What happens when a roller coaster author stops delivering that giddy can’t-believe-you’re-still-reading thrill? A DNF at page 123. I generally tear through a Charlaine Harris book in a few hours, reaching the end with the same unsettled feeling I get after inadvertently eating an entire pint of ice cream. Three weeks into Midnight Crossroad, I feel like I’m on the last five spoonfuls. I don’t want more. I’m eating because there’s too much to throw out but not enough to save. It’s soupy, I hate myself, and I’m questioning why I can’t do anything right ever. Like the ice cream, the first few bites of Midnight Crossroad were amazing. Charlaine Harris opens like a BOSS with the best acknowledgement ever.
Paula, I really appreciate your reading the hate mail so I don’t have to wade through it. – Charlaine Harris, Midnight Crossroad
Rage away, Sookie Shippers. Ms. Harris has the insulating power of Paula plus stacks of money to muffle your screams. From the opening hit, I’m ready to adore Midnight Crossroad. A young internet psychic moves into a sparsely populated town with the unofficial motto MYOB. There’s a creepy Carnivale style preacher, a New Ager with a few cats, some teens at the gas station, a young couple manning the diner, and a pawn shop. Let’s do this thing! Then everything goes to hell. Oh, Harris is trying. She’s got a gay couple. (Of course one is flamboyant and carries his dog, but overall she’s trying hard.) Everyone is Hispanic or mixed or described as diverse in an attempt at diversifying her character pool. (There’s no Palomino moment in the first 123 pages.)
Midnight Crossroad falls apart because Harris tries to create a family out of strangers. There’s no reason for the intensely private citizens to instantly bond with their new arrival. Harris quickly makes it clear that all of her books are interconnected, which means the mystery shifts from what could be happening to how will it affect these characters we just met and don’t care about. That’s a big shift. Further removing the reader from the experience is the deployment of Sookie specific morality. Murder is only bad if it’s not committed by a good guy. I skipped ahead to the end of the book to confirm that I was reading the narrative properly, and to explain my point I need to drop a major spoiler.View Spoiler »]The vampire is referred to as “uncle” by two of the town’s teenagers, a sister and brother. Their relationship with him is warm and trusting. The vampire, by page 123, has already killed several people. Upon discovering that one of the teenagers is also a murderer he acts as judge and jury. He kills the boy in front of his sister and father, neither of whom wanted him dead. The unreality is highlighted by the lack of trauma it causes in those watching. Everyone is fine. At least Sookie found murder morally objectionable and emotionally destabilizing. The citizens of Midnight Crossroad don’t much care. « Hide Spoiler
Harris has the usual number of facepalm moments in Midnight Crossroad. She describes a chair as being from the turn of the century (which makes it about 14 years old) and yet it has all the hallmarks of a Victorian piece. Her young adults think and act like 40 year old shut-ins. Flipping through the unread pages there’s some really stunning slut shaming of another murder victim. This bit comes after finding out the dead woman was a flirt.
“So she… her behavior led to her own death?” Fiji was scrambling to absorb this. “Just because she threw out the dare doesn’t mean someone should have picked it up, ” he said. – Charlaine Harris, Midnight Crossroad, page 222.
Sit with that for a moment. The woman allegedly made overtures to multiple men and Fiji automatically decides it’s justification for her murder. (At this point in the book it’s already clear that the murder was not a result of domestic violence.) I just can’t with that. I found it difficult to write this review as boring is one thing but blaming a flirtatious woman for her own violent death makes me unable to form coherent sentences. Midnight Crossroads is a book about terrible people doing terrible things while justifying them as being morally acceptable. I don’t want to to spend another second of my life with these characters and I’m pretty sure Harris and I can break up now.
*This post originally appeared at Love In The Margins.