Beyond This Point There Be Vampire Porn: A Review of Charlaine Harris’ Dead Until Dark (by Bethany)

dead-until-dark

So maybe I’ve mentioned once or twice that I am writing a book that involves witches. The only thing more bizarre than that is the fact that I am really enjoying it – and the only thing more bizarre than that is the fact that I am admitting all of this on the internet. But the fact remains, and a couple of months ago when I began accepting this alarming new reality, I asked Jill for a reading list. She gave me a list of several authors who write series about supernatural creatures. It took me a while to get started, but I did finally sit down and read Dead Until Dark, the first installment in Charlaine Harris’ series about vampires and fairies and whatnot.

This book is unspeakably silly and marred by a number of rookie errors, but I do understand why some people enjoy this kind of escape reading. The first-person narrator – Sookie Sackhouse, a telepathic waitress – is engaging enough, and her primary romance with a vampire named Bill Compton and her burgeoning secondary romance with her shapeshifting boss, Sam, make for a reasonably entertaining plot. I don’t see the appeal of vampires on any kind of a visceral level, so I wasn’t especially titillated or anything. Not that I would admit it if I was.

I keep imagining literary scholars centuries in the future unearthing this book and deciding that it is a work of great social satire, on the level of Gulliver’s Travels or Candide. This prospect is amusing, of course, but on some level it is correct. In addition to vampires and sex, this book is about the challenges of living in an (allegedly) post-discriminatory world. The premise of the novel is that vampires have just recently been formally recognized by society. Restaurants and bars stock bottles of “synthetic blood,” and some cater specifically to vampires. There are vampire-owned businesses and vampire elections, and vampire blood has become the latest street drug of choice for non-vampires, since it speeds healing and enhances strength and sexual potency. Some non-vampires are prejudiced against vampires. Some are ‘fang-bangers’ who seek out vampire sex partners and revel in the glamor of being bitten. Others are what Sookie calls ‘tourists’ – meaning that they are a little bit scared of vampires but also curious and intrigued, so they go in groups to places frequented by vampires and watch them for a while from a distance. Think of them as pasty-skinned Midwestern retiree couples with fanny packs around their waists, holding hands as they walk down Castro Street, taking pictures of the Castro Theatre sign and the rainbow flag and possibly someone with a visible nipple ring before high-tailing it back to their tour bus and heading off to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Jill often expresses annoyance at Charlaine Harris’ tendency to emphasize her characters’ physical appearance and especially their clothing. I’ve always half-heartedly argued that clothing is a character’s temporary identity, and authors need to describe it so that when their clothes change and they are expressing a different temporary identity, the reader is aware of the change. I do see Jill’s point: Sookie wears a uniform of white T-shirt, black shorts, white socks, and black Nikes to work every day, and Harris probably doesn’t need to tell us about the uniform every single time she goes to work. It seems to me that this is part of a larger problem that involves point of view. In first-person narration, the author should not interfere to provide description that the narrator would not or could not provide herself. The reality is that we think about our clothes when something is wrong with them and we feel self-conscious or when they are especially fabulous and we feel beautiful; we don’t think about our clothes when we are wearing the same old things we always wear. Similarly, every so often Sookie likes to make a reference to her hair, eyes, and other facial features. Again, we certainly notice these parts of ourselves when something is wrong with them, and most people have anxieties of some sort or another about their appearance. But any person narcissistic enough to comment on her own eye color as often as Sookie does would show obvious signs of that narcissism in other aspects of her life – and Sookie doesn’t. There’s something very Sweet Valley High about Sookie’s references to her own hair and clothing, but this quality doesn’t apply to other aspects of Sookie’s character.

A while back I read Shakespeare’s Landlord, a mystery novel by Charlaine Harris that does not involve the supernatural. Like Dead Until Dark, it is also the first in a series. The protagonist in the Shakespeare series is Lily Bard, a housekeeper who lives an overly-regimented life in order to deal with the trauma of having been raped and mutilated. There is very little difference between Sookie’s voice in Dead Until Dark an Lily’s voice in Shakespeare’s Landlord. Both comment endlessly on their routine: what they eat for breakfast, what they wear, what they do on their days off – ‘five minutes to Wapner,’ and all that. Both of these young, female narrators remind me a lot of my ninety year-old father, actually. Comparing someone to my dad isn’t an insult, of course, but in Sookie’s case her mechanized life doesn’t really match the other aspects of her character.

I do plan to read more of this series – it’s research! Tax deductible research! – though probably not right away. What I most wanted to learn was how various writers manage their supernatural characters when they live side by side with the real, boring world, and this book helped me to see one possible model.

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This entry was posted in Authors, Charlaine Harris, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, Fiction - Mystery, Fiction - Vampire Porn, Reviews by Bethany. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Beyond This Point There Be Vampire Porn: A Review of Charlaine Harris’ Dead Until Dark (by Bethany)

  1. badkitty1016 says:

    You thought there was something between Sam and Sookie? I need to reread Dead Until Dark someday. I don’t want to post spoilers, but I didn’t see their relationship as anything but platonic until much later…. Or maybe I was distracted by Bill Compton’s big–er–fangs.

    • bedstrom says:

      It specifically says that Sam is in love with Sookie. Then when he turns into a dog, he goes home with her and watches her take her clothes off and sleeps all night with her in the bed. She’s horrified and awkward about it in a way that suggests that she doesn’t want to go there but that sooner or later she probably will.

      • badkitty1016 says:

        Don’t remember that at all! But it’s been almost six years since I read that book and there are many, many gentlemen in Sookie’s life before she circles back around to Sam.

      • bedstrom says:

        Right – I could totally tell that Sam is the “good guy” that she will end up with after she gets her fill of bad boys.

      • badkitty1016 says:

        I was just thinking that Sam is plenty dark/broody as the series goes on, but I think that that side of him comes out more in the HBO series–I can’t think of any time in the books when he is anything but a good person. Plenty of instances in the tv version though.

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