Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The Twilight Series, by Stephanie Meyer
These books are all the rage in middle school these days. Pony has refused to read them, and is genuinely put out that I bought them, because they are "too popular." Her friends are pushing these books on her, but have failed to give her any reason to want to read them. "They are sooooo romantic!" is not a good recommendation in Pony's book.
So, she claims to hate them, although it is more true that she hates the way her friends are obsessing over them. Bunny seems immune--perhaps 6th grade is not into swooning over boys in quite the same way 8th graders are.
I picked up Twilight in paperback because I needed something to read on a plane trip, and it was the best of the admittedly limited selection available at Target. I wanted to see what the fuss was about.
So, we have the first person narrator, high school junior Bella Swan, leaving her life in Phoenix to live with her non-custodial father in Forks, Oregon. The change is extreme for her--from the sunny hot desert to the rainy, overcast coast. She meets some students, but for some inexplicable reason her science lab partner hates her. She even catches him trying to switch science classes just to avoid her. We soon learn that Edward Cullen, as well as his "siblings" are vampires, and Bella has an overwhelming blood scent that addicts Edward. Twilight tells the story of their first year, as Edward tries to resist either killing or falling in love with Bella. New Moon continues their junior year while Bella is being tracked by an outsider vampire; and Eclipse wraps up the hunt while presenting Bella with a second suitor, Native American Jacob, who is also a werewolf and mortal enemy to vampires.
Meyers is an engaging writer--she captures some of the human experiences very well: the feeling of being the new kid on the first day of school, trying to find classes and someone to sit with at lunch. She makes the Bella's adjustment to living with her other parent real as well. The vampire stuff? I'm still deciding.
As I read Twilight, I was reminded of the books I read in high school at the beginning of the wave of romance titles. Back then (it might not be true any longer) there were certain "rules" for writing a romance: the hero had to be older than the heroine; the heroine had to be a virgin at the start of the book; there had to be complications to delay the consummation of the relationship and draw out the yearning part. Twilight conforms to all those conventions, with the exception of the consummation part--and that is because Meyers has written three novels with no consummation at all.
The hero, Edward, is frozen at physical 17, although in reality he is closer to 100 years old--enough of an age difference to satisfy anybody, I would think. Bella is not only a virgin, but she has never dated anyone or kissed anybody until she arrives in Forks--hyper virginal, she is. The vampire thing is a classic separator--he loves her, he is bound to her by destiny, but he is dangerous and she must stay away from him because he must fight to keep from killing her. . .plus, her dad is the local sheriff, and he would be pissed if he found out his daughter was dating a vampire. Okay, so Meyers inject a bit of the prosaic into her romantic fantasy--Bella cooks dinners and does laundry, something romance heroines rarely do--but this is the stuff of romantic fantasy. Edward is perfect--perfectly handsome, courteous, well educated, strong, and always there to save Bella when she needs it. If this book were not written in the first person, it could well have been a formula Harlequin-type romance.
The problem grows as the novels progress and Meyers introduces another young man with a claim to Bella's heart--Jacob the werewolf. Bella's determination to become a vampire and spend eternity with Edward is tested; sadly, we see her choice between fanged immortality and fully lived humanity reduced to the choice of "which is the right boy?"
And yet--I am unable to fully dismiss these books as starter porn for young adults. And by "porn" I mean "beautiful but ultimately unattainable perfection staged for consumption, leading the consumer to believe that such airbrushed gorgeousness in any way reflects real life." The scenes between Bella and Jacob are touching as they grow to become friends, and the friendship slowly turns romantic. Bella struggles with her feelings, with what she wants and its effect on the people around her. Edward refuses to turn her into a vampire unless she marries him first, and her very modern reply is "I'm not that girl--the one who gets married right after high school." There are moments when the novel I was reading was no longer a "vampire romance" but a very well written young adult work, showing the struggles that come with growing up.
Okay, plus I admit, I am a sucker for the emotional kick these novels carry. At the end of Eclipse, Bella realizes that she loves Jacob, but that she has to stop causing him pain. The raw emotions that accompany their conversation had me in tears. Literally. Which was rather embarrassing on a airplane during the safety demonstration.
Are these good books? Would I recommend them? I'd have to say I wouldn't recommend them to any 14 year olds I know--the view of love is unrealistic and no one should expect that this is the way relationships are. They aren't bad books: the writing is good; the characters only kiss so there is nothing sexually inappropriate--I can't recommend them due to the temptation to believe that any boyfriend is ever going to live up to Edward.
I was strongly reminded of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series as I was reading these. Hamilton is strictly adult reading, but there are strong similarities in the triangle formed by a human woman, a vampire and a werewolf. The vampire and the werewolf each represent two different (and largely incompatible) life paths and both Anita Blake and Bella Swan must make choices about who they are, and how they will live, in the face of these extremes. Anita Blake finds a way of life that allows her to love both the vampire and the werewolf, as well as others, recognizing that these are all somewhat different kinds of love, but love nonetheless. I rather respect that of those books--the insistence on Bella and Edward being "soul mates" makes me uncomfortable. I'm old enough to recognize that for the fantasy it is, but it is dangerously attractive view of love.
Of course, so was Romeo and Juliet.