Saturday, September 5, 2009
Warning, contains spoilers. Thank you to Alisa, for the entertaining photos she took on a recent trip to Forks, Wash., where the Twilight series is set.
This shabbat (sabbath) I finished "Breaking Dawn," Stephenie Meyer's last book in the Twilight Saga. I picked up "Twilight" in the library earlier this year, way behind in the fad, which is why I could get it at the library at all! I was very contemptuous of the novel, assuming that anything that had teenage girls so captivated just had to suck. For the two people left on the planet who don't know the premise, it's that Edward Cullen, a teenage vampire, falls in love with a mortal girl, Bella Swan. I had an instant aversion to Bella in the first 70 pages of Twilight, then light dawned on my marble head: the reason this girl is so whiny, self-centered, and obnoxious was because she is 17. Meyer is accurately portraying a teenager.
Edward's attraction to Bella presents a problem, because she's technically his prey. But the Cullens are "vegetarian" vampires, subsisting on animal blood and abstaining from hunting humans. Edward has to go through an incredible acclimation to be able to be around Bella at all. This is where, bizarrely, I got very interested. My friend describes "Twilight" as "abstinence porn," and I think he's totally right. Most of the novel is a painfully slow ramping up of Edward and Bella's emotional and physical relationship. Basically, it's one very long tease, and I found it titillating, to put it mildly. I'm not sure what it says about me that I was drawn to teasing, teenage lust, but I'll leave that to the professionals. When Edward finally kissed Bella, I distinctly remember sighing aloud, "Thank God!" and feeling a palpable sense of release.
"Twilight" and the two books following it, "Eclipse" and "New Moon" are mostly fluff fiction. Here, I need to diverge: it has become apparent to me living in D.C. for 15 years that people here are as snobbish as they come about literature, with the possible exception of the New York City intelligentsia. For example, take Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love." I thought this book was hilarious, moving, and enlightening, as did the millions of other readers who have kept it on The New York Times Best Seller list for multiple years. The general impression among my friends ranged from incredulousness (with a strong undertone of jealousy, I think) that Gilbert got an advance large enough to travel for a year around the world and write this book. They seemed to allege that this somehow made her experience less credible, which I disagree with. Then there were the snarky comments about Gilbert's "Oprah-esque" spirituality. I've seen that sentiment about "Eat, Pray, Love" echoed in popular culture.
I don't think "Eat, Pray, Love" was fluff. But the older I get and the more complicated life gets, the more good fluff appeals to me. Reading is a much healthier escape than television, drugs, or food, right? What's wrong with writing fun books that people want to read? James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Charles Dickens might be brilliant writers, but no one other than my father-in-law wants to read their work! I feel the same way about Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." Again, people were so down on this book. I'm not usually into the thriller genre, but I found "The Da Vinci Code" a really fun, fast-paced read. This book isn't as pure an example as "Eat, Pray, Love," because a lot of the heat surrounding it came from Dan Brown's stalwart defense that the sordid secrecy of Opus Dei that he alleges in the novel is real.
Anyway, back to the Twilight saga. I didn't enjoy "Breaking Dawn," as much as I enjoyed the first three books. Partially because once Edward and Bella are fornicating regularly, the tease and the details were gone to keep it salable to a teenage audience, and the other literary tension of if/when Bella is going to be turned to a vampire is resolved early in the novel. I am a slow reader, but I flew through the first three books. I read "Breaking Dawn" much more slowly; partially because I wanted to savor it since it's the last book of the series, and partially because I didn't find it to be the page-turner the earlier books were. However, I gained a whole lot of respect for Meyer as an author who could write more than just fluff. I thought she spends way too many pages on the unplanned half-mortal/half immortal daughter of Edward and Bella, Nessie. But this is where Meyer's writing shines; she aptly captures well the fierce, maternal protectiveness moms feel for their kids that I can only imagine from the 1/100th of a percent that I feel this way about Kacy, my dog. I can't help but stroke her as I write this. Meyer could easily stay in realm of intense emotion, but she puts Bella's devotion to the test by having her emotionally and practically prepare to send Nessie away and never see her again.
Something else that gave the Twilight series depth is Meyer's exploration of what it means to be a family, exemplified by Garrett's speech on the last paragraph of page 717 to the Volturi, kind of the martial royal family of vampiredom. I might have just invented a word! This notion of family was especially interesting in the context of vampiredom, where at best most vampires live in covens, not families. I'm not suggesting that Meyer has written some brilliant social treatise; only that there was some depth in this ultra-popular series that made it more than great fluff.
My next post will be an exploration of the unintended consequences that Twilight might have on adolescent girls' expectation about male sexuality. Good night, or more accurately, good morning!