Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer

Stephanie Meyer

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.

They sparkle!

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?


Amanda said...

Wow. I can honestly hang my head in shame at having even finished the book after that review. Not that I even really disagree I am just...speechless.

Joe said...

Heh...I finished it, too.

Marc said...

Isn't Meyer a Mormon? I believe that the "women should stay in their place" attitude is at least the unofficial viewpoint of the LDS. Consider Orson Scott Card, who is LDS and has some ideas that seem strange to non-Mormons. I'm trying to be factual here, I'm sorry if this is offensive to some people. I'm mainly remembering an interview with Meyer that I read in some magazine, and which was the first time I ever heard of her.

Joe said...


As far as I know, yes, Mrs Meyer is a Mormon.

What I'm not comfortable doing is projecting my assumptions of her background and beliefs onto what she may or may not intend with her novel; or, how those beliefs inform her novel.

I don't know the particulars of the LDS and so what I think they might believe may not have any bearing on what they actually believe. Plus, even if the LDS does believe a particular thing (anything), there is nothing to say that it is a belief that Mrs. Meyers shares.

I was raised Catholic and at least nominally consider myself a Christian, but if you (anyone, not specifically you, Marc) took those facts and projected what I think about homosexuality or abortion, you'd probably be wrong.

So, while I think your potential interpretation of Twilight through Meyer's reported Mormonism has merit, I don't think I can assume that what I read in Twilight is informed by what may or may not be Meyer's religious belief.

Marc said...


Maybe I'm reading too much into your review, but what I took from your closing paragraphs is essentially the question, "why is she presenting this viewpoint that I find disagreeable?" You don't out and out ask it, but dance your way around it. If that isn't what you meant, it is still how it seemed to me. And thus, I provided some rationale.

If you didn't mean to ask such a question, it is possible, as i said, that I put my own interpretation on it. I'm not singling you out at all when I mention that I dislike reading comments on various forums where people ask questions with difficult answers, and then leave those unanswered in the name of political correctness. For example, "why is the rate of car theft highest in the south of Texas?" There could be many reasons, but there's also an implication in the question, and yet if someone were to suggest in response what is implied as being the reason, they might then be criticized for saying such. I don't like such situations, and so I sometimes try to burst those bubbles, and my reaction to other situations may have caused me to read too much into your review.

Joe said...

Good point...I can see where you'd get that from the end of the review. I think I was only responding to your comment and not taking it in the context of my review (out of sight, out of mind).

Actually, I think what I was really trying to get across what that outside of writing a fast reading story that teenagers will (do) like, Meyer isn't that good of a writer (in my opinion) and that worse, the message she is sending, which may be unintentional, is a really bad one.

Maybe it all comes full circle in Book 4, but if I had an impressionable daughter, I don't think I'd want her to read Twilight.

Elizabeth said...

FYI - the weird, super-controlling dynamic between Edward and Bella just gets worse - it's my single biggest problem with the books, and actually made me start rooting for Edward's demise toward the end of the series. (Note that I finished all of them, also.)

Joe said...

Heh. There's a twisted part of me that wants to read the rest, to see how bad it gets...but the rest of me is screaming out to leave well enough alone.

So far so good.

Anonymous said...

alright, that was ridiculous. Those books are the most amazing things i have ever read and all you can say is that it was awful. HOW CAN YOU HONESTLY THINK THOSE BOOKS ARE BAD? i don't know a single person who dislikes those books and then i read this. this is the most stupidly critical thing i have ever read.

Joe said...

Anon: I'm glad you liked it. Seriously. I like when people read. Even Twilight, because maybe it'll lead to stuff I think is good. ;)

Honestly, though, I think Twilight is bad. I haven't read the other three, though I'm making an assumption based solely on the first book and I'm more than comfortable admitting that maybe things get much better. I doubt it, but it is possible.

I personally know one person who loves the series and I personally know another person who bemoans the loss of her brain cells after reading Twilight. I know of a bunch of people online (professional writers and hopefully soon-to-be professional writers) who have serious problems with the book and series.

My reasons were fairly well covered in the review. :)

Thanks for stopping by, though.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Joe said...

Anon: If you liked the movie, I say give the book a shot. Just because I have what I feel are perfectly valid reasons for disliking the book doesn't mean that you won't disagree with them and think Twilight is the best thing ever.

I'd think you're wrong, of course, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't hold that position. :)

Find out for yourself.

Besides, despite having issues with the book, I kind of want to know what happens next. (I know what happens next because I've been told, but I'm still curious about the execution)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with what you have to say about the book. I actually read the entire series just to see what happened but I couldnt get over the strange obsessive relationship between Edward and Bella. This is a horrible romantic ideal for teenage girls to look up to and it bothered me the entire time I read the books. It wasn't that long ago that I was an impressionable teenager and I can see how girls can easily get caught up in tha fantasy. I've also experienced someone like Edward (the non vampire kind) in my life and I'm horrified for the girls out there that would give up their ipod for a chance to have a relationship like that. I thought the authur was irresponsible but the story was definetly addictive. You should read the rest of them- they do get worse as far as the relationship goes but it is a fun action packed read. Plus I would be interested on your take of the other books.

Anonymous said...

i liked the book. actually i really loved the books. but i just wanted to point out the information you stated and that it was ok...all though i don't agree with them...still, people are fre to express their opinions. but i'm not saying they girls should give up stuff just to be with someone..the guys should like the girls for who they are..and girls should be happy in their skin. althought the love in this story is cute...

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that the Twilight supporters all have the most appalling writing skills? They either write with the caps lock on, or they write without appropriate capitalisation, not to mention the poor spelling and run-on sentences...

I think it says something significant about the demographic.

Anonymous said...

I also read a lot of bad about Twilight, and can't argue with any of it, but I did pick up the book (in the supermarket, so that doesn't really count, right?) and was absolutely engrossed for an entire day.

The way the romance unfolded was suspenseful. I felt no pity for Bella being trapped in a messed up, emotionally abusive relationship, as she is a vile human being. I hated the condescension with which she treats her friends, so when she became scared and unsure, it was an improvement. She couldn't have healthy relationships with normal people, anyway.

The main appeal of the book is the chemistry and the unresolved sexual tension. And yes, the fulfillment of every teenage girl's fantasy. Not, as I read in many other reviews, that a perfect boyfriend will appear and pluck you out of a mass of ordinariness. No, it's the fantasy that that guy, who's cold and mean and ignores you, actually really really liked you.

The suspense was in whether he would be nice or mean to her, if he'd admit to liking her, and just how much he likes her. And there were definitely some very cute moments - like when they are watching the slideshow in biology in the dark, or when he declares himself her boyfriend "if you don't mind."

Anonymous said...

she lives in forks, washington....not falls

Anonymous said...

You guys are crazy!!! I haven't even read the books but I have learned so much about them on her website, I am giong to DIE if I don't. Who ever wrote this review, this is for you: YOU ARE A DUMB CRAZY GUY WHO HAS NO TASTE IN GOOD BOOKS!!!!!

Joe said...

Anon from March: My mistake on the Forks / Falls problem.

Anon from April: Thank you. ;)

Lynette said...

Hi Joe. I enjoyed reading your review. I read Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse AND Breaking Dawn out of curiosity. (I have about 30 teenage students who love the series and I wanted to see what they were reading.) And no, the writing does not get any better as it goes along.

The characters are still two-dimensional and Meyer still tends to gush about how heart-breakingly gorgeous the sparkly vampire lead is.

I guess I'm thankful that Twilight made my students turn off their TVs for a couple of hours to read. I just hope they realize that there are other good books out there.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a very insightful review. I'm a teenage girl and I've read all four books. I totally agree that they're fluff, but the love story sucks you in and it's hard to put down the books without knowing how it ends. I'm not sure that I agree that Meyers' books are bad because she is portraying an "abusive-like" relationship. I don't think that people are reacting to the book, but more that the book is reacting to the people, if that makes any sense? What I mean is that I think the idea of an EXTREMELY protective, loving, handsome, doting boyfriend is very appealing to many women, young women in particular. They like the book because of the idea of this type of guy. Twilight is responding to the established desires of young tweeny boppers, not instilling in them the idea that boyfriends should be like that.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review! I must say that I enjoy reading other perspectives on how bad the Twilight Saga truly is. I've read the series twice in order to truly disassemble the series and speak on it from an angle of educated familiarity.

Stephanie Meyer has created the 'sparkly vampire', which to some is the most laughable piece of this 'timeless romance'. Instead of dying the soulless death in the life giving sunlight, they sparkle...This leads to some serious problems with logistics. If you're a race of supreme beings (and Edward says it himself in the forest- "As if you could run away from me....as if you could fight me off!") with no discernible weaknesses, why are you hiding from the humans? What possible reason could you have for hiding from your food source? It's poorly explained in New Moon that it's because humans now have weapons that could destroy them... Well now they do, why didn't you just subjugate them when they were running around with pitchforks? They were powerless then. The idea is the equivalent of the great white shark being afraid of a goldfish.

So many problems with the series as a whole, but I just wanted to point that out.

I hate this series!