08.05.08: culture blotter {stephenie meyer's twilight series}

stephenie meyer is pretty inescapable these days: breaking dawn, the fourth and final book in her vampire series for tweens, spawned harry potter-esque* release parties at bookstores all over the country this weekend. the stars of the first twilight movie (in theaters this december) landed on the cover of entertainment weekly (and, as a result, on go fug yourself) a few weeks ago. bloggers who haven't been tweens for a long-ass time (like ariel and, well, me) confess to mowing through her books almost against their will. what gives, eh?

me, i'm loose when it comes to the bloodsuckers. i've spent time at the highbrow end of the spectrum - i wrote my first college research paper on vamps, and i've lost count of how many times i've seen nosferatu - but i'll happily stare at a box of count chocula on a grocery store shelf if it's the only game in town. i've watched more than 70 episodes of dark shadows, one of the most amateurish shows i've ever seen (there are boom mike shadows in 15% of the interior shots, and the production assistant who holds the chalkboard at the beginning of each episode can't always be bothered to stop smoking), in anticipation of the celebrated barnabas collins. when my quest for guidebooks on iceland took me to the columbus circle borders in the middle of its breaking dawn hoopla (that is, when there was a pile of $10 copies of twilight crouched like a beast in the middle of the store), well, i was sold.

on the vampire continuum, twilight is hanging with count chocula. that's no secret, really, as meyer herself says she's a storyteller, not a writer. her breathy, hyperbolic language is made for YA fiction: she sounds like her teenage heroine (i think she should have been edited much more aggressively because of that: she's got a seventeen-year-old's infectious energy, but she's got her cloying stock phrases and anemic vocab, too).

so there's that, and then there's what time calls "the erotics of abstinence." forget sex - twilight's bella (a human girl) and her beloved edward (a vampire) can't even make out, as that sort of charged contact would compromise poor ed's ability to control his lust for bella's blood. per time, meyer (a practicing mormon) offers
an alternative to the hookup scene, Gossip Girls for good girls. There's no drinking or smoking in Twilight, and Bella and Edward do little more than kiss. "I get some pressure to put a big sex scene in," Meyer says. "But you can go anywhere for graphic sex. It's harder to find a romance where they dwell on the hand-holding. I was a late bloomer. When I was 16, holding hands was just--wow."
if we're talking contemporary booty-laden bodice-rippers, well, okay. if we're talking plain old romance, i would beg to differ - and point meyer toward just about anything published before lady chatterley's lover - but hey. she's got her hot hand-holding, and that's fine. chacun à son vamp action.

it's not really fine, though, because bella catches hell every time she tries to kiss edward; she sort of catches hell every time she initiates something he doesn't fancy. edward is jealous, sulky, and prone to fits of rage. as jessica of go fug yourself notes,
[A] lot of the plot points which are presented as being Super Romantic are actually creepy and stalkery and, listen, you just should not be okay with it if you find out that this dude you're seeing has been sneaking into your house unbeknownst to you and watching you sleep all night, every night, even if it's under the guise of "protecting you" or something because for one thing, if you need protection, don't you have a right to know that from the get-go instead of being treated like someone from a 1940s three-hankie weeper where the doctor and Bette Davis's husband, like, make the executive decision not to tell the little lady that she's got a giant brain tumor? ....I'll stop there.
i'm okay with The Youth of Today reading some sloppy prose, and with their exposure to some "true love waits" hype in the process - we do what we must to get our vampire fiction fixes - but i don't know how i feel about girls envying a character who's convinced she's ugly and dumb compared to her flawless immortal boyfriend. a lot of ed's "i know what's best for you, and you could never love me the way i love you" speeches read like emotional abuse to me; that's misogyny, not romance.

but! i've only read two of the four books, and bella has plenty of time to grow a spine and stop fainting every ten minutes. stephenie meyer has umpteen opportunities to go for dynamic adjectives. i'm not especially hopeful, but people can change, internets. if you've read these monsters, what did you think?

*time magazine's april profile: "stephenie meyer: a new j.k. rowling?"


jacob said...

alas, i have not read the book, but i did come across this blog post http://www.hbook.com/blog/2008/08/fans-and-readers.html. looks like the fans are _really_ unhappy about the latest volume in the series.

lauren said...

i've heard those rumblings, jacob, and i think i stepped in a great big spoiler for breaking dawn while reading a review of something else - i have a knack for doing that (to date, for me, the internets have spoiled parts of dark shadows, the wire, the sopranos, battlestar galactica, and...hell, that's just in the last two years). if it's true, i'm pretty bummed - especially since eclipse and breaking dawn are already heading my way (listen, i found a very good sale on the hardcovers). putting a total of ~$45 toward a series in which spines do not grow, even in a world where movie theaters charge $12, is less than desirable.

babyjo said...

dude, you pay $12 to see a movie? my ass shells out $14!

Meg said...

Did anyone here read the Alana books growing up? The Lioness quartet? About the goddess loving cross-dressing girl who pretends to be a man so she can train to be a knight? They were so bad ass, and the sex was hot too. Now that series teaches girls good things.
I've read some of the author Tamora Pierce's newer stuff too, and it holds up pretty darn well as a adult. She now does BIG novels, thanks to the Harry Potter series... just two big books per series instead of four small books. Anyway, far better reads. I suggest you pick those up instead.

valya said...

i shouldn't read this post as i'm only a third of the way through the first book (though 'twilight' has been on my shelf for years).

but i read your first paragraph. and yeah, i got through that third of the book last night by staying up way past my bedtime. against my will, indeed.