Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Review: Twilight

(Please forgive me if this has all been said before, and better, by people given to more timely pop culture samplings.)

I am officially old and crotchety.

Twilight is an evil book. A bad influence. Something that should be kept away from children for reasons of content and prose style. There is, as one Jezebel commenter noted, Harry/Draco fanfic that is better written. Perhaps my judgment was colored by my knowledge about further plot developments, but it's really wretched, and is only more insidious for being exactly the kind of trainwreck/indulgence that draws the reader in despite herself.

And why are we drawn in? Because it's a fantasy of projection. None of the characters have much of a personality, or any real individualized interests, hopes, or dreams. And it tells young girls exactly what they want, but don't need, to hear:

- I am in True Love omg nobody else will make me feel this way! (You will.)
- He's perfect. (He's not.)
- I would die without Him/die for Him. (If you're lucky, you won't---unless he kills you, and not in a romantic now-we'll-be-together-forever way, but a dead-means-the-end way.)
- College is not important; I'm going to marry my boyfriend right after graduation and you can't stop me! (It is, and something, be it parents or your own fickleness, will almost certainly stop you.)
- It's okay to not really have real friends as long as you have Him. (No, because someone needs to give it to you straight when your boyfriend starts acting psycho; see below.)
- Having guys follow me around and sneak into my house and fling me around like a sack of potatoes is romantic. (No, it's abusive and scary.)
- It's not his fault that he scares me, it's just that I make him so hungry/mad .... (Abusive!)

The problem with this book is it sums up exactly what it is to be a teenage girl, and teenage girls are callow and dumb. I know, I was one. I had intense crushes on numerous guys, all of whom seemed perfect at the time, and some of whom are now married to roller-derby queens or to the chicks they knocked up after we went out. Made of win, I tell you. Because the book appeals to the lowest common denominator, though, the stupid teenage girl in the book resonates with the former stupid teenager in all of us (or at least the women).

I watched all seven seasons of Buffy multiple times, so clearly I am not against vamp/human romances on principle. But Buffy was an idiosyncratic individual with an established support system of friends and family who was not the victim of a massive power imbalance. (Angel, by my lights, is a boring stiff with a funny-looking face.) Their pairing explored a lot of the same issues as are in Twilight (romance with older, potentially inappropriate guy, female desire, fears about going all the way), but in a much more nuanced way. It showed how yes, sometimes these things do screw stuff up, but was also clear that avoiding these choices is not workable either. Buffy and Angel at least had to make sacrifices.

There are no hard choices in Twilight. Becoming a vampire is, aside from three days of pain, pretty much a golden ticket. You can drink animal blood and hang out with humans, are preternaturally attractive, graceful, and competent, live forever, become practically indestructible ... there is almost nothing to give up by becoming a vampire (you can still "reproduce" after a fashion by creating new vamps ... even that's not totally removed from the picture). So why wouldn't any girl want this, setting aside a dudely motivation?*

Not that there's a good one here. Edward is an abusive stalker nutjob who is always trying to control Bella (for her own good, natch). He loves Bella because of how she smells. This is a cheap cop-out to comfort the insecure reader; Bella can't control how she smells. She will never lose that thing that keeps him in love. He doesn't love her for her.

Which is good, because there's no there there: Bella is a nonentity. She reads, she waits on her father hand and foot, and she goes to school. She doesn't connect with people, because then the author would have to show us a relationship modeled on something other than inhabited roles or hormonal lust, and she can't or won't do that. Bella has no talents, skills, interests, or ambitions. But somehow she gains the love of the Perfect Boy and will consequently (according to some clairvoyant's vision) eventually gain eternal life, health, and youth. The only way to appreciate this is as a fantasy of projection, because we have no reason to care about either of these cardboard cutouts. They are just there to stand in for you and that hot boy in your biology class.

I haven't even addressed the horrendous sexual dynamics and messages in the book: guys lose control, girls have to monitor their behavior at all times lest they cause a guy to lose it and kill/rape them, and sex = death. I understand it only gets worse in future volumes, as hot-blooded Bella pushes for them to get it on and Edward argues that he can't unleash his sexual feelings without losing control and hurting her (thereby normalizing the idea that being hurt during sex is an unavoidable consequence of intimacy with a man, instead of an example of a guy being a weak-willed, inconsiderate jerk who "can't help" but cede all autonomy to his lizard brain once you take your clothes off).

Basically, this book makes it sound like marrying the guy you had a baseless crush on in high school is a good thing (just don't have sex with him until then!). It encourages young women to make irrevocable, life-altering decisions based on the sensation of being seventeen and in love and reinforces a sick, patriarchal view of sexuality. Like The Fountainhead, it should probably not be read by young people.

* Apparently this is viewed as insufficient in later books, which causes me to lump Meyer with Orson Scott Card in the "Mormon Authors Fixated On Childbirth" category. (I'm still ticked about the horrific ret-con of Petra in the second Ender series.)
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