Friday, November 20, 2009

Old People Shake their Canes at Twilight

With New Moon premiering today, Tricia and I thought it would be fun to read the first Twilight book. Besides, it’s been awhile since we’ve done anything for our massive fanbase of teenage girls.

Turns out “fun” was the wrong word...

I wanted to like Twilight, truly. I’ve almost given up on having books to discuss with my kids and my daughter has devoured the Twilight series. I thought this could be it.

But having read the first in the series, I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest.
Don’t misunderstand though. I am glad that my daughter and her friends enjoy the series and I hope they keep reading the books.

I understand the appeal, and if I were in high school I’d likely be entranced by Edward Cullen too.

What girl doesn’t dream of an impossibly handsome, well-to-do guy who does anything to ensure her safety and happiness!

Edward fills that bill.

But the novel itself is so not good.

Has no one noticed that the Cullens don’t age? Don’t eat?

How can Bella discover Edward is a vampire in a matter of weeks while others just accept the fact that the family is odd.

How can she accept that he’s a vampire in a matter of seconds?!

How can this story drag on for 500 pages!

Where is the depth? Even when Edward talks about his “change” so little is revealed to the reader. The same is true when Bella talks about why she moved to live with her father, why the Cullens are “vegetarians,” how they manage to survive undetected ...

And the writing itself drew more than a few eye rolls.

“The meadow, so spectacular to me at first, paled next to his magnificence.”

“I wanted so badly to run, but I was frozen. I couldn’t even flinch away.”

“Directly behind me, Tyler Crowley was in his recently acquired used Sentra, waving.”

“His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface.”

Yet, somehow Stephanie Meyer has managed to capture the hearts of millions with her series.

I won’t be picking up any of the sequels, but I know my daughter and her friends will.

Twilight is to teenage girls as superhero comics are to teenage boys.

It’s emotional pornography. It touches the right spots until it elicits a cheap feeling of gratification.

Reviews of Twilight tended toward the positive. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and said it was “propelled by suspense and romance in equal parts.” New York Times selected it as an editor’s choice.

I don’t see how anyone older than 18 could get into it.

Some sort of disclaimer is necessary before I continue. It’s easy — fashionable, even — for an online critic to bash a mega-successful book. Jumping on a bandwagon may be trite, but snubbing a popular book is still pandering to a specific crowd.

So let me make this clear. I’m not a literary elitist. I’ve never read anything by Marcel Proust book. I dislike Charles Dickens. I read all of the Harry Potter books and unapologetically enjoyed more than half of them. (The first two were typical children’s fare. The fifth one was bloated beyond justification.)

I was willing to give Twilight a fair shake, but its tactics are as subtle as Batman headbutting a henchman.

Twilight is designed to dazzle adolescent females, and I can see how it would work. The reader is supposed to be Isabella Swan — bookish, awkward, isolated. She doesn’t feel accepted by anyone anywhere. And then she meets Edward.

Edward has the musculature of a Greek sculpture (Meyer’s words), the face of an angel (also Meyer’s words), plays the piano and, yes, ladies, he can dance.

He’s also protective of Isabella and completely devoted to her.

In other words, he’s about as realistic as Wonder Woman asking me out for a date.

Comic books have been fairly criticized for creating impossible ideals of female beauty. Edward is their inevitable counterpart, the impossible ideal of male chivalry.

He exists for young woman to swoon over, and Twilight has a few passages that seem borrowed from bawdier bodice-rippers. (To be fair, vampires are a ready metaphor for the dangers of sex. A sex-less vampire is like a hair-less werewolf.)

Edward’s non-character would be more forgivable if there were something else to sustain this story, but Meyer has no new ideas to add to the vampire genre.

This is a stereotypical teen romance (new girl meets brooding loner) paired with a stereotypical vampire story (young woman is endangered by bloodsucking villain; hero must save her.)

Also, Meyer paces Twilight frustratingly. A romantic plot meanders for 375 pages until a villain is introduced. The villain, another vampire named James, actually isn’t half bad. He’s sadistic, clever and adds tension to a narrative that often drifts. But his motives are generic. He seems like an afterthought, something an editor told Meyer to add.

Meyer’s heart seems to be invested in the romantic will-they/won’t-they/how-can-they relationship of Isabella and Edward. Meyer only gives Edward the slightest of reasons for his unshakable devotion to Isabella. (You’re my favorite flavor, he explains.) But that’s fine, as long as you can identify strongly with Isabella.

But I can’t. Pick your reason: age, gender, social skills...

It’s all decent escapism if you’re a teenage girl; but if you’re anything else, Twilight is a waste of your time.

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