Reviews: Books: Break, break of dawn

I’m taking advantage of the “post in the future” feature on WordPress. When this posts at 12:01 A.M. on August 2, I’ll be at $corporate_bookstore flinging copies of the fourth and (hopefully) final book of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series into the (overly) eager hands of her “fans.” And I use that term loosely.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, Meyer’s series is being touted to become “the next Harry Potter.” Where as in HP you had this fantastical world that was built upon mythology, legend, and folklore that essentially breaks down to good versus evil, in Twilight, it is a convoluted twist on the trusty Romeo and Juliet story, and like HP, is made contemporary. Other than the plot and storylines being radically different, there are also two very important slight differences between HP and Twilight: Twilight has enough sexual tensions, longing, desire and drama to cater to every 15 year old teenage girl’s inner sanctum in their heart of hearts (HP has the teenage angst of first love in the later books but it’s damned near chaste and virginal compared to the apparent “searing” heat in Twilight) and secondly, Twilight is so poorly written that it makes HP look like high brow literature.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.


Twilight (the series is named after the first book) was first released in the fall of 2005 to very small fan fare. By the time the second book, New Moon, came out in 2006 and Eclipse came out in the fall of 2007, the word had spread like wild fire. What started as a tiny cult following has grown into an international fan frenzy that has publishers drooling (Breaking Dawn, the final book, has an initial first run publication of over 3 million units — the first in the history of the publisher) and marketing gurus are already counting their millions made from all the media tie-ins, including the much hyped about movie that is slated for release in December.

Vampire romances, for at the core Twilight is nothing more than a vampiric version of Romeo and Juliet, have been around for a long time. Anne Rice is the reigning contemporary queen of the genre and other novels have appeared for years in romance, fiction, and even in teen fiction. In part, thanks to HP, paranormal novels in all genres have become superciliously hot. There are dozens of series, for adults and teens, that cater to this phenomenon. And it’s not just vampires, but any type of paranormal activity that will almost immediately cause a boost in sales. Why tell a staid tale of love gone wrong when you can make it “hip” by having at least one of the lovers be the un-dead?

Twilight, in a nutshell, is about a loner named Bella Swann (“beautiful” swan — get it?), who moves from Phoenix, AZ to Forks, WA shortly before her junior year of high school. The explanation of her move is provided in bits and pieces throughout the first few novels, but succinctly, her mother is a ditz and in love with an almost has-been AA league baseball player. Feeling the need to get out of her mother’s hair, Bella moves to Forks (the rainiest place in the entire U.S.) to live with her absentee until this point in the story, father. In Phoenix, Bella was a loner, unnoticed by her peers, who never dated, didn’t fit in, and always felt different. Of course. Yet, in Forks, within the first dozen or so chapters, Bella is literally the belle of the school and is wooed by anyone and everyone, boys and girls alike. We, the reader, are expected to believe that someone who went almost her entire life without being noticed suddenly blossomed into this desert flower that just needed a little rain to make her more noticeable.

Twilight (the book) follows Bella through her first foray into her new school and also her introduction and eventual meeting of the Cullen family. The Cullen’s represent everything that Bella (excepted) and the rest of her classmates are not: Rich, beautiful, popular, exotic, and they are all vegetarian vampires. Vegetarian in that they refuse to drink human blood and instead, hunt wild game to satisfy their thirst. The Cullen’s are a group of “adopted” kids who also happen to rule the school. It is Bella’s meeting of Edward Cullen, his initial rejection and later his adoration of her and her lust for this almost (obvs) supernaturally beautiful boy that proves to be Bella’s undoing and sets the pace for the rest of the series.

The series follows Bella, Edward, and their friends as Bella clings to Edward in a true-teenage love fest (think co-dependency), then when Edward leaves her (obvs) because, “OH I AM A VAMPIRE AND YOU ARE HUMAN” schitck, her falling in love with Jacob (after Edward leaves, obvs), her best friend who also happens to be a werewolf. Jacob is to Capulet as Edward as to Montague. The werewolves and the vampires, of course, are sworn enemies. Throw in a few slight missteps (a vampire tracker who wants Bella for her blood, old vampire kings and queens who want Bella and Edward for their own uses, enemies that are against the vampires and the wolves, Bella in love with two boys creating the perfect trifecta — think Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton and Anita’s love for a vampire AND a wolf). By the end of Eclipse (third book), Bella has pledged to forsake a human life for a vampire life, her constant begging of Edward to “turn” her and her almost too sweet to be believable love for Jacob. And at the end of Eclipse, Edward has promised to turn Bella only if she promises to marry him — something she argues against for a better part of 1.5 books — which makes ABSOLUTELY no sense. She swears, promises, begs, pleads and cajoles Edward to turn her as he is the only man she’ll ever love and she cannot live unless she is with him always but she refuses to marry him? Uh, hello? Even at my most dopiest love infatuation, I was never this moronic or irrational and I can be pretty moronic and irrational when it comes to boys.

So what exactly is the problem with the series?

  • The writing style. Told entirely in first person point of view, Bella’s, the story is almost entirely all dialog. Save for a few bits of detail and some bits and pieces of action, the entire series is nothing more than a conversation, whether it is Bella talking to Edward, Jacob, her father (who mysteriously more out of her life than in it, and they live together) and her small gaggle of friends. And if it is not conversations, it is inner monologue with her dissecting every single bit of information that has parsed through her head in regards to Edward, Edward, Edward. And oh, about Edward.
  • Plot. It’s a vampiric version of Romeo and Juliet with a mixture of The Cure and Morrissey song lyrics to fatten it up a bit. Bella is to Capulet as Edward is to Montague. Drama ensues. But in all seriousness, this isn’t really a fresh take on an old classic, just an over hashed, drawn out, and overly done version that goes on for four books what could have been wrapped up within two, and even that is being overly ambitious. The back stories that are thrown in, like pepper to make a terrible meal taste slightly better, are nothing more than filler and not very good filler at that.
  • Romance. One word: Co-dependency. Bella, who has never kissed a guy, let alone had a boyfriend in her entire life until she moves to Forks and it is there where she is suddenly the teenaged version of Marilyn Monroe — everyone wants her, wants to claim her as their own and no one can actually have her. Edward is her Jack Kennedy — loves her and cannot (really) be with her on his terms only and thus, a convoluted mess occurs. One could even make the stretch that Jacob is not only a Capulet (though Bella has known Jacob since childhood from her visits to her father through her formative years, they are not related, but their families are close enough that “cousin” would not be a stretch), but also a Bobby. I’m looking way too deep into this. ANYWAY, the relationship. 2328340 pages later, when Edward and Bella finally figure out the status of their relationship, he stalks her. He sleeps in her room at night, thanks to his vampiric properties knows where she is almost always, questions her every move and judgment and in short, controls her. And Bella loves it, even when she finds ways around his control, she thrives on his hold on her and Bella seemingly cannot operate on her own without him.
  • The sexual tension. Edward was “turned” nearly a hundred years before he met Bella and thus, has remained a virgin for all of his vampiric and human lives. Vampires apparently do not have sexual desires in the way that humans do, and each time they come close to doing more than just kissing, Edward backs off in order that his desire for her blood (and not just her body) doesn’t harm or her even better, kill her. Bella, as it is already established, is virginally pure as the driven slush and near the end of the third book, agrees to Edwards marriage proposal on the one condition they have a “proper” honeymoon before she is turned. During the course of the three books, thus far, the “tension” between these two is supposed to be so high and so highly valued that you can apparently cut it with a knife. Edward, long past his human desires for sexual pleasure, is clumsy with his fumbling of Bella and Bella, in the flush of first womanhood, apparently can keep herself in check when she’s around him (almost). The tension is build in other forms such as their mental connection, their verbal banter and their desire for each other superseding everything else. There is some realism to this dance, some but not much. It is often said you don’t miss what you’ve never known but with Bella now almost fully primed and having gone through puberty — shouldn’t she want more than a week of a honeymoon before she is turned into the supposed vampire goddess she is? Doesn’t she want more? Isn’t she going to want to celebrate her love with her new husband more than a week?
  • Back story. Meyer introduces various back stories that are to help explain why certain things are happening at various points of the story (why the werewolves and vamps hate each other is but one), but she lets plot lines loose and doesn’t bother to tie them up or even worse, let’s them dangle and clears them up with one or two lines of her trust dialog. This woman needs basic writing skills, seriously.

    If you haven’t read about the back story on Stephenie Meyer, what you should know is that she’s a practicing Mormon, something she prides herself on and mentions at least once in each of her interviews. Meyer’s one gift is the ability to keep the tension “high”while not subjecting her “fans” to pure, blatant sex. And this is the problem that I have with the novels is the absence of physicality of Bella and Edwards relationship, other than the general hugging and often chaste pecks on the cheek. Restraint is one thing but lack of ignorance of human sexuality is another and this ignorance of the sexes, especially in the prime of hormonal lives, is a responsibility that Meyer is shirking off and I find that to be ignorant of her own audience. Yes, I can understand wanting to keep the content “clean” and not promote any “negative” imagery but on the other hand, it just seems that Meyer is being socially irresponsible by removing physicality from the relationships due to her own religious belief systems. She’s not promoting abstinence, she’s promoting ignorance, which is a far worse crime.

  • The message. It seems that Meyer is attempting to promote a socially responsible, emotional based love story that captures all the elements of the classics while keeping it contemporary and without going deep into the physicality of the relationship itself. Hence, a supposed “healthy” relationship that all women should or would want to aspire to, creating beautiful characters who fall for ordinary, every day girls; the kind of fantasy that is often repeated over and over via media outlets and a message that we’ve all grown accustomed to critiquing and bitchin’ about. But in her own morality tale, of sorts, Meyer seemingly has lost touch with reality. She’s projecting a fantasy that is neither healthy, realistic nor even believable. Yes, it’s fiction but shouldn’t fiction also have traces of realism to make the unbelievable, believable? This is what other genre writers of this type seemingly excel at Meyer’s does not.

I know I’m seemingly in the minority with disliking this work, even when I start quoting the blurb from Meyer’s “adult” book, The Host, in which it states that Meyer is one of the most compelling writers of our generation — uh, no? She regurgitates existing tales that have been beaten to death and thinks that by having a wide variety of bands and musicians also as “influences” and whose own themes continually show up in her work is being “hip.” It does not indicate freshness or modernity, but laziness and lack of creative talent to come up with ones own plot lines, story arcs and character development.

I’ve heard from parents, teachers, and teens as to why they love the series. Soonja, a friend of mine who teaches high school English, stated she liked the series for its realistic look at high schoolers and the insightfulness of Bella along with Bella’s grasp of vocabulary that makes her seem much more mature than she actually is but is still easily relateable to Meyer’s intended audience. Others have said that for what it is, it’s fun and a fast read. Others still love the romance and the fantasy in the world that Meyer has created, and unfortunately (or fortunately), Meyer has spawned enough of interest in her books to get people reading again — just like J.K. Rowling did when Harry Potter first burst on the scene. At work, we’ve already started putting together displays for people entitled, “If you like Twilight…” just like we did for Harry Potter.

To wit, my problem is this: I’ve been called a book snob because I’m often seen as having a superficial knee-jerk reaction to contemporary literature, without having read it, which is not true — I read everything I review. My knee-jerk reaction is that I want people to read, I want them to get engaged with the world that reading will bring to them and also challenge themselves in their own reading habits. Reading for pleasure should be just that but one reads crap and proclaim it as great work, it just promotes more crap on being produced. I just don’t want them reading crap and accept it as a great example of literature or the genre they are interested in. I am grateful that authors such as Dan Brown and Meyer have opened the doors to a world that people can easily access but do they have to dumb it down? Are they not shortchanging their own audiences by treating them as if they were nothing more than a bunch of half-wits? Da Vinci Code is nothing more than a dumbed down version of Umberto Eco’s Focult’s Pendulum, which was written years before Da Vinci Code was published but people see Eco as being pretentious and “difficult to follow” while Brown dumbed the vocabulary down a dozen grades and treated it like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Why would want the author to talk down to you or treat you like an idiot? We have brains! Why aren’t we using them?? There is a ton of children’s literature that is not only appealing but written intelligently and completely accessible such as Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series.

Do I like this Breaking Dawn? I don’t hate the series, it is a fast read and there are enough elements of suspense that do keep me hanging on but I know I’m not the only one who have given up on the series, final book coming or not. There is not enough meat to justify the time invested nor is there enough of a “real” story to keep the plot moving forward and because I have read similar books in this vein before, I cannot even say it’s a fun read. It’s an only “eh” series, nothing to write home about and would not recommend it unless you have no problem giving away several hours of life to something other than reading blogs, watching YouPorn, and or pirating music online.

Ultimately, the writing and the socially irresponsible message that Meyer is sending to young women everywhere belies the point of the books. Books for pleasure should not require a Phd, but if you are promoting your own social and religious values as the defacto status of how romantic relationships “should” be via your novels, then you should consequently also be responsible for the fall-out of this message. I don’t think Meyer has a clue to what she’s doing in regards to the message that she is projecting to the world and it is more than likely not intentional (being the good Mormon that she is), but projecting yet another negative, socially irresponsible message about relationships and sex will cause more harm than good –even if the guise is wrapped up in pretty black and red paper.