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Novels you can really sink your teeth into

The Southern Vampire Mysteries offers biting social commentary

Kelly Malone
Contributor

There are many great things about Sundays in summer: brunch on a patio, Caesar specials, bike rides and, most importantly, True Blood. HBO aired a new episode each Sunday for twelve weeks, which definitely went well with the Caesars. Sunday, Sept. 11 marked the season’s end, and fans can look forward to 10 months of cold, lonely winter before the hurting ceases and Season 5 airs.

Miraculously, a great cure to fill the hollowness left exists in Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries, the source material for True Blood.

The Southern Vampire Mysteries is a compilation of 11 novels from the perspective of our favourite small-town waitress from Louisiana, Sookie Stackhouse

If you aren’t familiar with the novels or the television series, there are a few things you need to be made aware of. First, Sookie Stackhouse, the protagonist of both The Southern Vampire Mysteries and True Blood, is a telepath. Second, Sookie has relationships and encounters with the supernatural, most predominantly vampires. Third, vampires have “come out of the coffin” and into society because of a synthetic blood developed in Japan that fulfills their hunger for humans.

These three factors are the foundation for all 11 books, and leave plenty of room for Harris to avoid a cliched teen-vampire-love cheese fest. Although on many occasions, Harris’s harlequinade can outweigh her serious literary feats, Harris is successful in creating an atmosphere that is fun, suspenseful, creative, addictive, and not too shameful. 

The first novel of the series Dead Until Dark, sets out the atmosphere effectively for each successive novel. It is written from Sookie’s perspective, which lets the reader become as good-hearted, naive, and innocent as the character herself, revealing the simplicity of small-town life that focuses on local gossip, work, and family.

The initial attraction to Sookie is her own perception of her telepathy. For Sookie, her telepathy is not a gift or power, but a handicap. She has a window into everyone’s secrets, but due to both her own reservation and a small town’s fear of things unknown, she is thrust into a life that is guarded and alienated. Sookie’s attraction to the supernatural world is a reaction to the isolation of her human community; she may be able to read the minds of everyone around her, but she is unable to read the minds’ of vampires.

As the novels continue, Sookie explores an exciting world beyond her own town of Bon Temps and her previous perceptions of reality, skewed however they may be by her approach to her telepathy. She develops unexpectedly into a brave, determined, and savvy heroine who is delightfully different than the smug-ironic detective types or incompetent-clingy teenagers predominant in the vampire dramas of recent.

As the novels continue, there is a chain of different characters all with supernatural abilities. It progresses to a point where the reader assumes this small town of Bon Temps, which means “good times” in French, is anything but. This choice of name is a blatantly ironic, as it soon becomes the center of catastrophe, murder, and chaos. It also exemplifies an underlying ideology of small town life, where everything is good and simple and where people can have “good times” at the nexus of small-town life, the bar Merlotte’s, which serves as the central locale of both the novels and the film,.

The Southern Vampire Mysteries also address real social problems that are a reality to small-town life, especially in the southern United States. Harris addresses the concern of minority rights and acceptance through her vampire characters. The vampires’ “coming out of the coffin” is an obvious play on “coming out of the closet”, a key moment in queer social movements and in individual queer acceptance.  Characters’ reactions to the mass vampire “coming out” range from curiosity, to fear, to hate mongering, much like reactions to queer coming out in the United States. In Harris’s fictional world, the use of religion to compensate for the unknown state of the vampires rings familiar to the politicians and citizens of the southern United States reaction to the queer community.

But, despite the seemingly heavy subject matter, there are many moments in both the novels and the television show that are so overwhelmingly ridiculous you can do nothing else but laugh at it. The television show and the novels are completely addicting due to their plucky and beat heroine, and their refreshingly different perspective on real political, social, and economic issues. So, if this winter needs a new guilty pleasure and the box sets of True Blood aren’t enough, read The Southern Vampire Mysteries. One warning, though, before you sink your teeth (pun totally intended) into them: get ready to swoon.
 

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