Friday, February 20, 2009


I tried, folks. I'm not usually one to jump on whatever the literary bandwagon of the moment happens to be -- despite my love of a good conspiracy tale, preferably involving the Knights Templar and the secret history of Jesus and the Catholic Church, I still haven't read The Da Vinci Code -- but I figured, hey, I like vampires, and I like well-done teen angst. So I gave Stephenie Meyer's Twilight a try.

The qualifier there is well-done teen angst.

Twilight, for those who haven't succumbed, is the tale of a teenage girl named Bella who moves from Phoenix to a little town in northwest Washington state -- the rainy part of the state, the part that looks like the small towns in most of the early seasons of The X-Files when the show was still filmed in Vancouver -- where she has some troubles adjusting to her new school. She's the new kid. She's living with her father, who is divorced from her mother. She's already studied everything that comes up in class. Some boys take a liking to her, angering the local girls who are already interested in them. She hates gym class because she's a klutz. And there's this one boy who both refuses to give her the time of day and seems obsessed with her. This is Edward. Edward is a vampire.

(This is not a spoiler. The back cover of the book tells us this.)

Bella makes new friends, and a few enemies. She tries getting to know Edward, and is rebuffed. She hangs out with her new friends. She cooks dinner for her father. She tries to get to know Edward again, and makes some headway, before she is again rebuffed. She talks to a local boy who descends from the Native Americans in the area, who have legends that tell of people like Edward and his family. (Oooooh, Native American legends!) She wonders if Edward might actually be a vampire. Edward saves her life in a stunningly contrived incident that suddenly displays his Mad Vampire Skillz, in the school parking lot, before school starts. (And nobody but Bella see what Edward does.) Bella goes to a bigger town to hang out, gets separated from her friends, and happens upon the town rowdies who chase her, until Edward shows up to save her. More tense conversations with Edward, who alternates between being very sweet and a complete prick. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The first hundred pages are OK; they set the scene fairly well. But the whole book just feels like scene setting, not a story unfolding. Not much happens, and it's mostly a series of conversations between Bella and her friends or Bella and her father or Bella and Edward and so on. The dialogue's OK, but the story never seems to build to much of anything. I felt absolutely no tension here, which is weird, because, you know, vampires.

I felt my attention flagging shortly after the first hundred pages, mainly because the book is full of passages that never go anywhere or save any purpose whatsoever. Now, I'm fine with slow-moving stories -- my favorite book is The Lord of the Rings, which can be not-inaccurately described as a thousand pages of people walking from one place to another -- but if that's the case, then you'd at least better have some wonderfully poetic stuff going on in there, or some keen insight into things, or some very compelling characters, or something to make the pages where nothing's happening not so hard to get through. Unfortunately, Twilight doesn't have much going on in that regard.

By way of illustration, here is one such passage that really bugged me. After her conversation with the Native American lad who tells her of the legends about vampire-like creatures which the old-timers still believe ("But we young people know that's all hooey!"), Bella decides to go home and go on the Internet to do some research on vampires. Fair enough. This should have required, maybe, two sentence or so to do: "I put dinner in the oven and then went upstairs to use the Internet. I brought up Google and typed in: vampires." That would have done the trick -- but here's what Meyer does instead:

I dressed slowly in my most comfy sweats and then made my bed -- something I never did. I couldn't put it off any longer. I went to my desk and switched on my old computer.

I hated using the Internet here. My modem was sadly outdated, my free service substandard; just dialing up took so long that I decided to go get myself a bowl of cereal while I waited.

I ate slowly, chewing each bite with care. When I was done, I washed the bowl and spoon, dried them, and put them away. My feet dragged as I climbed the stairs. I went to my CD player first, picking it up off the floor and placing it precisely in the center of the table. I pulled out the headphones, and put them away in the desk drawer. Then I turned the same CD on, turning it down to the point where it was background noise.

With another sigh, I turned to my computer. Naturally, the screen was covered in pop-up ads. I sat in my hard folding chair and began closing all the little windows. Eventually I made it to my favorite search engine. I shot down a few more pop-ups and then typed in one word.


It took an infuriatingly long time, of course. When the results came up, there was a lot to sift through -- everything from movies and TV shows to role-playing games, underground metal, and gothic costume companies.

Then I found a promising site - Vampires A-Z. I waited impatiently for it to load, quickly clicking closed each ad that flashed across the screen. Finally the screen was finished - simple white background with black text, academic-looking.

How much detail is here that nobody in their right mind is going to care about? We don't need to know how slow her Internet service is, how dumb she is for not using an ad-blocker, how comfy her sweats are, what she's listening to, her bowl of cereal, et cetera. None of this is interesting in the slightest. And the book abounds with passages like this. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When I started the book, my initial impression was to think of it as My So-Called Life (with Vampires); I quipped on Facebook that I kept waiting for Bella to launch into another monologue about Jordan Catalano. However, I quickly disabused myself of this notion, because Twilight boasts none of the humor of My So-Called Life, nor does it have any of its compelling drama, its insight, and its memorable characters. I still remember Angela Chase, Rayann Graff, and Ricky Vazquez to this day, even though I haven't watched MSCL in years. Five days after putting Twilight aside, I can't even remember Bella's last name.

I finally threw in the towel shortly after Bella went with Edward out into the woods, where they could touch each other on the arms and shoulders and caress each other's cheeks and listen to each other's heartbeats and then ask each other "Was that hard for you." (I swear I am not making this up.) I just couldn't take the book seriously at all after that. The scene is unintentionally hilarious.

I skimmed the rest to see what happened (some guy does something to Bella's mother, or something like that -- Edward saves the day or something), and then I went on Wikipedia to read the plot summaries of the next three books in this series. (Bella and Edward get married, run afoul of some secret vampire society or something, have a baby with a stupid name, Bella becomes a vampire, and maybe they open a bed-and-breakfast in the Carpathians.) With that, I'm done with the Twilight series.

Needing a good book to cleanse my literary palate, I am now reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time since high school. Now there is a book: it's funnier than Twilight, scarier than Twilight (without resorting to a vampire Leif Garrett), more moving than Twilight.

Twilight is awful. Avoid it.


Call me Paul said...

The problem is not necessarily one of too much detail, IMO. The use of specific detail is one of those things that can elevate a writer's prose to a higher level. The problem here, I think, is one of unrealistic specific detail. The author seems to be adding detail for the sake of adding detail, without actually thinking about whether that detail makes sense. Seriously, what teenage girl cleans her room and makes her bed, just to use the Internet? Does Ms. Meyer even know any teenage girls?

Kerry said...

AAAAHAHAHAAA! The books were ridiculous, but g*ddamn if I didn't read all four. Probably because Stephenie Mormonhead made me wait that long for them to actually consummate, and when they do (married, of course), the sex nearly kills the girl. There's a healthy lesson -- sex might kill you, but if it doesn't, the resulting baby might suck your blood dry.

The movie is even worse. It is awesomely bad.

teflonjedi said...

I saw a copy of one of these books left out by a British Airways counter, as if someone had forgotten it there during the big snow-induced scrum I was trapped in a few weeks ago. I considered picking it up, but had no room in my bag. Now, I think maybe it was left behind deliberately...

Unknown said...

and maybe they open a bed-and-breakfast in the Carpathians

I love it when I laugh out loud on a blog!