Dead and Gone
by Charlaine Harris
Here’s the good news: Charlaine hasn’t changed. One my fears for the latest entry in the Southern Vampire series was that Ms. Harris’ wonderful writing style would alter somehow with the advent of the terribly popular HBO series, True Blood. I have made my unhappiness with the show evident (- Click here to read the splatter) and a lot of that shade comes from feeling the program never captures the clear voice Ms. Harris instills in her books. I find True Blood to be sleazy and base, words I’ve never conjured while reading Ms. Harris’ stories, even when I’m reading a sleazy and base character.
The bad news: while not at the bottom of my rankings for the series, Dead and Gone sure isn’t at the top. Still better than the low point that was reached with the ambitious All Together Dead (- Click here for that dissection), this newest chapter, Dead and Gone, is not a success. There’s a feeling of distraction throughout the book, as if this was the sum of many different parts instead of being a clear, steady narrative. I felt like Ms. Harris was bent on getting things in order and tying up some loose ends, unfortunately, in that quest, the novel reads like a checklist: 'Okay, now I’m going to deal with the vampires. Now, it’s time for the weres. Let’s give the witches their turn. Don’t forget the fairies. Maybe we’ll have time for a cameo from the demons. Oh wait; let’s squeeze in some kind of plot involving the Fellowship of the Sun anti-supernatural militia.'
Yeah, it’s like that. Too many scattered bits and pieces and the only connecting thread is its heroine, everybody’s favourite telepathic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, but then only just. This book is a patchwork of subplots and half-baked ideas that never come to fruition, which is kind of a shame because the initial mystery is presented wonderfully; a vivid, haunting shock. Too bad, there’s so much minutiae going on (- Amelia and her various associates, weres up the wazoo – I’m looking at you.) the focus and intensity are lost. Worse yet, there’s precious few moments of levity and the humour of the Southern Vampires series is one of its most invaluable graces.
There is a big problem with an issue of delayed gratification; which is strange to say because Ms. Harris does bless us with a somewhat steamy sex scene between Sookie and fan-favourite, the enigmatic Viking vampire, Eric Northman. However, there was such a magnificent set-up from the previous book, From Dead to Worse, that had us on the edge of our seats; “I remember everything,” Eric confessed to Sookie about an amnesiac night of passion a few books back, that I found myself growling like a were each time the big talk was put off. It felt like a purposeful bait and switch, which was disappointing. Sookie walks into Fangtasia, the vamps’ nightclub, to have “the talk” once and for all with the charismatic Nordic Nosferatu, when he starts blurting out the story of his previous life before he was turned. Just like that, out of the blue, apropos of nothing, in the middle of the club.
Even more head-scratching is how uncomfortably like another famous blonde literary vampire Eric’s turning seems to have been. After this impromptu confession, Sookie just turns around and goes home, “the talk” happily forgotten. There’s plenty of mind-wobbling moments in this one, kids, but this scene actually made me angry. So did the extremely odd post-coital, “Can I tell you about my day,” which begins Sookie blathering endlessly to her lover after she’s just described their mind-blowing nookie. Not too exhausted to natter away for eons about tending bar, but somehow not quite the time to discuss the 500-pound gorilla in the room. I felt as if “the talk” was merely being dragged out for another book. Even the clumsily inserted sex scene (NPI) couldn’t make me forget what I had been waiting for since last year’s volume, though the freedom with which Sookie does lays down with Eric in the first place almost makes the whole thing kinda unnecessary.
On further into Sookie’s strange, supernatural love life: There’s the everlasting vamp triangle; this time with less from Bill, the Civil War-era bloodsucker by way of love declarations, but as you’ve just read, Eric is all over the place. What’s getting really tired is hearing Sookie complain about how much the Viking vamp “keeps playing tricks,” and how she can’t trust him. Um, how many times does someone have to rescue your helpless hash before you give them a break, sister? Really.
I’m getting a bit exhausted of Eric playing boy scout for someone who’s turning out to be really undeserving. Sookie’s protests are completely hollow and sound totally foolish at this point. Another suitor that was thankfully omitted in the previous chapter turns up in Dead and Gone to basically abuse Sookie for rightfully dumping him. The not-so-Mighty Quinn, party-planner by day, scary, scary weretiger by night, rolls up uninvited and questions why Sookie should apply a standard to him she doesn’t hold others to. I love the “Hey, everybody else treats you badly, why can’t I?” defense. It’s my favourite. The macho chipmunk proves every bad thing I thought about him in the previous books when he stands in Sookie’s front yard and informs her that no one else but him could ever possibly love her. Isn’t that what abusers say as their victims are walking out the door? And yes, it is definitely Quinn and not some doppelganger because there is at least one “Babe” utterance. Oy. There is one classic moment, when someone who doesn’t enjoy seeing Sookie thus badgered informs the unctuous Mr. Clean clone, “I will make you a rug on my floor.” Oh, if wishes were horses…
Some of my biggest complaints about Dead and Gone are reserved for Sookie herself. Midway through the story, she is made aware that an exceptionally vicious group of fairies (- Boy, that felt weird to write.) have targeted her for death. This is due to her being the grandchild of the fairy prince, Niall, so wonderfully introduced in From Dead to Worse. Vampires and werethingies alike are terrified of the fae folk and yet Sookie insists on going through her regular day-to-day life. What troubles me is not only does the decision to put herself exactly where anyone can find her make me question her mental capacity, but her complete irresponsibility after being frightened enough to call in favours from vamps, weres, and other fae for protection. Her need to complete menial chores will literally put others at risk of death. Leave the freakin’ dry cleaning - it’ll keep! I’ll spot you the overdue library fees. Money can’t be an issue; Sookie has finally been well compensated for her psychic services during All Together Dead. Also, take a few days off; I’m pretty sure your boss will understand if you explain that by coming to work, you, he, your friends, family, fellow employees and perhaps the entire town could die!
This is huge step backwards from the smarter, more practical Sookie we began to see in From Dead to Worse. This Sookie is passive-aggressively seeking drama through incomprehensibly bad choices. Her idea of self-defense is not to move to Timbuktu until the fairy war is resolved, but to fill a water pistol with lemon juice and carry around her grandmother’s gardening spade. It’s not good when your main character is becoming the weakest link in the entire series nine volumes in.
In some ways, it seems Ms. Harris was trying to clean house a bit: There’s an entire faction of supernaturals on the way out and certain deaths throughout the book may lead to the retraction of others. I’m mostly fine with this because as you’ve read from the above, there are just too many occupants in what’s meant to be the small-town world of a painfully unambitious barmaid. I could have done without the pointless murder of one character who’d been around long enough to actually care for and dies a terrible death for two. Also, there’s a bizarrely inserted reveal regarding huge events around important people in Sookie’s life that is just oddly thrown out of nowhere with no emotional impact or timing - more head-scratching. The whole affair just felt off.
I have no idea how she’s going to recover, but I’m not going to give up on Sookie or Ms. Harris just yet. I felt worse after All Together Dead and was amazed at how vastly improved From Dead to Worse was (- Click here to read our praise) in comparison. In terms of its place in the series, From Dead to Worse was more of a transitional book, showing new aspects of Sookie’s personality and situation after the traumatic events of All Together Dead. This subsequent chapter needed to have some ballast, which it sorely does not. Not to get personal, but it had been a busy year for Ms. Harris, what with the release of the TV show and all the publicity around it.
Perhaps between now and the next Sookie, things will wind down a bit and with that more attention can be paid to producing a cohesive story with an actual plot and character progression.
~ The Lady Miz Diva
May 23rd, 2009
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