What is it about reading and falling in love that invites cliché?
When I met Sookie Stackhouse, the heroine of Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series, I didn't think much of her. She was right under my nose, but I was blind. But when I fell, oh, did I fall. I daresay Sookie had her way with me. She transformed a self-conscious reader of big, important novels into a dribbling paranormal romance hound. I'm still kind of bitter about it.
It started with a chance encounter in the basement of the Harvard Book Store. One afternoon, on a whim, I picked up a copy of the first Southern Vampire book. Dead Until Dark cost me $4.50 and took me an entire year to read. I kept picking it up, then putting it back down again. Maybe it was the stupid TV tie-in cover with the nudie vampire lady licking the blood from her lips, the bad font, the weird blurbs ("Harris writes neatly and with assurance," raves the New York Times).
Or maybe it was the book itself. Though Dead Until Dark so riveted Alan Ball that he built HBO's True Blood around it, it took me forever to get past the first page. Here is how the series begins:
I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.
Ever since vampires came out of the coffin (as they laughingly put it) four years ago, I'd hoped one would come to Bon Temps. We had all the other minorities in our little town — why not the newest, the legally recognized undead? But rural Northern Louisiana wasn't too tempting to vampires, apparently; on the other hand, New Orleans was a real center for them — the whole Anne Rice thing, right?
Even now, the passage makes me fidget: the weak pun, the nod to Anne Rice, the jumpy clauses, "laughingly."
Things get worse when Sookie Stackhouse introduces herself: "I'm blonde and blue-eyed and twenty-five, and my legs are strong and my bosom is substantial, and I have a waspy waistline." To me, this wasn't much different from the way Francine Pascal described the Wakefield Twins of Sweet Valley High: "With their shoulder-length blonde hair, blue-green eyes, and perfect California tans, Elizabeth and Jessica were exact duplicates of one another, right down to the way they smiled."
Flat-out desperation drove me to read a few pages more. I had adored the third season of True Blood: Vampire Bill's betrayal, Werewolf Alcide's biceps, King Russell Edgington's Mason jar of viscera. The finale left me at a loss — how could I stand an entire year without Sookie? I revisited Dead Until Dark.
Suddenly, I couldn't put the damn thing down. I plowed straight through it, like a beaver with a log. When I looked up again, hours later, I didn't know what had hit me. It happened again with the second book, too, which I ran out and bought the next day. My condition worsened. I didn't forget to eat, but I did start buying them two at a time. For the next few weeks, my sweaty fists were glued to books with illustrated vampires on the cover, and I wasn't quite sure why.