Dead Until Dark

I jumped on the bandwagon with this one, but I don’t think I will continue with Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse vampire series after reading Dead Until Dark. When I heard that Alan Ball had a new series out based on Charlaine Harris’s books, I wanted to read the source material first before I became prejudiced from seeing what Ball makes of the novels. I was sore that I saw the first season of Dexter before reading Darkly Dreaming Dexter and think I would have appreciated the novel more if I didn’t picture Michael C. Hall’s face all the time while reading.

Harris has some clever ideas going on in her book. Sookie is psychic and can read almost anybody’s thoughts until a vampire steps into her bar one night. Quickly the waitress gets involved with him, finding him a worthy lover since she can’t picture his thoughts of her undressing, how he regards her butt, and so on. There is an Elvis-like character who is introduced, explaining all the Elvis sightings in the world, and all of the vampires in the world have “come out.” Many try to incorporate themselves in regular society but struggle with day-to-day domestic woes that are especially troublesome since the vampires cannot appear in daylight, when most chores are done.

Along with the fresh ideas are plenty of stale ones. When Sookie gets involved with her vampire Bill, they have orgiastic sex with plenty of bloodletting that bottoms out into vampire porn. After three successive chapters of this, I almost dropped the book. The murder mystery that makes up the story line of this novel is rather predictable, and of course, the vampires are darkly glamorous–there’s not really an ugly one in the lot, unless you count Elvis who didn’t “turn” right.

I realize that the vampire books I prefer play against the darkly glamorous type of vampire. Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire comes to mind with tender-hearted Louis and the child vampire Claudia going to the Old World to seek out the origins of their kind and finding zombielike vampires rather than intelligent creatures. And then there’s Stephen King’s Our Town-style Salem’s Lot, where the plain folks become vampires. My favorite couple in that book is the town garbageman who takes up with the high school glamour puss Ruthie after making her undead.

I’d like to see more of these abnormal vampires. Somebody really corpulent from the Renaissance who must deal with body issues as fashions change or maybe a vampire with a cleft palate. That would be a brilliant plot device right there, just dealing with how this vampire gets his or her blood with such a deformity.

Blood Games

I absolutely hated this book but had to keep reading until the end to see just how bad it could get. I picked up Blood Games by Richard Laymon at a thrift store in San Francisco’s Mission District. I had heard that Laymon was a good horror writer, saw the blurbs from Stephen King and Publishers Weekly on the back touting Laymon’s horror-writing skills, and was intrigued by the synopsis: a group of post-college-aged women meet each year to vacation together, but this year they go to a haunted lodge. It sounded great, and surely Stephen King wouldn’t steer me wrong. I had loved Shane Stevens’ books, which I also picked up based on a King blurb.

Well, Stephen King did me wrong with this particular book, and I have a feeling it was not Blood Games he read when he wrote, “If you’ve missed Laymon, you’ve missed a treat.” In Blood Games, five young women meet in college where they forge an unbreakable relationship in the shower room of all places. Get where this book is going? Finley, Cora, Abilene, Helen, and Vivian are like the Spice Girls, each representing a female stereotype, except this time there is a fat, ugly Spice, who comes up with the vacation idea to the haunted lodge. The first thing that happens when the women get to the lodge? They strip. Because, of course, that’s what women do when they get together. They take off their clothes. And they put them on again and take them off: “Vivian, already in her panties, shot her arms through the shoulder straps of her bra and pulled the flimsy red cups over her breasts and fastened the hooks. Helen was zipping the fly of her Bermuda shorts.”

I should have kept a tally of how often these women strip. By page 300 it truly gets ridiculous, as Laymon lovingly tells of bras becoming unhooked, panties tucked into the waistbands of skirts, and how free the women suddenly felt divorced from their undergarments. That pretty much is the plot of this book. There is a little Deliverance-style tangle with the backwoods inhabitants, but this secondary plot pales in comparison to the stripteases.

I suppose there is a market for this type of book, but I’m not happy about it. I’m going to give Laymon one more try and read his Bram Stoker award-winning The Traveling Vampire Show, but if it’s as bad as Blood Games, I’m giving up Laymon for Lent.

Rebecca du Maurier’s Rebecca

I first read this book when I was in college and near the age of the narrator. At that time, I very much identified with the narrator’s wish about wanting to be a woman of thirty-six wearing black velvet and pearls. That older woman represented life experience, confidence, and sophistication–everything that I and the narrator lacked. At the age of twenty, I was one raw, exposed nerve and every life experience, good or bad, jangled me, making me feel unsure of myself and inferior.

Listening to the book now on CD, I recognize what I used to be in the narrator and I also became extremely annoyed by how sensitive she is and how easily she lets others manipulate and manhandle her. I thought I would turn the audiobook back in to the library before finishing it because the narrator’s simpiness bothered me so much, but then I got to the exquisite masquerade ball scene. The building tension and excruciating faux pas that occurs are beautifully done, and I see that narrator’s naivete is necessary to pull this story off.

This really is a novel about women and the evil that women do, especially to each other. Rebecca reminds me very much of a gothic Carrie, and I know that Stephen King has been quite influenced by Du Maurier’s story. In his novel Bag of Bones, the main character thinks of Rebecca often and quotes from the book. I wonder if Rebecca was influencing King back as far as his first novel Carrie, where the penultimate trick on Carrie is her hazing at the high school prom.

There’s the same women triangle–the ugly duckling, the slut, and the unwilling/willing accomplice to the cruel trick (King always said he didn’t trust Sue Snell’s intentions). The ugly ducklings both believe that with their dance finery and a little makeup they can change their situations on the social totem pole, and both of the characters get their comeuppance at the gala event and are made to feel ashamed of how they dressed and made themselves up, thinking they could be somebody different.

Carrie and Rebecca are classic novels–Mean Girls with teeth. I think more horror could be wrung from the subject of female aggression and will try to think of more books and movies on this subject.