11 May, 2013

Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

I pushed Dead Ever After up the TBR list to answer one question and one question only. "Can 437 one star reviews be wrong?" The answer is yes, yes they can. I liked Dead Ever After as much as any chapter in the Sookie Stackhouse series. Harris is the nickelodeon of popular authors. You drop your penny in and she slowly starts moving. You know what you're going to hear. It's not the smoothest or most polished rendition, but it's reliable and recognizable. Before you're ready she's ground to a halt and everything is silent.

So yes, I think Dead Ever After is not only a fitting end to the Sookie Stackhouse saga but also the only ending (short of Sookie's death) that fits the trajectory of the series. I worried Sookie would never get here, I worried Harris was taking so many side roads she'd get lost, but eventually she worked it out. I could review the book properly, but Robin/Janet has covered most of the points I'd make. I am far more interested in those 437 (and counting) one star reviews, as well as the passion driving down votes of positive reviews.

"To be honest, I would have been more satisfied had Eric kidnapped Sookie determined to turn her against her will"

"He is left emasculated and victimized."

"Like Harris' main character, Sookie Stackhouse, I, as a reader, feel raped, abused, and betrayed."

"I think you got personally offended by your fans LOVE OF ERIC. So you don't want them to be a couple instead you want Sookie to be a narrow minded racist"

"He was the knight on the white horse, always there to protect her."

"but coouldn't she be artificially inseminated and still be Eric's wife???"

"Charlaine Harris KNEW the majority of her fans read this book series because WE ALL LOVED ERIC AND SOOKIE!!! KNEW IT!!! And did she care? No. She just wrote what she wanted. "

Within the series Sookie frequently showed contempt for the Fangbangers. These are humans who hang around vampires hoping to be turned, hoping to be fed upon, hoping that the vampires will fleetingly notice them. Sookie herself is a Fangbanger, something she doesn't initially realize. Her relationships with Bill and Eric are abusive. They pass her around like a party favor. They save her from situations they created. (These situations often benefited them.) Because Eric is written as attractive (George Wickham in The Lizzie Bennett Diaries?) and says pretty things when he needs to, Sookie gives him a pass. On the page Eric is ruthless and power hungry. Other vampires fear him. He sets up multiple controls over Sookie's emotions and person while assuring her he respects her agency. He withholds information. He expects to be her priority while keeping her his option. Eric's power grab is presented to Sookie as out of his control, yet he not only does nothing to stop it he negotiates multiple benefits to himself. Eric ends the book in a position of expanding power while Sookie ends the book having refused to be his piece on the side. She has come to understand which of her relationships are toxic and which are truly supportive. Sookie places a value on herself that she long denied. In doing so she sees the esteem others hold her in. It's a classic coming of age story.

Sookie was never a good match for a vampire. She loves the sun. She wants to do the right thing, even when she doesn't know what that is. She craves family and tradition and shuns political power games. She is a Christian down to her toes. While she is attracted to the novelty of the vampire world it's daily reality repels her. When Sookie takes stock of what makes her happy, where she finds contentment, it becomes clear that the undead can't provide it. Many readers are reacting to this rejection as a rejection of them by the writer. ("She just wrote what she wanted.") I am pleased that what Harris wanted to write was a woman recognizing her own value.

The abusive (but loving) hero is a popular narrative in romance. Readers who respond to it emotionally will excuse away any action by the hero. "He did it for her own good. He was protecting her. He had no choice. He really loves her, though. In the end, he saved her. She is different from those other girls. He just had to find the right person." It is a rare book that examines the psychology and structure of domestic abuse. The common fictional answer is that if the heroine will just love him enough then he will change. Because love is magic. I appreciate that for all her structural flaws (and Harris will admit she has them) she loved Sookie more than Team Eric did. Harris has shown the predator in Eric and Bill all along, it is Sookie and the reader who refused to see it.

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