The Surprising Strength of Twilight

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

For research into my new book, I had to read Twilight.  People had told me that Twilight was an abomination unto the Lord, a scabrous pile of poop that a talentless hack had shat out to plague the world.
I didn’t believe it.
I always believe there’s some appeal to a bestselling book, even if that appeal does not necessarily lie in “prose.”  Take the Da Vinci Code, for example.  Are the characters wooden?  Yes.  But the thing people don’t get about Dan Brown is that his characters are not the central characters.  He spends far more time describing the parquet floors of the Louvre than he does on his protagonist’s motivations.  Once you realize that Dan Brown’s priorities are inverted and his locations are actually his lead characters while his lead characters are background, the novel moves quite swiftly.
And Twilight, well, I didn’t want to read it because Bella’s character sounded like she’d annoy me… But I assumed it had some appeal.  Why would millions of teenage girls read it otherwise?
And lo, Twilight did one thing better than I’d ever seen it done, something so perfect that before I read Twilight, I didn’t realize nobody had ever captured the moment before:
Stupid, silly New Relationship Energy.
The triumph of Twilight is that there is a hundred-and-thirty-page stretch where all Bella and Edward do is talk.  Oh, they talk in different locations – they’re talking in the school!  In the car!  In the woods!  In her bedroom!
And they’re talking only about how much they love each other!
Thing is, Stephenie has that silly first-blush of love completely down, where you’re so amazed that this person’s fallen for you that you keep regurgitating your origin story back at each other, endlessly creating your own mythology of How This Happened.  You learn a new fact about someone, then slip back into “I can’t believe this is happening” and “You smell so good” and “I knew I loved you from the moment I saw you.”
She abso-fucking-loutely nails it.  Which is going to irritate a lot of people who don’t like that kind of NRE.  I mean, if you’re not a silly teenaged girl at heart (and really, I am a cuddler), then this sort of flighty repetition is custom-made to drive you batty.
Yet that does not mean it does not ring true.  Having two characters do nothing but talk for a quarter of your novel, with no other people to interrupt or interject, and still maintaining my interest?  It’s a feat few can manage.
Bella’s also far spunkier than the world gives her credit for, though – she keeps running off, disobeying and contradicting Edward, coming up with plans.  I expected a total doormat… And Bella’s not an active lead, God knows, but she’s not quite an inert object either.  (Though I dunno if her character suffers from Motivation Decay in later books.)
The troublesome anti-feminist overtones of Edward have been rehashed in depth elsewhere, as Edward Knows What Is Best For Bella And Bella Agrees… But what I find more troubling is the way all the other characters fade into the woodwork.  This is a teenaged girl’s power fantasy where the world is bent to satisfy her, no different than a boy kicking ass as Batman…
And the supporting cast just vanishes.  Bella is strangely cruel to those she doesn’t care about, and it’s disturbing me more and more that this is a classic teenaged fantasy.  Anyone who isn’t attractive to Bella is flat-out invisible and interchangeable, to the point where they exist only to be dropped from the plot.  In other words, I’m so special that I have all of these friends begging for my attention and I don’t even NEED them.  I can just discard all human interaction to be with Edward.  She seems to find the concept of “regular friends” actively irritating, which is disturbing.
jenphalian thinks that this is merely a weakness in Stephenie Meyer’s writing, that she’s not that good at keeping track of many people – but no, Stephenie handles the vampires just fine.  It’s the everyday folks who become literally invisible, the ordinary kids who want to hang with the cool new girl, and the subliminal message is “If they’re not useful to you, they’re to be discarded.”  That’s fucking concerning.
But overall, despite the Godawful prose, I can see the potent vampire heart distinctly NOT beating at the core of Twilight.  I dunno if I can get through New Moon, not with so many actually good books out there (Holly Black is calling me, and I have two novels to crit)…. But there’s an appeal.
I just wonder how much NRE I can take.

1 Comment

  1. jenphalian
    Apr 4, 2012

    I still totally disagree with you. The ordinary schoolkids just aren’t important to the story and I don’t think she has any skill at drawing entertaining side characters. I’ve read books where I fall in love with a baker or door guard who only appears in one scene and only has one line, but are written so brilliantly they win my cold little heart.
    The regular humans that you see Bella as coldly discarding, I think are more like afterthoughts to the book. “Oh, there should be some other schoolkids, I guess.”
    So I still disagree about that. But that’s ok.


  1. What Writing This Novel Has Taught Me | Ferrett Steinmetz - [...] it was with Twilight.  (Which, if you’ll recall, I think is a very effective book at what it does.) …

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