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The Decline of the Sookie Stackhouse Novels
Charlaine Harris, the one who imprisoned me
A guilty pleasure turns into a chore
Several years ago, I was introduced to the HBO series, True Blood, by a friend and was hooked. There will never be a time when humans are not drawn to sex and violence, and True Blood certainly has both. Then she said to me, "You know there are books, too, right?"
The Sookie Stackhouse novels became my guilty pleasure. I read the first one and then went out and bought the next several books in the series. Sure, they weren't quality literature, but they were sexy and fun and gave me something to look forward to. So sue me.
However, around the eighth book, the enjoyment started to fade. New supernatural elements were continually being added to the story, but it didn't do much to boost Harris's blatantly waning enthusiasm. For me, it then became a matter of finishing what I started. And, of course, I had to find out if I was right about who Sookie ended up with romantically, which means I had to make it to the last book.
Sookie's everyday life is unbelievably dull
The most logical place to begin is with the protagonist. The series is narrated by Sookie, (except for bits of the final novel that are, inexplicably and abruptly, in third person) so we see everything through her eyes, an experience which alternates between being entertaining and horridly dull.
When Sookie is not sleeping with vampires or fighting in a faerie war, she is being a normal, responsible twenty-something. She goes to work and serves drinks and food at the bar, she runs errands, she visits with her friends, she reads a Nora Roberts book, and then goes to sleep. At the beginning of the series, I gave all that a pass, trying to rationalize why Harris would include such pointless and uninspiring details. "She's doing that as a form of contrast!" I would say. "Or, maybe, she's doing that so the reader will identify with Sookie, as everyone has to run boring errands in their daily lives!"
Close to the end of the series, I stopped making concessions for what was so obviously filler. Although I loved Sookie, I didn't care that she spent her day off depositing a check at the bank, buying groceries, and then watching Jeopardy, and I doubt any other readers cared much about Sookie's painfully banal life, either.
True Blood Season Three promo picture
Sookie's inconsistent development
Now, don't get me wrong. Sookie does develop as a character. She becomes more reflective and less weepy about her romantic relationships. And, she's always been feisty, but she becomes less squeamish regarding the violence around her and more willing to take part in it herself, especially when it's to save her life or the life of someone she cares about.
The problem is that, toward the end of the series, she begins to backtrack. In her inner monologue, she frequently mentions how "dark" her soul is and what a "bad Christian" she has become, because she has killed or taken part in the killing of others in the interest of self-defense.
In trying to rationalize why Harris would include Sookie's guilt so often in the text, I'm assuming it's a form of her going, "Look! Sookie hasn't hardened her heart! She's still the sweet, caring, bubbly blonde that y'all have come to know and love!"
That's great and all, but perhaps it wouldn't be a bad thing for Sookie to toughen up a bit more and to not feel (or at least vocalize) such guilt about protecting her own life. I, as the reader, wanted Sookie to step back and say, "Yeah, it sucks that I stabbed that faerie with a gardening trowel, but he would have murdered me if I didn't" and "Yeah, I feel guilty about shooting Debbie Pelt in the face, but she broke into my house with the intention of shooting ME in the face."
The minor characters are dull and inconsequential
The whole series is dotted with boring characters that appear and disappear from Sookie's small-town life. This is fine when the characters are interesting or at least serve a purpose in the plot. However, sometimes they appear for no better reason than to take Sookie dress shopping or to tell her that they are getting married or having a baby or some other detail that does nothing but bore the reader to death.
After the conclusion of the series, Charlaine Harris released a book entitled, A Touch of Dead, that reveals to the reader what happens to all the characters, listed from A to Z, after the events in Dead Ever After. First of all, who cares what happens to the characters? The story is over. Done. Fin. Anything that happens afterward is irrelevant. If the lives of the characters were really that interesting, Charlaine Harris would have written another Sookie Stackhouse novel. Secondly, it makes no difference to the reader how many children Sookie has let alone how Maxine Fortenberry dies of old age (or what have you.) Perhaps Harris should stop being the money-grubbing disappointment that she is and just let fans deal with the flimsy ending in peace.
Characters' motives make no sense
Everyone is out to get Sookie. This starts off as exciting, but it soon gets to be a drag, especially when characters with no motive to attack her suddenly get the urge to do so and in the most roundabout ways possible. This becomes a huge issue in the final book (spoiler alert.) It turns out that the person who is trying to murder Sookie is Claude. His reason is that he was mad at her for what happened to him when he tried to organize a coups against Niall. Sookie had no say in the torture and disfigurement that Claude was subjected to after his plot was discovered. This is never pointed out, and I suppose Harris was just hoping the reader wouldn't ask too many questions.
The way that Claude goes about enacting his "revenge" is just superfluous. Instead of just attacking Sookie, he enlists the help of two minor bad guys that haven't even been mentioned in several books, Johann Glassport and Steve Newlin. First, they try to get Sookie arrested for murder, for no clear-cut reason, and, when that fails, they kidnap her in front of several people and drive away to torture and then kill her. That, of course, fails, because they are pursued by the several people that saw them kidnap her.
Stephen Moyer, who plays Bill Compton, talks about shooting the iconic Rolling Stone cover
The "mysteries" are easy to solve
In most of the books, the big mystery isn't really a mystery at all. It's just something that Sookie doesn't know and, then, in the last few chapters, finally figures out. Despite being a telepath, she's an incredibly bad sleuth.
The worst mystery of the entire series, in my opinion, is "what's going on at the Vampire Summit?" Despite the fact that Sookie comments several times about the Fellowship of the Sun performing acts of terrorism against the vampires, it never occurs to her that they might be planning on blowing up the hotel. Or, rather, it occurs to her well after it has occurred to the reader and just minutes before the blast.
Even the mystery of Sookie's love life is obvious, especially towards the end of the series. The book follows the classic rom-com idea that true love has been right in front of the hero/heroine the whole time! Although Sam and Sookie have very little chemistry, it was almost certain that they would end up together if simply for the reason that Sam had yet to disappoint Sookie.
(De)parting thoughts (get it!?)
All in all, I suppose I am glad I read the series. The first several books were light and silly, but at least they were fun, and they were a good way to unwind after a long day. There's a fine line, however, between writing that is meaningless and enjoyable and writing that is just meaningless. The series would have been much more satisfying if Harris had ended it perhaps four or five books sooner than she did rather than trying to rake in as much money as possible while True Blood was at the height of its popularity.
I would neither encourage nor discourage people to pick up the series, but I would caution them to keep in mind that it does not end on a strong note. Also, I would suggest alternating each installment of the series with a book from another series or author. Perhaps that would help water down the growing disappointment the reader would feel for the series as a whole.