Twilight: 98% brain candy

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTwilight Stephenie Meyer book reviewTwilight by Stephenie Meyer

It begins with the cover, the perfect red apple — forbidden fruit! — offered to the reader by perfect, pale hands. (Note the epigraph from Genesis: “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it… “) It continues, and continues, with the blossoming relationship between the narrator, Bella Swan, and the physically perfect and mysterious Edward Cullen — who, as the back cover states, is a vampire.

The popularity of this book, and the upcoming movie release, have probably broadcast the basic plot: Bella, about sixteen, decides to relocate from her mom’s home in scorching Phoenix to her dad’s home in overcast Forks, Washington, where the aforementioned Edward and his equally beautiful and mysterious “siblings” are (rather poorly) attempting to pass as high school students. (The author wisely or foolishly stays away from close scrutiny of the practicality of this. How do decades-old beings obtain or forge the necessary identifying documents? And does Washington have such draconian anti-truancy laws that said beings would rather endure the minimum security prison of high school than get ID’s that make them old enough to do whatever they want?)

But perhaps I digress. The author sets up the tension between the almost-irresistibly tasty Bella and the irresistibly gorgeous Edward as the book’s inviting heart. If you can tolerate the following passage, you may enjoy their wary courtship:

“I should have left long ago,” [the vampire] sighed. “I should leave now. But I don’t know if I can.”

“I don’t want you to leave,” I mumbled pathetically, staring down again.

“Which is exactly why I should. But don’t worry. I’m essentially a selfish creature. I crave your company too much to do what I should.”

“I’m glad.”

“Don’t be!” He withdrew his hand, more gently this time; his voice was harsher than usual. Harsh for him, still more beautiful than any human voice. It was hard to keep up — his sudden mood changes left me always a step behind, dazed.

“It’s not only your company I crave! Never forget that. Never forget I am more dangerous to you than I am to anyone else.” He stopped, and I looked to see him gazing unseeingly into the forest.

The “it” begun by the cover is, accordingly, the promise of achingly slow and — ah! — forbidden seduction. In two words: dark romance. I’d personally love to see a complete psychosexual analysis of this book, but just a few observations. Edward is designed as the ultimate bad-boy: a gorgeous outsider and dangerous predator. His sexual and digestive lusts for Bella are enormous, checked only by his even more enormous love for her. (Why he loves her is only partially explained: she’s lovely, fragrant, bright and spunky and is somehow immune to his ability to read minds; but she’s also supernaturally clumsy and has ninety fewer years of life experience.) He must also protect her from being ravished by less noble humans or ravaged by less civilized vampires. In effect, their relationship is defined by constant yearning and vigilance, perpetuating a state of lustful chastity… and thus tension intended to keep the pages turning.

And of course, the author and publisher are careful not to remove any of that tension in this book, carrying it over into its sequel (New Moon). Other questions remain, too. Why can’t Edward read Bella’s mind? What’s the origin of vampires? (A brief discussion of possible answers to this question touches on evolution and intelligent design and is part of the 2% of thought-worthy material in a book that’s 98% brain-candy.) And why does so much of the climax occur off-stage, outside of Bella’s perception? (That should change in the movie.) Overall, Twilight is a lightweight modern fantasy that will probably appeal strongly to readers, especially young readers, who enjoy romances and supernatural fiction. (They might especially find this a good airplane, beach or sick day book.) Recommended as a (used) paperback or library loan for those readers and not recommended for others. 2-1/2 stars, as warm and butterscotchy as Edward’s piercing eyes (when he’s not hungry).

One afterthought: it seemed that Ms. Meyer, in her first book, was actually writing below her talent level. (She does have an English degree.) Granted, she tells the tale in Bella’s voice. But, it also seems that pains were taken to limit or exclude any references to religion, government, class, culture, etc. — things that could deepen the tale, but also make it less than 98% brain candy and (presumably) less appealing to its target audience. I don’t know how much of this is Ms. Meyer and how much her editor/publisher, but the book’s popularity makes me wonder about the state of teenage literary tastes. Just a thought.

~Rob Rhodes


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTwilight Stephenie Meyer book reviewI found Stephenie Meyer’s first novel Twilight in the bargain bin of my university bookstore, and the title rang a bell. Wasn’t this the book that everyone was talking about? It wasn’t badly priced, so I took it home with me, deciding that it was time to add my two cents to the discussion. When I finished a few days later, I knew I’d enjoyed reading it, though truthfully I also felt a little under-whelmed (no doubt due to all the hype).

Bella Swan is relocating from Phoenix to the perpetually overcast town of Forks to live with her father, and isn’t looking forward to it. However, her attitude changes once she sees, and then meets, Edward Cullen, a very handsome (and that’s putting it mildly) young classmate whose reaction to her is baffling. At first he seems to be struck with an instant dislike of her, but soon becomes friendly and attentive. Yet there’s something more to him than meets the eye, and soon Bella falls upon an extraordinary theory for his supernatural speed, strength and agility…

The majority of the story is taken up with Bella’s growing realization and understanding of Edward’s ‘condition’ (it would be wrong to give too much of it away, even though every teenage girl — and probably most boys — know what it is by now), but there is also a villain introduced two-thirds of the way through the story. Perhaps he’s a little too late in coming to have the impact he could have had, (especially since he has an interesting connection with one of the Cullens) but he’s frightening enough in his demeanor and methods of hunting to send a chill down my spine.

The strongest aspect of Twilight is the narrative voice: told in first person by its protagonist, Meyer vividly evokes Bella’s voice, mood, personality, and attitudes. It helps that Bella has a complex and realistic relationship with both her parents; relationships that heavily influence how she lives her life — from her day-to-day existence, to how she makes life-altering decisions. Even though her mother and father do not get much ‘screen-time,’ their importance to Bella is clear (and in fact, toward the end of the story, the plot hinges on Bella’s concern for their safety). So many YA books in the ‘supernatural’ genre completely dismiss the subject of parents, and the main character always suffers as a result, but in this case, a parents’ importance to their child is not understated.

So when it comes to Bella, I have no complaints (though what with her astonishing clumsiness I do wonder if she had some sort of ear-infection that was disrupting her internal balance) and Meyer captures the mind-bending, heart-racing, palm-sweating pain and rapture of first love very well. Even though I couldn’t quite empathize with Bella’s feelings, I was convinced that she felt them. But the reason why I couldn’t fully empathize with Bella is because Edward didn’t impress me much. The problem was that he was so intolerably bossy! Here’s a sample of some of his dialogue, picked at random from the text:

  • “I’d still rather you didn’t go to Seattle by yourself.”
  • “I think you should eat something.”
  • “You need a healthy dose of fear. Nothing could be more beneficial for you.”
  • “Drink.”
  • “Put your seatbelt on.”
  • “You have fifteen minutes. Do you hear me? Fifteen minutes from the time you cross the doorstep.”
  • “You need to rest. All this arguing isn’t good for you.”

Along with this consistent controlling aspect to his personality, Edward also stalks Bella on a shopping trip with her friends, eavesdrops on her conversations, breaks into her house to watch her when she’s asleep, cross-examines her with a barrage of questions, and insists that he drives her home to the point where he’s physically pulling her: “he was towing me toward his car now, pulling me by my jacket. It was all I could do to keep from falling backwards. He’d probably just drag me along anyway if I did.” At one point he even opens the car door for her… nothing wrong with that, but he’s sitting in the driver’s seat at the time. Sheesh! I found such behaviour more annoying than romantic or chivalrous, and often it felt that Edward acted more like Bella’s babysitter than her love interest.

If these aspects of his character were treated as faults and if Bella called him on his invasion of her privacy or pushy attitude, I wouldn’t mind so much, but it would seem that Meyer wants the reader to view Edward as ‘the perfect guy.’ Unfortunately, a guy like this would irritate the heck out of me… when he wasn’t creeping me out. More annoying is the fact that Bella seems quite happy to let herself be coddled like a child, and by the end of the book it’s apparent that she’s an astonishingly passive heroine, having been rescued by Edward no less than four times throughout the course of the story.

Furthermore, the romance itself is very sudden, as they seem to become a couple overnight, and I’m hard-pressed to recall exactly how and when they made this transition (though I suppose that this could be construed as a good thing if you look at it in a certain way) and I’m having trouble understanding the attraction. She thinks he’s very good looking (and her constant reveries on how “perfect” and “beautiful” he is get old very fast), and he is intrigued because he can’t read her thoughts, and both are intoxicated by the scent of the other. But beyond this, I’m not entirely sure what they’re basing their relationship on. What common interests do they share? What do they talk about beyond their infatuation with each other? Meyer gives us a few trifling details, like books and CDs that they both own, but such things are hardly what you’d build a relationship on.

So at the moment I’m sitting on the fence, poised between loving and loathing these books. Twilight was a strong opening in the series, and there are plenty of things I’m looking forward to in later books: I’m interested in the Cullen family, and their history with (what I’m guessing are) the werewolves from the Indian reservation, and why they decided to forsake the traditional bloodlust of their species. But Bella will have to gain more of a voice when it comes to dealing with Edward’s overbearing antics, and there’ll have to be an exploration of their love that goes beyond Bella’s rhapsodies on how “beautiful and glorious” Edward is, or Edward’s declarations of how great Bella smells. I’d like a more realistic look at how such a relationship might exist — the ups and the downs that the couple have not just with the world, but with each other. Right now they’re in the ‘infatuated’ part of the affair, but when that ends, there has to be a more stable base that a life together can be built on.

And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why 100+ year old vampires are enrolled in high school.

~Rebecca Fisher


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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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One comment

  1. Celene W. /
    I liked it a little better than you did, but not much!

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