Tuesday, May 8, 2012

booknotes: hit list

Over the weekend I read Hit List, Laurell K. Hamilton's latest (#20) installment in the Anita Blake urban noir series (Berkeley, 2011). I first started reading Hamilton back around 2005-06 when I was working at Barnes & Noble. Since then, I've read and watched a lot more genre/horror material as well as more sexually-explicit fiction. I've done more thinking about sexual activity and negotiation, about sexually-intimate relationships, and the portrayal of all of these in fiction. And it's interesting returning to the series with all of that under my belt. A few observations (spoilers below):

1. I continue to appreciate the explicit sexual negotiation and emphasis on pleasure in this series. Yes, there's kinky stuff going on, and certainly an element of "dub con" (dubious consent) what with the metaphysical crap flying around and the fact that Anita, at this point, is a powerful necromancer/vampire servant/lycanthrope/succubus. She needs sex to survive. But even in the midst of metaphysical need, she's determined to make sure those she feeds from are giving informed consent, and there's lots of extended conversation woven into most scenes about whether people are feeling physically safe and good, what their headspace is like, etc.

2. She seems to have switched gears from erotica to "special victims unit" crime drama in the past few installments. My memory of the past three or four installments is a little hazy, but it feels like since writing Harlequin Hamilton has shifted from Anita's ongoing political, relational, sexual negotiations with Jean-Claude and those who count as the inner circle. So  ... Micah, Nathaniel, Asher, Jason, Damian, Requiem,  Richard (though I wish he'd just pack up his bitchy ass and leave), and probably a couple of others I'm forgetting. Mostly Jean-Claude, Micah, Nathaniel, and Asher. With Damian as her vampire servant alongside Nathaniel (yeah, the metaphysics are diagram-worthy at this point).

I'm not sure how I feel about this, as a reader. On the one hand, I enjoy the U.S. Marshal story lines with Edward, who's a really strong character (and I totally appreciate having a well-developed male character who Anita's not sleeping with). On the other hand, with Edward comes Olaf the serial killer who has his eye on Anita, and I am so totally not interested in his kind of creepy. And I'm not that into the crime drama stories. I find the vampire and were clan political negotiations a lot of fun (seriously), and I like how Anita is settling into her new metaphysical powers and working with her "sweeties" to organize domestic and sexual co-habitation. As melodramatic as the whole pregnancy-scare part of Danse Macabre was, I liked how one of the points of that plot point was to point out how Richard didn't take her disinterest in parenting seriously, while the men who she's formed close bonds with did and supported her unequivocally as the primary decision-maker. Similarly, Hamilton was starting to develop some much-needed discussion of queer sexuality, that I was looking forward (both from an intellectual and an erotic standpoint) to having her work out with her characters. Which brings me to ...

3. Heterocentric much? One of the reasons I got tired of the Hamilton books after mainlining the first ten or so was the growing realization that, while many of the male characters were bisexual or fluid in their sexual desires, Anita was only interested in men, and was actually kinda homophobic. All of the sex, even the group sex, is men focused on Anita, even the men who are interested in one another or otherwise inclined. To some extent, the metaphysical aspects of the stories dictate this framing, but it also got really boring. I wanted more women characters, I wanted more lesbian and bi/fluid characters, and I wanted Anita in bed with them (I won't lie). I also really didn't get Anita's problem with her boyfriends also being in each others' pants. Any sort of poly arrangement that involves multiple people all having sex with one spouse/lover but not with each other seems like a set up for inequality and rivalries, which is in fact what develops as the stories progress. By the end of Harlequin Anita as a character seems to be making serious headway with her own issues with gay sex (hooray!) and I'd love to see more exploration of that in future.

4. Oh my freakin' god the gender essentialism drives me nuts as you probably would have guessed. Everyone is relentlessly described in terms of their masculine/feminine characteristics, particularly when it comes to cross-gender interactions. It's a constant, constant game of Who Has the Biggest Dick, and usually a major component of that is various male characters wanting in Anita's pants, or in her heart, or just generally being pissed she's having sex with other men. Irrespective of whether they want sex with her. It's relentless alpha-male jockeying and wow does it get old. On the plus side, it gets old for Anita, too, who basically responds with, "And I'm the Biggest Dick in This Room." And to the extent that Anita is "one of the boys" she's defying gender stereotypes in interesting ways. But this gender non-conformity the main character doesn't seem to have prompted Hamilton to revisit the idea of gender essentialism in a more basic sense. It feels like male characters are still treated as male first and as individuals second. And women, too, generally either behave in gender atypical ways (i.e. Claudia the bodyguard, who's a front runner in my list of Women I Want to See More Often/See Anita Fuck) or various forms of female stereotypes -- jealous vamps, sirens, unhappy career women, soccer moms.

So in sum ... I hope in the future there's lesbian sex, more vampire politics, that Jean-Claude/Asher/Anita threesome I was promised back in Danse Macabre, and Richard's ass handed to him on a platter. And Olaf dead.


  1. I think in one of the books there was some flirtation with a woman.... though it was probably some "evil" woman who is now dead. And I agree, I am sick of Richard. He's just a horrible whiny character. I think I read that he was based on the author's ex husband, and perhaps she keeps him around in the stories in a weird way to remind herself as to what was annoying about her ex.

    There is something very conceited about having a main character who everyone she meets wants to sleep with her. Even as a fluffy fun fiction, she's not someone that most of us mortals can relate to.

  2. 1.) Richard = yuck
    2.) Yeah, more lesbian sex is mos def needed
    3.) Edward! Edward is my favorite male character & while I agree that it's nice to have a dude that Anita doesn't fuck, I kind of wish she'd not fuck some of the others (Richard and Nathanial) and have more sexual tension with Edward. It's interesting that Olaf comes off as ober disgusting while Edward, a sociopath (according to Anita, ad nauseum) is ... appealing. Also Edward and Anita seem to have to most "real" friendship, in my opinion
    4.)the gender essentialism drives me nuts. Yup. Me, too
    5.) Is it petty to say that Anita can come off as very Laurel Hamilton-driven? Somewhat unlikeable?