May 26, 2010

Twilight: Appetizer

Twilight, p. 1

doesn't start out with nearly as juicy a paragraph as Left Behind does, what with the subtle-as-defenestration name of Tim LaHaye's Mary Sue, the immediate invocation of the authors' twisted notion of sexuality, and the self-gratifying assertion of male virility. It does, however, start out with an absurd half-page entitled 'Preface'.

I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

Already we're in trouble, since the author doesn't know what a preface is. What she has written is, in fact, a prologue--a kind of introduction to the story--and that not very well. A prologue is supposed to give some background or context for the main story to follow. Twilight's preface--i.e., its prologue--is, in fact, a flash-forward to the climax of the main story.

This is an example of why I wonder if the book was edited. Even a bad editor would immediately realize this should be part of the main text. It should be chapter one, or if it simply must come before the main text, placed before chapter one with no label, since it is definitely not a preface and really not a prologue, either.

Moving on, how preposterous is this as our introduction to a 17-year-old girl? "I'd never given much thought to how I'd die"? Honey, if you had, your parents would have had the kid shrink on speed dial.

There are lots of little moments like this in the book. Like most hack writers who write about children and teenagers, the author didn't really try to get back into the mindset of the young character. This is all the more depressing since this particular young character is Mary Sue. (Hmm...the main characters of Left Behind were Mary Sues, and Wesley Crusher was Gene Roddenberry's Mary Sue....I'm noticing a pattern here.) Stephenie Meyer was a less-idealized version of this character only fifteen years before the novel was written, but she can't escape a few moments in which Mary comes across as older than she is. If this thinking about death were portrayed as some sort of depression or adolescent angst, it could work, but it isn't. It looks like what it is: Meyer's thoughts around the time the book was written, thoughts of a woman of thirty-two, not a girl of seventeen. (Of course there are also moments in which Mary comes off as unbelievably naive for the savvy girl of seventeen Meyer wants us to think she is, but those show up a bit later.)

Surely it was a good way to die, in the place of someone else, someone I loved. Noble, even.

Here we are introduced to what will be a recurring theme throughout the novel: how Stephenie Mey--err, I mean, the main character reveals her nobility through sacrifice. In the tradition of passive heroines right out of the Victorian era, Mary doesn't actually, you know, do stuff. At best, she gives up something (her autonomy, her purity, her life) for the men in her life. Mary here exists to be fought over. She is a prize, awarded to the finest example of male power in her vicinity. She can be called the protagonist, but she isn't, really. Usually the protagonist drives the plot in some way, with the antagonist trying to thwart her goals. Our Mary doesn't take action, doesn't move toward goals. The book's actual protagonist hasn't shown up yet, but once he does, the story immediately becomes about him.

What's that sound? A sort of low buzzing? Oh, that's right, it's Betty Friedan spinning in her grave.

It's no accident that the first part of chapter one is the best part of the book. That's when Mary is the central character, and because she is a stand-in for an intelligent, educated, experienced lady, there's some interest there. Once the actual protagonist shows up to take Manly Action, interest evaporates and the writing decays into Kevin J. Anderson territory, because Actual Protagonist is a cipher, a collection of ideal traits who doesn't make sense even on his own terms.

But that's for next week.

The Not A Preface goes on like that for a while, ending on this gem:

The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.

Really, Stephenie? Really? Sauntered? I defy you to read that sentence and not picture a laid-back cowpoke, spurs jangling, walking over to the bar to demand a shot of cheap whiskey and some banter with the hero of the Western we've suddenly been jerked into. This is what happens, people, when thesauruses are just out there, lying around where anybody can pick them up and use them. We need government regulation. We need thesaurus control.


1 comment:

  1. Almost all of the reviews I've read about the Twilight series mentioned how awful the writing is and how harmful the messages in the books are. But one particular comment by a parent got me thinking. He said something like: Twilight books -50 dollars; Getting my daughter to read-priceless."

    The question is, is it better to have people especially teenagers reading 'bad' books or not to read at all? Are books like these influencing people's perceptions of love, sexuality etc or provoking them to contemplate the issues? Which way is the balance tipped at?