Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Literate Adult's Return to the Valley of Twilight, Part Two

Read Part One here.

I am reading Twilight pretty slowly. That is mainly because I've been too embarrassed to leave the house with it. I took it on the subway once and it sparked many an unpleasant subway conversation. One man leaned over and sneerily asked me, "Do you read? Like, is that the only book you've read this year?" When I told him that I in fact work in publishing, his sneer intensified tenfold. He was probably disgusted to learn that Twilight readers are helping to build the next generation of books.

And after only fifty pages of this book, I'm not sure I can blame him.

Let's start with the positives, shall we? (There aren't many so we may as well get it out of the way.) One is the very first page of the book: The preface. Well, okay, it's the second page—first there's a Genesis quote about not eating from the tree of knowledge. I think the apple on the cover kind of already drove that point home, but whatever, some people don't get symbolism. 

The preface tells us that some dark-eyed hunter is about to kill Bella, but it's okay because she's dying in the place of someone she loves. If you've ever seen the movie you might remember that Bella says this verbatim in a voiceover while the camera zooms in on a deer or some shit. 

That was a really bad decision on the director's part. I'm not planning to give this book much, but one thing I will give it is that it starts in an exciting place. Lives are at stake! Or at least a life. If I remember correctly this scene takes place in a dance studio, and dance studios can be funhouse creepy if shot correctly. But for some reason the director chose to take one of the book's few suspenseful scenes and replace it with Bambi and a babbling brook. Congrats on ruining one of the few decent parts of the book, Hollywood. A++.

This is also an instance in which Twilight proves itself to be a better book than Fifty Shades of Grey. I understand that comparing the literary quality of these two books is akin to comparing the arm-wrestling skills of two armless men, but the former Twilight fan in me will take these victories where she can get them. Twilight begins with Bella facing a deadly enemy—Fifty Shades of Grey begins with Ana brushing her hair.

Bella Swan: 2, Anastasia Steele: 0.

And that's it for positives! Told you it wouldn't take long. I mentioned before that I've had quite a bit of publishing experience since my initial reading of this book. As I predicted, my internal editor (who is kind of like an inner goddess except way bitchier and less inclined toward salsa dancing) kind of went into angry screaming mode each time I picked this book up. I could nitpick for days but I'll just highlight a few of my biggest editorial complaints thus far.

Unnecessary Details

Bella gives us our first of many unnecessary details on the first page of Chapter One, when she takes the time to tell us that her carry-on on the flight from Phoenix to Washington was a parka. 

This is not just unimportant for us to know, but it is a very strange thing for Bella to do. She's sad about leaving her mom and home—wouldn't she want a book or iPod to distract her from her sadness during the plane ride? Or is Bella trying to tell us that she didn't have the will to do anything but forlornly stare out the airplane window through the whole ride? While wearing a parka ... I guess?

In Chapter One Bella obsesses a lot about how she doesn't want to stand out at her new school. It becomes tiresome after a while. You're shy, Bella—we get it. Still, she feels the need to tell us this:

My plain black jacket didn't stand out, I noticed with relief.

Your jacket is plain and black, Bella. Of course it doesn't stand out. Why would you have ever expected it to?

Later Bella decides to go shopping since Charlie is a Gruff but Kind Single Dad and therefore can't cook anything but eggs and bacon. We could've skipped all this and gone right into Bella's dinner conversation with Charlie, when actual Plot happens, but instead we're treated to five pages of grocery trip, grocery-putting-away, and using-groceries-to-make-dinner.

But before all that, Bella thinks this:

So I had my shopping list and the cash from the jar in the cupboard labeled FOOD MONEY, and I was on my way to the Thriftway.

...What? Who does this? Groceries, even for just two people, can cost upward of a hundred dollars. So people almost always use cards rather than cash to pay for them. And even if Charlie weirdly gave Bella cash rather than a credit card, he would have given her that money from a wallet. It would not come from a jar from a cupboard labeled FOOD MONEY. It's not even the jar that's labeled—it's the cupboard which contains the jar. Are there multiple jars in there, or something? The way Bella calls it "the jar" rather than "a jar" would lead the reader to believe that no, there is just the one jar.

So not only does Bella give us unnecessary details—she gives us unnecessary details which also don't make a lick of goddamned sense.

Heavy-Handed Foreshadowing

Here are a few examples from just the first chapter:

When I landed in Port Angeles, it was raining. I didn't see it as an omen—just unavoidable. I'd already said my goodbyes to the sun.

I can do this, I lied to myself feebly. No one was going to bite me.

See? It seems like Bella's just doing more whining about her Forks predicament, but really she's talking about v—

You already said "vampires," didn't you? Of course you did, because even if the whole entire world didn't already know that this book in some way involves vampires, they most certainly would after reading just those two lines. 

"The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs."

The quote above is from Stephen King's excellent On Writing, a book I doubt Stephenie Meyer has read. As with everything else, Bella goes above and beyond here by not only making the mistake, but doing so in the weirdest fucking way possible:

I smiled at him vaguely and went inside. 

"Was that the boy I sat next to in Biology?" I asked artlessly.

He went back to the TV, and after I finished washing the dishes by hand—no dishwasher—I went upstairs unwillingly to work on my math homework. 

Not only is Bella using adverbs where more descriptive language was needed, but she's using the WRONG ONES. How do you smile "vaguely" at someone? I think in the second example Bella means "tactlessly" but "artlessly" and "tactlessly" are not synonyms.

The third example is my favorite because "unwillingly" means that Bella went upstairs literally against her will. Even though we know Charlie is busy watching TV and not giving a shit. Who is this person who is forcing you to do your math homework, Bella? I know Edward doesn't start sneaking into your house until later, so you can't pin it on him.

The Verdict Thus Far

I'm not getting any particular enjoyment out of this book. Though I commend Twilight for not starting with its leading lady brushing her hair in front of a mirror like Fifty Shades does, we get pretty much that exact scene ten pages later:

I looked at my face in the mirror as I brushed through my tangled, damp hair. Maybe it was the light, but already I looked sallower, unhealthy. My skin could be pretty—it was very clear, almost translucent looking—but it all depended on color. I had no color here.

Never mind the fact that Bella was just complaining about how green Forks was two pages ago and now she's angry that there's "no color." All I'm left knowing about Bella's looks at the end of Mirror Time is that she's pale, slender but not athletic, and doesn't have blue eyes or red hair. Thanks for veiling the fact that every reader is easily supposed to be able to see herself as Bella so well, Stephenie Meyer! I almost didn't catch your subtle manipulation.

Edward's only talked a little bit to Bella. He flipped out the first time she sat next to him in Biology, looking all angry and repulsed and clenching his hands into fists. But instead of henceforth referring to him as "that creepy fuck from Biology," Bella is intrigued by Edward and distinctly dismayed when he doesn't show up at school for a week. 

He's nice enough when he finally does speak to her during Biology—if by "nice" you mean "a condescending prick who doesn't trust Bella to know what Prophase looks like."

Also I call bullshit on how incredibly smart Bella is supposed to seem for having done this lab already in her old school's advanced placement program. As a girl who was actually in a high school biology advanced placement program, I can say we knew how to spot the phases of mitosis by sophomore year. By senior year we were learning the type of DNA profiling that they use in CSI labs. 

I still think Twilight starts out better than Fifty Shades. (You're winning, Stumpy, you're winning!) But I'm also only about a tenth of the way into the book. I'm halfway done with a real post for you guys and will post that instead of Twilight ramblings on Thursday. So hopefully I will have read quite a bit more by my next Valley of Twilight update. 

Read Part Three here.


  1. You know what always bugged me about Bella? Her English paper. And her whole treatment of it. It was just... silly. You know... for awhile, Stephenie Meyer had posted Edward's POV of the first Twilight book on her website. It was a flat out depiction of a creepy as fuck stalker. It had a very "Every step you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you" vibe.

    1. I don't even remember this English paper--I'm sure it will annoy me whenever I reach it. And I know exactly what you're talking about! I never read it, though--luckily, it seems.

  2. Maybe you almost missed her "everywoman" subtle manipulation because you have red hair, so you knew you weren't a Bella clone. Not too smart to disqualify blue eyes, though, an awful lot of people have blue eyes. -- Just another post from your "Anonymous" Mom

    1. Thanks for the comment, Mama! I didn't realize until recently that Blogger decided your comment was spam for some inane reason. I think you're right--she should have gone even vaguer with it. Like, "I have hair that gets tangled sometimes and skin that has a certain tone to it. I also have eyes."

  3. As someone who was a high-school sophomore less than a month ago, I can confirm that ALL students should have mitosis AND meiosis memorized by the end of their 2nd year. Also, congrats on having a fresh perspective on Twilight almost 7 years after it was published :p

    1. I appreciate the confirmation--I haven't taken Biology in seven years so I wasn't 100% sure on that. And thanks for the kind words!