I am not 100% sure why I decided to check out Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight from the library. Maybe because I remember my cousin several years ago opining on how good the book was and what a transcendent experience the movies were. I have a daughter – this could be a classic of her future self. Surely the Harry Potter series is. The charm of Twilight as a talisman for adolescents, or heaven forbid, adults is still elusive. At the same time, the book is absolutely remarkable as Stephanie Meyer simultaneously shows a lack of command of vampire lore, how children and adolescents actually behave, and soft core pornography. It’s a tour de force of ineptitude.
The story, for those who have had better things to do than to follow American culture since the turn of the century, centers around Bella Swan, a teenage girl who has decided to move back to her hometown of Forks, Washington to live with her father. Bella’s mother seems young and not the world’s best authority figure, but she has fallen in love with a baseball player – and the circumstances of a minor league ballplayer’s lifestyle is a bit more itinerant than Bella seemed to want. As those who have grown up around Disney know, this is a very canny way to get the parents out of the way so that the teenager can have her own awakening and adventures, or what have you. Dad, for what it’s worth, seems nice enough and is the local police chief, but does not seem particularly special in any way, although he does get her an old truck.
The story to this point has been about how this girl from Phoenix moves to a lame-o town in the Northwest where it’s never sunny, and goes to a high school with a bunch of bubbleheaded nitwits. Now this shallow point is not made overtly – but Meyer’s characterization of the boys and girls are either boys who are smitten by the new ashen-hued stranger, or girls who want to talk about boys and dresses and hair. Now there is no doubt that these are childish concerns, but if I am not mistaken, Bella is also a teenager. Meyer is trying to have it both ways, having Bella be a high schooler who is somehow someone who has never had a boyfriend/girlfriend while simultaneously harboring the thoughts of a 37 year old woman.
So, where were we? The boys are all doofuses and the girls are all bubbleheaded. But over at the lunch table are some impossibly good looking kids (and even more pale than Bella!). They seem awfully sophisticated to be around these parts. Bella certainly is taken. Her friend tells them they are the Cullen family – and Edward in particular captures Bella. Later in a biology class, he has trouble sitting next to her. So clearly Edward is stricken to, in some way or another.
Edward is a strange fellow in other ways too. His eyes change color from time to time, and he seems to have superhuman speed. He seems intent on saving Bella’s life all the time too. This is the sort of thing which would win a girl’s heart – but aside from his good looks, there does not seem to be much for Bella to hang her hat on. Meyer is fond of throwaway descriptions like “Edward was waiting, leaning casually against the side of the gym, his breathtaking face untroubled now.”, the sort of thing which reads more like a romance novel cover, and makes me make that gesture where I stick my finger down my throat.
Funny thing is, I could keep going on about this, but Meyer fills the story with howlers, and it makes more sense to go bulletizing for brevity’s sake:
- The Cullens are vampires – sorry to break this to you – but Meyer does not have any real connection to Stoker or Anne Rice here. The vampires don’t like the sun, but it’s not because they melt – it is because it shows their non-humanness. In one description it sounds more like shimmering or some such. Weirdly, I have no problem with Meyer making up her vampires. It’s really the 25th or so most absurd thing here.
- The vampires DO have a thirst for blood though. Edward says they reconcile it by hunting bears. These people live on Olympic Peninsula. As the life partner noted, the National Parks Service ought to be clued in on this.
- Apparently Edward’s fascination with Bella is related to her smell – she smells delicious, like a favorite ice cream flavor. Yet despite this, Bella’s attraction to Edward only grows. “I want to eat you” should be a cue for a woman to run away, unless that sentence is followed by a specific preposition.
- Edward is presented as the only decent fellow in a lame town. Of course then she meets another kid about her age named Jacob whom she has known since she was a child. But she is trusting the guy who wants to eat her.
- Bella seems obsessed with Edwards body, face, and looks. That sounds good, but the descriptions Meyer uses seem more off reject script lines for Samantha from “Sex and the City” than any adolescent I’ve heard of.
- Bella and Edward do not make out or “do it” or anything close. Just a lot of significant looks and descriptions of having her breath taken away. While I understand Meyer’s avoidance of smut, here it seems very much called for. Given how much of the book is spent just looking at Edward, it would at least get the story moving.
There is a lot that is ridiculous about Twilight. It is basically its own parody. I cannot in any good conscience recommend it, because it is bad. I pity those who got some sort of life lesson or transcendent connection. At the same time, the absurdity of the whole deal makes reading the sequel an interesting idea at the very least. The ridiculousness of it is innately entertaining – like a typical Bachelor/Bachelorette episode. I guess it’s a good palate cleanser if you’ve read a Booker Prize nominee or something previously. It certainly does not qualify for any sort of award on its own.