The Critic Does Twilight

Yes, most of my book reviews have been relatively short, since I’m reading so many. However, once I got started writing on this one, I just couldn’t stop.

I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re going to rag on something, you should probably have actually read it. That was the logic behind my purchase of Twilight at a used book store’s tent sale back in September 2011. I paid a grand total of a dollar for it.

And it was my determination to read all the unread books on my shelf that finally got me to pick it up and start reading.

My first thought, upon finishing it, was this: “There are three more books of this crap?”

It’s not utterly terrible, from a technical perspective. I have read utterly terrible. At least Stephenie Meyer stuck to her damn viewpoint and didn’t have egregious spelling and grammar errors every few sentences.

Yes, it was over-the-top and purple, annoyingly so at times, but she was writing from the POV of a love-struck teenage girl. Being overly descriptive and angsty with your prose is practically a requirement for that.

But I really cannot understand its popularity. I can make an educated guess, but I can’t understand it.

Bella is not a character. She has three significant traits: she’s clumsy, her blood smells good, and she likes to read.

She doesn’t write. She’s not artistic. She doesn’t play any sports, or dance, or throw pottery, or act, or speak other languages. I don’t know what she wants to do when she grows up, or where she wants to go to college, even though she’s 17 years old and should be thinking about those things. (Or actively avoiding thinking about them.) There is nothing remotely interesting about her.

And yet, she captivates the hottest, most desirable guy in the entire school. (Actually, she captivates more than just him, but we’ll stick with the one.)

Do you know how we know he’s hot? Because Bella takes every available opportunity to gush over Edward’s absolute perfection. And I do mean “gush.”

Literally three-quarters of the book is her and Edward hating each other (40 pages), Edward saving her life and getting unreasonably jealous every time she talks to another guy (100 pages), and then her and Edward going all googly-eyed over each other (200+ pages).

And yes, he really does freaking sparkle. Somehow, I still didn’t believe it until I actually read it.

What really hacks me off about this book is that I can see Meyer knows how to create cool characters. There are about 4 pages where Edward is telling Carlisle’s life story (he’s the patriarch of the Cullen family, and Edward’s “dad”), and it was easily my favorite part of the book.

Forget perfect marble, diamond-glittering skin. Carlisle was awesome — a vampire who became a doctor in order to pay penance for his curse — and I almost screamed in frustration when we went back to Bella and Edward. I would have read an entire book about him! HE WAS COOL.

There is no real plot here, either. A romance works because the hero and heroine are actually protagonist and antagonist. They’re working against each other the entire time. The Turner series, which I’ve mentioned in other posts, does a brilliant job of this: in each one, the hero and heroine are on opposite sides of an issue, and that’s one of the things they must resolve in order to live happily ever after.

Not so here. If there’s conflict between Bella and Edward, it’s resolved quickly. The book is 75% done by the time an actual bad guy shows up, and while the pace finally (FINALLY) picks up for the last 50-100 pages, it is quite the slog to get there. It also doesn’t help that the viewpoint character lapses into unconsciousness during the climactic fight.

It’s also frustrating to see how eager Bella is to throw her life away for a guy. I understand compromises, and I understand being so in love with somebody that you would do anything for them. But she would have to change her entire life, and this is for a guy she’s only known a few months. Once she meets Edward, nothing else in her life matters. It’s appalling.

And it’s not like this guy is anything to write home about. It seems Edward’s sole reason for existing is to look hot, and to protect and care for Bella. But he is the most dangerous thing TO her, he ADMITS that, and still he sticks around.

Not that she would let him go. When Edward says he should leave her because he’s, you know, a VAMPIRE, Bella actually thinks that she will voluntarily put herself into physical danger just to keep him around. (Because he can’t help himself. He has to save her life.)

Yes. That thought seriously passes through her mind.

“Not one has tried to do away with me today,” I reminded him, grateful for the lighter subject. I didn’t want him to talk about good-byes anymore. If I had to, I supposed I could purposefully put myself in danger to keep him close…I banished that thought before his quick eyes read it on my face. That idea would definitely get me in trouble.

I’m going to pause and comment on this particular development for a moment.

I know I was all googly-eyed and angsty over boys when I was a teenager (and I have the diary entries to prove it), but damn. What does that say about her psychologically, that she would consider that for even a fraction of a second? What does that say about her opinion of her own self-worth?

I know that it may seem I’m going overboard here — it’s just a story, fiction, don’t take it so seriously — but that’s just…no, okay? I’ve been reading romances of all kinds since I was a teenager, and it almost offends me that somebody put a character like this to paper.

I like romances, and I like romances featuring super-dominant, alpha males. But what every single one of those romances feature is a heroine who is his equal in some way. In fact, usually part of the story is her PROVING that.

This doesn’t happen in Twilight, and is in part why I was so annoyed by the end of it. Bella and Edward are extremely unequal, and it stays that way throughout the book.

I don’t think I could make it through the rest of the series, since the teaser chapter for New Moon at the end of the book made me so angry I almost pitched it to the wall.

For those of you who do like these books, please tell me: Why? Some people have said it’s because Bella is like a shell and they can pretend that they’re the ones with Edward, but Edward just makes me want to punch him.

I’m genuinely curious to understand what Meyer does right well enough to have gotten so many people to read, enjoy, and recommend this story.

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11 comments on “The Critic Does Twilight

  1. Paul says:

    What an awesome takedown to brighten a Monday morning!

    To offer up my own theory to your parting query, I think the answer (in large part) is “zeitgeist”. You had a generation of young readers growing up with the Harry Potter books looking to transition into something new right when they were hitting those “angsty” teenage years and right when the Twilight series was arriving on the scene. Couple that with the HP phenomenon of parents reading the books with their kids, and you get that critical cross-generational cultural momentum. Quality concerns take a back seat and the subsequent books are judged less on their merits and more on how they service as fuel for a need.

    That’s the abbreviated theory. There’s obviously a lot more to it than that, but I do think “Twilight” is primarily a case a “right place, right time.” I haven’t read the books, and hope someone comes on here to defend them. I am genuinely curious to see the discussion played out. Great review!

  2. Paul says:

    For the record, I originally wrote “Sparkling review!” at the end, but thought better of it. 🙂

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I got wrapped up in the Twilight frenzy a few years ago (briefly and to my present embarrassment). I think I liked the first one because it reminded me so much of what it was to fall in love as a teenager and because I didn’t have any prior exposure to vampire lit and had always been a fan of trashy romances. By the last book, I was gritting my teeth just trying to get through it even though I thought it had become stupid and ridiculous. Now, though, I can’t imagine what made me ignore the whole possessiveness of Edward and emptiness of Bella…

    • thebnc says:

      That is something that I noticed, especially going back and re-reading some of my old diary entries as a teenager. So I could understand being drawn in by that. Maybe if I’d read it back when I was in high school or early college, I’d have felt the same way.

  4. While I definitely agree there was room for improvement in pacing, technicalities, and character development, I still love Twilight. I understand the obsessive romance well. I know that’s not something that sets well with some people, but I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and it’s definitely my personality. I know other people who are the same way. The obsession is something I get. So is the insane depression (which you’ll know what I’m talking about if you ever read or look at detailed reviews of New Moon).

    As far as Bella not thinking about college and the like, she did come from a divorced home. She’s practically been taking care of her mom this whole time and she’s now stepped back into the world of her dad. Her initial focus is figuring out how to make it through those changes, not the ones she would be faced with in the next couple of years (if she were normal). And also, when we first meet her, she really doesn’t have much self-worth. (That part being in response to another of your statements.)

    In a very odd way I like the lack of plot for a little while around the romance. (I know that’s very backwards. lol) While I agree that Stephenie could have picked up more of the plot and introduced the bad guy much earlier, the essential LACK of plot for awhile reminds me of real life high school. Sometimes obsessing over a guy IS the only thing going on, and there’s not always any real developments going on. And if you think Edward sticks around… read New Moon. (I also understand hiding from friends.)

    As far as her captivating several boys’ hearts, that is also explained, at least a little. It isn’t because she’s Miss Personality. It’s because she’s new and she’s different. She’s come back to a small town where a very small group of people have known each their whole lives. Then in walks Bella. She’s pretty enough and odd enough that it attracts everyone to her, even though she’s not doing anything special to earn it, even though in a bigger place she would be mostly overlooked. Small town syndrome.

    (By the way, I also agree with the Carlisle statements. I LOVE him. He’s fascinating. If you ever give the rest of the books a chance, you’ll find out that the werewolves have just as rich a history. I’m not a werewolf fan, but I love the way Stephenie handles them and how much lore she gives them.)

    I do feel that Twilight lacks certain things. I do wish the epic vampire battle in Breaking Dawn had actually happened. Sometimes I do feel like there should be a little more to the Edward/Bella romance.

    But Jacob has my heart. I adore Edward and the utter love and adoration he and Bella share, but my heart breaks with Jacob every time I see him lose Bella. I understand them both. I love vampires (not really werewolves), but if I had a choice it probably would have been Jacob. (Still… very tough choice!) There are a million things that Jacob says and does that I’ve lived.

    I’ve been Bella (through both the high obsession and the dangerous-to-self depression). I’ve been Jacob (the anger, the protective love, the best friend). I’ve been Edward (believing that you are the worst possible thing for the one you love the most yet completely unable to give up). Twilight doesn’t have everything. It could have been better. It could have been more well-thought-out. It could have packed more of a punch, told more of a story, focused more on the exciting things between werewolves, vampires, and humans. But for me Twilight was enough. It was what I wanted it to be. I’d lived my way through so many of the human things the characters went through. Twilight is my reminder of the endurance of love and friendship, and that despite the worst of it all and despite things sometimes being absolutely bafflingly senseless… it all works out.

    • Paul says:

      Over the last few years, I have spoken to a number of people who vouch for the “Twilight” series to varying degrees. The one constant between each person was an acknowledgment that something about the “Twilight” books was extremely evocative of their own teenage years. I haven’t read the books, but I can certainly sympathize. The right book or song or movie (and especially at the right time) can become a projection of one’s own memories.

      This makes us care about the art and elevate its accomplishment that much more because we see ourselves in it. That’s not to ignore your defense of the series’ literary merits (again, I haven’t read the novels), but the elements of your reply that relate to your own history echo every other pro-Twilight argument that has come my way. There must be something to it.

      Your defense was a great read! Thanks for taking the time to write it!

  5. lauralanni says:

    I am not a Twilight fan as I hate stories centered on helpless females. I only read the first book.

    Surely, part of my dislike stems from jealousy. If bunk like this is deemed publishable, why can’t I get beyond rejection letters?

    Sour grapes, eh?

    Thanks for the review!

  6. […] I have not read 50 Shades, and given the excerpts Armintrout has posted on her blog and my feelings on Twilight, it’s safe to say I probably won’t. (From her descriptions, my guess is it would be […]

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  8. […] February 20, 2012 – The Critic Does Twilight […]

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