Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Review: Twilight Series

My wife doesn't seem to read a lot of classics. She'll usually entertain herself by reading all the Dan Brown books or all the "Bourne Identity" books. Last fall, her mother referred her to the book "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer. My wife read the book and the two books following and is now biding her time until Meyer releases a new book in May.

The media is trying to push these books as "The-Next-Harry-Potter-type-series" now that Harry is finishing school. Not, that I know. I have no real association with Harry Potter. Anyway, I try to be a good husband so I started reading the Twilight books for the sake of being able to talk about them with my wife. I've read the first two.

The first thing I said to her was something to the effect of, "It's funny how Young Adult books are so optimistic and hopeful towards an open future. And then how Adult books are kind of the opposite like, and here is the crap that actually happens... here is how hope is pulverized and just having a NORMAL life becomes a luxury."

Thinking back to one of her more recent reads, "Running With Scissors," where the kid would wake up with strange organs in his mouth, she said, "Yeah, I think you and I should read the optimistic kinds of books."

Here it is in a nutshell: Twilight is good but it does require a steady drip of estrogen for optimum reading pleasure. My wife has not baked any estrogen-laced brownies lately so I was forced to read the books with a sense of scrutiny and a strong tendency towards tawdry mockery. Which you can rest assured, my wife loves.

There are some popular criticisms toward these books which I support. The writer pummels it into our heads that Bella, the main character, is as plain and ordinary as humans can possibly come. Did I say human? Did I forget to mention these are VAMPIRE books? What I imagine to be watered-down Anne Rice kind of stuff?

I watched an interview with Stephenie Meyer where she said she hates it when people ask her what her books are about: Romance, high school, vampires. It sounds silly, but that is the premise and, as entertaining as she may make the situation, she needs to accept that it's silly. What I think is even stranger is that OLD LADIES seem to love these books. My wife was reading the third book, "Eclipse," and I was halfway through a borrowed copy of "Twilight" when we decided to buy our own copy of "Twilight" from Costco. While we were in line at the register, some old lady behind us had to butt in and let us know, "That is such a good book! You are really going to like it!"

Did I also mention that Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon? That means she is practically royalty in Utah. She'll sell a lot of books here just based on that fact and I think that is how the book came to fall into my hands in the first place... despite the fact that she is an Arizona Mormon, which isn't even an Idaho Mormon. But you can only get the pure, concentrated mormons from Utah. But I'm not going to say, "This book is good... for a mormon." It's good all the way around. I think there are only hints at the influence in small details. I'll bring it up again in a minute.

The print is big and the writing is quick and simple. There are no underlying themes or deep thoughts to slow you down. Bella is not mormon but I am already familiar with what young mormon girls are prone to. I cheat and picture a more idealized version of the writer as the main character because I imagine that that is what most first-person writers do as the write the stuff. She talks about being very pale. My wife relates. She talks about being thin but soft. My wife relates.

Bella is plain and I don't understand why every guy who crosses her path falls madly in love with her. She is described as clumsy and an "accident magnet" on which I do not agree. She is dumb and makes bad decisions. She thinks she is smart... makes a point of showing off her knowledge of cell division... but every time she gets in a life threatening situation, it is mostly her own fault. If you have decided to lie to your vampire friends, the only people who can save you from another vampire who is bent on killing you, to go confront him yourself then you deserve to die. If you jump off a high cliff for fun, if not for spite, "only thinking about the fall and not what would happen when you got in the water" then you deserve to drown. I hadn't even finished the first book before I was convinced, "Okay, this girl needs to die." I still think that and it bums me out at how many hundreds of pages I have left to read because it's way too many pages to carry a book when the main character is dead.

So I don't really like Bellas thoughts. I usually like her dialogue. It doesn't make me laugh outloud but I think the writer is successful with her attempt at humor.

And then there is the vampire boy. The quick plot is that Bella moves to Washington and is not impressed until she meets vampire boy, Edward. It's a classic tale of love. She sees him and thinks he is good looking and becomes completely submissive, even willing to die for him before she really knows anything about him.

He's good looking, SO good looking. The writer cannot stop talking about how good looking he is. Bella is plain and when it turns out that Edward is also madly in love with her she can't believe it. I told my wife, "Maybe when she says he is ABSURDLY good-looking, she really means that he looks like Napolean Dynamite." My wife told me they are already working on making a movie of the book. I said, "If they make the main characters look like Napolean Dynamite and his girlfriend then I will never say a bad thing about these books again. That would rule."

But it turns out that Edward is not just unbelievably handsome, but also the nicest guy and superest boyfriend in the entire world. And that's when the dialogue makes you want to puke. I love you. No, I love you. No, I love you. And I think this is where the mormon thing comes into play. There are a lot of kissing scenes. Long kissing scenes but without open mouths. There is a lot of heavy petting... but only of their faces. It's the book that has teenaged girls wondering why THEY don't have cute boys sneaking in their windows on a nightly basis.

Even though the vampire can read minds and run as fast as a car with super-human strength I still think most guys would think Edward was a wuss. Because he is written to be what girls want. He is what girls dream about. He doesn't fart or burp or watch sports or play vidoe games or make overtly sexual suggestions or pick on people or any of the stuff that REAL guys tend to do. Even most vampires think he's a wuss because he doesn't feed on people. Because he's too nice and perfect to do that. He's actually somewhat of a religious fanatic as well. He thinks that souls are precious. He doesn't believe he has a soul but that's all the more reason to be good. Which isn't to say he wouldn't be quick to kill himself if he can't have the plainest girl in a small town.

In the second book, Edward goes away. I found it very relieving. I needed a break from the mushy, gushy stuff. But, of course, that meant that Bella's entire universe was falling apart.... OH! And we get to hear about it. Because she has no intention of getting over it. Because there are no cute boys left at school! And she may as well be dead!

On a personal level, the humor was good, I like Washington, she used the name "Emmett" for one of her ultra-buff handsome vampires, any book with native americans in them are a good thing to me, Bella sometimes reminded me of my wife except my wife is prettier and smarter and not clumsy and doesn't even whine so much. I got really worried when the main characters were talking about music: "The fifties had some good music, the eighties were tolerable and everything else is pretty much garbage." That doesn't sound like teenagers to me. I almost thought it was a mormon thing but then I thought, if this was of mormon influence the characters just would have gone on and on about how much they loved the band "Journey" or something. But Stephenie Meyer talks a lot about the music that helped her write the books and thanks bands like Muse, Marjorie Fair, Brand New and others. Not bands from the top of my list but pretty good and way better than I expected.

It is also strange how these innocent books can talk so casually about whimsically taking Nyquil to help you sleep and stealing cars like its better than riding the bus.

Anyway, the short of it is: I mostly read the books in a laughing-at-you sort of way but they would still be pretty good even if I didn't. There are a lot of things in them that bug me and that can probably only be appreciated with the help of ovaries but they are fast to read and somehow keep me curious.


Anonymous said...

I saw everyone reading those books when I was in Utah this summer, so I picked up the first one and read it. I have nothing good to say. I thought the characters were boring, the premise was inane, and the humor was cheesy. I did laugh out loud at some of the goofy chaste sexual innuendo. My wife agreed, so it's not just an estrogen thing. Maybe their appeal is geographically based?


Holly said...

I read this book as well, just because everyone else was. I also don't think Bella is as clumsy as she always says she is. The book is kind of boring, but for some reason I'm planning on checking out the whole series from the library.

flieswithoutwings said...

I was trying to be nice when I wrote this, so I avoided detailed examples of sexual innuendo but there really are quite a few. I'll be nice and assume they are unintentional:

I grabbed the handle again, trying to hold it up straight.

"Jacob, it won't stay up," I complained.

"It will when you're moving," he promised.

What are they talking about? Jacob's teaching Bella how to ride a motorcycle, of course.

Megs said...

This was a great book review--one that I will link to if you don't mind. I have enjoyed them--not quite obsessed over, though. Thanks for making me laugh, as always!!

flieswithoutwings said...

Thanks for the comment, Megs. I was hoping somebody would have something nice to say about the books.