Turning Points

Well, I haven’t had a close look outside the walls of this journal, but I have seen some of the new post Dead Reckoning fics and their reviews. Yet again !surprise! there’s dissatisfaction with the book. I’m not sure when some of these readers will get that they’re urban fantasy, and will not follow the lines of your usual trashy romance novel fodder, but it could happen. Three years isn’t a long time to delude yourself, right? Lol.

As per the last novel, there is again panic that Eric and Sookie will break up – I’ve had a couple of PMs on it. And there is again the reminder that Eric isn’t some nice guy that Sookie should just throw in with. He’s suspiciously not like fanfic Eric, and Sookie still has her own car. It’ll take a while to immerse in fanfic and forget that Eric can actually be a jerk, so the romance readers are feeling it right now. I’d feel sorry for them, but they’re romance readers. 😀

Of course, one of the often ‘criticisms’ (read sour grapes) of the books from Dead and Gone onwards is that there is no character development in Sookie. Au contraire. Sookie learns from her experiences very well – it’s the result that people don’t like because it doesn’t fit with the romance standard. Sookie doesn’t get tortured and realise she should become Eric’s creature for her own safety – instead she realises that she can’t rely on vampires to protect her. Sookie doesn’t learn nonsensical stuff – she changes in a realistic manner. One that doesn’t focus on how best to please Eric.

Most of the complaints seem to be that Sookie won’t fit with the romance stereotype, and just knuckle under to what Eric tells her. And Eric suspiciously continues to act like a dick at times. Like he never has before? Like when he apparently “joked” about torturing Sookie. Wait…maybe it wasn’t a fucking joke, and readers shouldn’t have dismissed it the first time round. It might be understandable for Eric to want to torture Sookie, but in fantasy books like these, one can’t forget that it’s also understandable that Sookie might take torture threats seriously and not want to snuggle with Eric.

I think the fundamental problems with this snuck in at the end of From Dead to Worse. I remember I joined the fandom (on a lurking basis) about five months before Dead and Gone came out. All over the place, I saw people praising the fact that Eric got his memory back, and therefore, things would now go down the romance route. That Eric would turn back into the Eric he was in Dead to the World, and that that Eric was the inner Eric that always existed without being seen. Sookie would be completely happy with Eric because, well, she did feel something close to love.

Except, I didn’t see it that way. Sookie made it explicitly clear what her problems were with Eric right from the get-go. Let me quote it for you:

The real Eric came with a whole package of power and politics,
something of which I had limited understanding and interest.
This was a different Eric – without the personality that I’d grown
fond of, in a perverse way – but it was beautiful Eric, who desired
me, who was hungry for me, in a world that often let me know
it could do very well without me.
Dead to the World, p. 121

See? Sookie’s problem was never with Eric’s innate personality. It was always with his political bent and the power he was always striving for. His ability to use her and push her into stuff. It wasn’t about his vampirism, or the way that he was – except for the power and politics. Eric never had to show Sookie he was a different person, just that he wouldn’t use her for political gain, and that the power struggles between them wouldn’t end up with Sookie constantly on the losing side. CH didn’t screw up the storylines – readers just disregarded what they shouldn’t have in favour of hackneyed romantic stereotypes. I didn’t – so I knew Sookie wouldn’t throw down with Eric in a heartbeat.

The new dilemma in Dead Reckoning provides that for Eric – he decides which is more important – power or Sookie. She’s willing to put up with strategising and plotting, and changing her lifestyle, and him working his fingers to the bone. As long as he gives up trying to have power over her. All she wants from Eric is to know that he wants her – that he needs her. Not that he defaults to owning her, or she’s convenient right now.

I was discussing the sour grapes romance phenomenon with Mr. Minty last night. He pointed out that freeing Eric from his past, even if he got his memories back, would not change the thousand years of character formation that works practically for his persona – the time period spent in Sookie’s house doesn’t have a transubstantive element to it. He’s right, of course. All those years Eric spent under the control of Appius, thus producing his need to control his own life don’t turn around on a dime because of a week of lollygagging with Sookie.

Eric won’t change a great deal into being Eric of Dead to the World. Essentially, the only difference between current Eric and Amnesia Eric is that Amnesia Eric didn’t have political reasons to use Sookie. Lest anyone think that Amnesia Eric was Sookie’s perfect man, think again:

I just wanted him to be quiet, and strong.
I’d settle for quiet.

Dead to the World, p. 256

Sookie didn’t want to reassure Eric that everything would be fine. She wanted to lean on him for a bit, and that Eric couldn’t give that to her in the aftermath of battle.

Of course, this time round, post-battle, Eric was a jerk and found out that brain matter and the visceral sound and feel of cleaving Victor in half did not turn her on. He took this personally, and decided that if she was going to not be turned on, he’d hurt her and bully her. Where have I seen that before? Well in previous books. Eric is a bully, and on occasion, when he’s frustrated with her, he hurt her until she told him to stop:

Eric had gripped my shoulders, and the pressure was excruciating.
“Listen, you’re hurting me! Let go.”
Eric’s grip loosened, but he didn’t remove his hands.
My breath began to come faster and shallower, and the air was full
of the crackling of danger. I was sick to death of being threatened.

Dead as a Doornail,
p. 172

I don’t buy the argument that Eric didn’t know his own strength, and that when furiously angry, he’s shown that with a great deal of control, he’ll hurt Sookie until she tells him to stop. That’s what makes Eric my favoured vampire over Bill – Bill doesn’t seem to have much control over himself – he isn’t just told to stop – he needs a slug to the jaw to get him to stop. But Eric is no romantic sweetheart who is doing good by Sookie, and only hurting her by default. He usually sticks to tearing shreds off her verbally, because Eric isn’t kind when he’s rejected. Sookie might push Eric away, but Eric’s fiery temper means that he lashes out at her.

Sookie said that this was a turning point in their relationship – and indeed it is. That doesn’t mean that she needs to break up with Eric or some such foolishness. Let me quote at you:

…I also understood this was a turning point in our relationship.
I was ready for something simple, and I was ready for the pain to stop.
Dead Reckoning, p. 301

Being ready for things to be simple while looking in Bill’s eyes is not a message that Sookie wants to be with Bill. Earlier in the book, Sookie pointed out that Bill was not simple:

“I wish you were just an average vampire,” I said, completely out of the blue.
“I wish you weren’t a sheriff, or anything.”
“You mean you wish I were like Bill.”
Ouch. “No, because he’s not average, either,” I snapped.

Dead Reckoning, p. 187

No, what Sookie’s referring to when she thinks “simple” is that when she doesn’t like what’s happening, she shouldn’t force herself around to doing it Eric’s way, but simplify it by going home and leaving Eric to his own devices. If he wants to lie down in a vat of blood and have a wank, then he’s more than welcome to do that. She doesn’t have to force herself to participate. Honestly, she helped plan effectively to kill Victor, she came to the battle so Eric wouldn’t be rumbled, and she incapacitated Victor for Pam to kill. She should keep it simple and not do more than she can if he’s not going to meet her halfway.

This was a theme throughout the book – Sookie putting her foot down with Claude and Amelia, and finally realising that she needs to put her foot down with Eric as well, rather than let him run roughshod over her. If he can’t pull himself into line, then Sookie needs to start simplifying things, rather than just trying to move the immovable object. She needs to change as much as she can – and she acknowledges this:

I’d changed in order to survive, and I was paying the price of survival.
I had to be willing to change myself forever, or everything I’d made
myself do was for nothing.
Dead Reckoning, p. 308

But she also needs to take less crap from Eric. She needs to put in place clear boundaries of what she can and can’t do. For his part, he can no longer rely on the bond and the 27 year old human to do all the work. It doesn’t mean breaking up – it just means finding a way around, toughening herself up and being equally tough with those who won’t listen to her.

That doesn’t mean a break up though. I was discussing stuff by PM on Fanfic.net, and one of the wonderful writers I review said something quote worthy and why I made this post before I forgot about this lovely little thing:

It’s the love that grants permission to fight, it doesn’t inhibit fighting.

I asked nonto94 if I could quote her…or rather I told her I was going to quote this. 😀 Sookie and Eric both tell the reader that they love each other. Pursuing that love against the odds is actually deeper and more romantic for readers of fantasy – because it’s not about how well they fit together, and how the plot suits the sheer boredom of how much they’re going to love each other. It’s about how they love each other to keep trying despite the odds and the shit life throws their way. How things aren’t easy or conducive to staying together, but the love keeps drawing them back in to try and try again. Kinda like a real marriage.