Say one thing for Stephanie Meyer, she’s created something of a phenomenon with her Twilight series and like any good literary phenomenon it begins humbly, with a first novel written because it was simply a story the author wanted to tell. Twilight is that first novel. By this point anyone with a pulse and an eye that looks anywhere near pop culture has heard of Twilight. The movie opened with large box office receipts and perhaps due to the movie, I’ve been reading more and more online about Twilight the book.
Little of it good.
When enough people, friends and writers I respect, say a novel is bad and then detail their issues with said novel, there is generally a very good reason for it. This is usually reason enough to keep me from reading the novel, but like Harry Potter, Twilight is becoming something large and popular enough that I wanted to read it just to see what the fuss is about. Unlike Harry Potter (and the two novels are entirely unrelated except for being targeted at a younger age group and that both are popular to quite popular), I haven’t seen nearly the positive press for Twilight the Novel. But I had to know.
Here’s the basics of Twilight: Bella Swan moves from Phoenix to Falls, Washington to live with her father. Falls is a small town notable for being the rainiest town in the entire country, a fact which isn’t necessarily central to the story but helps explain the presence of vampires in Falls. A junior in high school, Bella describes herself as plain, extraordinarily clumsy, and something of an outcast. She makes some friends when she begins school, but meets a boy she is alternately frightened by and obsessed with, Edward Cullen. Edward is one of five extraordinarily beautiful and graceful kids who sit by themselves and don’t mix with the rest of the school. When Edward saves her life one morning by doing something impossible, their “romance” begins and Bella begins to learn the truth about Edward. He’s a vampire, you see.
The first thing I would like to address actually debunks one of the complaints I’ve heard about Twilight. A self described plain girl, a klutz and a loner, would never be so instantly popular upon arrival at a new school. She’d be the girl sitting alone at a lunch table. I understand this criticism, but I think it is wrong. In a larger school, yes, Bella might continue to be an outcast, but Falls has a small school, one which I imagine has a graduating class of somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 kids. I’m sure accurate enrollment records are available online somewhere (for the real school, not the fictional one). Bella’s reception in a small school is spot on. She’s a new face and even a potentially plain face would make new friends in the first couple of weeks very quickly. Everyone would want to know her because outside of the new kid, everyone else has been together since kindergarten or first grade. As to Bella’s appearance being plain…well, we only get that from Bella. She may be a reasonably attractive young woman who views herself as “plain” or “average”, and even then, it’s a new girl in school. A handful of guys will want to date her. That’s just the way it works in a small school.
The other thing that Stephanie Meyer never explains about this situation is whether or not the friends Bella makes (and the guys who are interested in Bella) are the socially cool kids. Even in a small school there are different cliques, or less negative, different groups of friends. Some are more accepting of others, and Bella falls into one particular group quickly but after those first weeks we don’t see other kids looking for a piece of her time. What we don’t know, but can assume, is that Mike (a friend and persistent suitor) is NOT captain of the football team, and Jessica (her new best friend) is NOT a cheerleader or volleyball star. These are just average kids, much like you or I might have been or have been friends with. Good kids, but not the “elite” of the school.
So, that’s something I didn’t have a problem with.
Something I did have a problem with is Bella’s lack of coordination. It isn’t that Bella is a klutz, my problem is that Stephanie Meyer portrays Bella as a girl who can barely walk on carpet without falling down, and gym class is a horror. I’ve seen poor athletes, but Bella’s lack of coordination stretches credulity far more than vampires that sparkle. We’ll get to that later, but I’m just saying. It’s a bit much, Mrs. Meyer.
For the first half of the novel my overall impression was that Twilight was nothing more than an averagely written book. Nothing special, nothing remarkable, nothing appalling. Twilight has an easy reading flow appropriate to its target audience (teenaged girls, mostly), and so for the most part, any issues readers have with the novel will quickly be in the rear view mirror as the pages keep turning. Twilight is quick and easy reading.
My first impression of the first half of the novel is that Twilight was not nearly as bad as I had heard. Sure, I had issues with the burgeoning relationship between Bella and Edward (more on that later), but we aren’t talking about a trainwreck, just an adequately written novel for teenagers. It could be better, but I expected far worse. Something brain numbing.
Then it happened.
I tried to keep my eyes away from his perfection as much as possible, but I slipped often. Each time, his beauty pierced me through with sadness. (pg 257)
I am not going to claim that these are two of the worst sentences ever constructed, because I’m sure I’ve written some clunkers and will write some more, but that was the first moment where I had to stop and wonder what the hell Stephanie Meyer was thinking when she wrote that and why her editor didn’t stop Meyer from including it in the book. It’s bad, folks. It’s really bad. Those sentences come near the end of a chapter, and they were a harbinger of doom, because from that moment the rest of the novel takes a sharp downward turn and tightens into a spiral of bad writing (and a couple of really bad ideas).
In the very next chapter we learn that the reason vampires don’t come out in the sunlight. It isn’t because they will burn. Oh no. Vampires don’t come out in the sunlight because their skin sparkles like diamonds refracting light.
Sparkly Vampires! People, how does someone come up with this and possibly think it is a good idea?!
It gets worse because in the first two paragraphs of this chapter we get Bella’s narration about Edward’s “incandescently sculpted chest.” Seriously. I would say you can’t make this up, but clearly Stephanie Meyer did. It is from this point that the “romance” moves to the forefront. Oh, Bella has been obsessed about Edward for most of the novel, but when they get their moment of splendor in the grass the “romance” is openly mutual.
This leads in to what I feel the biggest flaw in Twilight happens to be. I don’t know who Stephanie Meyer envisioned as her ideal reader, but the audience for Twilight is comprised of legions of teenaged girls. I’m not saying other people don’t read it, but the novel is clearly aimed at the teenage crowd. The biggest flaw of Twilight is the very heart of the novel: the relationship between Bella and Edward.
Bella is a reasonably well adjusted 16 or 17 year old girl. She takes care of her father, is independent, smart, and perhaps likes to spend just a little too much time alone. Stephanie Meyer has written her as an otherwise competent young woman (outside of her inability to walk without falling down), her one flaw is perhaps an insecurity or discomfort with others expressing an interest in her. She is our heroine.
Edward comes across initially as broody (as all good vampire boyfriends should be), but obscenely beautiful. That’s not the problem. When he becomes interested in Bella he does so with great obsession. So much so that by the end the reader realizes (or should realize) that Edward is only a hair’s breadth away from being an abusive boyfriend. If not for the fact that the text makes it clear that he would never hurt her (on purpose, if he can control himself), the reader would need to be seriously concerned about the safety of Bella regarding Edward.
Here’s what we know: Edward does not believe Bella can take care of herself, does not believe she has any chance of being safe without him around. He is insanely jealous of other boys. He keeps warning Bella that he’ll hurt her, that he’s a bad guy, but he keeps coming around. He asks her three days worth of superficial questions which borders on the bizarre. He follows her around and listens in on all of her conversations. He has snuck into her house to watch her sleep for weeks on end. He is extremely controlling and gets angry frequently, both with her and with everyone else, but then reassures her that he loves her and that everything he does is for her.
Bella’s response: okay, I love you, too. Now, please don’t ever leave. Seriously, Edward tells her that for weeks he’s been sneaking into her house to watch her sleep – incredible stalker behavior, and after a flash of anger which scarcely lasts a sentence, she’s over it because, well, Edward is dreamy.
Then, to make matters worse (worse!), the only way Bella can ever truly have an equal relationship with Edward is if she is willing to give up everything, her friends and her family, and become a vampire herself, because after a couple of months she knows this is forever and eternal, this “love” of hers.
Further – the reason Edward is infatuated with Bella has nothing to do with who she is, anything about her personality, or anything she wants to do with her life. The reason Edward “loves” Bella is because her blood smells as good as cocaine to a junkie. That’s the initial appeal.
Now, I’m not saying that in real life there are no insanely weird and inappropriate teenaged relationships (or fully adult relationships, for that matter), but in a novel apparently aimed at 14 year old girls, this is what Stephanie Meyer is holding up as ideal, right, and true. This is the message that Meyer is sending – that to find true love a woman must give up everything she is, everything she has, and become someone else to be with the guy she loves…and that the guy is borderline abusive, but that’s okay because they are in “love”.
Disgusting. Seriously, this is the “love story” of our era? That is the message being sent to impressionable teenagers?
So…yeah. Twilight isn’t a very good book. I’ve otherwise ignored the concept of Vampire Baseball because after you really think of what the love story is actually saying and after we get past the fact that Stephanie Meyers’ vampires sparkle, what else is there to say?