Jun 25 2010 11:10am

Sex, Violence, and Family Politics: Dead In The Family

A review of Charlaine Harris’ latest book in the Sookie Stackhouse series Dead In The Family coming up after the jump. All the the blood and sex you could ever want, and more wasted characters, bad dialogue, and pointless subplots than you could ever need. Thar be spoilers...nothing life or death, but you’ve been warned.

Boy and howdy.  A lot has happened to poor Sookie Stackhouse in the last two years of her life. Vampires came out of the coffin. She got a boyfriend. She got laid. A lot. She broke up with one vampire boyfriend only to get another and spent the intervening months teasing and flirting with shapeshifters and weres like there was no tomorrow. She got laid some more. A lot more. Then something about fairies and familial vengeance and *yawn* vampire politics and *yawn* were/shifter politics and Sam dealt with family problems and two more telepaths showed up. And then she got laid again. A lot. 

Let me state for the record that I do not, nor will I ever, care about a dull four year old with telepathic powers. Or a fairy that doesn’t do anything but make coffee and pretend to be nice. Or preggo Tara and her village idiot hubby. And I certainly don’t need half a book dedicated to them. Nor do I need every single plot from every single previous book rehashed and reiterated. I get it. I was there. Can there also be a moratorium on undead celebrities? Especially when we already have dozens upon dozens of occasionally mentioned characters built up over ten books that could certainly, with a few tweaks, handle the plot duties just as well. Elvis was bad enough, but Tsarevich Alexei is jumping the shark.

Really, the worst part about Dead In The Family wasn’t the shaky writing or the meaningless trips down Tangent Lane to Boringtown. It was that none of the subplots have anything to do with each other. Here are four promising story lines—renegade weres killing each other for power, renegade vamps killing each other for power, renegade fairies seeking revenge, and a renegade teenage vampire prince killing people for no apparent reason—and all of them but the last peter out in a few pages. Or, in the case of the power-mad vamps, simply disappear from the story all together. All of those arcs make for exciting fodder, but jumbling them together in a 311 page book (in the kind of font that exists just to make the Lorax cry) sucks the energy and tension right out of them.

All that being said, I also really enjoyed this book. No, seriously. Through her previous books I’ve become at least moderately invested in most of these characters (except Tara who should just go away and be quiet). So when Sam shows up out of the blue—as if Harris’ editor left her a note reminding her to use him—and talks about the chaos left in the wake of the two-natured Great Reveal, I smile. And even though Bill acts like death warmed over for the whole two seconds he shows up in the book (the rest of his time is spent skulking in Sookie’s woods and rekindling what must be the most awkward vampire relationship ever) I was willing to forget how utterly boring he was when he was dating Sookie.

Harris has never been a skilled writer, but she has created such an interesting world and peopled it with characters that are generally sexier than they are obnoxious, that I’d rather block out the bad and keep plowing through. But it seems even she is getting tired of these people. Family is the first of the Sookie books to really end, if unsatisfactorily. There are just enough minor loose ends to start book 11, but the big things are sutured off and breathing sighs of relief. This definitely isn’t the end of Sookie, Bill, and Eric, as she’s already working on book 1, but if we have to spend all of the next book arguing vampire versus “twoey” politics and watching Hunter develop his skills then color me bored (which I’m assuming is grayish?).

Hopefully Harris will scrounge up enough mojo to either end the series on a high note or do something creatively interesting with her characters. Something other than sex and murder I mean.

Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare...

1. 7of9
I've been reading Sookie from the start before HBO got a whiff of Harris, and I've always thought the series was good-- light summer reading.

But "Dead in the Family" felt like a rush job to capitalize on the popularity of "True Blood." And the paper stock was super flimsy in the hardcover: both for the pages and the cover. The whole thing felt cheap.

This was the least satisfying one in the series for me. But I'm not sure how much of that is because of "True Blood." Quite a bit, I suspect, which is sad.
Alex Brown
2. AlexBrown
@ 7of9: I think I would've been a lot happier if Harris didn't keep trying to play to the True Blood crowd. Just because Jace Everett's song "Bad Things" is the theme song to the show doesn't mean it needs to get mentioned in your book.
nicole rich
3. nrich
As much as I love the tv show, I just cannot get into these books. The writing is just too, I don't know....

It often feels like Harris tries to dumb it down for her readers as if they were not smart enough to follow along with a continuing story arc over the course of several books. It may be that her intentions are to make the books more accessible to the people coming in who might not have read some of the earlier stories, but it makes it incredibly frustrating for the people who are followed along gamely from the beginning to read the same thing over and over.
Alex Brown
4. AlexBrown
nrich @ 3: Adelle, I know you still haven't forgiven her for misspelling Morticia Addams' last name in the first book. :) I honestly don't think she knows how to dumb down. I think that really is the way she writes. It's writing but without the skill. But True Blood isn't exactly intellectually stimulating either. I tune in for the sexy shower scenes between Sam and Bill. And to watch naked Alexander Skarsgård. And I just skip past the constant repetitions and anytime Tara shows up.
Arachne Jericho
5. arachnejericho
Some months ago, I read the series all in one go over a few days. Also snapped up the short stories. The writing isn't spectacular, and goes for humorous romance more than anything else. They're the literary version of fluffy cupcakes for me.

But everything started going downhill when the True Blood partial reboot started, which I think was a book and a half ago. Every character felt especially Flanderized in the previous book, and the humor began to take a back seat to the drama, which isn't the strong point of the Southern Vampire Mysteries (which I have a hard time classifying as mysteries at all). I'm sad to see that this trend continues.

Harris has a much better series in Harper Connelly, which does a much better job of plotting, characterization, mystery, and creepiness. The second book, Grave Surprise, is actually where I'd start (and it's a short series; just four books). Oy, is it creepy.

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