Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dead Until Dark: Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse series—the books on which HBO’s True Blood is based. As a resident of the deep south, Harris writes the Stackhouse novels with authority, bringing Bon Temps, Louisiana alive with dark, foreign descriptions. While her story and descriptions are vivid, her characters sometimes lack dimension. I find Sookie Stackhouse to be the weakest of all Harris’ characters; she is a telepathic waitress who falls in love with a vampire (and has all the personality of Twilight’s Bella Swan).

Harris’ greatest achievement in Dead Until Dark is not the descriptions of Louisiana, or the lackluster characters, but the society she has created in her books. In her world, vampires have “come out of the coffin” (a charming turn of phrase that reminds the reader that vampires are a minority), and are living amongst general population. They feed off of “fang-bangers” who are essentially blood prostitutes who allow themselves to be bitten, but not drained. Vampires who choose to “mainstream” may choose to live on the synthetic bottled blood, made available in most bars and restaurants (the stuff even comes in flavors—A negative, O positive, etc).

Dead Until Dark introduces the reader to the protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse—a pretty young woman who is uneducated, but not stupid. She was born telepathic and that talent has caused her no end of grief all her life, so she has chosen to live as simple a life as possible. She has learned, over time, to control her mind. She is able to put up her guard and block everyone’s thoughts, but it takes a lot of energy. Sookie lives with her Gran, and has ever since her parents died. Her older brother, the charming (and fairly sleazy) Jason, lives in their old house and works at a non-descript hillbilly job. He spends his time chasing skirts and getting drunk. Overall, the characters and town of Bon Temps are about as interesting as any four-way stop called a town.

In walks Bill. Bill Compton, also known as Bill the Vampire. After the vampires gained public freedom, he chose to return to his old homestead in Bon Temps. In about 24 hours, he meets and falls in love with Sookie, who finds herself equally enamored. However, as with any small town, bigotry still exists in Bon Temps, and when people start showing up dead, all eyes turn to Bill. Just because vampires have been given rights, doesn’t mean everyone likes them. This is where Harris reeled me in. She has taken a fairly innocuous fad—vampires—and created a beautiful analogy for bigotry. We live in a society that claims to accept all people and wants to give all people fair and equal rights. But the reality is that fear exists, and that fear turns into hatred. That’s when the lynch mobs show up. Which is exactly what happens in Bon Temps.

The real murderer is not a vampire at all. Harris wraps up her story by solving the mystery and allowing Sookie and her vampire to ride off into the sunset. Well, into the next book, anyway. I have to mention that the first season of True Blood is taken almost exactly from this first book, save a few minor characters and unimportant events.


  1. I feel that it's worth mentioning that I have seen all of the first season of True Blood. My opinion of this book is only that it's just like the tv show. I feel that I don't have any real deep ideals about this novel because it wasn't new to me in any way. I hope that the second book in the series will be new and interesting for me so that I can write with more insight about Charlaine Harris.

  2. Yes, you sound tired of vampires, too. I can get quite a rise out of my eighth grade girls when I ask questions about New Moon. Yawn.
    Have you read The Help?
    Delicious read. Really.