I have problems with Twilight. Big problems. Big enough that I picked it back up and finished it. Yup. I hated the book so much that I forced myself to re-read it, just so I could defend my point of view from all those out there who love the book with a hot, shimmery, flower-breathed, teeny-bopper kind of love.
It all started with reading the book the first time and muddling through the hack writing, abominable writers tics, repetitive phrasing ( as one friend put it, “it’s very easy to imagine Meyer’s working with an open thesaurus”), and a penchant for high melodrama. The characterization is the equivalent of cardboard cutouts. There is no progression or emotional growth for any character and they are pulled through the narrative by puppet string. Anyways, enough about the craptastic mechanics of the book.
One of the better reviews I’ve read out there is from Chelsey at Goodreads.com. I think Chelsey puts it best when she described Bella and her relationship with Edward this way:
“It’s not romance, it’s not passion, it’s not love. It’s selfish idiocy at best. Bella as a character is insufferable: her self-sacrificing streak is not compassion, it’s sheer stupidity.”
In conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues, the general consensus is that relationship between Bella and Edward reminds us of either a boyfriend we had or one that a friend had who was jealous, controlling, moody, obsessive, and above all isolating. These relationships are not healthy and not cool.
Another issue is the conflation of sex and violence inherent in the vampire trope. Now, I have no problem with sex and violence as they appear in the vampire storylines: I read and enjoyed JR Ward’s first few Black Dagger Brotherhood novels and I’m fascinated by HBO’s new show True Blood. What worries me with Twilight is that there’s a veneer of romanticism layered over the violence and erotic tension. It’s this white-washing of something so adult and presented to adolescent women as romantic and lovely that bothers me. I realize this walks a fine line and professionally I would never, ever dream of telling anyone not to read a book for any reason. People have a right to chose whatever literature they want when they want.
However, I wouldn’t want these books in my house if I have daughters. I’m not comfortable with a relationship like Bella and Edward’s being presented to young women as acceptable. Bella is a girl who gives up everything – all her hopes, dreams, ambitions to be with a guy. That is not the type of person I want a daughter of mine to model herself after, and Edward is definitely not a guy I would want a son to idolize. However, if they brought it home from the library, I wouldn’t stop them reading it, but oh boy like damn would there be a contextualizing conversation before and after!
What really steams me is that there are young women out there who want to be like Bella and are looking for an Edward. A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly relates the current Twilight buzz in older women to a deep-seated desire for women to “cherish, almost to fetishize, the tokens of her little-girlhood.” I think this is a big steaming pile of horse pucky.
The one thing the author does get right is the way teenage girls read. They read to be taken away from their own lives, transported and made to experience something wholly and completely different. In these new worlds they can work out their own challenges through heroines different and yet, no quite so unfamiliar than themselves. I read the same way when I was a teen – swept away to the shores of Trebond, or to the misty isle of Avalon, or out West with the Ingalls.
The fact that this author thinks Twilight is a good example of this type of psychological space is disturbing in the extreme. In her own article she points out everything that is wrong with the book. The stellar example is the anachronistic setting complete with girls longing for domestic roles straight out of some 1950’s ettiquette guide. The article’s author even says that
“Bella is an old-fashioned heroine: bookish, smart, brave, considerate of others’ emotions, and naturally competent in the domestic arts…”
And hoo-boy is Bella competent with the domestic arts. The article’s author just can’t say enough about how capable Bella is in taking care of all the men in her life. (And she can bake a MEAN potato.)
The author of the article also waxes long and poetically (in a bad, angsty-teenage sort of way) for her own “lost” youth and the boy she dated in high school who encouraged her to ditch her classes and drink in the park. The author may not remember much about geometry, but she sure remembers a lot about how girls are supposed to BEHAVE – and being independent, smart, and focused clearly aren’t attributes that matter.
A friend wrote in a recent email conversation:
“You know what would have been intriguing/original/progressive? If Bella was the vampire. That’s all I kept thinking the whole time. What a mind-fuck that would be if the girl was powerful and dangerous and complex and mysterious?? OMFG! No one would read it because it would be perceived as being too weird and unconventional and just plain unreasonable – I BET YOU. Haha, Bella could save Edward from almost being molested by a scary small-town gang of deranged fishermen. But noooooo, the girl always has to be the goddamn victim who gets saved by the boy whose skin fucking SPARKLES in the sun.”
Now THAT would be a book I could get behind.