Tracy and Hepburn. Romeo and Juliet. Han and Leia. Edward and Bella.
Now, I'm not your man when it comes to romantic comedies (or dramas). But the great thing about being an aficionado of bad films is that I enjoy badness in any genre. (Except bad comedies. Those are pure pain. I watched The Hangover on a plane last week and I was praying we would crash into the ocean.) And in order to appreciate bad films, you have to know what they're doing wrong, which means you have to know how it should be done. So I know that the Meet Cute is a key part of the romance. If it's wrong, only a master could salvage the rest of the romance. Maybe.
Here we have a prime example of Doing It Wrong, and I'm afraid we're in less than masterful hands when it comes to saving it.
Bella comes into her biology class, and things go well with the teacher. Alas, there is but one seat remaining in the room, and it's the one next to...Edward! (I feel like I should pause and add an ! every time I write his name. Read the book and you'll see why. On second thought, don't.)
In a good romance--that is, one that doesn't centre on creepy, controlling misogyny--the Meet Cute is not the place for creepy, controlling misogyny. I can think of no better way to torpedo a romance than to make the romantic leads thoroughly unlikable when they meet. It's one thing to write your leads as flawed, realistic human beings. An uncommon choice, but a workable one. It's quite another to do this:
Just as I passed, [Edward] suddenly went rigid in his seat. He stared at me again, meeting my eyes with the strangest expression on his face--it was hostile, furious....I didn't look up as I set my book on the table and took my seat, but I saw his posture change from the corner of my eye. He was leaning away from me, sitting on the extreme edge of his chair, and averting his eyes like he smelled something bad. Inconspicuously, I sniffed my hair.
Okay, I quoted that last line for laughs. I don't know why, but 'I sniffed my hair' always makes me guffaw. If I feared I were giving off a bad smell, I wouldn't check it right in front of someone. I'd excuse myself and check it out, if it were so bad. I can't even imagine why her hair would stink, or why his looking away from her would make her think she stinks. (Surely there are any number of reasons someone would look in a different direction. Whichever way he looks, he's going to smell her just the same.) It's even funnier in the movie, in which you plainly see just how 'inconspicuously' one can do this.
And do I even need to mention the unnecessary adverb at this point?*
Seriously, though, this is their Meet Cute? Her sniffing her hair and him sitting on the edge of his seat like a fifth-grader who doesn't want to get cooties? Okay, I could maybe forgive them as high schoolers, but Edward is over one hundred years old. This is another point I fear I might belabour, but really, there is nothing at all that makes him strike the reader as someone with that kind of life (un-life?) experience. He is a centagenarian, of a sort, but he seems firmly trapped in the mental space of junior high. This might work as a weakness of the vampire, a variation of one of Stoker's themes: The vampire is powerful, but he doesn't grow, and eventually the changing world will render him obsolete. But when we get to
Anyhow, perhaps some ladies can help me out in the comments, but I'm having trouble understanding why Bella is instantly smitten with a man whose first look at her is filled with anger. Do you find a man's fuming at your existence attractive? Me, I'd sort of talk to the principal about it.
But wait! I said there was a controlling element in this Meet Cute, right? That's because earlier, when they were still in the cafeteria, Edward seemed to smile at our Bella.
I bit my lip to hide my smile. Then I glanced at him again. His face was turned away, but I thought his cheek appeared lifted, as if he were smiling, too.
So after their little peek-a-boo game, Edward seems to smile at her, but here, he's hateful towards her for no reason at all. (Supposedly yet another Twilight novel explains that this is because of his desire to rip out her throat and drink her red, red kroovy while letting out a Schwarzeneggerian howl of triumph, but Bella doesn't know this.)
He was glaring down at me again, his black eyes full of revulsion.
One minute he's smiling at her, another he's 'full of revulsion'.
Get used to it. That's Edward's game.**
*The answer, of course, is yes. I have to mention at least one, since I've refrained from going on about all the others. '...I was watching him surreptitiously.' Okay, okay, I'll stop.
**Not to be confused with Ender's Game, a good little novel. And Orson Scott Card is Mormon, too, though his praise of Meyer and hatred of Pulp Fiction are a bit suspect.