July 22, 2010

Twilight: O Edward, Where art Thou?

Twilight, pp. 29-36

We have arrived at chapter 2. It gets a little better for a while, because Edward is absent. He's already begun to take over the story, since Bella has to moon over him, but at least he's off-screen for a few pages. Still, we have to read about Bella thinking incessantly about a man who has so far acted like an utter tool towards her for no discernible reason.*

First, we get a little reminder of how thoroughly unlikeable our main character is.

Mike came to sit by me in English, and walked me to my next class, with Chess Club Eric glaring at him all the while; that was flattering.

Oh, just ignore the incorrect comma use. And the pretentious (and unnecessary) semicolon. I'm talking about the 'I like it when guys fight over me' attitude. It's all the more interesting because Bella has no interest in these two boys (she will 'successfully evade' Mike when she leaves school for the day), but she's still flattered by one's resentment towards the other. There's an element of foreshadowing here, as Bella will have precisely the same reaction in Book 2 when Jacob Black enters the picture as a romantic rival. (Only in that case, she is interested in both men, so she...well, I'll steal a line from The Foywonder's hilarious and spot-on Eclipse review and say that what she does rhymes with 'rock peas'.) When good writers use foreshadowing, it's intentional, but we're talking Meyer here, so it's probably unconscious (i.e., she only knows one type of twisted relationship behaviour and so that's the one Bella has).

Bella's confidence boost from the jealousy of one person she doesn't want towards another person she doesn't want is disturbing enough, but it's compounded by chapter 2's beginning with day 2 at Forks High. These two boys have known her for at best a couple of hours and have talked to her for, what, five minutes? Ten minutes? Each? And one of them is already shooting the other jealous looks? I feel like I'm reading the Cliff's Notes of The Great Gatsby.

Do I even need to mention that neither of these guys (but especially Eric) got anywhere with Bells on day 1? They didn't exactly hit it off right away.

Bella then proceeds to whine about what makes today worse than yesterday before we reach this bombshell.

And [today] was worse because Edward Cullen wasn't in school at all.

In the name of Great Cthulhu who lies dreaming in the sunken city of R'lyeh, why? I really don't understand this. Why is she sad he isn't there? He's been inexplicably cruel for the whole hour or so that she's seen him. She has never spoken a word to him, nor he to her. Please, someone tell me how this day could possibly be worse than the previous day because the guy who looked at her like he wanted her to die at every opportunity is absent?

Yes, she is clearly physically attracted to him. In fact, as TheSpoonyOne has pointed out in his wonderful reviews of New Moon and Eclipse (warning: strong language), Edward and Bella's attraction never goes beyond the purely physical. We'll delve into this more later, but trust me that these two never share anything deeper than the desire to have sex with one another because they're both hot. (But Meyer is Mormon and, as I noted in my first entry, her writing keeps The Faith even though her characters inexplicably don't profess it, so they Wait.)

This is totally out of place for the goth subculture, which rejects relationships like this, but I'm sure the pseudo-goths eat it up. All the sexy black clothes and dark eye shadow and freedom from having to go outside or exercise without any of that 'hard' stuff like writing bad poetry and suicide attempts.

The next page has Bella ignoring her supposed friends' conversations (get used to it) while she pines for the stranger that looks at her with hate-filled eyes, hoping he will appear to ignore her rather than barely tolerate her very existence or, worse, not appear at all (oh come on, now). This comes complete with the worst simile** I've read in a published novel: 'I made the Cowardly Lion look like the terminator [sic].' Oh, ho! What a hilarious bon mot! How about this one: George W. Bush makes Hitler look like Mother Theresa. Zing!

Blah blah Edward doesn't show up, blah blah Bella 'had no practice dealing with overly friendly boys' (this from a girl with whom this entire school is instantly smitten), blah blah Bella gets home and goes immediately to the kitchen to do her female duty of preparing a meal for her man, that being her father** as she's yet to get hitched. (A Mormon aged seventeen and not engaged? For shame!)

There's also another bit of (presumably unintentional) foreshadowing here. Bella opines that '[i]t seemed excessive of [the Cullens] to have both looks and money.' Money? Where was there any indication the Cullens had--oh, right, the Volvo. Anyhow, remember this bit when I talk about the vampires' powers in a few weeks.

Charlie comes home and he and Bella chat, but not much. Each character is private, we've been told (though indirectly, for once), and they're each more comfortable being silently in the other's presence rather than chatting. This page-and-a-half works okay. It's natural and conveys the emotional distance between father and daughter without having either the characters or the narrator recite clunky exposition. But then the Cullens have to show up and torpedo any sense of realism or humanity.

'Do you know the Cullen family?' I asked hesitantly. [Again with the adverbs!]

'Dr. Cullen's family? Sure. Dr. Cullen's a great man.'

'They...the kids...are a little different. They don't seem to fit in very well at school.'

Charlie surprised me by looking angry.

'People in this town,' he muttered. 'Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon who could probably work in any hospital in the world, make ten times the salary he gets here,' he continued, getting louder. 'We're lucky to have him--lucky that his wife wanted to live in a small town....'

So much wrong in only a few lines. Where to begin?

First, why is Charlie's voice getting louder as he talks? It could be a mark of Charlie's anger issues, just as Edward's future alternating attitudes towards Bella are indicative of his being an abuser, but again, it doesn't come across that way.

Second, what about Dr. Cullen makes him 'a great man'? He's a really good surgeon who gets paid less than he might. Swell. Somebody get Obama on the phone. We've got a Real American Hero here!

Third, in the very last exchange Bella and Charlie had, which happened all of five seconds before this one, Bella mentioned Mike and Charlie instantly declared that Mike was from a 'nice family'. Okay, so you judge Mike's family, but 'people in this town' are wrong for judging the Cullen family. (It's a minor point, but I love that Charlie immediately knows which 'Mike' Bella was talking about when 'Michael' tops the list of American male names, but he adds a 'Dr. Cullen's family?' to make sure she wasn't referring to some other Cullen family in this tiny town.)

Fourth, how does Charlie know that Cullen is a 'brilliant surgeon' who 'could probably work in any hospital in the world'? Surgery isn't exactly a skill that the untrained can easily evaluate. I had a fantastic surgeon in Malaysia who took care of an eye infection I had, but I'm no expert and simply judged him by the ease of that particular procedure. There's no way I would go from 'I thought he was a great surgeon because my operation went off without a hitch' to 'he could work anywhere in the world if he wanted, he's so good.' And in my case, the procedure was observed by my girlfriend, who has had surgical training, and I still wouldn't resort to this level of breathtaking hyperbole. What's Charlie basing his lofty opinion of Dr. Cullen on? I think Charlie has a direct line to the author of the novel.

Fifth, ten times? Now, my mother worked with medical doctors. My close friend's parents are both doctors. These people earn a lot of money. But honestly, ten times is just absurd. I find it difficult to believe that, barring some kind of circumstance that has nothing to do with skill (such as being the personal physician of someone of great wealth), in America, any surgeon in a particular speciality would ever make ten times what another surgeon in the same speciality makes. That means that if Dr. Cullen makes $60,000 (a pretty sad sum for any medical doctor, much less a surgeon), he could be making $600,000 somewhere else. That's what a neurosurgeon makes. Neurosurgeons do not earn $60,000 no matter where they are, unless they're not doing neurosurgery. And if they aren't, then they're doing the world a disservice, since there aren't many people who have the talent to do it, and even fewer who have gone through the extensive training to acquire the necessary skills. If you have a skill the world desperately needs that it took you almost two decades to acquire at great cost in resources that few people can acquire even with the necessary time and resources...you'd better use it. Not to do so would be a callous act of inhumanity--but wait, you say, Cullen's a vampire! He is inhuman.

Oh just you wait.

So, Dr. Cullen could make twice what he's making in Forks? Sure. Three times as much? Pushing it, but conceivable. Ten times? This is where Meyer's hyperbole for her nothing characters is particularly embarrassing. Bella can't just be a quirky smart girl who's cute but a little stand-offish; she has to be beautiful and smart and deep, the girl that every boy wants and every girl wants to be. Edward can't be a handsome but socially awkward fellow whose crippling self-doubt makes it difficult for him to establish an intimate relationship; he must be the sexiest boy at school who runs fastest and jumps highest and is strong and brave and reads minds and knows all kinds of stuff about stuff and doesn't want to do...you know...it. Even Dr. Cullen can't be just a doctor; he has to be a surgeon in a town too small to need a surgeon (and who appears not to be a surgeon in Forks, instead serving as your typical GP). In fact, he's the bestest surgeon evar, so that he could make ten times what he makes now if he went, y'know, anywhere.

Now if Charlie were just the best cop in the world, who could be making ten times what he makes in Forks if he went to New York City, I do believe all of our characters would be The Best.

So, um, where is the conflict is this story again?


*It should be noted that he will at no point provide any explanation for his behaviour.

** Similes suck anyhow, unless you're Raymond Chandler or part of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 cast. Metaphors are where it's at. And if you're going to reference something, don't make it so obvious. Like the translation of Classical Chinese I just submitted in which I worked in an entirely appropriate 'We will crush the rebellion with one swift stroke!' Now that's how you drop references, Steffy!

*** Because the poor guy, well, you see, he's a man and men can't cook, a-hyuck!

No comments:

Post a Comment