Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Book review: "Twilight," by Stephanie Meyer
By Stephanie Meyer
Little, Brown and Company
A friend has convinced me to try my hand this year for the first time at writing children's literature; but I don't actually know anything about children's literature, so am starting the process among other ways by first reading a stack of popular books that have been recommended to me. Today's title of course needs no introduction to most: it's after all part of the second most popular YA series on the planet behind Harry Potter, and what eventually let its author Stephanie Meyer break into the "50 Richest Artists in America" list in 2008, partly helped by a massive grassroots publicity campaign by her fellow Mormons, to help promote this book about teens where no one drinks, smokes, does drugs or has sex. And here's the big surprise -- it's not actually that bad, or at least in comparison to other Young Adult novels out there; and that of course is what has garnered it so much criticism, that millions of adults have now precisely treated and therefore judged it like one would an adult novel (the exact reason it became such a huge bestseller in the first place), and for the most part a YA novel will simply pale in comparison to just about any popular adult novel that exists, barring a few exceptions such as perhaps Sarah Dessen or John Green.
For those who don't know, the book is essentially "Jane Austen Meets Dracula," with Meyer using a whole series of clever gimmicks to recreate all the great elements of Austen's oppressive, mannered Georgian world in our postmodern, anything-goes times; set in a small town in the Pacific Northwest where everybody knows everybody else's business, like Austen's Northanger Abbey it features as our hero an impetuous, mistake-prone 17-year-old girl named Bella, with an overactive imagination and healthy disrespect for blind authority, as she slowly develops an obsession for a family of standoffish yet impossibly gorgeous siblings who attend the same school as her, and especially the brooding, Byronic oldest brother Edward, who is assigned as her lab partner in Chemistry and quickly develops an intense push/pull relationship with her. As the novel continues, then, and Bella discovers the truth about the mysterious Cullen family (SPOILER ALERT: they're vampires), again Meyer uses the milieu mostly for the Austenesque purpose of letting the two hold hands and make googly-eyes at each other for several hundred pages, until interrupted by a forced Act Three that feels arbitrary and tacked-on ("And then some random Bad Guy shows up and decides to kill Bella for no discernible reason"), as if someone had told Meyer that all vampire novels must end with an action scene, even though her whole point was to write a Regency-style love story.
I mean, yes, the whole thing is a silly mess at a lot of points; but I was fully expecting a book designed for overly emotional 14-year-old girls to seem like a silly mess to me, which is why I instead read it more for analytical reasons, to see if I could figure out why teenaged girls go so nuts over this book in the first place, in an attempt to perhaps help my own wannabe career as a YA author. And the fact is that it's very easy to see why teenaged girls go so crazy for this entire series, with Meyer smartly tapping into some universal truths about idealized female desire, which I'm sure is why so many millions of fully-grown adult females who should theoretically know better have responded so passionately to this too -- after all, Edward possesses the looks of a Roman statue and a gay man's appreciation for expensive clothes and classical music; is rich but artsy and disdainful of money; is ruled by dark emotions yet has a surprisingly easy-to-control handle over them; secretly follows her around so that he can miraculously save her from her own ineptitude at ridiculously convenient moments, yet never comes off like a stalker when doing so; never ever pressures her to have sex because his burning, overwhelming hunger for her would literally rip her apart if he ever acted on it; plus his sinewy, muscular body literally freaking sparkles when directly exposed to sunlight. So in other words, he's the exact portrait of a 14-year-old girl's idea of a perfect boyfriend, which like I said is also apparently the romantic ideal of millions of fully grown women who should know much better.
That's not such a terrible crime when all is said and done, which is why I didn't find the book all that bad despite its eyerolling nature; although admittedly feminists are going to have a field day over this book's overarching "Bachelor"esque message, that women are essentially terminal screw-ups whose lives will never be better until a dominating man they're kind of scared of majestically swoops in fairytale-style and rescues them. In any case, now that I've read it myself, it's easy to see why so many people have responded so intensely to it, and has definitely given me some tips as far as the struggle in my own life to write entertaining stories for young females. You already know whether you yourself are going to love or hate Twilight, and I urge you to listen to your gut when it comes to whether or not you should pick up a copy.