Monday, April 30, 2012

Breaking Down, Book One: Bella, Chapter 1 - Engaged

Here we go on the final, most aggravating installment in this overblown series. So nobody gets confused, I actually wrote this review in my old style while I was still in the middle of doing Eclipse. The others will be my several-at-a-time format.

1. We get yet another artsy epigraph, this one courtesy of Edna St. Vincent Millay (oh boy am I not looking forward to the one from Orson Scott Card). “Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age the child is grown, and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.” Except all the humans who Bella claims to care about. Whose lives she’s cutting herself out of forever all for the sake of a man she loves for his looks and has nothing in common with except one musician. Not to mention all the poor mortal readers who made this series such a resounding success. I dunno, wouldn't a sign of maturity be the acceptance of endings? Not that it would work with the premise of this super mature Suefic.

Stupid preface, go! “I’d had more than my fair share of near-death experiences; it wasn’t something you ever really got used to.” Yeah well, I kind of think you would get desensitized to anything after enough repetitions. It certainly doesn't help that Bella treats every problem with the same lung-clogging level of anxiety.

“It seemed oddly inevitable, though, facing death again. Like I really was marked for disaster. I’d escaped time and time again, but it kept coming back for me.” It’s all about Bella, after all.

What can you do when it’s not some evil vampire out for your blood, though? If your life isn’t threatened by your own mind-shattering stupidity? “If it was someone you truly loved?”

We’re talking about Bella’s pregnancy, aren’t we?

2. We open on Bella trying to tell herself nobody’s staring at her, “But, because I couldn’t lie convincingly even to myself, I had to check.” Ah, welcome back character who deserved to have Edward slip and bite her head off three chapters in.

“It was still considered rude to stare at people, wasn’t it? Didn’t that apply to me anymore?” Maybe if she wasn’t a complete freak who deserves for people to literally stare holes in her…

As she fuels up her wehicle, the digits on the pump “ticked by sluggishly, almost if they were doing it just to annoy me.” Oh it’s so hard being you, Bella.

Oh, it sure is: “It was stupid to be so self-conscious, and I knew that. Besides my mom and dad, did it really matter what people were saying about my engagement? About my new car? About my mysterious acceptance into an Ivy League college? About the shiny black credit card that felt red-hot in my back pocket right now?” Sue.

Why are people staring at Bella? Well, it turns out her truck died (“According to him.” Trust!) and Edward replaced it with another car that Bella can’t name but which is incredibly impressive (don’t care, said why). We know this because two guys at the gas station gush at the sight of it and ask if she’ll let them take their pictures with it. I am not kidding.

From the sound of the guys’ praise, the car’s basically tankproof. Edward “going a little overboard” looking out for his squishy bride-to-be. Too bad she’s so unused to the thing that when she tried to step on the gas, “the car jolted forward so fast that my body slammed into the black leather seat and my stomach flattened against my spine.” Even if the car’s basically indestructible, it’s still not serving its purpose if Bella can’t drive it, is it? I suppose I should just be glad he’s letting Bella drive herself.

3. In the previous part there’s this paragraph that both baffles and irritates me. It starts with “On the one hand, I had been raised to cringe at the very thought of poofy white dresses and bouquets.” That’s the part that baffles me. I guess she’s talking about her mom not being big on premature marriage, but then, how long did mom know Phil before they tied the knot? According to the guidebook, Bella’s mom “loved being in love.” Granted that line comes from the summary of her youth, but with how Bella was supposedly the real grownup in the household you don't get the impression she changed all that much. Besides, the event that kickstarted the entire plot was Bella's mom getting married again. I don’t know, that’s not very consistent with the idea that this same woman’s militantly anti-matrimony and going to jump down Bella’s throat for deciding to marry so young. And in case you don’t remember, or I didn’t remember to point it out, before Edward came along Bella claims the person in the whole world she was closest to was her mom. Whether that says something about what Bella considers a deep personal relationship or her ability to understand other people in general, I’ll let you decide.

The part that irritates is me Bella thinking that the word “husband” just doesn’t fit someone like Edward. “It was like casting an archangel as an accountant; I couldn’t visualize him in any commonplace role.” Normally I’d be willing to write that off because this is the first chapter, but Breaking Dawn doesn’t do much to make itself accessible to noobs. As I read this book I saw almost nothing where Meyer was trying to explain herself to people not already familiar with her world. That’s okay, in a way, since this is the last book and they’re married by the end of the third chapter. It’s a little late to worry about getting people invested in the characters. For that reason, however, I feel vindicated in thinking SHE CAN STOP TELLING US HOW WONDERFUL EDWARD AND ALL VAMPIRES ARE ALREADY. WE’VE LISTENED TO THIS CRAP NONSTOP FOR THREE BOOKS NOW.

Like I said about Meyer not making this accessible to new readers, after getting gas, Bella drives home and as she does she sees a bunch of flyers up for her “favorite mechanic,” who’s gone missing. When we find out it’s Jacob, that’s it. Her friend Jacob’s gone missing. Nothing about the werewolf thing. Not even anything about Jacob wanting to be doing with her what Edward is. Just a bit about how Billy’s letting Jacob come home when he feels like it despite Charlie’s anxiety. And how Jacob’s friends can hear each others’ thoughts. And how Leah (remember her? I don’t) is a raging bitch. Nothing about how Jacob was supposed to be looking at a significant period of recovery after a “motorcycle accident” at the end of the previous book, and then he just disappeared before that kind of time could’ve passed.

4. Speaking of those flyers, each one felt like a “well-deserved slap in the face.” I’m sorry, I know she thinks of Jacob as her best friend and all, but…I don’t care that she feels bad about this. Putting aside my feelings on Bella as a person, I always knew who she’d pick. I’m pretty sure anybody else who paid any attention at all did too. Including Bella. Besides, by the time I was old enough to know what Bella was up to when she tried to take her clothes off around her boyfriend, I was getting bored with wimpy stories like this one with no suspense and perfect solutions to all the problems (which help with the lack of suspense).

5. Further showing us the deficiencies of Stephenie Meyer’s literary abilities, Bella mentions how “The friendship that had sprung up between Edward and Seth was something that still boggled my mind.” Me too, seeing as we hardly ever actually see character development in action. Or anything indicating Bella even has the brains God gave a mosquito. And Seth? I remember him, because he actually did something fairly significant we got to see!

For that matter, “It was proof, though, that things didn’t have to be this way. That vampires and werewolves could get along just fine, thank you very much, if they were of a mind to.” The way everything has an easy and painless resolution is obnoxious enough in something aimed above a 7-year-old audience, but the way she says that like everyone else was a bunch of children for not seeing it as quickly as she did…Especially when the books have regularly shown her to be stupid, panicky and needing to be reminded of major plot elements. Presumably because she’s devoting too much mental energy to how beautiful such-and-such is.

6. Cut to Edward and Bella waiting in her house to spring the news of their upcoming nuptials to Charlie. She’s nervous, of course, and he tries to remind her “you’re not confessing to a murder here.” “Easy for you to say,” she replies. Does everything have to be pulling teeth with her? Is it just possible there’s something to what all the mean people say about Bella?

When she hears Charlie coming in, “The sound reminded me of that part of the horror movie when the victim realizes she’s forgotten to lock her deadbolt.” Bella can’t even tell the difference between a horror movie and a romance, two of the most diametrically opposed niches of cinema. Remember back in New Moon?

And another classic moment in poor foresight appears when Bella tells us that Charlie had “been putting forth a lot of effort to like Edward more.” Again, if people were saying about my writing what they do about Meyer’s, I wouldn’t leave myself open like that. Besides, is enjoying someone’s company something it makes any sense to have to make an effort to achieve? If Edward's such a great guy, should that require an effort on Charlie's part? Or has he maybe earned the right to be wary of Senor Cullen?

In a touch of very weak humor, Charlie thinks they’re about to tell him Bella’s pregnant. At least, I think it was humor. I’m honestly not sure what to feel most of the time in these books. “What other possible reason would sane people have for getting married at eighteen? (His answer then had made me roll my eyes. Love. Right)” Gee, this really doesn’t sound like a romance comparable to the classics of old. Let alone one that’ll outlive Bella’s period of study at Dartmouth.

7. Edward explains that “I love her more than anything in the world, more than my own life.” I know I’ve complained about this before that’s something that needs more establishing. What does Edward do for fun? What got him out of bed in the morning before Bella? This suicidal devotion of theirs is more unsettling than endearing when they seem to lack any interests in life besides each other.

It’s not helped by being followed up with Bella saying, “For just an instant, listening to the absolute confidence in his voice, I experienced a rare moment of insight. I could see, fleetingly, the way the world looked to him.” Both because Bella seems to be admitting how dense she is, and because that’s all we get. No explanation of how Bella thinks Edward sees the world.

When Charlie asks if this is what Bella wants, she replies, “ ‘I’m one hundred percent sure about Edward,’ I told him without missing a beat.” Says it without thinking. You might think that speaks of the depths of their love, until you realize Bella never thinks before doing anything. Remember the motorcycles?

For that matter, she just wants to get this over with and become an unaging vampire “due to the fact that I was getting closer to nineteen every stinking day, while Edward stayed frozen in all his seventeen-year-old perfection, as he had for over ninety years.” So she’s agreeing to marry Edward because that’s the only way he’ll give her those sparkles she wants so dearly, and not so much because she dearly loves him and wants to give back some of what he’s giving her? “Not that this fact necessitated marriage in my book…” Guess not. What happened to her agreeing to wait on becoming a vampire because she finally realized she was being kinda selfish?

Edward asks for Charlie’s blessing on their union. “I’d like to do that, well, the right way. It’s how I was raised.” Bella adds, “He wasn’t exaggerating; they’d been big on old-fashioned morals during World War I.” We noticed the “as he had for over ninety years” bit, but thanks for reminding us. I mean, insulting our intelligence. I don’t remember Bella ever coming out and declaring her contempt for her listeners like that. Who’s she telling this story, anyway? I know most stories with a first-person perspective don’t worry about that question, but between all the “Edward was so pretty” and “I totally suck” moments, I kind of have to wonder who’d ask her to tell the story of how she and Edward got together and still be listening after all this garbage.

8. Charlie agrees, but cackles that Bella has to break the news to her mom herself. “The ultimate doom: telling Renee. Early marriage was higher up on her blacklist than boiling live puppies.” Save the drama for the drama, please. This is (a big part of) why the climax to this, the entire “saga”, makes a wet thud when it arrives.

Anyway, Renee isn’t upset that Bella’s getting married right out of high school. At all. In fact she encourages Bella “that you know what’s best for you.” I’d argue that Bella’s track record indicates otherwise, but she wouldn’t know about those. Mom continues in this vein, assuring her spawn that “You’ve never been a teenager, sweetie,” and “My little middle-aged child. Luckily, you seem to have found another old soul.” If not for this kind of shit, I’d say Meyer captured the voice of her protagonists perfectly.

And really, the fact that Bella invents problems where none prove to exist just helps you to see how few problems she really has to deal with.

“It let me right off the hook. Edward’s family and my family were taking care of the nuptials together without my having to do or know or think too hard about any of it.” It’s so hard being Bella.

This conversation actually shows us another of Steph’s failures to show and not tell, because the main reason Bella’s mom is so sure she and Edward will work is what she saw when they visited her before. You remember, in Eclipse? No, you don’t! Because they were going, and then they were back! We never saw Edward charming his future mother-in-law. It’s like Steph’s only realizing now that she actually has to write Bella’s mom in at some point if Bella’s so concerned about said parent’s view of her marriage.

And before I close this point, I just want to say that having Bella say “But aren’t you going to say that I sound exactly like every other infatuated teenager since the dawn of time?” doesn’t distract at all from how fake the romance comes across.

9. By the way, the scene transition between Charlie telling Bella she had to talk to her mother about this and Bella doing so was incredibly awkward. It starts with the sentence “I paused with my hand on the doorknob, smiling,” as if she’s thinking back on the conversation with it just having ended. Since it goes on to say that Renee’s helping Esme plan the wedding by phone, it sounds like Edward flew Bella across the country just to ask her mom that one question. I know his family’s got money to burn but damn, was that really necessary?

10. Alice gets Charlie a tux, and he says he looks like an idiot, and she fires back that “No one dressed by me ever looks like an idiot.” Stop it already, Steph. I know the series is almost over, but you could’ve at least limited the damage with how insufferably perfect your vampires are. Yes, it does get tiresome if you think about it. No, thinking about literature isn’t a bad thing to do.

But then it’s Bella’s turn, and she “saw the dreaded white garment bag,” and screamed a little. Bella and Alice are supposed to be like BFF’s or something, right? Then how come whenever they interact, Alice seems to be doing something that exasperates Bella? Who lets Alice do it anyway because she has no backbone.

Bella prepares for that dreaded moment where she tries on her wedding dress. “I stripped down to my underwear and held my arms straight out.” Eeewww.

Look, I’m sure that no matter how hard she pretends otherwise, Bella’s not hard to look at. But I’ve been inside her head, heard her innermost thoughts, and what I’ve seen there isn’t appealing. Being asked to imagine her with no clothes on actually only serves to make her less so.

11. Alice tells Bella to go to her happy place for this part, and she does, but the only thing definite about it is Edward’s there with her. “[B]ecause Edward was keeping the location of our honeymoon a secret to surprise me. But I wasn’t especially concerned about the where part.” Sorry Steph, I’m really not finding this romance believable when Bella has yet to concern herself regarding anything about their relationship besides getting immortality. Like, is this somebody she can really spend eternity with? Of course she can, because vampires fall in love for life.

“Edward and I were together, and I’d fulfilled my side of our compromise perfectly. I’d married him. That was the big one. But I’d also accepted all his outrageous gifts and was registered, however futilely, to attend Dartmouth College in the fall. Now it was his turn.” Oh isn’t that wonderful, her part of the deal they’d made was that she’d accept all of these extravagant gifts from him before she’d accept the most amazing gift of all. Haven't we come such a long way?

I suppose if Meyer were to read this she’d defend her work by saying Edward’s the one with all the money and power and connections, but could Bella be a little excited about what’s going on, maybe? Quit acting like admission to a high-level college and all the others things Edward’s lavishing on her are obstacles to overcome before she can get what she really wants? This doesn’t sound romantic at all. Plus she’s hardly seeming like a developed character, even after three gigantic books, when Edward remains her only goal in life.

. Building on my last thought, Bella ponders on how she’ll change, psychologically, when she becomes a vampire. You know, when you write on a blank slate, you’re filling a void, not changing what’s there. “For several years, my biggest personality trait was going to be thirsty.” Which isn’t a personality trait. I’m fine with calling topaz a color, but “thirsty” isn’t a personality trait. Neither is “obsessed with undead pretty boy.”

“And even when I was in control of myself, I would never feel exactly the way I felt now. Human…and passionately in love.” Huh? Isn’t that what Edward feels toward her?

Oh dear lord I’m only 22 pages into this 754 page book. Someone please kill me.

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