by Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown, and Company, 2005
[Challenge # 29: A book by someone everyone else seems to have read but you have not.]
Well, well. What to say about Stephenie Myer’s YA vampire romance Twilight that hasn’t been said before? This book was bad. Execrably, horrifyingly, stultifyingly, bad. It was so dull I couldn’t even fall asleep by it; it was like an annoying bedmate droning on and on into my ear. When I tried to read Fifty Shades of Gray I had to stop for the same reason. Now I can see E. L. James had perfected Myer’s style to a T.
The book failed in suspense, pacing, tension, conflict, and plot logic. Those are big failures off the bat. I began dog-earing pages every time I found a new failure, and had I continued to the end, every damn page would have been dog-eared multiple times, folded over and over into origami.
The character of 17-year-old Bella Swan, the high school girl who narrates the book, is dull as dishwater. Never mind that contrived name, in no way, shape, or form is she a teenage girl. Her observations and narration are those of a priggish 30-something woman who has been dropped into the story to drift through it in weary ennui. She’s analytical, detached, and passively-aggressively contemptuous of her surroundings, especially her peers, who bore her, and her parents, who she refers to by their first names for no reason given by the author. Also for no reason she feels compelled to take care of them even though they are two healthy, normally functioning adults, and it was actually unintentionally humorous how they ignored her and mouthed platitudes when she makes her angst known to them. I guess mom and dad saw, as the reader isn’t supposed to, how dull Bella is. Seriously, the girl had no passion for anything.
I think what happened here was Myer wanted to publish the book using omniscient POV, but was advised not to. So she chose Bella as her viewpoint character. But writing successfully in first person involves actually becoming the character, having them narrate the things that are important to them through their own filters, and Myers couldn’t or wouldn’t pull it off. So what should be Bella-the-teen-girl-narrator is actually Myers-the-omniscient-writer who notes every little nod, wink, and detail, even when, logically, Bella shouldn’t, because she’s a teenage girl and would be filtering through a teen’s rather limited life experience. In fact, I actually read resentment into Bella’s depiction of high school life and her interactions with her parents, as if the author would just rather have not dealt with it, but had to write something, because this was a book about a teenage love story set partly in a high school. That it was so tedious perhaps expressed the author’s own prejudices. Clearly she didn’t think much of high school and saw it herself as boring. But then, why bore the reader with it?
The only times the book perks up is when Bella interacts with Edward Cullen, the immortal teen vampire, and his vampire family, who were very influenced by Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles antiheroes with their endless wealth and nomadic lifestyle. Other critics have pointed out how codependent Bella is, and how creepy and controlling Edward is, but even forgiving this—because it’s fiction—the story still wasn’t the sort of thing I would have bought into as either a teen or an adult. The theme of temptation and restraint didn’t resonate because we never see the vampires acting like, well, vampires, so the threat of Edward sucking Bella dry didn’t carry a lot of weight. Even when the two meet a stray vampire who intends to do just that the story is weightless. Bella doesn’t even evince any fear of him until a few pages have passed… she’s too busy describing everyone else’s speeches and reactions.
So, even though I began the book with an open mind, I couldn’t vicariously enjoy the experience of being a lovesick teenage girl with a crush on a vampire, because the character felt so false.
A few of the things the book was maligned for I actually liked. The concept of having vampires who glittered in the sunlight was cool, as was a baseball game they play in a thunderstorm, where the thunder hides the supersonic strikes of the bat. These bits were playful and fun, what the majority of the book should have been. Fun was evident in the early chapters, too, when Edward was being cryptic and infuriating in his attraction, and Bella rips him a new one over his mixed signals. I guess I didn’t expect her to be so feisty. She surprised me again near the end of the book, where she notes the inequality in their relationship and asks him to make her a vampire so they can be on a more equal footing. But between these two parts, the dialogue was repetitive and didn’t serve to move the story along. Bella’s much-maligned clumsiness was repetitive too, a contrivance by the author to give her some relatable quirk. I was actually wondering if she had some neurological disease by the middle of the book.
The sheer repetitiveness was, in fact, the story’s biggest flaw after Bella herself. The reader is told endlessly what Bella is cooking or eating, what she plans to cook or eat, and what cars the other kids at her school are driving; we are told how fast they drive those cars and how it frightens her, how they carpool, how they fasten their seatbelts, etc., etc. The writing bits that should have been special, like the spooky atmosphere of the temperate rain forest, get lost in all this mundania. Even though Myers is not a good writer there were a few evocative passages of description, like a cookout on a chilly Pacific beach, that had promise, and it was a shame the dreck wasn’t pruned to let them shine.
Toward the last quarter of the book I gave up and started to skim, because the plot got too preposterous. Some random vampire decides he must have Bella for a snack, despite hundreds of easier, and more interesting, girls to feast from? And Bella’s hysterically afraid super-powered Edward is in danger from said vampire, despite having his super-powered family as backup? Then Bella runs away to give up her life to save her mom, despite being detached from said mom for the majority of the book? You don’t say! And of course the reader never gets to see the flights, the flights, or any of this high drama, because Bella is either cooped up in a cheap hotel room or unconscious.
I could go on, but there’s no point, and I don’t want to refer back to the dog-eared pages and torment myself afresh.
Instead, this book is going to be doused with lighter fluid and thrown in the firepit.