There’s no escaping the fact that people have written an awful lot of novels in a short space of time featuring human-vamp couplings with Montague-Capulet-scale PR problems.
But how these inter-species soap operas play out can differ in subtle, yet marked ways; Stephenie Meyer does vampires straight up in Twilight; Meg Cabot teases the sub-genre in her affectionately satirical Insatiable series; and, Charlaine Harris strikes many moods with Sookie.
Who do you think does dead better?
My own experience with vampy novels began with the operatic seriousness of Bella and Edward’s world. Almost instantly, her uber-romantic story had its narcotic impact. The background mythologies Meyer created for vampires—the good ones and the bad ones and how they got that way—is solemn stuff. There’s no punch line in this overblown world.
The reader is meant to take things seriously, a fact that has provided a lot of critics with a great time making fun of it. Yes, there’s overwrought teenage tumult. Yes, there are loopholes big enough to swallow the state of Washington. Yes, it actually doesn’t sound too yummy to cuddle up to an ice-cold dead guy who has the hardest of bodies, just not in the good way. But, come on! Who needs reality when you can safely intoxicate yourself with the ridiculous and bizarre?
As delightful as a walk on the wildly earnest side of vampire-dom can be there’s also a lot to be said for the yeah- yeah-wink-wink-let’s-have-a-bloodsucker-love-and-war-fest approach to vamp stories. Years after the debut of Twilight, Meg Cabot took time from her myriad other novels to pen Insatiable, which takes its inspiration from Bram Stoker, daytime television, the vampire craze and, actually, the repulsion to the vampire craze.
Cabot achieves a clever feat by making the reader take seriously what Cabot herself isn’t taking so seriously. Any criticisms you’ve had of stories with vampires and their human lovers? Cabot understands. And her sensible protagonist, Mina, also empathizes until, of course, she has her own vampire lover. It’s highly inconvenient for anyone to be confronted with what they are in denial of, except when they’re a sarcastic, but sympathetic heroine. In that case, heartstrings can be pulled with might and tears can be shed by the bucket load, and no one can blame her because she thinks it’s all just as crazy as we do. This is especially true when the cast of characters includes a jolly, vampire ass-kicking armed nun and a sword-wielding studly Dudley employed by the Vatican to fight vampires in mid-town Manhattan. Readers can enjoy this soapy world with all the emotion they can muster because everyone, even the characters, acknowledges how silly the whole thing is, anyway. And fun, too.
People who like a mix of serious and silly can indulge in the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Sookie’s somewhere in the middle, or off in left-field, or maybe just scattered all over the place. Poor Sookie. She really does seem to be marginalized in so many ways. Part fae, married to a vampire, dalliances with various and sundry paranormal personages and an outcast mind-reader to boot, she really has so much on her plate.
Balancing on the line between heavy, bloody gore and cartoonish characterizations, the Sookie books still manage to effectively show a woman in rather pathetic circumstances who’s been dealt a tough hand in life. I mean, she struggles economically; she’s unpopular; she lost her parents at a young age; she has a wayward brother who’s more into women and trucks than supporting his only surviving immediate family member. And, like she really needed it, she’s pulled into the coming out activities of the paranormal population. You’ve got to feel for her.
You do feel for her – at least I do – but, at the same time, we sit back and watch the shenanigans in kind of the way we adults now view the old Batman and Robin television series. We’re simultaneously the kids who are totally eating up the whams! and pows!, and the grown-ups who look at those same whams! and pows! in all their kitsch, and think, ‘Are you serious?’ The Stackhouse books take readers on a romp through an unbelievably fantastical collision of normality and weirdness that moves us to sympathy for Sookie and eye-rolling at her shenanigans all at the same time. And, still, it’s pretty addictive.
So, who really does the dead thing better? Which is your favorite?
Aniko Eva Nagy reads, teaches and writes in Boston, Massachusetts which she is happy to call her hometown, perhaps one of the best cities for a book lover. Head over to her blog, bookbash.wordpress.com, for thoughts on the joy of books, and a bunch of general bookishness.