Sunday, August 10, 2008

Breaking Dawn, by Stephanie Meyer

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I didn't give this Twilight series a terribly good review. So, why did I read the last one? Even worse, why did I BUY the last one? So sue me, I was curious. Go Team Jacob!

At least I didn't stay up to midnight to get it the first minute it was available. I waited almost a whole week, and only bought it after I picked up a copy and read the first 5 pages. There was SOME discrimination involved here!

For the very few of you who have zero contact with teenage girls or popular culture, Breaking Dawn is the fourth and final book in the saga of Bella Swan, disaffected high school student who finds herself in love with the most gorgeous boy in the school--who turns out to be a 90 year old vampire. After three volumes of danger and yearning, Bella finds herself between two supernatural beings, both of whom love her: Edward, the vampire and Jacob the werewolf. Which will she choose? What will happen?

Like I said, I was curious.

Well, early on, Bella marries Edward, which breaks Jacob's heart. They go off on a honeymoon, where Bella gets pregnant. Yeah, I know--hasn't he been dead for 90 years? I guess he's been a most proper dead guy--he's been completely abstinent for that entire time, and given his cold body temperature, his sperm has been frozen for that entire time. Because she gets pregnant the first time they have sex.

We know this because he refuses to touch her again after the first time, appalled by the bruises he left on her, as well as the damage he did to the furniture in the room. Anyway, the baby is a hybrid, and grows to term in about a month. There is a lot of drama about how the baby is killing Bella, up until they figure out that the baby needs blood. So Bella starts drinking Red Cross collected blood that the Cullens keep in the freezer, and she likes it! So there goes that problem.

Baby gets born, turns out to be a reverse mind reader--puts pictures in peoples heads when she touches them to communicate. Everybody falls for her, and Jacob (poor dear sweet boy, aching with love for Bella, who will never love him back) imprints on the baby. So hey! He'll be her son-in-law some day!

We get a tense climax--the Biggest, Baddest Vampires show up, planning on killing the baby (because there is a law against making vampires out of infants--and they have never seen a hybrid before). There is a face-down, where it is clear that the Volturi fear the Cullens are going to attempt to seize power, so the baby is just an excuse to destroy this threat to the Volturi. Bella discovers her unique vampire talent is to be a shield, and war is averted through clever diplomacy, coupled with Bella's shield incapacitating the usual Volturi weapons.

Happily ever after, with a vague threat that the Volturi may someday return. Vampires and werewolves are now in an alliance, Bella is able to keep her father in her life, Jacob can once again be her best friend, and she has her perfect Edward again.

Based on reading Amazon reviews, this book is not as well beloved as the first three. I can see why--there is no longer that fatally addictive yearning, the unconsummated love between Bella and Edward that was the primary feature of the first books. Happy families are famously not interesting. Once Bella marries Edward and becomes a vampire herself, she's no longer a tragic heroine.

Plus, Breaking Dawn takes the characters out of high school and into a world where they function as adults, with adult concerns. Pregnancy, childbirth, parenting--not as interesting to 13 year old girls I think. The final confrontation with the Volturi was not primarily physical either--there was no battle so much as there was a showdown and the Volturi retreated with as much grace as was possible. So, with the romance and violence of the first books removed, with the adult themes added, it's no wonder that a lot of people were disappointed.

Since I am not a teenage girl, (surprise!) I was actually charmed by Meyer's approach to this book. She took some big risks, and did a very good job with them. Nearly a third of the book is narrated by Jacob, as he suffers through Bella's pregnancy and the birth of the baby. Meyer does a lovely job with the changed perspective, adding dimension to the story by getting us inside the head of the werewolves. This gives an interesting insight into why they are such enemies of the vampires, and why the treaty with the Cullens is so fragile.

Her understated approach to sex is also well done. Given the story she is telling, Meyer does have to confront it, but she does so without descending into soft-core porn. Instead, she focusses on the emotional aftermath, the joy Bella feels in her new experiences, both as a human and as a vampire. Delightfully, once Bella is a vampire, with all her newly enhanced senses and powers, she realizes something. With no human need to sleep, eat, or go to the bathroom, there is no reason to ever stop!

In fact, if on eis a homebody, there seems to be no reason NOT to be a vampire. Bella has true love--forever--all the money she would ever need, a loving and extended family, a beautiful daughter, her best friend, her father--so maybe she can't go out in public in the sun--she hasn't seemed to have lost anything.

I was surprised by the length of this book--over 750 pages--as well as the confidence with which Meyer handled it. The change to Jacob's narration, Bella's adjustment to her new life, the introduction of motherhood. . .these changed the nature of the book in a way that is true to what mature, married love is. Bella moves through this book as a different person than she was as a teen--a choice by Meyer that was not universally accepted.

So, a satisfying read, and less disturbing than the first three--no longer does Edward seem like a creepy stalker, who is literally cold and hard to the touch. Once Bella becomes a vampire, their body temperatures match, and he is no longer marble like. The two of them are now well matched--Bella is even slightly stronger, as a "newborn"--and they work together to raise their child and to deal with threats to their lives. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the least popular, as it goes far beyond the understanding and interest of the younger readers--but as an adult, I thought it did a good job of wrapping up the series.


Anonymous said...

I posted this comment over on another entry, and then realized it was from February! Pardon the cut and paste, I think the comments still apply.

i have read all 4 books (44yo mom of a 5yo) the books are definitely for the younger set, and you can tell they are written by someone of a strong faith (auth is mormon) - they almost squeak they're so clean.

there are however strong erotic aspects - for someone with a more ahem varied life experience than a 12 year old, they just leave me glassy eyed and frustrated, finishing the scenes in my head.

all the adult female readers i've spoken to about this agree. it's like a gateway drug to the hard world of fan fiction, which is full of stuff that turns my stomach, to see her characters abused like that. And it's all just a few clicks away to all those curious tweens left hanging by her innuendo.

I would like to see what a more experienced writer could have done with this concept, for a slightly more mature audience. it's hard to write a book filled with this much sexual tension in every chapter, and still call your audience "tween."

I felt her wrap up in book 4 had been written by committee - trying to please everyone, and really pleasing no one at all. the characters she set up to be real and so easy to identify with, ended up in a walt disney happy ending, with no sacrifice or real conflict to have earned it. When everybody gets everythign they want, you have effectively killed your readers. What happens after the happy ending? who cares? they're happy!

Cate Ross said...

Yes, I agree--I think the "clean eroticism" of the first 3 books is why they are so popular--like a gateway drug to the novels they sell at the grocery store. The ones with purple cursive titles and people barely keeping their clothing on.

Maybe Meyer just tied everything up with a happy-ever-after bow as a way to cut down on fan fiction? What else is there to do with these characters?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what compelled her to leave things that way. I thought about this a lot last night after I first posted and it really changed the way I feel about these books. (I'm not sure what it is - where I'm at in my life maybe, but they've really gotten under my skin). I just know it was a letdown, and felt rushed on the author's part, everything tied to quickly into a pretty bow. There really is no where else to go but into the sunset for these characters, except into the fertile minds of all the young daydreamers hooked by Twilight.

What really came upon me last night was that she does a huge disservice to all the young female readers, setting up this perfectly average girl to fall in love with this unattainable-in-real-life standard for male perfection, and then making him unbearably chaste and protective of her virtue. Young girls everywhere are now fantasizing about an Edward Cullen of their own that will never exist, perhaps putting themselves in very risky situations trying to see if the one they're with meets Meyer's high standard. Girls that age romanticize intimacy in a way boys that age are incapable of. What a shame Bella didn't have an older sister to guide her, caution her, share with her how unusual Edward Cullen really was, appreciate the rarity of his restraint. I felt Bella took his character as a 'bonus' on top of his dazzling beauty, without letting the reader see that Edward's outward beauty was the most normal part of him. Meyer's attempt to bring this topic to the story through Rosalie's narrative on her 'birth' felt flat, too little too late, to easily set aside as Rosalie's own bitterness and jealousy.

I obviously still have my own baggage to work on with regard to these themes. Thanks for talking with me about it. I look forward to looking over your book list in the future!

jothemama said...

I'm thrilled to find your twilight posts, because I've just read thebooks obsessively over a weekend. Despite my keen awareness of the problematic issues of the novels, not least being the terriblerole model Bella is with her self esteem issues and 'I can't live if living is without you' co dependent romance, I still LOVED them.

I agree about the last book - despite the possible dodgy issue of anti abortioneering (and chastity before marriage,which is not so realistic or necessarily the way forward) I liked her writing about pregnancy and babies - it seemed very genuinely borne out of her own passion for her children.

I loved the switch to Jake, and the more complex relationship he and Edward share. Men who can understand each other emotionally? Mmm.

And I'm a sucker for a good happy ending.

I have to admit I found your blog searching for Twilight and erotica too - glad to see I'm not the only mammy doing that! I'm interested in the ideas you and your commenters are discussing aout the emotional and erotic content - I certainly found it so. I was really surprised by the depth of response the very non explicit scenes aroused in me! Not to mention getting totally sucked in by the romance of the engagement scene! Gah, what's wrong with me?:D

I'm not sure the Gateway thing is so awful, though yes, the internet and fanfic are new issues, too accessible, sure.

Should she have gone further? I know I'd read an adult version in a flash.

These novels undid me a little. Against my better judgement. I'll admit to seeing things through frustrated and Twillight coloured glasses since I read them.

Cate Ross said...

Now I'm really curious--how do things look through "Twilight" colored glasses?

Have you read "The Host"--Meyer's first stab at adult fiction? I haven't, and I wonder if Meyer takes that step into actual erotic writing. The teens in my life have reported that they don't particularly like it: but then they didn't like Breaking Dawn either.

jothemama said...

I haven't - the alien possession angle doesn't grab me in quite the same way. I didn't realise it wasn't for teens though. I wonder if it's good... tempting.

There is something about the emotional articulacy the books demonstrate that make me interested in her other writings. And I have to say, I'll happily read the forthcoming one, Midnight Sun, the one from Edward's POV.

Twilight coloured glasses? Well, as I run my eye down my address box and light on a friend's name, all I can think about is his biceps, and black t-shirt. Everything seems imbued with romantic possibility. Even though it's not! I have this back of the mind feeling that a boyfriend who loves me bounndlessly is just waiting to see me, and I'm aching and counting seconds to see him - or at least I feel as if am, more like.

I'm looking at my children with a yearning ache at their sweetness and beauty (in between the shrieking demon times, of course). Everything just feels coloured with unnecessary angst and sexual frustration!

I'm terribly impressionable. I have to laugh at myself.

Cate Ross said...

You've got it bad, girlfriend! Although that is Meyer's gift, I think--I remember feeling like that back in high school, that longing to be completely loved and understood, that kind of angsty passion for my boyfriend.

It's that kind of love that everyone says can't last--but that doesn't mean we can't miss it, right? Meyer captured those feelings and gave them back to us, and even vicariously (and fictionally) it is a way of feeling desperately alive.

Lisa said...

Interesting review!

I hated Breaking Dawn... hated it with such a passion that I am still furious two weeks on. I don't know what Meyer was doing, wrapping it all up nicely like the end of a kids fairystory... but even childrens fairy stories rarely go without a battle or somebody being killed. A friend said to me yesterday "She should have ripped our guts out" and that is so right, She should have killed someone. She should have left someone broken hearted at least. I wanted to have my heart broken but instead it was painted with daisies and hearts and sent skipping off into the sunset like a bad pop song.
Edward became some wishy washy side kick, the whole car obsession went against the people that Meyer had made the Cullens out to be, and frankly I got the impression that Meyer had "lost the plot" - maybe she never even knew her own secret in the first place.
Breaking Dawn was just impossible to get involved in, it read like a parody, I cringed my way through. The thoughts of the movie make me wail, Kristin stewart spewing blood while Rob Pattinson cuts her open??? Seriously??? The book needs to be left alone... It had the depth of a 12 year old recounting an episode of the hills and I HATED IT...