Sookie Stackhouse’s innocent abroad schtick was getting slightly on the nose, so I wrote an open letter to her based on the events of Club Dead. Bear with me, and try to forgive me for writing to a fictional character:
You know what, Sookie? I’m getting sick of your shit. You keep on telling me that you’re a good Christian girl, that you go to church every Sunday, and that you deserve better than the lowlives you hang around. You tell me this, and then you want to fuck every man who so much as looks at you! The innocence is getting to be too much of an act! You’re clinging to the same prudishness that characterised your pre-vampire virgin days, and it just doesn’t gel with your continued actions and what I know of you!
On top of all this, Sookie, you have absolutely no concept of time; you only met Bill this year, you say? That’s fine. But you describe key deaths that impacted you as happening “months” ago, and your time in Dallas only “a few weeks ago”! When you got back from Dallas, you spent at least three weeks avoiding Bill before you ran into him at the orgy! Given that you didn’t bother going to Mississippi until about two weeks after Bill headed off in the direction of the mysterious city of “Seattle”, well … Dallas was at least a month ago. I can understand that your life has been moving fast since you met Bill, but this is ridiculous. Get out a day planner and figure out exactly what you did and when, because you’ve condensed your days too far.
Plus really, why did they even bother to do that with Bill if he could have just sorted the whole thing out diplomatically? Does Eric really think he can turn up wherever you go in other vampires’ jurisdictions and think he’ll get away with the disguise all the time? How long do you think you can get away with living in an internet free vacuum? Get with the cloud, Sookie; it’s the way of the future. You’re dragging your feet back there in 2003, I don’t care how dang rural you are.
Don’t think this is goodbye, Sookie; you’ve started to burn me, but I’ll be back. You’re wilful and stupid, most of what you do doesn’t make sense and your red herrings are frankly ridiculous, but you’re a quick read and you made one good decision in this book. Whatever you are, you’re far and away from being literature.
I can say more than this, though; I can go into some detail, for your sake.
Bill goes to “Seattle” for some business concern, but after a while Eric comes around to tell Sookie that he has actually been abducted by vampires unknown. Sookie consequently has to go to Jackson, Mississippi, to track Bill down and to find another “supe” to get unreasonably attracted to.
The funniest part of the book is when Sookie claims that she never would have thought of torture as a means of extracting information because she’s American. I don’t know if this is intense naivete on the part of Sookie or Harris herself, but I thought it was worth a laugh. In light of the last ten years, you can’t really say these things any more – if you ever reasonably could. But I digress.
Sookie continues to not have sex with every man that she wants to have sex with (basically every man that she meets in her travels), and this makes her feel special. Thanks to Bill’s indiscretions she also expands on the misgivings that she started feeling in Living Dead in Dallas, and Harris elaborates on the good ideas she’s had there: suggesting that Sookie isn’t necessarily playing for keeps and doesn’t really want to have to put up with all of the junk she’s been through since meeting the vampires.
For everything else that frustrates me about the character, she actually does seem to be maturing. I don’t know if Harris actually intended to do this, but Eric is a more interesting, honest and well written character than Bill. Despite the fact that Sookie and Bill practically cohabit, we never really know him except for how Sookie feels towards him at any given time (when they’re not having sex, these feelings tend towards annoyance). Eric is a legitimate businessman who can fly and is legitimately more attentive to Sookie than Bill ever was. Anyone disappointed in Eric coming between Sookie and Bill has clearly not paid any attention to the obvious, but not unwelcome, telegraphing Harris has done since the introduction of the character. Bill and Eric may well both be jerks, but Eric is smoother about it – he might even be a nicer person. It’s a mystery and I don’t mind if Sookie tries to solve it.
Elaborating on what I said about time dilation above, Harris is legitimately terrible about expressing the passage of time and this has gotten worse with each book. There is too much of a sense of immediacy around everything that has happened, and it seems as if she hasn’t had enough time to recover from her trip to Dallas, even though that recovery time was written in to Living Dead in Dallas. I can tolerate the body of the stories happening on a strict schedule, because the Bill rescue mission is time sensitive, but to stretch out this time Sookie participates in minutiae like trips to salons and endless thwarted sexual interludes.
Somehow between Living Dead in Dallas and Club Dead one character has had both a painless divorce and has always been the owner of a luxury boutique with a downmarket name. Would you buy exquisite gowns from a store called “Tara’s Togs”? I imagine you would not, or at least I hope you wouldn’t.
Sookie is now at the point where she contradicts established facts about herself; in Dead Until Dark she was terrible at school except during tests, because everyone was concentrating on their work, but here she was terrible at tests and only good at homework. Her attempt to attend college is also excised from the record, because we’re supposed to go for the idea that she’s simply naturally smart. This point is undercut by her frequent use of not particularly challenging words accompanied by the acknowledgement that she learned them from her “Word-of-the-day” calendar. She does this at least two or three times and not one of them is charming. Harris is now performing a very delicate balancing act in writing Sookie and she’s only barely hanging on.
I also know that something that happens to Sookie late in the book and her reaction to it would not sit very well with a lot of feminists in the audience (probably why it was removed from the TV adaptation), but it does effectively establish the blatant inhumanity that Bill has always had.
Again, the lack of technology for a book written in 2003 is mind boggling; the conflict that the book is predicated upon is rendered moot by the mere existence of the internet. Even if this book is set in 2001, when Dead Until Dark was published, this still holds true. This is not a period piece in any sense of the term, so it shouldn’t read like countless dated 1990s procedurals. On top of that, werewolves and shapeshifters are doing an awful job of keeping themselves closeted. It’s slight and bizarre lazinesses like this that suggest Charlaine Harris has more enthusiasm than she has foresight or attention to detail.
With each instalment in the “Southern Vampire Mysteries”, Harris compounds the problems that she’s made for herself, but at least she’s now trying to further Sookie as a character. If she could dig Sookie out of the puritan quagmire that she’s been wallowing in, I would be much happier and definitely more comfortable reading the rest. Again, this book took only a couple of hours to read, so I wasn’t taxed. I’m not labouring over these novels, so don’t shed a tear for me; I’ve brought this on myself.
Post script: You may have noticed I didn’t really touch upon the plot outside of the open letter. That’s because it’s as functional as the others and these are really character pieces. Harris essentially puts Sookie into vampire fuelled conflict and her work is done.