Monday, March 22, 2010

The "Twilight" Experiment

A little more than a week ago, I had this great idea to have a group of like-minded, curious types to read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (There were follow up books and some movies too. Perhaps you've heard?) simultaneously for the purpose of, basically, seeing what all the fuss was about. And also, to make fun of it, because that is the kind of like-minded we are. To fuel the discussion, we tweeted our thoughts in between reading. Tomorrow (or, I guess, it's today now) we're going to summarize our experiences and perceptions, and I really felt the need to organize my thoughts first. So here I am.

I am very conflicted about this book, I find. First, let me just state emphatically and without condition, it is not good. The writing is poor, often clunky and awkward, the pacing is erratic, the exposition, particularly through the first half, is interminable, the plot is uneven, the voice uncertain, and the structure is, at times, painfully distracting. In fact, and I have thought about this at great length, I'm positive these technical shortcomings are the reason Bella is so widely disliked, given that it's her point of view, her telling the story. The glaring problems with the basic framework of the writing can't be overcome by Meyer's fairly clear vision of who Bella is, a characterization that starts slowly but builds steadily throughout the book. It makes her sound old but not wise, overly self-aware but also unbelievably blind, philosophical but petulant and whiny. In a word, annoying. Why would Edward, with decades of life experience and knowledge under his belt, ever love this girl so completely? Because she smells good?? It's absurd. Better writing could have, I believe, given a little more definition to Bella's character, separating the stodgy narration from the much more lively person, and saving Bella's character from the bad reputation that, frankly, I think is undeserved.

Of course, this is not to say that Bella isn't fairly silly and overwrought, but then again so is Edward. Still, the characters themselves are well-drawn and compelling taken on their own accord, at least the main ones. In scenes where they interact, the words flow smoothly off the page. It's clear Meyer has a great admiration and interest for her vampires, for they are the most intriguing. And even Jacob, in his brief appearances, was interesting and likable. Meyer can definitely build characters, and at times I even found myself graced with a truly lovely piece of prose - a sentence here, a phrase there. At times.

The thing that really kills me, though, is how ingeniously commercial it is. Seriously, it's like Meyer found the exact right formula to create two ideal teen heartthrobs - extreme archetypes distilled into their purest form and given angelic good looks, patience, and subdued libidos: the bad boy, reformed but still undeniably dangerous, with the heart of gold, and in New Moon (which I started reading today once I mostly got over my embarrassment from wanting to) there's the uber good guy who is always righteous, even in violence. I'll tell you now, the first one is, has been, and always will be my type. God as my witness, I am firmly on Team Edward. But it's easy to see the allure of the other as well, and that's what makes this series so brilliant. Granted, the writing isn't great, but it's passable. And if Stephenie Meyer or anyone else has the time, dedication and persistence to publish something so simple yet so clever and get kids reading passionately, then I'm all for it.

Now I must go devour the rest of this book. I swear, I feel like a 15 year old fangirl, but if I don't get Edward back soon I might fall into Bella-style levels of despair.

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