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.

1 comment:

  1. Now that I've actually been through the agonising pain of having to watch the movie, which I didn't finish because I fell asleep, I really enjoy reading your articles. They make me laugh.