Saturday, August 15, 2009

Twilight: The Dawn of Dismal Writing

(Preface: If you are a 14-year-old girl or enjoyed Twilight, do not read this post.)

I seldom am on top of my cultural game. It took the final release of the seventh Harry Potter installment for me to read Rowling's heptology. I wasn't interested in The Sopranos till it was in its 5th year. We just started watching LOST in lieu of its last season. In the past, the more popular a novel/TV show/film is, the less likely I am to go see it until it has been tested and approved from a variety of sources. In my efforts to be more culturally with-it, I have been trying to better keep up with the new releases. I should have known better after reading William Young's The Shack, but I fell for it again; although this time I wasn't caught reading a poorly written piece of heresy, but rather a poorly written teen-romance in the facade of a horror novel.

Stephenie Meyer's novel (if it can even be called that), Twilight, is everything that Bram Stoker's Dracula, R.L. Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and E.A. Poe is not, i.e. good horror fiction.

If you haven't read the book (and I strongly encourage avoiding it), the plot basically follows the "dramatic" life of a typical high-school aged girl, Isabella Swan, who moves from sunny Phoenix, AZ to the dreary, rainy, small town of Folks, WA. She ends up meeting a strange group of kids at high school who turn out to be a family of ancient vampires. These vampires have learned to assauge their bloodlust by hunting big game in the forests of the northwest while living peaceably among an unknowing human public. She falls for Edward Cullen, one of the leaders of the coven, who is torn between dating Bella and sucking her blood. Over one too many chapters where Meyer continues to re-hash a poor high-school love story, the two characters must learn to deal with each other on unequal footing, wrestling with the choice to taste of the forbidden fruit of their unnatural and forbidden love. Without too many spoilers, a group of human-blood-thirsty vampires discover Bella and a chase ensues that lands Bella in a hospital with a raging desire to become a vampire herself (I didn't even see it coming...).

The book sucked, for many reasons. But here are just the lowlights. First, the opening page is a quote from Genesis 2:17 which is the LORD's commandment to Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. You can only copy/paste a Scripture quote at the beginning of a book if your story deals with themes that are of biblical proportions. Stoker is allowed this; Meyer...not so much. The quoting of Scripture at the beginning gives her book a weight which the plot and the characters cannot bear resulting in completely failed expectations.

Then, the preface starts with a young girl near death who is in the presence of a vampire ready to kill her. Obviously, this is near the climax of the book. But when the climax comes, Bella faints giving us no indication of a wicked vampire fight scene that occurs between her hunter and her lover. We get absolutely no details, only who comes out on top. What this does for the reader is build our suspense to the brink only to give us no satisfaction. Reading the book is like winding a broken Jack-in-the-Box, you turn and turn...and nothing happens.

I could talk about the utter lack of depth to these characters till I am blue in the face, but I will mention just one aspect of this story that kept coming back to annoy me again and again. The main character, Bella, is an average girl. She appears normal. She does normal things. While we are given no detail at all about what she is like, other than that she can't dance, we do find out she is incredibly able to somehow accept the existence of supernatural creatures in our reality. The reason why Harry Potter works and Isabella Swan does not (on at least one level), is that the existence of magic and a supernatural reality explains things about Harry's world, about who he fundamentally is. Hogwarts gives Harry answers that the Muggle world could never answer for him. But nothing is enhanced by Isabella's discovery of a supernatural reality. She just accepts it and continues drooling over a hot guy. If Isabella is a normal girl, she wouldn't be able to believe in the existence of vampires. Her culturally, scientifically-driven mind wouldn't allow for it. I consider myself normal, but if I came across a vampire, I would try and find a million reasons to explain its existence other than it actually being a vampire. The problem with Bella is there is no fear, no disbelief, no awe in the face of the supernatural, only a superficially-driven crush over a guy's good looks and unnatural skill set. The existence of the vampires does nothing to the plot, it is merely tacked on as a device to sell books in the guise of something interesting.

Along with Bella's unbelievable acceptance of an unbelievable reality, Meyer's characters do not progress or develop in the least. There are no moral dilemmas that result in deeper understanding of the ethical complexities of life, no development, no growth. It's just a silly girl who keeps commenting on the sweet coldness of her vampire boyfriend's breath as it touches her lips and complains because he won't do what she wants and change her into a vampire.

The obvious problem with the book is its author. Stephenie Meyer is a romance writer trying to pass her self off as someone who cares about vampires. Unfortunately, no attention is given to vampire myth. Instead, we are inundated with insipid melodrama and banal attempts at sentimentality. I don't mean to keep coming back to the Potter books, but they remain a good way to gauge over what is good popular fantasy, and what is just pure crapola. Meyer's pathetic attempt to rival Rowling's Quidditch is a contrived vampire parallel that falls flat on its face only extending the length of an already anticlimatical plot.

The entire time I read this book (post-film release), I felt like I was reading a poor movie-to-book script. It is no wonder that it took Meyer several tries and a low-rent, b-list publisher to publish this piece of trash. The only thing that kept me reading was the hope that either Blade or Buffy would come on stage and end this literary shenanigan with a stake to the heart.


  1. Glad I didn't waste my time with it. The last time I heard such a scathing review was from myself on "The Audacity of Hope", haha! Can you say comma splice?

  2. Well I’m glad I am not the only one with analysis of the “series-which-shall-not-be-named” that gentle whirring noise you heard while reading was the whirring of Dr Van Helsing, Vlad Tsepesh, and Bram Stoker. Be sure and read The Historian(Elizabeth Kostova), I’d love to hear what you think of it.

  3. Great writing about awful writing. What is not to love? You need to repackage this and send it off to Plaskett.

  4. Could not agree with you more. Except, I took the lazy-man approach, and watched the movie first to see if I should read the book.

    The story is what it is - a love story for tweens and teens to obsess about. For anyone over the age of...17(?) it's far too simplistic.


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