Sunday, July 21, 2024

See From Behind The Mask in I Was A Teenage Slasher by Stephen Graham Jones

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Summer slasher? Summer slasher. Stephen Graham Jones knows his way around a slasher—he’s the genius behind the Indian Lake Trilogy after all. But he’s taking things in a different direction with his newest release from Saga Press. Arriving July 16, I Was A Teenage Slasher puts you in the killer’s shoes. Tolly Driver didn’t set out to do this. But he does all the same. Buckle up, this one’s a wild ride.

I Was A Teenager Slasher is told from the point of view of an older Tolly Driver. This looking back narrative approach is one Stephen Graham Jones has used before, and he uses it well. It is, in essence, storytelling. Here is Tolly Driver, telling you about his life. Telling you about Lamesa, Texas. Telling you about the summer that changed it all. Because in 1989, Tolly became a slasher. His transformation makes this read like a werewolf story. It’s not something he chose or something he can control. But he has to live with it.

Not only is this book written as Tolly’s autobiography, it is written with a heavy dose of cinema. The silver screen comes to life with all the implications of the cinema tricks. Slashers have rules, and that holds true here, too. Tolly doesn’t know them, but his best friend Amber does. Amber becomes his guide in understanding what is happening to him. There are so many instances where she sets up a test or experiment to figure out the extent of what they’re dealing with. To see if it’s real. Trust me, you’ll never pick up a knife the same way again. It’s been months since I read this and I think about it every time.

I Was A Teenage Slasher Cover
I Was A Teenage Slasher Cover

While there are funny moments—Tolly in general is hilarious—this book is heartbreaking. How could it not be? We are with Tolly as he effectively becomes a monster. I Was A Teenage Slasher dives underneath the mask to examine the person trapped within. It asks why they kill who they kill; why they kill at all. More than that, it gives them feelings. It makes them tragic. It makes them human. This new perspective recontextualized one of my favorite genres in horror. It is worth noting, though, this does only apply to the supernatural slasher. I’m not giving the many iterations of Ghostface a new look, here. But Jason Voorhees? Stephen Graham Jones continues to pull my heartstrings over that little boy.

There is one interesting note for this book: it would make a good introduction to someone who wants to begin reading his work. Yes, the references to other books, other stories, are there. But the thing about his references is that they aren’t sequential. They’re layers, themes. I think a lot of newer readers will pick up some of his older books after this and think, “Oh, that reminds me of Slasher!” the same way I was able to have those moments while reading this one. I Was A Teenage Slasher is, in effect, approachable. Yes, a book from the point of view of a killer is what I’m calling entry-level reading. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.

If it wasn’t clear by now, I loved this book. I cannot wait for July so I can experience this again on audiobook. More importantly, I can’t wait for more people to have the chance to fall in love with Tolly, with Amber, with Lamesa. Yes, this is an emotional ride for a summer read. But it’s one that is absolutely worth taking. 

Images courtesy of publisher.

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