Some might call it dusk?

April 9, 2009 at 8:02 pm 6 comments

Yall are familiar with symbolism, right?

Y'all are familiar with symbolism, right?

If I had to pick one word for this book, it would have to be ‘self-indulgent.’ On the surface, Twilight is nothing more than your standard high school story, only perhaps even less, due to the fact that no character has the requisite change or coming of age that is an essential facet of the teenage novel. It’s essentially wish-fulfillment on the highest level, a story about a girl who feels like a loser ending up with the most beautiful boy she’s ever seen and being accepted by an amazing group of people.

However, Twilight‘s insane popularity suggests it’s something more. Vampires, of course, appeal to the gothic set; the literary/drama set would identify with the female protagonist because of her ostensible love of literature; the outcast would be reassured by the fact that both our protagonists are outcasts, in their own way, and that the female protagonist finds acceptance and meaning in a rather unexpected place. Add in a heaping spoonful of Hollywood-style good looks, and Stephanie Meyer had her recipe for the ultimate teen novel.

Whether it is a novel of substance or literary merit, though, is still up for debate. So, in the interest of articulating an informed opinion on the merits of Twilight, I’ve decided the best way to deal with this novel is to break it down into categories and deal with each aspect separately, the first of which is:

Edwards car. Another superfluous detail.

Edward's car. Another superfluous detail.

Characters

Provided you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Edward Cullen. Edward is, as it happens, a vampire who is insanely attracted to Bella, the female protagonist, both in the way that he wants to kill her and suck her blood, and in the way that he kind of wants to do her. Complicating this situation is the fact that Edward is…how does Meyer put it? “Devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful.” That’s it. She also compares him to Adonis, a marble statue, a mountain lion, and an 18th-century gentleman (yes, to answer your question, she is trying to channel Mr Darcy). His voice is musical and enchanting, his arms are muscled, and even his nose is perfect.

This is all well and good, especially since Edward’s beauty is necessary to the plot (if he wasn’t so pretty, Bella wouldn’t be so stupid, I’ll tell you that). But it’s also lazy on Meyer’s part. It is so easy to write the perfect man; it’s incredibly hard to write one people can believe in. This is going to sound silly, but stick with me; Edward’s only flaw is that a part of him desperately wants to kill Bella and drink her blood. Admittedly, that’s quite the flaw, but as it is neatly taken care of when Edward realizes that he can kiss her, sleep next to her, and even suck venom out of a bleeding wound without losing control and killing her, it’s not what I would consider a serious obstacle.

What is more disturbing is a possible unintentional flaw on Meyer’s part. Edward is insanely overprotective of Bella. He stalks her — to make sure she’s safe. He follows her when she is with her friends — just in case a rapist comes around. He watches her sleep — ya know, because he doesn’t and she talks in her sleep so he might get a clue as to how she feels about him. He gets jealous of every single guy who falls for her — even though he knows that she would essentially die before leaving him. I don’t think Meyer intended to make him creepy, and admittedly I see why the strong, protective, guardian angle-type male figure is appealing…however, if she takes it further in the next few books (which she seems to), it’s a disturbing trend that readers should be aware of.

Bella Swan herself is a little meh. She’s the narrator of the story, and to be honest, I couldn’t get on board with her. Meyer was trying to play with the stock ‘outsider’ character, the girl who is beautiful and differentand attractive, but doesn’t get why, a figure with which adolescent girls have shown a tendency to identify. Bella is also bored by her small town, desperate to break free from her parents, and too smart for the school she goes to. Standard. You could replace her with Blue Van Meer from Special Topics, Lee Fiora from Prep, or really any heroine from any sub-standard teen novel (Elizabeth Wakefield springs to mind) and have essentially the same story. I have my suspicions that Bella’s clumsiness is Meyer’s attempt at giving her a human flaw, as well, as I don’t think Meyer intended for my issues with Bella to be read as flaws.

The main problems with Bella are that she cannot be as smart as she says she is and that she is too reliant on a man. Dealing with the first issue, Bella says that, as a high school junior, she has already read Chaucer, Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Bronte. Putting aside for the moment that this is an ambitious reading list for the type of school she claims she is going to, as well as the fact that this is a strange combination of authors, one wonders if a girl who misreads Sense and Sensibility in such a way that Edward Ferrars becomes the ‘hero’ of the novel could possibly work her way through The Sound and the Fury with any degree of success.

That just leaves her passivity, which admittedly complements Edward’s protectiveness. Meyers makes it clear throughout the novel that Bella owes her life to Edward several times over, because apparently she is unable to jump out of the way of skidding cars and cannot be trusted not to fall into tidal pools without having been explicitly told not to. She is literally carried by everyone in the novel, including the tiny, elfish Alice, and all of the Cullens feel the need to swoop in, scoop her up, and protect her from herself and others several times in the novel. Disturbing in a character whom many girls will identify with.

The other characters, sorry to say, are cookie-cutters, barely worth a mention. I had a hard time keeping their names straight, and the defining characteristics of all of them seemed to be good looks (is anyone ugly in this novel?) and blinding stupidity. Even Jacob Black, a character I expected to like, came off as sorely disappointing. The Cullens were better, but still, Meyer doesn’t let the reader get to know enough before the end of the story.

YET ANOTHER SYMBOL.

SYMBOL. SYMBOL. SYMBOL.

Story

This is one point where Meyer actually doesn’t fail completely. The general concept is good — even the idea of a vampire and a human love story is kind of a comment on the duality of human nature, and certainly it’s rather exciting. There’s a fairy-tale element to it as well, in the idea that all of a sudden this gorgeous boy would come in and sweep this ‘ordinary’ girl off her feet. She even goes to the ball wearing one shoe, for God’s sake, in a clear Cinderella nod. Meyer doesn’t shy away from the love story aspect, for sure, and I have my suspicions that this is what makes this book so insanely popular with even the adult crowd. Every woman wants a man to love her as strongly as Edward loves Bella, while loving him back as much as Bella loves Edward — though without the creepiness, of course. There’s a lot of chivalry (Edward always opens doors for Bella, like the nice Victorian boy he is) and sacrifice and general love flying around this book.

I’m not going to go too deep into this point, except to say that a flaw in the plot is the insane ease with which Bella realized the Cullens are vampires. The entire school has been near them for two years and hasn’t figured it out, but give Bella a couple mysterious absences and one display of superhuman strength and she has it all figured out. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. A similar flaw, common to teen novels, is that these kids are just too young to be doing what they are doing; no father would let his daughter move out in less than 15 minutes, and no 15-year-old virgin should be sleeping with a vampire and committing her life to him.

The book could have been 100 pages shorter, definitely; Meyer spends a great deal of time describing things like Bella going to get a bowl of cereal while waiting for her internet to connect that simply don’t have relevance to the plot. Even Bella and Edward’s trip to the forest could definitely have been shortened. However, I did enjoy individual scenes, especially the one where the vampires play baseball, and overall the story was good enough, I suppose. The tension wasn’t really strong enough for me until the other vampires appeared on the scene, but still, the plot was decent.

Oh, yeah, another freaking symbol.

Oh, yeah, another freaking symbol.

Style

This was the part where Meyer really flopped. I almost feel bad for her, honestly, because she clearly has no idea how weak her writing is. I’ve seen better writing in my university’s literary magazine — a magazine where submittors have not yet learned that song lyrics do not always translate well on paper, and that sloppy rhymes are worse than no rhymes at all.

Others have gone into this, and so I won’t beat this point over the head, but Meyer clearly does not have the best vocabulary. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, and I will be the first to admit that mine is not exactly up to par either. However, she hasn’t yet learned that using the right-click ‘synonyms’ trick while in Word is simply no substitute for a real thesaurus or improving one’s vocabulary independently. No one should ever use the word “chagrin,” I only need to be told once that Edward is “beautiful” and I have a picture (meaning I don’t need the “perfect,” “angelic” or “gorgeous”), and there should never be more than two adjectives before a noun. If you need two or three adjectives, you need a better adjective.

Meyer is terribly self-concious about her prose. A look at a simple sentence like “…and then the previous day flooded back into my awareness” would have made Hemingway cringe. I kind of want to sit her down and explain that sometimes, it’s okay not to use a big word like ‘awareness’ when ‘mind’ will do, and that it is always okay to use ‘said’ instead of ‘whispered,’ ‘sighed’ or ‘muttered.’

Additionally, Meyer does indulge herself with too much description. This wouldn’t be too bad, except for it’s so repetitive and poorly written (see above) that it distracts. I actually laughed in the middle of a very serious scene because Meyer described Edward’s eyes as “gloriously intense” and then said his voice “smoldered,” something I didn’t think it was possible for a voice to do.

Conclusion

I feel it’s necessary to point out that these are all kind of amateur flaws, definitely things that can be worked out and improved as Meyer gets more comfortable with her style. Who knows, maybe she does fix them in her next few books, though her first one was so successful that she might not feel the need to. It’s clear why these books appeal to young girls, and similarly why they don’t appeal to guys (all the male characters are either a little too warm and fuzzy, inneffectual or pure evil).

In short, this book is worth borrowing from a friend — surely you can find a friend who owns it?– but only because it’s been so explosively popular that it’s useful to have read.

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Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction. Tags: , , , .

Guess Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  April 13, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Kudos to you for convincing me to look with haughty scorn upon every girl or woman in the subway who carries this book without ever having to actually read it. Not that teenage vampires really appeal to me in such a way that I would have in the first place, but thanks anyway. :)

    Reply
  • 2. KT  |  April 13, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Ugh, I kind of wish I HADN’T read it, as now it’s kind of festering :\ How stupid does Meyer think women are? I ask myself. Would one recognize an Edward-type creep in real life, or would one actually labour under the delusion that he was perfect? HOW CAN SOMEONE WRITE SO BADLY AND BE SO POPULAR?

    Save yourself the agony.

    Reply
  • 3. Corey  |  April 13, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Clearly! At least with other crazes such as J.K. Rowling or Christopher Paolini (to a lesser extent it his case, but still), you can at least shrug to yourself and recognize that they are at least well-written, intelligent, creative and, in J.K.’s case, quite witty. It is far more frustrating when something is a phenomenon and it’s just bad!

    I shall continue to avoid Ms. Meyer, her writing and teenage vampires like the plague.

    Reply
  • 4. KT  |  April 13, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    J.K. Rowling is a literary genius who combined three or four genres and managed to create political and social commentary while transcending temporality, creating hundreds of differentiated characters, and defining most of the rules of the Potter Brand of magic.

    Meyers can barely explain what a vampire even IS.

    I rest my case >:(

    Reply
  • […] Egypt and a little bit to the more current fad of loving someone who also happens to be undead (see Twilight, True Blood, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). […]

    Reply
  • 6. LT Archives: Vampires! « Literary Transgressions  |  April 18, 2010 at 12:04 am

    […] KT gave Twilight a fair viewing in her review in April 2009, Some Might Call It Dusk. […]

    Reply

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