breaking dawn

In which Meyer goes “oh shit, it’s time to end this sucker” and spins out close to 750 pages in one volume. At first it’s kind of exciting, because instead of taking 300 pages to work out the obvious Bella does it in maybe 100 and we shift focus entirely to the supernatural shit so that Things Happen. It’s actually almost okay that things go all Rosemary’s Baby for a while, and that Bella looks in real danger of going the way of John Hurt in Alien, until you stop and think about the fact that here we have a situation where the mother knows with almost 100% certainty that she will die in childbirth and she is ignoring everyone begging her to abort. In other words, from one angle Breaking Dawn is one long pro-life fable.

The best part of the book for me was that we get a long section from Jacob’s point of view and in his voice, which is a breath of fresh air and pretty funny to boot (check those chapter titles), and it made me wish once again that he were the hero of the series. It’s interesting that Meyer’s writing is liveliest when she’s writing in a young man’s voice — probably because she has so many brothers she clearly adores. Unfortunately, basically what he does is angst over Bella (who is so not worth it) and then eventually have his romantic thread neatly tied up in a somewhat pervy and unsatisfying way. Its bizarreness is offset by the fact that I think no love triangle has ever been resolved in this fashion, at least not in any book you can buy at Target.

I started writing this right after I finished the book and left it incomplete until now, so I don’t have a lot of ambition left to analyze the flaws of this novel or the series in general. At this moment we’re all watching teenage and “tween” girls everywhere hit puberty from the one-two punch of the fictional Edward and the actor playing him in the movie that’s about to open, and marveling at the mania that’s developed around these wish-fulfillment novels. Because that’s what they are. The pain Bella goes through is described in great detail, but it’s hard to imagine for most lucky readers, and her pleasures quickly take precedence in our fantasies: an inexhaustible demon lover, a brand-new baby who will never need its diaper changed (liquid diet, but also it’s way precocious), a super-mutant-power that saves the day, even a fairytale cottage in the woods (not my cup of tea — I’m more of a Frank Lloyd Wright kinda guy). Harry Potter has this kind of thing too — poor orphan discovers he’s an awesome wizard and goes to an awesome school where every attempt on his life ultimately fails — and it’s more universal in its appeal, but also less horny, so maybe it balances out.

Ultimately I find it hard to respect this series, but not just because of its insidious appeal and startlingly dodgy gender politics. It’s also a problem of missed opportunities. Here are just a few.

1. Edward and Bella “magically” fall in love. Why? She smells good, and he’s gorgeous and saves her life several times. This is so easy and so boring. I’ve never read a Jane Austen novel but I’m pretty sure they don’t work this way; from what I understand her heroines take the whole novel to fall in love, and they do it the way the rest of us do: slowly, making mistakes, building on real chemistry and the things people have in common, not on love-at-first-sight/destiny tropes. Wouldn’t the romance have been that much cooler if the 100-year-old vampire and his 17-year-old girlfriend slowly discovered that they liked doing the same things, reading the same authors, that kind of stuff? We get hints of this, but only later on. Meanwhile in New Moon Bella and Jacob fall in love in exactly this way, the natural human way. It would have been so much more compelling if Bella and Edward had done the same, and her conflict would have seemed so much more real.

2. Edward is over ONE HUNDRED YEARS OLD. He was around for Vietnam, Korea, WW2, WW1, and the conflicts before that. He unlived through the Depression. He probably met Jimi Hendrix, or could have, not to mention Oscar Wilde. This guy has got to have some incredibly interesting stories to tell, even if he couldn’t get too close to humans during these historical events. Hell, other members of his “family” are even older. Yet NOT ONCE DURING THE WHOLE SERIES can I recall any of them actually making reference to history or giving any real indication that they are this old. I’m not even that into history and even I think this would be one of the coolest things about being undead: you don’t have to age and yet you get to watch eras go by and see things change, forever. Bella doesn’t seem to have that many intellectual interests beyond 19th-century fiction, but you would think that she would have some marginal interest in grilling her boyfriend about the times he’s lived through, if only to help her pass Social Studies. But neither she nor Meyer shows the slightest curiosity about this.

3. The great unexplored story of vampires vs. werewolves — as Meyer portrays them — is class conflict. On one side: the rich whiteys sucking the blood of the land and the people, so rich they can afford to throw away designer clothes after one wearing*, no responsibilities other than keeping the casualties discreet so that no one realizes how deadly they are. On the other side: the poor native tribe, scratching out a living on the reservation, barely able to afford clothes (granted, it’s because they keep wolfing out and ripping them, but still), fixing up old cars for their joyrides and doing their best to defend their land and keep the leeches off it. Maybe you’re thinking “who wants to read all this sociopolitical stuff in a teen vampire romance?” but look, it’s right there in black and white — I didn’t make it up. Even if you narrow it down to the rich preppy boyfriend vs. the grungy biker rival, this is classic romance narrative, and the class element is an integral part of it as the heroine decides whether to be true to her roots (or maybe her libido) or strive for upward mobility. At barest minimum, this is something basic and real that Meyer’s readers could probably relate to, but no one talks about it. I suspect one reason why is that Jacob’s side of the argument would sound too good, and poor Jacob is not allowed to win.

*This, by the way, is why I don’t like Alice as much as I’m supposed to. Not only does her greatest pleasure in life seem to be dressing up Bella like a Barbie doll, she is the chief instigator of this incredibly wasteful consumerist lifestyle the vamps lead. I don’t think you have to be a commie to find that pretty distasteful.

eclipse

A lot of people consider this their favorite of the Twilight books. It has some cool elements, such as the first serious fight sequence (though it’s a sideline to the main battle that Edward has to narrate to us because Meyer didn’t budget for a fight coordinator and a second camera unit), and something of a resolution to the Edward/Jacob/Bella thing. But unfortunately it also features Jacob basically assaulting Bella to prove that she’s even a little bit in love with him, which is nasty and, to my mind, out of character.

This also begins the devolution of Charlie, Bella’s increasingly irrelevant father. He’s been underused all along — a police chief who mostly spends his time watching ESPN or eating Bella’s cooking as opposed to, say, being called away in the middle of the night by police emergencies. I get that Forks is a quiet town, but come on! Why make him a police chief? If he’d been an insurance salesman it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Meanwhile he mainly exists to hate Edward and love Jacob (I empathize, but still) even when Jacob all but rapes his daughter.

When I first realized that we had rich, white, repressed, reserved vampires in a shaky truce with poor, native American, hotheaded, lively werewolves, I saw a perfect opportunity for Meyer to bring class and race into her romantic/supernatural conflict. Unfortunately that opportunity is totally missed. Not that I expected or wanted her to make it political, but at minimum this contrast could have added a healthy dose of flavor to the story. Instead no one in the story seems to find it the least bit unseemly that the Cullens are rich enough to buy the kinds of cars druglords own and stock their closets with designer clothes they wear only once and throw away (no kidding). These undead people are filthy fucking rich, nakedly consumerist, and flagrantly wasteful, and this is just considered glamorous. In some ways this is the most offensive element of the books to me.

Of course, there’s plenty more to be offended by, if you’re looking for it. The werewolf imprinting, for example, means that they fall in love at first sight (the men do, and the women just love being smothered with affection so much that they fall in love back), and in some cases this means falling in love with much younger women. Do I mean sixteen, fourteen, twelve? No, I mean TWO. Bella is of course shocked when this happens, but Meyer takes pains to explain that the werewolves (who, like vampires, don’t age normally) have the decency to wait until their toddler beloveds are old enough before brotherly love turns into lust (but no word on what age this actually is). It’s probably a double standard I hold that I’d find this intensely creepy in a male author but in a female author I just find it hilarious, and even a little admirable that she gets away with it in a book for young adults.