“Great food” can mean $100/plate fine cuisine in an exclusive restaurant, but it can also mean a perfectly deep-fried corndog at the fair when you’re starving and you’ve been dreaming of cornbread and frankfurters for days. What I mean is, it doesn’t have to be high art or good for you to be great – sometimes “great” is deeply satisyfing, delicious-down-to-your-toes, comfort food junk.
The Sookie Stackhouse books (more commonly called the Southern Vampire series) by Charlaine Harris are corndogs in the literary world. There’s nothing better on a gloomy day than curling up with one of these lovely little escapist romps. I tucked myself into Living Dead in Dallas the other day, and it quite hit the spot. I’d read most of the rest of the series before (Harris is one of the few writers I can bear to read out-of-sequence) and wanted to come back and fill in the chronological holes.
All of Harris’s heroines are refreshingly strong and interesting women, and Sookie is no exception.
Tangent: Only one thing bothers me about Harris’s books. What’s up with the heroines’ names? They’re all so goofy! Sookie Stackhouse – what kind of name is Sookie? Is that a real name? (I’m not making fun, I’m asking.) The Shakespeare series, set in a town called Shakespeare, features a heroine named Lily Bard. There’s another series with a heroine named Aurora Teagarden – and sorry, that’s just funny. 🙂
Okay, back on focus. Sookie is a survivor. She’s also a bartender, a telepath, and girlfriend of (in Living Dead) a vampire. It’s modern-day Louisiana with a twist – a Japanese firm figured out how to create synthetic blood, allowing vampires to stop preying on humans and, consequently, come out of hiding to join society.
Literary vampires are often allegorical, usually (it seems) representing gay people. In this series, the vampires (and the shapeshifters, fairies, witches, and other subspecies who share their world) are a perfect metaphorical minority. There are a lot of vampires in Harris’s Louisiana – a nod to Anne Rice – and they’re not always understood or welcome in the rural parts of the country in which much of the story takes place. Or, for that matter, Dallas – which is where this particular book is set.
A human organization, the Fellowship of the Sun, plays Ku Klux Klan to Harris’s night-dwelling minority. Because Sookie is a vampire sympathizer – and, in fact, is working for the vampires because of her telepathic gift – she is targeted by the Fellowship in this second book of the series.
The Southern Vampire books fall partially into the “fantastical romance” genre; vampiric hungers, to put it delicately, are both carnivorous and carnal. And I really don’t think that you can avoid the fantasy label when your main characters are mythical creatures; the books skirt around the horror genre by virtue of the fact that the vampires are protagonists. That, and the books are very funny. Moreover, the Southern Vampire books are murder mysteries. Ultimately, they’re that delightful sort of genre-bending book that gives ulcers to bookstore shelvers. (And, incidentally, book-shoppers. I never know whether to look in romance, fantasy, or mystery when I want one of these books – and the correct location is different at every store.)
You might like these books even if you aren’t a fantasy-type-person, but if the idea of telepaths dating vampires, were-critters running bars, fairies seducing humans, et cetera, just really doesn’t appeal, I totally recommend any of Harris’s other series. My second favorite set are the Lily Bard books.
I am overjoyed, and deeply wary, to learn that HBO is planning a series based on this series this fall. It’s to be called “True Blood” and stars Anna Paquin as Sookie (hmm – not bad) and Stephen Moyer as Bill (okay). The series will be written and directed by Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” fame; I never watched that show, but people seemed to quite like it, so hopefully “True Blood” is in good hands. I’m always very nervous about film adaptations (small- or large-screen) of much-loved books… and I don’t even get HBO… so I’m not sure what to think about this. It’s good for Ms. Harris, though, so cheers!