In honor of this week’s New Moon movie release, I thought Elizabeth and I could do a little back and forth on Twilight, the first of Stephenie Meyer's hugely popular teen vampire series.
Here’s the thing. I realize these books are totally anti-feminist and weirdly evangelical. The fourth book, Breaking Dawn, was so bad it seriously nearly gave me a stroke while reading it (Renesmee? Really? REALLY?). And the mania they've spawned is a bit on the creepster side.
But the first book? The one that re-started this whole vampire craze? That somehow made hero Edward charming instead of EXTREMELY creepy? It’s, um, actually kind of awesome.
Back story: I was living in Vietnam when Twilight was published, so getting my hands on a copy wasn't an option. However, I’d heard enough buzz that, when I was in Oxford on my way home, I wandered into a bookshop and picked up Twilight to read a few pages. A few hours later, I had no feeling in my legs from sitting on an uncomfortable seat, and I’d finished the whole thing. When I could have been looking at amazing architecture! Or punting down the Cherwell! Or, at the very least, devouring the entirety of the Sainsbury candy aisle. So what drew me in?
It’s not Stephenie Meyer’s immortal prose, that’s for sure. But Twilight is a bona fide page turner. And Meyer does an excellent job of creating a thoroughly modern gothic novel (and as you know, I have no defense against a good gothic). The setting of Forks, Washington totally suckered me in (keep in mind that I hadn’t been home in over a year and at that point missed even the rain). Reading it evoked the feeling of being in a small Washington town when the clouds and rain make you feel totally closed in.
And the plot works. New-to-town Bella explores Forks and meets mysterious and amazingly attractive Edward. Sinister things happen. They're stuck in a tiny town on the Olympic Peninsula surrounded by trees and water. Bella and Edward get closer, despite his best efforts, but she knows he’s hiding things from her. What's not to like? Plus, Meyer credibly evokes the intensity of high school emotions. Yes, Bella’s a bit on the extreme side, but for anyone who remembers how high the stakes seemed during their teen years, she doesn’t come across as crazy.
Nope, she saves that for books two, three, and four! Okay, so later books in the series took things that were mildly problematic in the first book to a whole new level of KrazyTown. My primary concerns: Bella doesn’t actually seem to have any real girl friends; she cares about her boyfriend more than her education; her life goal is to become a vampire before she gets older than her boyfriend; oh and Edward is creepily possessive and controlling in a way that's a wee bit patronizing. And that’s just book two. I still can’t talk about book four without getting mildly hysterical. It’s just too painful to realize those are hours of my life I’m never getting back.
However, as fall digs in and rainy days made for reading become more plentiful, you could do way worse than to pick up Twilight. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about Breaking Dawn.
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