Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I get it now. It took three entire volumes, but I finally understand the appeal of these books. It doesn't make me like them any better, but it does make the phenomenon a little less inexplicable. These books are porn for girls with low self-esteem. And not in the Arrested Development sense of "girls with low self-esteem". These books are meant to serve as living proof that you can be a big soggy sack of nothing and still receive undying, unconditional love from everyone around you. Not only do you not have to put any effort into being kind, or charismatic, or decent in any way, you can actually be actively unpleasant to everyone you know and all people will ever do is lavish constant affirmations of praise on you and indulge your every whim like the spoiled bitch princess you are. That's the real fantasy of this series, not the vampire/werewolf crap.

Eclipse is not the worst book of this series, but that's not a compliment. For a while, it seems like Stephenie Meyer is going out of her way not to repeat the mistakes of the first two books. Dream sequences are kept to a minimum. We get some backstory that has to be told from the point of view of characters other than Bella, for a change. Bella even does something useful for the first time in this series: she deduces that the vampire(s) who raided her room and stole her clothes earlier in the book are the same as the groups of vampires who are responsible for a slew of unsolved murders up in Seattle. The plot of this book is that the girl vampire who was soulmates with the evil vampire who tried to kill Bella in the first book has been building up an army of newborn vampires to stage an attack on Edward's family.

This has potential for excitement because as soon as you hear about you think "Hey, the good vampires should team up with the werewolves and fight these guys!" But unfortunately, that potential is never realized. The Cullens and the werewolves are all raring to go kick some newb-vampire ass, but Bella, being a killjoy spoilsport, refuses to let Edward join in the battle, despite the fact that, you know, him being in the fight gives them a significant tactical advantage. Once again, she puts her own selfish needs above everyone else's, putting everyone else's life in danger in the process, and instead of being called out for it she gets treated like her requests are perfectly reasonable and is accommodated accordingly. So instead of being treated to a epic orgy of vampire-killing action, we as readers merely have to settle for a much smaller-scale showdown between Edward, the vengeful female vampire, one of Jacob's friends, and another bad guy vampire, while Edward experiences the actual big battle telepathically. At the risk of quoting Jay-Z's "Takeover", that's so LAAAAAAMMME.

What's lamer still is the book's treatment of sexual mores. OK, so Edward puts the condition of turning Bella into a vampire that she has to marry him first. That's pretty controlling, but somewhat understandable. But then Bella tries to get him to sleep with her before they go through with any of this stuff. Not that you could blame Edward for blanching at the idea of having sex with such a hateful person, but he's constantly been telling her how much he loves her and how "amazing" he thinks she is all this time. And his reasons for not doing it are flimsy. First he's like, "I'd kill you." Maybe he had been planning on doing her only after she became a vampire or something, but she wants to experience this as a human, which she is well within her rights to want. But I still don't buy that just because he's a vampire, he'd be unable to control his super-strength during sex. If anything, being a 117-year-old virgin just means that he wouldn't last long enough in the sack to put Bella in any danger at all (except the danger of an underwhelming sexual experience). Then, he claims he wants to preserve his virginity until marriage because he's committed every other sin in the book, and he wants to remain "virtuous" in the last remaining area. So, the guy who betrays no other religious inclination whatsoever in any of these books suddenly becomes all pious when it comes to chastity. I understand that Stephenie Meyer wants to impose her values on us, but there had to have been a more elegant way to do it. Near the end, Edward finally relents and decides to give her some, but then for no reason at all she declines and the only explanation we get from her is "I want to do this right." Well that sure cleared it up!

The love triangle is way overblown. Team Edward vs. Team Jacob is never presented as a legitimate choice. At the end of the book, Bella arbitrarily comes to the realization that she actually is in love with Jacob as well, but instead of putting her in the dilemma of who to spend her life with, all this does is wrack her with guilt over how to let Jacob down easy. Keep in mind that earlier in the book, she punched Jacob in the face for kissing her. (not that Jacob wasn't asking for it; he kind of rape-kissed her) How she went from punching a guy in the face for kissing her to claiming to be in love with him is anyone's guess; the text sure doesn't give us any clues. This is nothing but artificial conflict. Bella never for one moment even entertains the thought of leaving Edward, so how is this even a love triangle? Not wanting to hurt somebody's feelings is not the same thing as being in love with that person.

See, in addition to every other defect it is possible for a fictional character to have, Bella is a walking martyr complex. Stephenie Meyer even realizes this, to the extent that she inserts a didactic werewolf/Indian myth about a woman who saves the tribe by sacrificing herself to the vampires. Bella recognizes herself in the woman immediately, and longs to off herself just to give her friends some kind of upper hand in the battle against the bad vampires. Every event that takes place in the book, she never thinks about any of it in any terms other than how it directly impacts her and her happiness. Everybody else falls all over themselves to please her, she never shows any gratitude toward anyone, she even acknowledges that this world would be a better place for all concerned without her. What is this all for, if not to burnish the egos of all the women who identify with someone like Bella?

But this is Meyer's world. Love will happen to you, regardless of whether you seek it or want it or merit it in anyway. Have you heard of this werewolf thing she came up with called "imprinting?" For some reason, in her mythology every werewolf has a certain someone out there that they fall in love with on the spot, no matter what age they are. For the rest of their lives (and they live a long time, even if they're not immortal like the vampires), they remain bonded to this person no matter what happens. One of Jacob's friends falls in love with a baby here. To her credit, Bella is properly outraged by this, but then Jacob explains that when you imprint on a person, you become whatever they need at that point in time. So you'll be her favorite uncle until she's old enough to marry you or whatever. That's the ideal for love, in Stephenie Meyer's world. You see someone once, and it's over. You love them forever, and those feelings never have to be earned or maintained. They just happen, for no reason. It's all about as magical and believable as, well, werewolves and vampires.

Only one book left. Then our nightmare will be over. Unless I decide to start watching the movies.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New Moon

Bella is a horrible person. In the first book, I thought the problem was that she was pathetic and dull as an old dish sponge. In this book, she's straight-up evil. She flat-out uses Jacob -- after Edward ditches her for reasons that are contrived and silly, his company is the only thing that makes her forget -- and she even admits this to herself and continues to do it. She also deliberately places herself in danger again and again, simply because she thinks she can "hear" Edward's voice whenever she's afraid. This behavior is not romantic, it is the actions of monstrous insecurity and crippling co-dependency. If a real person did any of this stuff, she'd be committed and diagnosed with psychotic egomania, or some other mental disease that doesn't even have a name yet. One of the (bluntly simplistic) themes of this book is "True love is irrational". It should be "Love is ax-crazy fucknuts".

Again, there's hardly any plot. Edward leaves, she hangs out with Jacob, she hangs out with him some more, they fix some broken motorcycles, blah blah blah... When some conflict does come to the fore, it pretty much repeats the same formula as the first book. Guy she's spending time with suddenly starts acting all weird and she can't figure out why; it's revealed that he's part of an ancient order of supernatural beasts. There's no reason this should take 400+ pages to transpire, but it does. There's so much padding in this book it could double as protective gear for football players. See, in addition to making Bella a vapid, thoroughly selfish manipulator, Stephenie Meyer sees fit to make her protagonist the slowest, dumbest person who has ever existed. How many different ways can you make your main character loathsome? As readers we are mentally screaming at her "ARRGH, THEY'RE WEREWOLVES, YOU STUPID PIECE OF SHIT! THERE'S BEEN GIANT ANIMAL SIGHTINGS AND JACOB EVEN TOLD YOU ABOUT THEIR TRIBAL WOLF LEGEND IN THE LAST BOOK!!! DUHhhhhhhhHHHHHHH!!!" Even after she witnesses a goddamn pack of giant wolves chasing away the evil vampire from the first book, it still takes her forever to put two and two together.

And again (since I don't know where else to complain about this) enough with the lame-ass dream sequences already. This thing goes way overboard with them, to the point where it's less a vampires-and-werewolves romance novel and more of a dream journal broken up with intermittent sequences of vaguely-vampire-and-werewolf-related action. These sequences are used for nothing except the world's most obvious symbolism and reminding me that I hate Bella again.

Jacob was actually a pretty pleasant character up until he became a wolf. After that, he becomes just as sullen and angsty as everyone else in this crummy world. Bella says herself that she likes Jacob because he's a perpetually happy-go-lucky person. But I guess Meyer thinks we'd rather read yet another account of what a "burden" it is to have awesome powers, how much of a "freak" someone would feel like if they could do something that almost nobody else on earth can do. For all her faults, Bella seems to be the only person who sees clearly on this matter. She wants nothing more than to become a vampire (albeit just so she can stay with Edward forever) and doesn't care a whit about leading a normal life. At the end of this book, Edward promises to change her into one only after she marries him. His interest in marriage is arbitrary and seems to be there only so that Bella can have a reason to balk at being bitten.

I'll return to that later. The turning point of this book hinges on one of the most absurd, contrived, and ridiculously unbelievable misunderstandings I can think of. After Bella throws herself into the ocean in the middle of a hurricane (after Jacob comes to his senses and realizes he can't stand to be near her), Edward somehow gets wind of it and thinks that she killed herself. See, one of the elders in Jacob's tribe died of a heart attack earlier that day, so Edward places one phone call to Bella's house, asks to speak to Bella's dad and Jacob (who answered the phone for some reason) tells him "He's at the funeral." So of course, Edward does what NO PERSON WOULD EVER DO and jumps immediately to the conclusion that Bella is dead. He then jets immediately to Italy so he can commit suicide by exposing himself as a vampire in front of some kind of Reigning Vampire Elite, who are the only ones who can kill him. This is a classic example of what Roger Ebert used to call an "Idiot Plot" -- a simple misunderstanding that could be cleared up if the characters would only have a conversation that lasted longer than 5 seconds.

So let's review this sequence of events:
  • Bella throws herself into the ocean
  • On the same day, one of Jacob's relatives died
  • Edward hears about it or something
  • Edward calls Bella's house; Jacob answers
  • Jacob says that Bella's dad is "at the funeral"
  • Instead of saying "Gee, I'm a vampire who can move 1,000 miles an hour, maybe I should go pay my respects to the woman I supposedly love more than anything can possibly love any other thing or at least get a confirmed visual ID of the body", he decides "I HAVE TO GO KILL MYSELF RIGHT NOW IT'S A RACE AGAINST TIME AND EVEN THOUGH I'VE BEEN ALIVE OVER 100 YEARS THERE IS NO ROOM FOR PATIENCE OR SECOND THOUGHTS ON THIS MATTER ARRRRGH"
And ugh, the symbolism. This book strains so much to make a connection between itself and Romeo & Juliet, it's sickening. The bard rolled over in his grave so hard it actually woke him up and made him say "Damn you, Stephenie Meyer! I was enjoying being dead". It even goes so far as to compare Bella's plight with Juliet being forced to marry Paris. Now, it's been a while since 9th grade English, but I'm pretty sure Juliet didn't go running to Paris because Romeo abruptly decided to abandon her. Nor do I think that Bella was under any obligation, at any time, to marry Jacob. There is a bit of a parallel between the werewolves/vampires and the Montagues/Capulets (there's an ancient beef between them that's never fully explained), but it'd be more direct if the story were about Edward wanting to marry Jacob (now there's a story I'd enjoy).

Since we're back on marriage again, let's revisit the ending. Bella has weird hang-ups about marriage because she's a child of divorce. Some would call this a convenient plot device that's only there to prolong the story, but I think it's consistent. First of all, it's established that Bella hates absolutely everything. But it's also the only theme of the book that really works. In fact, I'd prefer to think of the Twilight Saga as less of a supernatural romance tale and more of an author's screed justifying her decision to marry and have children early. I don't know anything about Stephenie Meyer's biography, but I know she's Mormon and she's married and has kids. Therefore, I view these books as the work of an enormously insecure, egotistical and naturally defensive woman working through the following issues: 1) her parent's divorce and 2) the fear that she squandered her life by settling down early and devoting it to her family. These things are presented only as the subtlest subtext, but they're the only way these books even make sense to me. Bella takes one look at Edward and boom, from that moment, her life is over. But it's OK because it's "true love" and "love is irrational". Bella's fear of marriage is actually one of her few redeeming qualities for me. A person this young should be afraid to marry. It doesn't make up for all the shit she puts her so-called "friends" and "boyfriends" through, but I'm grasping here.

As much as it pains me to admit it, Meyer's ideas aren't horrible. I'd totally read an epic saga about a centuries-old feud between a vampire family and a mutant werewolf tribe (even without getting into the unfortunate racial implications -- all the wolves are American Indians and all the vampires are white, as far as I can tell). These books should JUST be about that. But again, the point-of-view character sabotages any shot it had at excitement. Imagine how boring the Spider-Man comics would be if they were entirely told from Mary Jane's perspective. Or Aunt May. No one would read that. This is rule #1 (or #2, at worst) of writing -- pick a good main character. Or at least, one who is relevant to the actual plot.

I'm not sure if I can continue with this series. It can't get any better. But can it possibly get any worse? Ah, there's the rub.