I first got this book back in late September, intending to blog it for Halloween. Hah! So much for that brilliant idea! I seem to be behind on many things lately…..can’t tell if it’s due to seasonal depression or just a general sense of blah-ness. Oh well, so I missed the season of ghosts, goblins, and all things scary and horrific. For me, there’s never a bad time for anything Goth, spooky or eerie, and like most other horror aficionados, I keep myself in freaky mode throughout the year by watching scary films, listening to eerie music, and reading terrifying literature. All of you out there know by know of my great and abiding love for the work of Stephen King, but I have also become entranced with the work of Grady Hendrix, who wrote one of the great modern takes on the vampire novel called The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires – you can read my blog post by clicking the book title – and has taken on the horror trope of the Final Girl in his latest book The Final Girl’s Support Group.
For those of who you who aren’t familiar with the Final Girl concept, it’s pretty simple. It’s the last girl left alive in horror/slasher films, after all the other teenagers have been gruesomely murdered. The Final Girl is usually a virgin, is a “good girl,” is white, and is left to face off with the killer, although whether or not she kills him first can vary. In this book, that idea is taken into a really fun, gruesome and meta-referential place, six women, all survivors of serial killers, have formed their own support therapy group with their psychiatrist.
Lynette Tarkington (Silent Night, Deadly Night) is our main protagonist, who has turned uber-survivalist due to her own past trauma of being left for dead on Christmas Eve while her neighbor murders her family and boyfriend while she is impaled on antler horns. Gross, huh? She and her five fellow survivors – Adrienne (Friday the 13th), Marilyn (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Julia (Scream), Dani (Halloween), and Heather (A Nightmare on Elm Street) – all of whom are based on famous final girls from some of the best-known slasher films – are damaged in their own ways but surviving and inching forward in their survival.
Until the day Adrienne doesn’t show up for the therapy session and is found murdered. The four remaining girls realize someone is out to kill them, one by one, and solidify their positions as Final Girls. Lynette, whose survival skills have kept her on her toes since she was nearly massacred, goes on the hunt for their potential killer and ends up on one hell of a wrenching journey, both of self-discovery and about just how far someone will go to end these Final Girls.
It’s an excellent premise and the book is highly entertaining, though I will caution you that if you’re not a slasher/horror aficionado, some of the characters might be confusing for you. It took me a couple of reads to finally figure out who each of them is based on, and there are a couple of side forays into unnecessary storylines, such as Dani’s dying fiancee, which I thought was completely unnecessary and slowed the action down. What kept me reading was both Hendrix’s use of black humor, the overall idea of horror being the lens through which many of us see the world, and horror being the lens through which these survivors view both themselves and their own survival.
The world is a horrifying place, let’s face it, and we all have our ways of dealing with past trauma. Some of us deal with it head on and wear armor around our hearts and oftentimes around our lives as a way to stay safe. Some of us open ourselves to excesses of drugs, alcohol or other means of blurring the trauma. Some of us choose to not let it define us and use the pain to help other people who have been through similar ordeals. There is no right or wrong way to deal with trauma; we simply act in the ways that we’ve been taught will help us survive.
In one scene, Lynette, Heather and Julia are on the run from the police, who have wrongly tagged them as attention-seeking criminals (not wholly incorrect) and they crash Marilyn’s mansion. They are taken by security into a private guesthouse where Marilyn lectures them, keeps them locked up by the security until her mega-bucks party is over, and serves them what might be the nicest-sounding prisoner meal I’ve read in ages:
The security guys toss Heather onto the couch and are out the door before she even stops bouncing. “You can’t send us to our room, Mom!” Heather screams, running to the door as they slam it in her face. It’s locked. She rants for five whole minutes and then the door opens and a stream of staff pour inside while the three security guys block the door. They lay out platters on the pass-through: ginger-jelly sandwiches on gluten-free buns, mushroom rice balls, vegetable sushi rolls. Of course everything’s vegan.
I took from the book passage that the overall meal was meant to have more of an Asian-inspired feel to it, but arancini, or fried rice balls, are something I had when I was in Italy. They are traditionally made using leftover risotto so as not to get it go to waste, so that’s what I used for mine.
2 cups already-cooked risotto with mushrooms
1 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
Cubes of mozzarella cheese
1 cup of grapeseed oil and 1 cup olive oil, for frying
Crack the eggs into a ramekin, pour the flour into another ramekin, and add the breadcrumbs to a third ramekin.
Heat the grapeseed oil and olive oil together in a heavy pot until shimmering.
With dampened hands, take a handful of risotto and roll it into a ball. You can make them as big or small as you’d like. Me, I like a big ball. (Yes, I went there.)
With a finger, push a hole into the center of the rice ball and push a cube of mozzarella cheese into the hole. Reform the ball with your hands.
When you have a plateful of rice mushroom balls, dip one first in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. I warn you, it’s a messy job but oddly satisfying.
Shallow-fry 4-5 balls at a time in the oil, turning every 2 minutes or so until all sides are golden brown. Don’t cook more than five at a time or your oil temperature will drop and your arancini will be greasy. And who wants greasy balls?
Drain the cooked rice balls on paper towels and let cool just a bit.
Serve with marinara sauce or any sauce you like, or have as a side dish with pork chops or roast chicken. They are so delicious and creamy and comforting….just the kind of food you want for sustenance when you’re being chased by a killer so you can be the Ultimate Final Girl.