There are two reasons why I thought this book was alright: fanboats and gumbo, or the complete and total lack thereof. I'm going to use my kids as a shield again and try to cover up the real Scooby Doo fan in this scenario, but I've watched probably hundreds of hours of Scooby Doo in my day. (Alright, line up, Mum needs a human shield again!)
Anyway, one of my favorite parts of a Scooby Doo episode is when the Mystery Inc gang lands in whatever foreign/ethnic land, and there's a scene where all the fun ethnic stereotypes are trotted out, you know, for authenticity. "We're in Australia, gang!" Fred says, loosening his ascot. Suddenly a surfer riding a kangaroo hops by the Sydney Opera house, and calls out "What a right sheila" to Daphne. Then Shaggy and Scoob pile some Vegemite onto their Scooby Snacks. We really are in Australia! Can't you feel it?
Anyway, Dead Until Dark
is set in Louisiana, and there wasn't one fanboat, Voodoo priestess eating gumbo, or alligator. Sookie's semi-talking dog never ate a po' boy sandwich, no one called New Orleans "Nawlins", and not one peep of Zydeco could be heard floating over the bayou. The people in this story - and I mean this term specifically; I mean people, not supernatural beings - were from an ethnicity not generally visited by Scooby and the Gang*: the ethnicity of poverty.
So much of this romance-y chick-lit has a plucky middle-class heroine falling in love with a super hot rich guy. "She was sitting the library, having just done up her raven locks in a sensual twist using a pencil, which is how you can tell she's a librarian. Manly Hardsteed strode in the room, making altogether too much noise. She shushed him, and their eyes locked in combat" Sex ellipses. "Manly touched her face,** 'I'm not just hot and rich,' he said. 'I'm also a Duke.'" The occupations for these heroines amount to sartorial choices, a sort of Scooby Doo montage of their bourgeois worthiness.
Sookie's social milieu is the American working poor, and this felt kind of unexpected. In the little mystery part of the plot, someone is killing slutty, trashy poor women, and the cops pretty much don't care because these women are disposable tragedies who are asking for it. Vampires end up being this metaphor for the blood-sucking elite, who blow into town with their drugs and parties, and use up and discard the authentic locals. But the blood sucking elite aren't really real either; they're an urban legend used to scare the downtrodden into minding their place.
The thing that bugs me about Sookie is that I feel like Harris spends far too much time letting us know exactly how Sookie may look like one of these women, especially to a deranged killer, but she isn't really. She's a virgin, she has an income from something other than her waitressing job, she doesn't really drink like all the other floozies. I wonder if Vampire Bill isn't some sort of embodied noblesse oblige as a counter-point to the other inhuman richy riches. Is all the loving description of her fancy fashion choices - and I have to say the love scene where her banana clip features prominently is one of the most unintentionally funny things I've ever read - a sort of poor girl dress-up? Is Vampire Bill a hot, rich Duke?
I don't know. I think I've probably over-thought this, as usual. These sorts of stories are not about fancy prose or sparking dialogue or other literary whatnot; they're personal. Whether I like one of these things tends to come down to whether I like the main character. I hated Bella Swan because she seemed like one of those girls that doesn't really like other girls; the kind that disappears from your life when she gets a boyfriend because she doesn't see relationships with women as having any real value.
Sookie's not this bad, not even close. But I can't really see myself sliding on the jelly shoes and emptying a can of AquaNet into my full, lustrous blond hair before heading out for a night on the town with Sookie, because she seems to cultivate a casual cluelessness that I find truly frustrating. There are maybe 600 instances where Sookie puts on some hot mama outfit, prances in front of one of the guys who want to do the nasty with her, and then they guys get all still and look at her with darkened eyes. "What?" says Sookie, "Do I have something on my face? Why are looking at me like that?" Internal monologue: "Omg! I can't understand why all of these guys hate
me." For a psychic, she seems awfully un-psychic. The men have gotten all still, Sookie, because they have transferred computer power from their brains to their throbbing manhoods. Of course he got a chubby when he looked at that one white dress with the little red flowers, matching red high-heeled shoes, and white plastic earrings. Of course.
*On of the more recent Scooby Doo movies takes place in Louisiana, and in addition to the things mentioned already there are also: catfish, hot peppers, a plantation, pirate treasure, zombies, and a vengeful Cat Goddess. It's called "Scooby Doo on Zombie Island"
and features a slumming Adrienne Barbeau. Unlike Scooby Doo classic, the zombies and cat goddess are actually real, which made me have nightmares and a theological epiphany. I love Scooby Doo.
**I don't like it when people touch my face. Why does it always happen in these kinds of stories? Is there a whole sexual expectation of face-touching that I'm missing out on? Is it because I'm a Midwesterner, and we need something like 6 feet of personal space just to feel comfortable?