Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Twilight Saga saga: chapter 2

This installment of The Twilight Saga saga is dedicated to Jill, who gave me jello shooters to help me through this thing.

Chapter Two starts with the start of the next day. Those are the words that Meyer wrote: "The next day". Normally I would roll up this kind of writing and beat the author over the head with it, but in this case, it's too late; Meyer is published now and free of all the people who could have stopped this kind of thing from happening.

At any rate, this next day is "better... and worse". How is it better?

"It was better because it wasn't raining yet, although the clouds were dense and opaque".


Would it kill Meyer to pull off a sentence that wasn't tripping over itself? Have you ever seen a dense cloud that wasn't opaque? The day is also better because boys are still following her around and behaving like rival lapdogs.

Faithful boys aside, the day is worse for an entire paragraph's worth of reasons - Bella is never at a loss for things that make her miserable and angry. But the biggest reason for her unhappiness is the absence of the guy who clearly acts as if he wants to harm her. She even feels the desire to confront him and call him on his behaviour, but then she makes what I think might be the only pop culture reference in the entire book:

"But I knew myself too well to think I would really have the guts to do it. I made the Cowardly Lion look like the terminator".

For a book narrated by and aimed at a teen audience, it's curious that there should be so few pop culture references. I don't read young adult fiction, so maybe this is the norm. Also, I can understand Meyer's desire to avoid throwing in names that won't make sense in five years (imagine if a whole chapter were dedicated to James Blunt or The Bloodhound Gang) but both the cowardly lion and the terminator predate Bella's seventeen years. Couldn't Meyer come up with something from the nineties or the 2000s?

This goes some way to confirming what I suspect - that the line between Bella and Meyer is vanishingly thin, and that Bella has no up-to-date teen pop references because Meyer doesn't. Bella is Meyer's half-remembered teenage consciousness, a dying voice hopelessly compromised by the writer's adult perspective. That's why Bella manages to combine a world-weariness with a helpless, paranoid naivete.

Once Bella's day is done, and she's dealt with the indignities of having a fellow student following her around and "taking on the qualities of a golden retriever", she spots the Cullen family (minus Edward) in the parking lot. And here Bella's greatest obsession is revealed: clothes. Or maybe it's not clothes. Maybe it's canned descriptions of clothes.

"I saw the two Cullens and the Hale twins getting into their car... I hadn't noticed their clothes before - I'd been too mesmerized by their faces. Now that I looked, it was obvious that they were all dressed exceptionally well; simply, but in clothes that subtly hinted at designer origins".

That line pretty much drop kicked me out of the story. My head filled up with images of vampires at an outlet store, holding up a pair of khakis and saying 'Hey, does this subtly hint at designer origins?' What the hell does that phrase mean, anyway? Like so much of the rest of this book, it sounds meaningful until you turn a light on it, and then the meaning gets spooked, scurries under the dishwasher and won't come out again. Is it the good fit, the texture of the fabric, the stitching, an unusual but distinctive feature that points to its pedigree? Bella doesn't say, and since we're looking through her eyes, we have no other way of approaching this book. It's like we're being held prisoner in a room in her head, and we're allowed no more than a few glances through a little window to see what's going on outside.

From this point onward I'm going to start using two measures for these reviews. Every time Bella says or thinks something that comes off as pouty, miserable, insensitive or excruciatingly condescending, this book gets one Bella Sucks point. Every time a sentence strikes me as particularly inept, this book gets one Learn To Write point. Then I average the scores out over the number of pages in the chapter. That way we can all keep track and I won't feel as if I'm shortchanging anyone. Skip ahead if you want to cut out my cogent maundering in favour of the tally.

The highlight of the chapter, aside from an email exchange between Bella and her mother that basically ranks Bella as the least respectful daughter since Lizzie Borden, is the first actual conversation between her and Edward... in Biology class. Get it? Biology? Because Bella is having biological urges? Think if they'd met in Sociology class.

Stephenie Meyer has clearly given some thought to the Meet Cute scenario between high school girl and vampire. The giant rock in the stream, I suppose, is Buffy's violent dark alley beatdown of Angel from the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Whedon took the standard victimization cliché in every monster movie and pulled it inside-out, into the beginnings of a romance. Meyer has a similar inversion in mind, but instead of granting the girl unearthly powers, she domesticates the monster by pulling it into a classroom.

And that's where the great lovers of Twilight get their class assignment on.

Yup, a class assignment: Bella and Edward get to know each other over a microscope and a set of slides with the phases of mitosis frozen and dyed for their identification. There's a nice light irony here, as Meyer punctuates their conversation with the scientific language of cell division (see: Bella's biological urges). A high school English teacher would take a moment to point out that we are seeing an example of dramatic irony as well, because we know something that Bella doesn't know. What doesn't she know? That the entire city of Phoenix is glad she left.

What else do we know that Bella and Edward don't know? Well, we know exactly what they mean when they speak. We know this because Meyer rarely resorts to "he said" or "she said" when Bella and Edward talk. Instead, she throws every conversational verb in her pocket Webster's at us:

"Did you get contacts?" I blurted out unthinkingly.
He seemed puzzled by my unexpected outburst. "No".
"Oh," I mumbled.

*

"Forks must be a difficult place for you to live," he mused.
"You have no idea," I muttered darkly.

*

"I think I can keep up," he pressed.

*

"That doesn't sound so complex," he disagreed, but he was suddenly sympathetic.

*

"And you don't like him," Edward surmised, his tone still kind.

*

His eyebrows knit together. "I don't understand," he admitted, and he seemed unnecessarily frustrated by that fact.

*

"But now you're unhappy," he pointed out.

*

"I believe I have heard that somewhere before," he agreed dryly.

Elsewhere in the scene, Edward murmurs smugly, Bella smiles sheepishly, and twice she grimaces.


Official scores for Chapter 2, "Open Book"

Bella Sucks: 25 in 22 pages (1.08)
Learn To Write: 44 in 22 pages (2)

11 comments:

sweetsalty kate said...

My head filled up with images of vampires at an outlet store, holding up a pair of khakis and saying 'Hey, does this subtly hint at designer origins?'

Cracking up.

i am the diva said...

FAN-TASTIC! - she blurted out unexpectedly

Adam P. Knave said...

"My head filled up with images of vampires at an outlet store, holding up a pair of khakis and saying 'Hey, does this subtly hint at designer origins?'"

I love you so much for this. Seriously, this is my fave review series of anything I've ever seen. You, sir, are my review hero.

Jett said...

I have been waiting for this, sir.
"That the entire city of Phoenix is glad she left."
You do not disappoint.

Jill said...

So awesome. It does vaguely feel like an intervention each time I read your reviews.

Marie said...

This is the most hilarious thing I have read in a long time. Thank-you for making my day that much better.

Sarah said...

Thank you for this! Even my 16 year old daughter complained about how badly written this book was.

Helen said...

I enjoy the shout-out to Sociology.

Colleen said...

"I am enjoying this tremendously," she said with a throaty giggle.

ozma said...

Painfully funny. This is clearly the scariest vampire book ever written. You have caused me to gave thanks to the heavens that I don't teach creative writing when the post-Twilight wave hits.

Chris said...

"These books say more about their readers", he blathered sardonically.