Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

When I went up to pay for this book at Borders, the cashier, an older woman decked out in Giants gear, glanced at the cover.

"Ah," she said, scanning the barcode. "The book is better than the TV show."

Stunned that a woman her age had HBO, much less the desire to read a book called Dead Until Dark, I mutter, "Is that so?"

"Yes. Too much sex in the show. I like my sex scenes kisskiss and fade to black."

I think this sort of strong feeling might exist in the people who have both read this book and watched the corresponding show, True Blood. Not necessarily about sex, but that one medium definitely has the edge over the other.

Upon opening the first page, we leap right into the world of Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress from the backwoods of northern Louisiana. Vampires have just now gained the rights of legal American citizens, having "come out of the coffin" a few years previous, and humankind is struggling to accept this phenomenon. Sort of like the whole gay marriage debate, except the members of this misunderstood minority are likely to, you know, actually turn you into one of them. Sookie is content to live the lonely life of a person sentenced to listen to other people's disgusting thoughts for eternity when a vampire turns her world upside down.

Yeah, I'm going to stop right there-- this novel's writing wasn't spectacular enough to warrant more than a back cover blurb.

I bet you can guess what side of the TV/book debate I am on. Yep, the show is better. You'll rarely hear me say this, as I tend to be one of those snobs who burst people's bubbles with a well-timed "Well, the movie/TV show was good, but it certainly doesn't stand up to the source material." I'm one of those people. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those times.

The writers for True Blood changed the story a little, yes. They added characters, changed other characters' personalities slightly, or just plain made stuff up. But they did it so well. You care about the main players, connect with them and their world. It's a world that's very familiar-- vampires have a PR crisis and an undead spokeswoman has to smooth things over; a right-wing church pronounces damnation on human/vampire relationships; a small community demonstrates the closeness and familiarity breed contempt. Dead Until Dawn mentions these things, but is more concerned with moving the story forward as quickly as possible. The show, on the other hand, takes as much time as it need to in order to build characters in actual people who you care for and worry about. When Jason, Sookie's brother, is suspected of murder in True Blood, I fretted. In the book-- eh. Whatever. Just a guy, you know?

I wanted to like the book. I really did. And, to some extent, I could appreciate the creativity in the world that Charlaine Harris had created. However, I just can't shake the feeling that a committee of writers did a better job with Harris's world than Harris did. Or, at least, they saw more opportunity in it.

Would I read the next book in the series? Sure. Why not? Would I buy it? That I'm not sure about. If you want a better deal for your money, invest in HBO.

Final verdict: library

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