Meg Cabot climbs aboard the vampire love train with her “Insatiable Series” starring cute pixie-ish Meena Harper (irresistible to both vampires and vampire-trackers); tall, dark and handsome vampire Lucien Antonescu (from Romania, of course); and tall, blonde and handsome vampire-tracker Alaric Wulf. (Note the name Alaric WULF presumably suggests that the character is meant to fill the usual werewolf role in these paranormal love triangles, while the name Meena Harper is of course a play on Mina Harker, the heroine of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.) Cabot stocks her story full of meta references like this, including hat-tips to Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer.
What struck me the most about this book, however, was not the parallels to other paranormal books as much as the many similarities to the chick lit genre. According to Stephanie Harzewski’s study, Chicklit and Postfeminism, characteristic elements of this genre include a twenty- or thirtysomething, white, middle- or upper-middle-class, never-married, childless, urban, heterosexual career woman engaged in a seriocomic romantic quest or dating spree. In addition, the heroine works in journalism, publishing, or other media; in spite of a frenetic work pace she experiences workplace obstacles; she is “quirky” or “creative”; she is hyper-aware of body size and caloric intake; and she places a great deal of importance on fashion and having the right (albeit beyond-her-budget) dresses, purses, and shoes.
Sounds pretty much like Meena Harper to me! Meena is a dialogue-writer for a daytime soap that happens to want to add a vampire theme to the mix. Her hectic days don’t preclude her daydreaming about a $5,000 Marc Jacobs tote that ‘would perfectly round out [her] wardrobe.” And of course, she wouldn’t mind a romance either.
As for Meena’s “quirkiness” however, it is different than the usual chick lit heroine’s in that it strays into the paranormal: Meena happens to have an ability to see how people are going to die (unless, that is, they heed her warnings and avoid the precipitating event). This trait makes her, analogously to Sookie Stackhouse, irresistible to vampires, who love to see something new under the sun (metaphorically speaking). The similarity to Sookie doesn’t end there; Meena’s brother Jon is a metaphorically spitting image of Sookie’s brother Jason. Lots of metaphors in this book, and even meta metaphors.
The book is plenty cheesy, but not totally so (and many reviewers believe that the cheesiness is actually tongue-in-cheek cheesiness, and therefore doesn’t count as cheesiness). There are some very likeable characters, such as Meena’s next door neighbors, some very funny passages, and readers will be happy that they can opt for Team Lucien or Team Alaric, since teaming up over love triangles seems to be a popular activity these days.
Some of the dialogue is just awful, such as what ensues when Alaric, the vampire tracker, tries to explain to a woman he is “rescuing” from a vampire that she isn’t experiencing “love”; rather, it is only dopamine, a neurotransmitter activated because of the excitement of being with ‘a creature of the night’:
“‘How dare you?’ Sarah demanded hotly. ‘It isn’t dopa…whatever! It’s love! Love!”
And if you think that sounds dumb, Alaric’s reaction is even dumber:
“Alaric wanted to argue. Vampires were incapable of love – human love – because they didn’t have hearts. Well, technically, he supposed they possessed hearts, since that’s what he had to stab a stake into in order to kill them. But their hearts didn’t pump blood or beat. So how could they feel love, much less return it?”
Oh, Alaric. Is any grown-up really that dumb to think that “love” comes from the blood-pumping muscle in the chest? I suppose you think those chalky candy hearts on Valentine’s Day are real too!
But the winner of the questionable writing is this passage, when Meena is thinking back on her previous evening’s “close encounter” with Lucien:
“…instead of writing, she could only sit there and … recall the paths those strangely cool lips had traced across her skin as he’d dragged his mouth from her high round breasts, to her rib cage, to the soft curve of her belly… “
Right! I know we all think about our high, round breasts! Well, ahem, I never have been able to, but I’m sure all of you out there with high, round breasts generally tend to think of yourself as having high, round breasts when you think about such things…. (One can only admire the author’s restraint in not using the word “perky”….)
Evaluation: This book is diverting, and not a bad example of the combination of its two genres. It will especially appeal to chick lit fans who might like a little paranormal spice added to the usual isn’t-it-getting-old-by-now formula.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010