Monday, November 29, 2010

Twilight Chapter 1: First Sight

It all started with a challenge. Partly from myself, as the worst things I’ve reviewed on this blog are a few episodes of a brainless cartoon where teenagers turn into dinosaurs, which was making me think I’m being too soft as a reviewer. Then a friend suggested that, as a writer, I should see what I could find wrong with the current worst book ever. Since that would neatly solve my problem, I was stupid enough to say yes.

And so I find myself holding Twilight, a book where things happen around a teenage Mary Sue version of the author. The main such thing is our heroine enthralling every guy she meets by acknowledging their existence, but being stalked and controlled by one sparkly vampire in particular. It’s meant to be a story about a love that defies all boundaries, but too often those boundaries are reader sympathy and any semblance of logic or restraint.

This is going to be kind of special. There won’t be Madness Levels, since after all the only thing I’m doing is telling you exactly how this book sucks or reaffirming exactly why you already think it’s the greatest love story ever written. For the people itching to throw me under a bus for what I’ll be saying, try to be bear in mind even the actor who plays the vampire hunk in the movies says he loathes his character and thinks Stephenie Meyer is “mad,” by which I’m pretty sure he meant “crazy.” Let’s not even get into how Meyer’s said she’d leave her family for either of the two main guys competing for her heroine in a heartbeat.

Besides, the fact that Stephenie Meyer's a terrible writer (sorry but yes, it's a fact) doesn't make people stupid for liking what she produces. It just makes them people I disagree with, and that's the great thing about being a person here in the real world: we can all have our own opinion. In Meyer's world, I'm not so sure about that.

Before we begin, I have to talk about everything saying Meyer’s deaf to criticism, like how supposedly her brother Seth runs her homepage and turns aside any derogatory correspondence. Now, as a fiction writer myself, I can appreciate how gratifying it is to have someone tell you they really liked something you wrote. What I appreciate even more, though, is when someone gets in touch with me to share thoughts on specific things, questions, and yes, even criticisms. I like to think I’m a decent writer, and I know you can’t please everyone, but I also know I’m not the best person to judge my work. And I won’t get better at the things I do if I don’t know when I make a mistake or miss an opportunity. Which I will. I’m only human.

But hey, Stephenie Meyer’s the published author because she felt she needed to share her fantasies with the world. What do I know?

Twilight Chapter 1: First Sight

1. I can’t even open the book without thinking about how goofy these are. Except for Breaking Dawn I can’t look at the cover art of anything in the series without hearing a seductive whisper of, “Twilight, the new fragrance from Calvin Klein.”

2. Things begin with a one-page preface where our heroine is caught in a horrible mess from which she can’t escape, which is the usual the result of trying to act on her own, and saying she never really thought about how she’d die. Most people that do have some serious issues. Not to say she doesn’t.

There isn’t much to talk about in this preface, but I have to respond to one line. Which is, “When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.” Let’s consider the plot of the sequel: her blood-sucking boyfriend dumps her for the sake of her continued survival. She’s so lost without him she goes completely frigid and starts toying with death because doing so makes her hear his voice again. Which tells her not to do these stupid things.

She also talks about how noble it is she’s dying in place of a loved one (which she isn’t, and which she knows), because gosh darn it our heroine sure is a selfless person.

3. In the first real chapter, the sky cloudless and her shirt sleeveless white lace, Isabella “Bella” Swan exiles herself from her beloved Phoenix, Arizona. Her destination: Forks, Washington, rain capital of the world, to live with Charlie “Dad” Swan. Her mom’s just remarried to a baseballer and Bella, because she’s such a selfless person, would rather live somewhere she absolutely hates than distract her mom (who repeatedly insisted Bella didn’t have to do this) from being super-happy with the new marriage.

There’s nothing wrong with staying someplace you love if the option’s open, and Bella herself admits her mom is hysterical and overprotective. She’d probably be doing mom a bigger favor trying to get along with her new stepdad than living someplace where mom thinks she’ll probably get all depressed and withdrawn, and end up jumping off the roof.

4. After an uneventful flight Bella arrives in forks where her father, the Police Chief, greets her with an “awkward, one-armed hug.” Why? Doesn’t he love his daughter enough to use both? The only people in the book who don’t like her are jealous of her.

Oh, he was getting her suitcase. Why didn't ya say so, Meyer?
As they drive to his place, Charlie tells her he bought her a sturdy old truck because she refuses to be chauffeured around in his police cruiser. She ends up liking it and imagining it emerging unscathed from a head-on collision. However we get our first glimpses that despite her motivations for moving to Forks, she’s a whiny little snot. For instance, Bella tries "not to dwell" on the fact that now she has to share a bathroom. That's not what Meyer was talking about when she warded off accusations that Bella was a self-insert by saying Bella had it rougher growing up, is it?

She also hangs on the facts that “the thing” would be a good nickname for her new vehicle, and how Charlie says “good car for you” instead of just “good car,” as if there’s anything wrong with the way she drives. Even though Bella herself constantly admits she’s a hopeless klutz and the book regularly shows she does, in fact, need every bit of protection she can get. Especially protection from herself.

5. The wangsting kicks into high gear over the next few pages where she thanks her dad for the truck, even though “my being happy in Forks is an impossibility” but she’s such a considerate person she doesn’t need to drag him down with her. She’s only doing that to the reader. Seeing her truck makes her day “just that much less dreadful.” Once she’s moved in and alone she cries a little at living in, ick, Forks, but seriously makes plans to have a real crying fit once she’s in bed. It doesn’t any help that the realization sets in she’ll be “a curiosity, a freak” for being from out of town. If nothing else, if this place is so rainy shouldn’t “ivory-skinned” Bella blend right in? She’s starting to look stupid, not noble, for willingly moving to a place that makes her this rampantly miserable.

Especially since I'm a ghost...
6. Speaking of Bella’s florid description of her skin, in the course of one page alone she also uses the words “harming,” “sallower,” “translucent,” and “pallid.” She doesn’t sound like a teenager, she sounds like a pretentious English major. To be fair, she has the reading habits of a pretentious English major.

This is even funnier in light of a series of companion workbooks (Defining Twilight, Defining New Moon, etc.) that take all the fancy words the books use, define them and tell you the pages where they’re found. You too can sound just like the whiny emo girl from Twilight with our handy study guides!

And no, the Defining books didn’t miss “misogynistic” (ch. 7, p. 144 in the regular book).

7. In the morning Bella drives to her first day of school with no problems despite having no idea how to find it. Bella tries to avoid standing out, which she chalks up to not relating well to other people, but it’s all for naught and she’s soon engulfed in a group of other students who want to hang out/go out with her. Meyer’s falling into the standard Mary Sue trap of wanting everyone to think her character is as awesome and special as the author does, but trying to mask it by Bella not wanting all the attention. Nice try, Steph. At least Bella realizes her pasty complexion makes her look like a local after all.

8. Classes begin, and in English Bella realizes she’s already familiar with the works of everyone on the reading list (Bronte, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner), and spends class thinking of arguments to make mom send Bella her old essays so she can just breeze through this class. So she’s an intelligent person who knows what classical love is. On the other hand, she hates trigonometry. So she’s not some kind of geek teenage girls wouldn't want to relate to.

9. While in the lunchroom with a bunch of would-be friends Bella barely acknowledges, including an “overly-helpful” nerdy guy named Eric and a girl named Jessica who “prattles” on endlessly, we’re introduced to the Cullens.

They’re a “coven” of vampires who pass themselves off as a family of adopted siblings. They also do the worst job of being inconspicuous in vampire history.

For one thing, it’s known on the high school gossip circuit that aside from our hero Edward, all the kids in the pale recluse family are in couples and live together as one big unit. How did this get out? Either they admit that to the nice people of Forks, which is unlikely since they don’t seem to interact with anyone outside the family, or somehow somebody found out, which speaks poorly of the ability of super-awesome vampires to keep their secrets.

On top of that, the Cullens spend the lunch period sitting there staring into space, not even looking at each other. And being vampires, they throw away the human food on their trays without ever touching it. No, Bella isn’t remarkably observant for noticing this. If their act is this flimsy why don’t they go off-campus for lunch? Maybe students at Forks High aren’t supposed to do that, but at least for Edward, going to school seems, at best, a suggestion.

Speaking of Edward, Bella notices his eyes are coal black. Are the Cullens counting on people to avoid making eye contact with them? Especially seeing as this means he’ll need to drink blood soon, and their eyes look even weirder when they’re not hungry.

This last one ends up being more annoying than suspicious, but Bella immediately notices the Cullens are, for their all pale countenances, inhumanly beautiful and graceful. The girls look like they belong in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. There’s an evolutionary reason for them to be so appealing, and this is supposed to be a romance–supposed to be–but Meyer never, ever lets up on how pretty they are. Especially not Edward. I’m not exaggerating. Every time Edward does anything in our heroine’s presence it has to be punctuated with something abut his perfect face, his dazzling smile, his musical laugh at what a helpless bimbo she is…I’m not exaggerating about that last part either.

10. Wouldn’t you know it, the only empty seat in Bella’s biology class is next to the uncoupled pale boy who so captivated her at lunch. She’s just blown out of her little seat by how mean he is by glaring at her and heading out the door as soon as the bell rings.

Antagonistic first meeting? Check.
It’s even worse when she finds him in the office trying to get switched to another class that period. So she’s disinterested, even annoyed when people try to interact with her but horribly upset when they’re antisocial. How does she want to be treated? Or is Edward a special case because he’s so pretty? The chapter closes as our strong, independent heroine goes home “fighting tears the whole way” because someone she doesn’t even know doesn’t want to sit next to her in science class. Despite plenty of other people welcoming her to Forks with open arms.

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