September 9, 2012

Twilight: When Subtext Becomes Text

Twilight, pp. 99-104.

This week, we readers of Twilight are treated to a boring conversation about nothing between Edward and Bella. So yes, the same as last week. Unlike Stephenie [sic] Meyer, though, Carl Eusebius will take a different tack with the analysis. This time, instead of banging on about how Meyer hasn't thought through her characters, I'm going to rip into how the conversation is contrived, badly written, and doesn't make any sense even in the context of a crappy tweener novel.

"You scared me for a minute there," he admitted after a pause. His tone made it sound like he was confessing a humiliating weakness. "I thought Newton was dragging your dead body off to bury it in the woods."

Huh? He thought Bella was dead? But why would he think that, when he could just read Mike's mind and know exactly what happened? Or are we to believe that Mike thought Bella was dead? This just doesn't make sense on any level. Edward says a few lines later that he saw them pass by his car, so he must have seen Bella walking. She needed Mike's help, but she was clearly providing much of her own locomotion. Do people normally carry dead bodies beside them, with the corpse's arm around their neck? Does he think she's a walking corpse or something?

Wait...he's a walking corpse,* so I guess they've got me there.

"Honestly--I've seen corpses with better colour. [Yeah, every time he looks in the mirror! Zing!] I was concerned that I might have to avenge your murder."

"Poor Mike. I'll bet he's mad."

"He absolutely loathes me," Edward said cheerfully.

Okay, who talks like that? Take any conversation in this novel--choose one at random--and say the lines aloud. See how unnatural you sound. Feel how difficult it is to talk that way. It's got to take mental effort to write dialogue this mannered and artificial. Surely Meyer has had conversations with other human beings in real life. How hard is it to translate that experience into writing? (Very hard, I guess.)

"I was concerned that I might have to avenge your murder." Why? Even if Edward could somehow believably think Bella's dead, why would he think she's been murdered? Being a century old, he must have seen people die from all sorts of causes all the time. And why doesn't Bella react at all to this odd and deeply creepy statement? "Poor Mike"? How does that statement follow from "I might have to avenge your murder"? Also, note that this may be the only time Edward ever says anything "cheerfully". And, of course, it's because he's inspired intense dislike in someone else. Isn't he dreamy?

Mike becomes the hero of the story when he interrupts their conversation by dragging another fainting student into the nurse's office. Edward immediately makes to get Bella out of there, because God forbid she see another drop of blood. That would make this scene go on longer! Then--and I swear to Edward James Olmos this happens--the following exchange takes place:

I spun and caught the door before it closed, darting out of the infirmary. I could feel Edward right behind me.

"You actually listened to me." He was stunned.

"I smelled the blood," I said, wrinkling my nose. Lee wasn't sick from watching other people, like me.

"People can't smell blood," he contradicted.

People can't smell blood. People can't smell blood? Wha...what? This line brings you to a screeching halt. Like Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse saying "Pain don't hurt." It's just...the mind boggles. You have to stop, wonder if you misread it, go back and read it again. People can't smell blood? You might as well say that birds can't fly at night or left-handed people can't drive cars on Sunday or Congressmen can't use their expense accounts for hookers and blow.

You know, I tried to read this statement in the light most favourable to Meyer, so I thought maybe it's supposed to be some vampire thing. Like, say, compared to their vampire senses, we humans with our puny sense of smell can't really smell blood, something like that. Only that doesn't work, because he never says that about anything else. He doesn't say people can't hear music, or see trees, or feel velvet. Edward does, in fact, listen to music for pleasure, so it's not even the case that he only mentions blood because that's all he cares about. I don't know how this is possible, but I really think Meyer thinks Bella's (and therefore her own) ability to smell blood is unusual. I can't escape the conclusion that she is somehow unaware that people can smell blood. Just about all people can, and do, and have. That, in fact, it has a very distinctive odour. One would think that merely existing in the human world would have imparted this information to Meyer. I'm simply thunderstruck that someone has lived three decades yet missed this simple fact.

Oh and one more thing: "he contradicted"? I mean, that's just...that's just wrong.

Mike comes back to make sure Bella's okay and to confirm that she's still going to the beach with him and his their friends. (She is.) Bella humiliates him some more--though mostly in her narration--and he leaves, despondent that she's in the presence of Edward. This is, naturally, portrayed as jealousy on Mike's part, though I prefer to think he's saddened to know that she's caught up in Edward's mind games. After Mike departs, Edward uses his hypnotism power--I think--to get Bella out of gym class, declaring to the school nurse that he will take her home. Bella then invites Edward to the beach, even though Meyer made sure we knew that Mike made it a point not to invite him. This adds a whole John-and-Yoko vibe to Bella, as if we needed any further reason to despise the character. Edward joins in on the Mike humiliation when he declines the invitation because Mike might "snap", though we'll find out later that the real reason he doesn't want to go has more to do with the location than the people involved.

Edward then assaults Bella when she heads toward her truck to leave. He grabs her by the jacket and "yanks" her back to him, and then he hauls her over to his car.

He was towing me toward his car now, pulling me by my jacket. It was all I could do to keep from falling backward. He'd probably just drag me along anyway if I did.

"Let go!" I insisted. He ignored me. I staggered along sideways across the wet sidewalk until we reached the Volvo. Then he finally freed me--I stumbled against the passenger door.

"You are so pushy!" I grumbled.

Yes, pushy. That's it. That's what you call someone who jerks you around and drags you bodily over to his car while you demand to be released. Pushy.

"Get in, Bella." 

I didn't answer. I was mentally calculating the chances of reaching the truck before he could catch me. I had to admit, they weren't good.

"I'll just drag you back," he threatened, guessing my plan.

You know, sometimes I wonder why I write this blog. In my earlier posts, I interrogated Edward's words and behaviour to expose them as the emotional manipulation that they were. I examined Bella's thoughts and actions and how they reveal a kind of dependent passivity and powerlessness. But now the novel just has Edward directly controlling her person through physical force. I mean, do I even need to talk about this? There's no deeper level to probe, here. The misogyny is right there on the surface. Why continue with this madness?

It became an instant bestseller when published originally in hardback in 2005, debuting at No. 5 on the New York Times Best Seller list within a month of its release and later peaking at No. 1. That same year, Twilight was named one of Publisher's Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2005. The novel was also the biggest selling book of 2008 and the second biggest selling of 2009, only behind its sequel New Moon. It has been translated into 37 different languages. When first published, Twilight gained much critical acclaim.[Source: Wikipedia]

Oh, yeah. That's why.
* I know I'm striking a deceased equine here, but it continues to astound me that anybody thinks falling in love with a vampire is a believable idea. They're dead, people. They're shambling corpses that reek of the grave. They subsist on the blood of living human beings. There's no heat in their bodies, no life in their eyes, no light in their souls. They are inhuman. Stop saying you love them. It's disturbing.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Edward doesn't even know that dogs can smell blood too. Well, maybe he's never had a dog since a dog could bite him and take his blood. Who knows. How a best seller comes about with abuse is another thing. We're suppose to be telling our daughters and sons for that matter that it's NOT ok to put your hands on another. Oh, and since she was away from the blood, she isn't going to pass out now. I think I should write a book, I know it would be better than twillight. Also anything is.