Continuing my review of Twilight...
Traditionally, there are three elements to a good story: Plot, Character, and Setting. These elements have blurred in recent years' analysis: the first two are very much intertwined, while the last may not be as crucial to certain types of story. Nevertheless, they do serve as a handy rubric for narrowing down where Stephenie Meyer's strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller are.Setting:
This is Meyer's strongest point. She actually has very strong prose when describing scenery. Her description of Charlie's house is vivid and strong; her setting in the beach trip scene is incredible. For example, here's a tidal pool that Bella's looking into..."The bouquets of brilliant anemones undulated ceaselessly in the invisible current, twisted shells scurried about the edges, obscuring the crabs within them, starfish stuck motionless to the rocks and each other, while one small black eel with white racing stripes wove through the bright green weeds, waiting for the sea to return."
It could use a few semicolons, sure, but it's clear, it's vivid, I can picture it in my mind.Plot:
This is shaky with Meyer, and I'll tell you why. It really isn't fair for me to comment on this book's plot arc before I've finished the book, but there are several things I've noticed are missing. I know (due to movie previews and the book's prologue) that at some point a tracker vampire will go after Bella, and Edward will have to fight him. We've seen neither hide nor hair of that fella yet. I know that the other Cullen "children" will become characters in their own rights, with speaking parts and all, instead of just being described from across the cafeteria. We haven't met them yet. And we're past the halfway point of this book.
When people will become plot-crucial, you want to work them in as soon as possible. I'm worried we're going to end up with James being some kind of villain-ex-machina, popping up out of nowhere in the third-to-last chapter.
This only makes literary sense if we see the book's entire plot so tightly focused on Edward and Bella's relationship that our only arc is found therein, and that all other characters/villains/events are only there to serve that end. In other words, that the author started with the relationship and then said, "What can I throw at these two that will show how awesome Edward is?" Hence, the random small-town rapists, a suddenly-popping-out-of-nowhere vampiric antagonist, etc.
To be sure, many authors have a favorite book element that they design the plot around. It just shouldn't be this transparent.Character:
This is Steph Meyer's Kryptonite. She's working hard at creating two vivid characters in our minds, and to a certain extent she is succeeding at that. Give me a situation, I can probably intuit what Bella or Edward will do in that situation. (If it's Bella, the answer's probably: "trip and fall and wait for Edward to save her, then berate Edward sarcastically.")
My complaints about her Character amount to:
--Her characterization is often inconsistent. (See my first post, about Bella's sudden unlikely switch from angsty to grateful and back, for an example.)
--Her two main characters, while vivid, are in several ways unlikeable. (Edward's possessiveness, extreme moodiness, and possible-domestic-abuse--once again at the end of 13, he physically overrides her will when she wants to drive her own car home. Also, he prefers the music of the '80s to the '60s.) (Bella's insistence on being constantly miserable, her occasional bouts of manipulation, and, to quote another reviewer of Twilight
, "I suppose what bothers me so much is that, right off the bat, Bella's entire relationship is borderline-dependent: she needs him to feel better about herself. She needs him to feel secure. She needs him to protect her from her inherent physical inferiority. When is Stephenie Meyer just going to stick Bella in the kitchen where she belongs, barefoot and pumping out vampire babies for Edward?"
--That apart from Charlie, almost no human characters are developed at all. (Seriously: they haven't talked yet, but Rosalie and Alice Cullen are better-developed than Jessica and Angela at this point. Eric is only characterized (disparagingly) by his "dog-like" qualities, Mike by his jealousy, Lauren by her cattiness. Each has only one dimension.)
I'm talking about these things--the book in general--because for the last few chapters practically nothing has happened. We've spent an entire chapter in the cafeteria teasing out of Edward little tiny details about how life as a high school vampire works, how he likes to eat mountain lions while his brother prefers grizzlies; we've spent another chapter in the car teasing out of Edward little tiny details about how life as a high school vampire works; we've spent another chapter between classes teasing out of Edward little details about how life as a high school vampire works, and how his mind-reading makes him jealous because of what other boys think of Bella... Also, every few sentence Bella fixates on another gorgeous part of his body, be it is hair or his eyes or his chest... And every other page the word "dazzling" gets used. It is boring as whathaveyou.
Chapter 11 even covers a full 36 hours of Edward's and Bella's conversations. I don't see how this could be interesting unless you're trying to live vicariously through one of them. I have many conversations with my wife that would be interesting to no-one except to me and her--you would be bored to death listening in. These are those kind of conversations: about Bella's favorite gemstone, about how she doesn't like moss on trees, about how brown is a nice warm color...
I love this line here: I know it's not condoned per se, and it was just Nyquil used to help her get to sleep, but the funny thing was, when Twilight first came out and I flipped through a copy in the bookstore, this was the first line I read:"I woke early, having slept soundly and dreamlessly thanks to my gratuitious drug use."
Oddly enough, it's in the same chapter that we get a drug metaphor for the reason why Bella (specifically) triggers Edward's bloodlust more than any of the other humans in the school ("'So what you're saying is, I'm your brand of heroin?' I teased, trying to lighten the mood. He smiled swiftly, seeming to appreciate my effort. 'Yes, you are
exactly my brand of heroin.'"
) And then, of course, the analogy of a non-human-eating vampire "falling off the wagon" when they accidentally kill a human. (It reminds me of that X-files episode where the brain-eating monster is attending OA meetings to try to break his brain-eating habit.)
This is, of course, another symptom of Bella's inexplicable specialness. I suppose every Disney princess or romance-novel heroine (no pun intended) gets this to a certain extent, but... She self-describes as klutzy, sallow, unattractive, and yet she is the sole object of desire for every male in the school, including her town's resident undead Adonis-in-marble.
It just seems like so much wish-fulfillment. I guess the psychological term (if someone in the real world thought that this was really happening to them for real) would be delusions of grandeur--that you are incredibly influential, attractive, etc.
Personally, to me the whole thing feels more like a giant sexual metaphor than any kind of drug-use analogy.
Now we get to Chapter 14, where we discover that Edward has been watching Bella while she sleeps. Let me make something quite clear. I already knew that Edward watched Bella while she slept at some point in this book. What I didn't know was that he was doing this without her permission, with her not knowing he was there.
But once again, because Bella is so in love with him, even this is somehow okay. ("'You spied on me?' But somehow I couldn't infuse my voice with the proper outrage. I was flattered."
) In fact, she's ticked at her father for checking in on her, when her boyfriend does it much worse. ("'See you in the morning, Dad.' See you creeping into my room at midnight tonight to check on me."
I hope there's an explanation for Bella's unexplainable popularity, why Edward can't read her mind, and her super-bloodlust-triggering appeal for Edward. Maybe she's, like, a dhampir or something?
Unfortunately, I doubt it. That's probably all the explanation I'm going to get.