Finishing my series on the book...
First off, before I really get into the last part of this book, I want to explain some things I realized after reading Steph Meyer's and Twilight
's Wikipedia pages.
--What bothered me about Bella's sudden popularity when going to a new school was based on a real event in Meyer's life. But in Meyer's case, it wasn't a new high school. "Bella's positive reception at her new school in Forks, particularly her popularity with male characters, was modeled after Meyer's real life move from high school to college. Comparing her transitional experience to Bella's, Meyer noted that after her own move to college her 'stock went through the roof,' commenting that "beauty is a lot more subjective than you might think.'"
My comment: see, THAT would have made sense to me! Going away to college is very different from going away to attend a new high school halfway through your junior year. College is so very different from high school, the atmosphere is different, no-one cares about fashion as much, everything's a lot more transient, there are no entrenched cliques because everyone is new... I could believe Bella's sudden popularity had she been going to college. I still can't believe it when going to a new high school.
was inspired by a dream Meyer had: Chapter 13 is essentially the transcript of that dream. I have no problem with that: Narnia started the same way. What I'd like to point out is that Twilight before Chapter 13 and Twilight
after Chapter 13 are essentially two different books
, two different stories
; knowing that 13 is the pivot explains much in terms of how the narrative works.
I mentioned in my pulse that I actually kinda enjoyed Chapters 15 and 16. Well, while I didn't enjoy the following chapters (for various reasons), they were still more tolerable than the first fourteen chapters of this book--notice I flew through the rest of the book, while it had taken me days to get to the half-way point. Chapters 1-13 have one plot; Chapters 14-24 have an entirely different plot, one with a faster pace and an ensemble cast.
The goal of the book's first half is simply to get us to the point where Bella knows Edward is a vampire but is in love with him anyway. It's setting us up. Its weakness is that it takes so long to get us to that point. The second half has Bella meet Edward's family, learn more about where they come from, watch their interactions, fall astray of a tracker vampire, and be protected by the entire vampire clan now (except maybe Rosalie). In short, the plot arc of the second half is in how the Cullens warm up to and accept Bella. Its weakness is that the characters are still their flawed selves from before, and that the plot still bends over backwards for them.The Book's Second Plot
So we finally meet the Cullens, and from the start the characterization is sharper. Heck, you can see this even in the varied way they greet Bella when she comes to their house: Carlisle and Esme are polite and keep their distance, Alice runs down the stairs and gives her a kiss on the cheek, Jasper keeps his distance but uses his powers to ease away any tension, Rosalie refuses to see Bella, and Emmet is off trying to convince Rosalie. These are clear characters with clear personalities: and such a relief after the bland one-dimensionalness of Jessica, Angela, Mike, Eric, Tyler and Lauren. (Also, I agree with whoever said that the books would be better if they were about Alice--she's the most vivid and most interesting out of the entire ensemble.) They have a good backstory: I liked the story of how Carlisle came to be. (He's another one who's more interesting and deserves more screentime than he's given.)
They all go and play super-powered baseball, where they all use their super-powers to do insane and impossible things with a ball and bat, and--
Hang on a second. I realized why I like the Cullens more that the other characters in this book.
--We've got the mind-reading one
--We've got the future-seeing one
--We've got the casting-his-emotions-onto-you one
--We've got the one with the power of "pigheadedness," whatever that means
--We've got the one whose power is compassion (Lame power, if you ask me: kinda like on Captain Planet where the one kid gets the power of 'Heart' while the others can shoot flame or make earthquakes.)
Holy crap. The Cullens are the X-men.
All right, all right, but seriously. I commented previously about how Meyer's vampires are far more like superheroes than vampires. Their defining characteristics are their strength and speed (which are far more than even vampire strength and speed should be), or their powers (which, while some versions of vampires have some psychic abilities, I don't think it was ever this varied or this powerful), while retaining none of the vampire weaknesses... Bella even keeps making references to vampirism as being "Superman," especially when trying to convince Edward to turn her. ("'I can't always be Lois Lane,' I insisted. 'I want to be Superman, too.'")
Anyway, they're playing superhero baseball, when the plot starts to die. The reason for this is that the internal conflict is (thank God) over, and the character conflict (except for with Rosalie) has fizzled, and plot needs drink conflict every few days in order to stay alive and keep from going on a hunger-induced rampage. Doctor, get me three cc's of external conflict, stat! Enter the three vampire nomads, one of whom is a "tracker," and who (in the middle of negotiations with a larger and more powerful vampire clan, i.e. the Cullens) suddenly fixates on Bella and decides to hunt and kill her FOR NO REASON.
Well. It's not because he's hungry--Alice said they'd eaten in Seattle. It's not to protect their secret--Carlisle clearly has Bella under his protection. Edward (via his convenient mind-reading ability, which eliminates the need for the readers to make their own connections about character motivation because the author can just spell it out for you) claims that his motivation is "for the challenge.""'Why did this James decide to kill me? There're people all over the place, why me?'He hesitated, thinking before he answered. 'I got a good look at his mind tonight,' he began in a low voice... 'It is partially your fault.' His voice was wry. 'If you didn't smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered. But when I defended you... well, that made it a lot worse. He's not used to being thwarted... Suddenly we've presented him with a challenge--a large clan of strong fighters all bent on protecting the one vulnerable element. You wouldn't believe how euphoric he is now. It's his favorite game...'"
Okay. First point. I can believe in a hunter character that does things "for the challenge." That's a common trope--look at Pete Postlethwaite's character in Jurassic Park 2, or Boba Fett. But think about this. You're a predator, but you're in someone else's territory. You're warily approaching the other predators--who are stronger than you--to negotiate and possibly ally. Someone in your clan even just capitulated, saying "We won't hunt in your range." Psychologically, this is not the moment you're looking for a challenge: you're outnumbered, you're vulnerable. (Meyer tries to lampshade this by having Laurent talk about how relentless and powerful James is, but I have trouble swallowing it. It just seems so random, and so plot-convenient.)(When I was young I tried to write a book that was centered around these guys with mystical powers who fought with swords in the modern-day, sort of a Highlander rip-off. I finally gave it up when I realized that 2/3 of my plot was just trying to justify why they were using swords and not guns. This plot element of Twilight reminds me of that.)
Second point: "It's partially your fault"?! Okay, maybe Edward was trying for some humor here, but still. What an inappropriate thing to say. That's like, "Hey, it's partially that girl's fault she got raped. If she didn't have dark hair, or such nice boobs, maybe he wouldn't have raped her." Not cool, Edward.
In fact, this being-chased-by-a-tracker situation seems to highlight, and provide excuses for, Edward's and Bella's icky character flaws. Edward becomes more domineering than ever, but now it's supposedly justified because he's being protective. ("'...I'm going to be a little... overbearingly protective over the next few days--or weeks--and I wouldn't want you to think I'm naturally a tyrant.'"
) ("The silence lasted for a long minute as Edward and Alice stared each other down. I broke it. 'Does anyone want to hear my plan?' 'No,' Edward growled."
) He seems to have such a thing against ever letting Bella drive a car, ever: previously he's physically dragged her away from her car to his, or blocked her from getting into her car with his body; how he lifts her out of the driver's seat while she's driving. Meanwhile Bella shows a manipulative side again, breaking her father's heart to provide an excuse for why she's disappearing. I understand that this is supposedly justified because she's trying to save his life, trying to keep the tracker from bothering him, but still, it's a damned low blow to storm out of the house shouting the same exact words your mother did years ago when they divorced. ("'It didn't work out, okay? I really, really hate Forks!'"
So from there, the story progresses to its eventual climax. Bella hides out with Alice and Jasper until James tricks her out into the open, there is much fighting and last-minute-swooping-in, Edward manages to save Bella's life, and then surprise-takes-her-to-the-prom. He refuses--despite her repeated requests--to make her into a vampire so they can be together forever. And at this impasse, the camera fades to black.
So many loose character threads remain unresolved: and all of them are human. I understand that the vampire characters come across as more interesting, and that all Bella's attention is on Edward, but still... I'm a big fan of closure.
Charlie. Bella verbally destroyed Charlie, pulling out below-the-belt lines from his past. Yet we never see her really making up for that upon her return. He's only even mentioned in exposition or off-camera: "Charlie had been... difficult since my return to Forks. ...he was stubbornly convinced that Edward was at fault--because, if not for him, I wouldn't have left home in the first place... These days I had rules that hadn't existed before: curfews... visiting hours."
Okay, that's nice, Bella. But how about his reaction to you pulling out the most painful moment of his life and rubbing it in his face? How did you two smooth that over? We don't know, because he just fades out of the picture. (And, in a final burst of inconsistent character, his "stubborn" insistence that Bella's injuries were Edward's fault doesn't stop him from conspiring with Edward to sneak her to the prom, or apparently getting glee at Tyler being let down, since he put Tyler on the phone with Edward.)
Bella's human friends. They were never developed very much anyway, they were almost placeholders until Bella could get past Edward's walls, and once Bella and Edward are official, they cease to be important. Tyler is the only one who really gets spotlighted, because in his arrogant assumption that Bella was prom-ing with him, we learn that he shows up to find Bella already gone with Edward. But Jessica, Mike, Angela, Lauren--they get a single paragraph's mention at the end, their faces visible in the crowd as Edward and Bella dance past. Eric, the poor Golden-Retriever-like nerd, doesn't even get that.The Whole Book: My Reaction
Understand this much: when I was in high school, I was on the borderlands of what you might call Goth. In some ways I'm still a lapsed Goth. So if you want to tell a story about falling in love with sexy vampires, look, I'm pulling for you. I won't pretend that I, when I was a young horny adolescent, never had a vampire fantasy, though being male such fantasies usually were less romantic and more about... other things. *cough* *changes subject* My point being, you'd think I'd be naturally inclined to like this sort of thing.
I won't deny that there are things about this book that my opinion has improved on. I was worried that Meyer had made vampires "tame," and though she did indeed seem to make them into a sort of Justice League, her vamps are still bloodthirsty and dangerous.
Nevertheless, there are things that still glaringly bother me about this book.
As a writer, I can say there are ways that it needed to be improved. This is less an indictment of Steph Meyer and more of her editor: this was Meyer's first book, she couldn't have known better, it was her editor's job to catch these things. For example: Bella probably needed at least one clear, vivid friend/acquaintance with an actual personality: Jessica or Angela should have been clearer, with more backstory and screentime. Or, better, yet, get some of the Cullens to have speaking roles sooner: let Alice join Bella's lunchtable, work her in earlier. Stop beating the "she's so popular at Forks High School" into our heads: take her three human suitors (Tyler, Eric, Mike) and combine them into one for simplicity's sake. ("Mylic"? "Eriker"?) Then you can really work up the rivalry between him and Edward. James, Victoria, and Laurent should definitely make an earlier appearance, rather than being tossed in a hundred pages from the end. Smooth out any character inconsistencies (like the ones I've pointed out in previous entries). Shorten the front half of the book with its overabundance of foreshadowing: let's spend less time staring at Edward from across the cafeteria, less time guessing what he is, more time after we've found out he's a vampire. Those are the changes I'd suggest as a fellow practitioner of wordcraft.
As a potential hypothetical future father, who knows that maybe my potential hypothetical future daughters will read this book someday, I have a separate set of complaints. It's not that I'm worried that my daughters will emulate Bella in letting strange boys watch them while they sleep. It's that I don't like what this book implies about male/female relationships. When I was a child, every now and then my mother would force us to watch musicals--one of her favorites being "My Fair Lady" starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. Yet for all that she loved this movie, she always had a lecture in store for us after the last scene--when Professor Henry Higgins finally realizes he loves Eliza, and Eliza comes back to him, but he just settles back in his chair and says, 'Where the devil are my slippers, Eliza?' As the credits rolled, my mother would shake her finger at me and tell me never to treat a woman that way, and she'd shake her finger at my sister and tell her all sorts of nasty things to do to any man who ever tried to treat her that way. My kids, if they read Twilight, will get a similar lecture. I just wouldn't want them emulating this sort of relationship.
--Edward. I've already outlined what I feel Edward's character flaws are. He's possessive, uses force to get his way, he ignores Bella's requests, he treats her like a child, and enters Bella's personal spaces without asking permission. (Even Bella comments that Alice is the only vampire who ever asked permission before picking her up.) If all these things were described as character flaws
by the narrative, I wouldn't have a problem with them. But because the narrator and narrative (and possibly the author) mention them but do not seem to think of them as flaws
--because they're always explained away because Bella is in love, or because Edward is being protective--I have a problem. (Any son of mine will be raised to be respectful to women, to let go when a woman says "Let go!" or "Put me down!")
--Bella. Her manipulative moments, while unnerving, aren't portrayed in a good light even by herself, so they actually don't bother me too much. What bothers me more is the wholly engrossing nature of her relationship with Edward. Her fading-into-the-background friends, her sputtering relationship with her father and with her mother, the way nothing else in the world seems important to her--these all seem symptomatic of a relationship that she's given her whole life over to. And those are emotionally dangerous. I know--I had one of those, once. When it ended--and it ended badly--I was a depressed wreck for six months. (I understand that Bella herself even goes through something like that when Edward breaks up with her in New Moon.) I'm worried that this sort of obsessed relationship is being held up as a good thing by the narrative.
All that being said, there actually were a one or two parts of this book that I didn't mind reading. I am even a little curious to see if Meyer's writing did improve over her subsequent books, and I'd like to know more about those Volturi.
However, there was much in here that just never should have seen the light of day. I don't like the relationship as it is depicted, and the storytelling is off. Furthermore, it may be a very long time before I can stomach the other books, even assuming I can at all. I've got two words for you: dental caesarian
. (from here)