Saturday, July 29, 2006

So Many Disappointing Books...

So you probably knew this already, but the Laurell K. Hamilton book was a crushing disappointment. And the bar was really quite low, because all I was looking for was a reasonably suspenseful little ball of fluff to get me through the moments between when I brushed my teeth and when I fell asleep.

It's billed as an erotic vampire thriller. It was neither erotic nor thrilling. There were vampires, as advertised. Only one was a decent character, and he spent the last two thirds of the book literally locked in a box waiting to be rescued by our relentlessly independent heroine. Lots of men are interested in her, but they all bore her because she's so busy not needing anyone, so clearly the only dude with any shot is the dude in the box, which was pretty much a non-starter if you're looking for eroticism with any character-based heft to it.

The "eroticism" billing seems to rely on combining violence, non-consensual vampiric activity (don't make me go into it--there are rules and levels and it's just not worth it), and sex. Maybe my eroto-meter is down, but violent sex doesn't seem erotic to me, and neither does non-consensual anything. It's just violence. And although I'm sure there's some raw feminist empowerment going on, I just found myself having a serious attention span problem.

I'm aware that this is the first in a long and illustrious series of allegedly erotic vampire thrillers, but I look at any good mystery series where the detective fails to have sex with his/her sharp and attractive but unavailable partner/coroner/profiler, and I think there's room for a lot of eroticism that doesn't spoil your character arc and doesn't involve sexual violence. Robin McKinley's Sunshine was a much more satisfying erotic vampire thriller that would be a great first book in a series--pity she doesn't write enough to keep me from straying into the novels of folks like Hamilton.

As an antidote I read Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, a thriller that's actually thrilling, and where the sex knows it's not erotic. Sometime last year I found myself watching the movie with renewed interest (the new one, not the old one--the one with Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes). There was something about watching a really decent man being taken in by a predator that I found comforting, and something about Will Graham's one-victim-to-another pep talk to Reba that just charmed me to the core. I was pleased to find the pep talk in the book, although precious little else that I enjoyed about the film was in it--a good film brings someone's interpretation to the book, so I wasn't really surprised.

Even knowing the outline of the plot, it's still a decent thriller--no attention deficit disorder while I was reading that--and all of the characters were a lot more lively than Hamilton's. And after way too much Law & Order and Without a Trace, it was nice to meet some victims who didn't have dirty little secrets. Seems like everyone who's the victim of a crime on television is hiding some illegal and/or unsavory activity from the NYPD or the FBI. Harris's victims are just cheery families with pets whose mothers save money by continuing to wear their damaged pantyhose. Of course, that was back in 1981. Maybe victims have gone downhill since then.

And again, I was really hoping to stumble on a whole series of books that would be satisfying without being demanding. Harris is up to what, four books? Ah, well.

So I'm back on the wagon, ready to put in the time on some potentially demanding fiction. My next choice is Rebecca Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem. I read her Properties of Light last year and loved it, despite its leisurely pace and for its philosophical bent. I'm no mathematician (her books love math--I keep encouraging my cousin to read them, but she never seems to), but the philosophy is something I appreciate, and at least I'm sure the book will reward my attention. We'll see...

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