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by Stephen Graham Douglas
Simon and Schuster , March 2024
464 pages
ISBN: 1668011662

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Stephen Graham Jones's Proofrock, Idaho trilogy began in the depths of the pandemic with MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW (2021), in which Blackfoot teenager and ultimate Hollywood horror movie fan Jade Daniels sparred with her troubled father, befriended gentrification heiress Leitha Mondragon, and, when serial murder occurs in Proofrock, resolved to save Leitha, or, rather, help Leitha to save herself and the town. My Heart is a Chainsaw drew richly on the horror movie universe while always reading it critically, through smart, self-assured Jade's eyes. It introduced Douglas's overarching hypothesis: that horror movies at their most memorable are always about justice denied and pursued. People who love them are attuned to hypocrisy. You'll want to re-watch some of Jade's favorites with new eyes.

In the second novel, DON'T FEAR THE REAPER, Jade is somewhat grown-up, calling herself “Jennifer” (her legal name), and on the trail of Indigenous serial killer Dark Mill South, who tried to exact justice for the suppressed Mankato Massacre of Civil War-era Minnesota, in which Lincoln ordered 38 Dakota men hanged in the largest official mass execution in US history, which four thousand white settlers watched. In DON'T FEAR THE REAPER, their avenger Dark Mill South has audaciously escaped from a prisoner transport convoy. When murder surfaces in Proofrock again, is it his calling card, or a more complex situation? Jade, armed with her knowledge of horror movie conventions and hidden history, investigates—in a manner that is nuanced, emotionally powerful, and as far from a trivia game as one can imagine. Jade's nemesis of that book still haunts her in the trilogy's finale, The Angel of Indian Lake, as do several other characters, alive and (mostly) dead.

In THE ANGEL OF INDIAN LAKE, Jade (back to being called Jade, incidentally) is out of prison and is teaching high school history, her onetime favorite subject, back in Proofrock. The town has become infamous for its several spates of serial murder. The infamy has become its own legend, inspiring creative and critical explorations by a new generation of restless teenagers whose potential their community and America squanders. Leitha is now married to a law enforcement officer and the mother of a little girl, Addie. She's still there for her friend Jade, who has saved her life often enough. Trying to pay her back—a form of justice, of course—Leitha helps Jade to access therapy, which isn't really eviscerating her numerous demons.

Jade has also connected with a woman she met in prison—one of the few other Indigenous people to whom she's had a chance to get close. Being out in the world again is a strange experience. Mainly, parolee Jade doesn't want to be “Sad Patient 1428”: she wants to be a fully-fledged human being and recognized as such. Unfortunately, she's still under close surveillance by the forces of law, order, and parole administration.

She needs to prove that she was never among Proofrock's monsters. And in The Angel of Indian Lake, she does. Said “Angel” is a Blair Witch-like figure of Proofrock urban (no, rural) legend, but when teenagers and a child go missing, is there a human cause behind the myth? What does the Angel want, and can Jade's knowledge of horror movie conventions and human psychology solve that mystery?

You'll want to find out. There's nothing Mary Sue-ish about Jade. (Leitha, maybe.) In the context of the real-world epidemic violence of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, Jade's quest is far from a Hollywood fantasy.

She fiercely loves Leitha, with a love that won't become a relationship, which is fine with them both. Jones handles this plot element utterly without melodrama. It's part of Jade's search for a place in Proofrock and realization that she might have opportunities beyond the town limits. Nor does Graham employ the formulaic “trauma plot” popularized in New Yorker literary fiction. Jade remains a complex, nuanced character, aware of how Hollywood has traditionally represented lesbians and resolutely unwilling to become a cliché.

In history and horror, formulas, cliches, and myths are dangerous—but can be disempowered by recognition. Ultimately, such recognition is Jade Daniels's superpower. Watching her deploy it through the trilogy's full arc is exhilarating.

§Rebecca Nesvet co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, February 2024

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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