This is the second book in Charlaine Harris’ newest series about Midnight, Texas (existing in the same world as her popular Sookie Stackhouse books but sharing only a few overlapping characters, though each book has introduced someone “new” that her faithful readers will recognize), and while I wasn’t crazy about the style of the first one, I like her enough as an author that it was a no brainer to pick it up. I suppose it was especially interesting to me since I spent the last full week of September in Austin, Texas struggling to find free activities appropriate for a three month old and his extremely sweaty mama.
Previously, my experience with Texas had been limited to driving through it last year on our long road trip (and one very bad airport experience in Dallas). Before we’d started on that leg of the trip (it took about two and a half days to make it along the diagonal route we’d chosen), many people had warned us about how “big” Texas was – in this case, “big” implied, not very subtly, “awful,” and I steeled myself for what I expected to be an ugly and dull drive.
As it turned out, Texas, while exceptionally large, was also beautiful. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the drive. We passed through a bizarre mix of western and southern landscape, blended in Texas unlike anywhere else I had ever seen. When we got to Austin, the feeling that we were in a unique state intensified. Many parts of the city felt reminiscent of a jungle in their lushness, although apparently the area was experiencing a years-long drought up until just a few months ago. At the same time, the skies were as huge and open and blue as any I’ve fallen in love with in the West, and the people I met were unfailingly friendly and generous to a struggling new mother.
It made Harris’ town of Midnight that much more intriguing to me. Her characters, while cautious around strangers, seemed so warm. Before visiting, I might not have believed that a whole group of people could exhibit such similar conflicting tendencies – a desire to share food and conversation with an intense need for privacy – but now I’ve seen it. There is a place where people have an edge of southern charm tempered by a frankness I associate with the middle of the country, and that place is Texas. Those are neither good nor bad on their own, but undoubtedly make for excellent character fodder.
I can also understand why Harris would be drawn to writing about such a place. In the US, so much land has been bought up and developed that it sometimes feels impossible to find stories that exist on the outskirts of civilization. In Texas though, huge swaths of it still exist where no one can live, or where very few choose to, and the opportunities such places afford a storyteller are as vast as the distance between two tiny towns on a deserted stretch of highway.
That being said, I still find this series a little more stilted than her earlier work. She hasn’t quite settled in with a male protagonist the way she has with the various women she’s written before, but I’m hopeful that as she gets to know him better, Manfred will come to life as joyfully as Sookie or Lily or Harper do. In the meantime, I’ll happily dive into her Texas from the cool comfort of our autumn weather at home!