June 30, 2010

Twilight: Enter the Cullen

Twilight, pp. 18-22

This week, we get our first exposure to Twilight's real protagonist, though at this point we will but stare pensively at him from across a school cafeteria. The rest of his 'family' is also introduced, in that they show up and are described by Jessica, who exists primarily to deliver exposition and to be less wonderful than Bella.

She performs Jessica function #1 today.

The first thing that occurred to me about the Cullens is that there are too many of them. (No, that's not a Mormon gag.) Really, do we need Jasper, Emmett, and Esme? I can't tell the difference between Alice and Esme, except Alice sees the future...kind of. Jasper is a newly 'vegetarian' vampire and so isn't very good at it. Except for the one scene in which Edward has to defend Bella from him--which doesn't occur until book #2--he doesn't really do anything. Emmett? Well, he doesn't even get the one scene. Rosalie is also of questionable necessity--oh wait, she doesn't like Bella. There's got to be somebody to grudgingly acknowledge that Edward was right about Bella all along. (This hasn't happened in either of the movies I've seen, so I'm assuming it's being saved for an upcoming film.) Alice is the one who likes Bella, Rosalie is the one who doesn't, and Dr. Cullen is the one who turned them all and taught them to be nice vampires. Really, I can't imagine why we need more in the vampire family than these three and Edward. None-the-less, we are burdened with Jasper, Esme, and Emmett (Emmett?). Forgive me if this blog doesn't deal much with any of the three in the coming months.

There were five of them. They weren't talking, and they weren't eating, though they each had a tray of untouched food in front of them.

Do they always do this? Let's leave aside the question of why five vampires--at least one of whom is over one hundred years old--would want to go to high school, or how they could stand to do so repeatedly. (It is later implied that the family replay a few years of their lives over and over again in different towns.) That's a question for another whole entry. For now, let's ask why they bother to get food and place it in front of themselves if they're not going to eat it. Isn't this more suspicious than not getting food at all? I don't know what sort of high school Mrs. Meyer went to, but my high school had plenty of people who didn't eat lunch, and nobody got suspicious that any of them was a vampire. So they're not eating food that they bothered to go and get...and they're not talking. Five people, sitting in silence over trays of uneaten food.

I'm sure no one but Bella notices this or finds it at all strange.

"They didn't look anything alike," we are told. Two paragraphs of notably vague physical description later, we are told "they were all exactly alike." I suppose Meyer is trying to do some kind of interesting dichotomy here ('their faces, so different, so similar', she writes later), but it really comes off as the author having forgotten what she wrote two paragraphs ago.

And those descriptions. For the men, we get body types and hair color. That's it. Nothing about their faces, how they dress, even how their hair is styled (unless you count "untidy" as a style). The women also get hair colors, but they are described in a very Jerry Jenkins-y way: Rather than telling us what they look like, Meyer tells us who they look like. Rosalie has "a beautiful figure, the kind you saw on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue". Like Jenkins, Meyer figures, "Why bother providing an actual image of my character, or even coming up with an honest-to-goodness metaphor? I'll just say she looks like this other hot person." At least Jenkins provided a specific person. Does every model on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue have the exact same build? I doubt it, but I can't say for sure because I've never looked at an issue of Sports Illustrated in my life.

This lends another clueless Jerry Jenkins vibe to the whole thing. Just as Jenkins offers "a young Robert Redford", as if people under 40 are likely to have an image of same leap to mind, Meyer mentions a magazine that hasn't been relevant in twenty years. (That it is a magazine primarily catering to men--the issue she cites in particular, one would think--I leave to commenters to unpack.) If you're going to let another person do your description for you, at least pick someone your reader is likely to know. Are most tweener girls familiar with the appearance of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models?

Alice is "pixielike". That's about it for her. I'm picturing a tiny woman with wings and a magic wand. That's what Meyer meant by 'pixielike', right? At least the ladies get hairstyles.

Bella reminds us that she doesn't remember Jessica's name when she asks her who the family are. Jessica gives her the names of the members and then disparages their lifestyle, in a way that starts well but that Meyer torpedoes with the dreaded adverb overuse that will pop up from time to time. (Well, it pops up all the time, but I promised to mention it only sometimes.)

"Yes!" Jessica agreed with another giggle. "They're all together though--Emmett and Rosalie, and Jasper and Alice, I mean. And they live together." Her voice held all the shock and condemnation of the small town, I thought critically.

The last sentence already adds unnecessarily to what the dialogue has already told us, and it's capped with the unnecessary adverb. Jessica's dialogue here has italics to clue us in to what she finds important in the Cullens' living arrangements. The final sentence implies Bella doesn't share Jessica's disapproval. But because Meyer doesn't trust the reader, she adds "critically" to make sure we "get" this.

Bella then defends the Cullens' lifestyle, despite knowing only what Jessica told her a few seconds ago (and conceding, though only in her head of course, that "even in Phoenix, it would cause gossip"), causing Jessica to "admit" the truth of Bella's statement "reluctantly". Before, the situation and earlier dialogue rendered the adverb redundant. Here, the word "admit" already implies that it was done so "reluctantly". And that's if you think Jessica's response ("I guess so") alone wasn't enough to imply this, which it was. As Stephen King wrote in On Writing, use "said" in dialogue unless another verb is needed. If it's already clear the character is admitting a point, there is no reason to use "X admitted" over "X said", and there's never any reason to use "X admitted reluctantly".

/adverb rant

Edward and Bella play "don't look at me looking at you" as the scene ends:

"Which one is the boy with the reddish brown hair?" I asked.
"That's Edward. He's gorgeous, of course, but don't waste your time. He doesn't date. Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him." She sniffed, a clear case of sour grapes.

I'm no expert on how the kidz talk deez dayz. I haven't had much of an ear for teen dialogue since the late 90s, but Meyer must have an ear on loan from the 1960s. "Good-looking"? Is that the word high school girls use to describe other pretty girls in a casual conversation? Dare I suggest "hot"?

In my first entry, we learned that Stephenie Meyer doesn't know what a preface is. Now we know she doesn't know the meaning of the expression "sour grapes", either.

June 8, 2010

Twilight: Welcome to Forks High

Twilight, pp. 11-18

This week, we'll cover the last bit of boring introductory stuff before the real meat of the story. Next week, the vampire imposters (or vamposters, as I like to call them) will make their first appearance, and then things really get bad.

Until then, though, we're stuck with Bella's first day at school, which means it's still tolerable. Nevertheless, there are a few hints of things to come.

Bella is looking around the house after her father has left for work, police work being "his wife and family". There's so much policing to do in Forks that it consumes his life, eh? It's true that he must be married to his job, since a lover is nowhere in evidence--but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Over the small fireplace in the adjoining handkerchief-sized family room was a row of pictures. First a wedding picture of Charlie and my mom in Las Vegas, then one of the three of us in the hospital after I was born...It was impossible, being in this house, not to realize that Charlie had never gotten over my mom. It made me uncomfortable.

It would make me a bit more than that. It would, in fact, make me check to make sure ol' Charlie doesn't have Mom's phone number or address. This is creepy, folks. Remember that Bella's parents divorced almost fifteen years ago. I think the time to move on went by a long time ago. It's one thing to still carry a torch for someone in a way that peeks out now and again (like, say when a special song comes on the radio or you pass a place that held significance), but it's quite another to still have pictures of your ex-wife on the mantle. The photo that also has Bella in it is understandable. The wedding photo is not. Charlie doesn't appear to have anyone in his life, nor is there any indication that he ever has. (And really, how could it be otherwise with his house like that? Imagine any woman entering a house full of pictures of an ex-wife not quickly turning around and never coming back.)

No, he has lived alone in the marital home surrounded by wedding photos of the woman who took his daughter and walked out on him fifteen years ago.

Five. Star. Creepy. Bella's actions later in the book are starting to make more sense, since mental illness seems to run in the family. (As we'll see, Mom isn't exactly wrapped too tightly, either.) At least Bella isn't the only one with abandonment issues.

Bella gets to school and immediately takes stock of the monetary value of the other students' cars. She's relieved to find that "[t]he nicest car here was a shiny new Volvo", so she will be safely ensconced in a school environment bereft of class conflict. Whew, I know that's what I was worried about on my first day at a new high school, let me tell you.

However, her knowledge that she won't be looked down on by yuppies isn't enough to assuage Bella's fears, since she then has to deal with people being friendly to her. Oh, the horror, the horror. A boy seated near her introduces himself.

"Where's your next class?" he asked.

I had to check my bag. "Um, Government, with Jefferson, in building six."

"I'm headed toward building four, I could show you the way..." Definitely over-helpful [sic]. "I'm Eric," he added.

The nerve of some people, trying to "help" a stranger by going out of his way to make a difficult transition easier. Bella should talk to school administration about this inhumane treatment.

Bella responds with sarcasm, which her oppressor doesn't get because he's a hick country boy and totally not because her remark was so full of unfunny it sold out a Dane Cook show.

"So this is a lot different than Phoenix, huh?" he asked.


"It doesn't rain much there, does it?"

"Three or four times a year."

"Wow, what must that be like?" he wondered.


"You don't look very tan."

"My mother is part albino."

He studied my face apprehensively, and I sighed. It looked like clouds and a sense of humor didn't mix. A few months of this and I'd forget how to use sarcasm.

Ha, small-town rubes can't use sarcasm! Oh wait, no, Bella's just a bitch. Sure, the boy's attempts at conversation are inane, but what's he supposed to ask her about? She doesn't give him anything to work with. She answers his questions with flat declarations, not bothering to elaborate even when given an obvious opening (Eric's hilariously unnatural "What must that be like?") Look, if you don't want to talk to Mr. Over[ly]-helpful, say so. Watch, I can think of how to do it off the top of my head.

"I'm headed toward building four, I could show you the way..."

"Oh no, you don't have to do that. I'm trying to find my own way around, you know, to get used to it."

That took me all of one second to think of, and I'm not exactly socially adept. But Bella says, "Thanks" and accepts the help, only she doesn't want to give anything back, even the courtesy of conversation. She does it, but she doesn't conceal her resentment at having to so. She responds with either the minimum required response ("Very", "Three or four times per year") or inappropriate sarcasm. Oh, and a mocking sigh when her sarcasm isn't appreciated.

Hey, Bella. Maybe he did get your sarcasm and looked at you like that because it was rude.

Anyhow, let's wrap this up. Bella goes through two more classes in which "mostly I just lied a lot" and then meets the girl who will soon become her best galpal in Forks, Jessica. After a brief physical description of Jessica, she talks to Bella.

I couldn't remember her name, so I smiled and nodded as she prattled about teachers and classes. I didn't try to keep up.

We sat at the end of a full table with several of her friends, who [sic] she introduced to me. I forgot all their names as soon as she spoke them.

That's our Bella. She pretends to listen when she isn't and doesn't remember the names of any of the people she's talking to. Jessica is so special that Bella will forget her name again on the next page.

I really don't know what Meyer is trying to accomplish here. There was a time, reading this book, that I thought Twilight was a brave and unflinching look into the mind of the victim of an emotionally abusive relationship. (No, really. It can be read that way, and taken that way it's a disturbing piece of writing that gets under your skin.) But once I got to about the midway point, I realized Meyer is apparently unaware of how thoroughly unlikable her characters are--self-absorbed and emotionally stunted or manipulative. It's a truly amazing feat of ignorance, considering how obvious it is in this section here. Bella reacts to a simple act of kindness by taking advantage of it and then putting down the person who offered it, ignores another person who attempts to help her integrate into the school's community, and can't be bothered to learn anyone's name.

Excuse me, sir, my protagonist seems to be broken. I'd like to exchange her for a new one.

We're soon to get a new protagonist, Oh My Brothers, and he'll sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old Ultra-Violence.