2.12.2010

Book Review: Twilight

Stephenie Meyer
Little Brown, 2006
544 pages
trade paperback

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My intent was to avoid this book--this series of books--for my entire life. But I teach middle schoolers at a summer camp, and when they asked for class suggestions, like a fool I said, "They're into vampires these days. Maybe a pop culture class on vampires?" Tag, you're it! Which of course meant that I have to read these things, maybe even watch the movies.

So now I've read the first one, Twilight, from which the series borrows its name. It mostly reads like a seventh-grader wrote it, which may be why so many seventh-graders like it. The narrator is a 17-year-old named Bella who moves to a place she hates to live with her father because (as best as I understand it, but there's a lot I don't understand about Bella) her mother is dating a baseball player? I'm not clear on how this necessitated a move from sunny Phoenix to rain-washed Forks, Washington, but whatever. The point is clearly to get Bella to a place where she can meet vampires, and since they don't live in Phoenix because they're too sparkly and shiny for that, Washington state it is.

Okay, now Bella is ostensibly "special" (not as in "special ed," though I'd argue that's a distinct possibility that has yet to be fully explored). It's unclear why she's special--aside from her utter clumsiness that goes far beyond the bounds of realistic, as well as a hardwired idiocy that puts her in really bad situations that most people with any kind of sense (common, intellectual, evolutionary survival instinct) would avoid. But for some reason, even though Bella is supremely antisocial, people like her. Bella doesn't like parties, doesn't like dancing, doesn't want to talk on the phone and gossip with other girls, doesn't have close friends, doesn't want to celebrate her birthday or get gifts (yeah, I just started the train wreck that is New Moon) . . . How does anyone relate to her? She's thoroughly unlikable. And no, it's not that I think she should party or be on the phone or whatever, I never did those things either, but Bella takes it to an unnatural degree. She's a one note tune, and that note is: Edward, Edward, Edward.

Who is Edward? He's the 17-year-old vampire hottie in Bella's class, of course. He affirms that Bella is special, so special in fact that she is allowed to get to know Edward and his vampire family more intimately than anyone else in their tiny town. (And she's also the only one who knows they're vampires, natch.) According to Edward, Bella "smells" different. And she's more observant than the other students at their school, given that she notices when Edward's eye color changes.

The gist of the entire book is something like:
  • Bella gets into trouble.
  • Edward saves her.
  • They talk/bicker.
  • Edward goes away for a while and Bella is sad.
  • Bella gets into trouble . . .
What was really painful while reading this book was the repetitive nature of (a) Bella's thoughts and (b) Bella and Edward's conversations. Looking at (a) first, let's just say that Edward is beautiful and perfect. All the time. In every situation. Even when he's angry. Also, his breath smells really good. As for point (b), Bella could have similar conversations with, say, a saber-toothed tiger:

Bella: I love you, Saber-Toothed Tiger!
STT: You shouldn't. It's not safe. I could turn and maul you any minute.
Bella: You'll never hurt me, STT!
STT: I'll protect you. But I'm not safe for you!
Bella: I want to be a Saber-Toothed Tiger like you!
STT: You're special and I love you, but you can never become like me.

And so on and so forth, over and over, ad nauseam.

As if to add some kind of intrigue, members of a local Native American tribe (who happen to be friends of Bella's dad) attempt to warn Bella away from Edward and his kin. Not that it makes an impact. Nothing seems to impact Bella, who is stubborn beyond belief--and I mean that literally; her character just doesn't ring true in any kind of way. She's so much a device and not a person, and having to live in her narration to get at the story is almost intolerable. I'm not sure if it's bad character development or just bad writing that's the culprit, though.

The lack of real conflict between Bella and Edward is also unpleasant. I'm hoping that in the remainder of the books their unflinching devotion is honestly tested, because it's gag-inducing the way they simply fell together and into each others' arms (a la Bella's Romeo and Juliet fixation) with nary a qualm between them, all their problems being external and situational. I want Bella to be jealous of Edward's past loves, I want break-ups and second-guessing. The steadfastness of their feelings for one another is so far very uninteresting, rather like being served baby food when one would rather have steak.

Will the other books prove better? Don't tell me! I'll get through them . . . somehow . . . and let you know.

1 comment:

Christine said...

That is the best review for Twilight that I've heard! You sum it up perfectly, especially with the STT conversation. *LOL* I hated Bella with a passion. I pushed through the series, and I can only hope I left it without becoming tainted!