I hate to say it, but I don’t think its me – its her.
Before I get too snippy, I must first acknowledge that this series -popularly known as the books that inspired the HBO show True Blood, but also known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries – started as a fun, genre-bending revolution in popular fiction. In a world before (and after) vampires were cool, seasoned mystery writer Charlaine Harris took a murder mystery, added a unique supernatural element and out came Dead Until Dark. At its core, DUD was a pretty standard murder mystery set in a small town, except that the small town was Bon Temps, Louisiana – home to vampires, shapeshifters and faeries, oh my!
Though she is frequently falsely accused of copycatting the human-girl-in-love-with-vampire-and-BFFs-with-shapeshifter storyline – one look at the 2001 copyright date on DUD reveals that Charlaine was well ahead of the Twilight curve. Also, where that other vampire story is all about love, Sookie’s stories were rarely that serious. One of the things I initially loved about Sookie was that she was careful not to love any vampire, but never bashful about loving up on anyone.
In the beginning, Sookie was just a perky blonde telepathic waitress, who was smarter and stronger than she looked. She fell for Bon Temps’ first official vampire – the hilariously-named Bill Compton – mostly because she couldn’t read his thoughts. Never short on admirers, Sookie’s telepathic gift gave her an unappetizing glimpse into the mind of every man who struck her fancy, and thus she was the prettiest 20-something virgin on earth. Not for long. In the succeeding books, Sookie has relations with men of every stripe and supernatural origin.
For eight blissful books – despite murder and mayhem galore – things just never seemed all that serious in Sookie’s world. Vampire underworld politics were constantly upstaged by Sookie’s real world problems, like making ends meet on her waitress salary without taking money from her wealthy supernatural suitors.
Somewhere along the way, however, things got complicated. Money becomes the least of Sookie’s problems as she is drawn further down the rabbit hole into a confusing pseudo-marriage to a beautiful vampire and the discovery of her own magical origin.
The demands of an increasingly intricate mythology seem to weigh on Charlaine Harris. Not long ago, she posted an entry on her blog addressing nasty comments from readers complaining about the abruptly dark turn Sookie’s life takes in Dead and Gone, the 9th book in the series. She makes the excellent point that she is the author of this story, and novels are not written by committee. And she’s right.
Charlaine Harris is a far better writer than I – and I am genuinely an ardent fan of her work. Honestly, her worst book is still better than the best work of many other authors – so far be it from me to try to tell her that she’s writing her story wrong. I just can’t help but wonder if its just gone on too long. Charlaine has said that she knows how Sookie’s story ends, and I believe her. I think she knows where it ends, and its starting to feel like she’s just killing time until her publishing contract allows her to share that ending with the world.
The latest installment, Dead Reckoning, finds Sookie half-hearted about everything in her world. She’s unsure if she really loves her beautiful vampire “husband”, she is rightfully suspicious of the motives of her new faery family and is feeling increasingly guilty and philosophical about her role in a series of supernatural assassinations.
Through a string of misfortunes and windfalls, Sookie has more money than she knows what to do with. For a girl who started out as an orphan and an outcast, Sookie has come quite a long way in eleven books. Modern Sookie has more friends and family than she knows what to do with. She spends less time waiting tables and more time worrying about who she can really trust and who has nefarious motives.
I guess all this seriousness might feel familiar to Charlaine Harris. I can imagine that after years of quiet success as a small town mystery writer, the well-deserved fame and fortune that she has experienced in the past few years isn’t unlike what our dear Sookie is experiencing.
Maybe Modern Sookie is just more relevant to her author than she is to me.
All complaints aside, I can’t say that I am done with Sookie Stackhouse. Even when its overly existential, I’m still invested in this story and will continue to follow it wherever it leads me.
I know I’m not done with Charlaine Harris either. As a creator of one of my favorite genres, I look forward to reading more from her. If I could make one wish for Charlaine, I would wish that she finish Sookie’s story and start on another genre-bending revolution. If there is any author equipped to change the world again, its her.