pregnancy. ( )
  escapinginpaper | May 18, 2024 |
Absolutely bonkers (complimentary) and visceral! I should have known from the Grady Hendrix blurb that I was in for a wild time. I was intrigued from the start, and then just totally fell into the story as it went on. It's a bit more of a slow burn than I was expecting, but then things get so unhinged that it really makes the buildup worth it.
The main thing that held this back a bit for me is that we as the reader are SO in Jade's head that sometimes it's difficult to know if something is really happening, or if it's part of her imagination, or some other third thing. This also applies to the prose; frequently it is a very stream-of-consciousness adjacent, making the narrative/action something that has to be puzzled out rather than simply read. At one point in the third act I had to stop and go back to the beginning of the chapter and reread it because I thought I missed something, but it was really just the prose that was difficult to follow.
If you are someone who loves horror movies, this could really be a great pick! My own personal lack of horror movie knowledge probably meant I missed a few nuanced bits, but was still able to appreciate the tale. ( )
  deborahee | Feb 23, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephen Graham Jonesprimary authorall editionscalculated
de los Reyes, ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
The slasher film lies by and large beyond the purview of the respectable --Carol J. Clover
Dedication
to Debra Hill: thank you, from all of us
First words
On the battered paper map that's carried the two of them across they're not sure how many of the American states now, this is Proofrock, Idaho, and the dark body of water before them is Indian Lake, and it kind of goes forever out into the night.
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Fiction. Horror. Literature. Thriller. HTML:Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest chilling novel that "will give you nightmares. The good kind, of course" (BuzzFeed) from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

"Some girls just don't know how to die..."

Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called "a literary master" by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and "one of our most talented living writers" by Tommy Orange.

Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw "a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre." On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies...especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges...a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.

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