Vampire books and the women who love them

I feel compelled to weigh in on the Stephenie Meyer phenomenon, with apologies in advance to those who love the series. I got introduced to it by Amanda, who knew that I was looking for things to pass the time until Nathan’s born. I’ve consumed all of Twilight and New Moon and about half of Eclipse in the couple of weeks since Amanda brought them up, and, like Regan, I was buying the next in the series before finishing the one I was on. However, that mostly has to do with the fact that as I near the end of a book right now, I start slowing down, reluctant to finish it, because I know that once I do, I’m back to sitting around with only Law & Order re-runs, unless I’ve lined something else up to read. I solved that problem by stocking up on the saga in advance.

To give credit, these are perfect summer reading books, especially when you’re semi-laid-up. I had planned to get through A Tale of Two Cities and The Corrections in all my free time, because they’ve been sitting on my shelves for a long time, unread. Erin rightly chastised me for that approach, which failed anyway, because I just couldn’t get motivated to pick up tomes. The problem is, though, that as much as I promised myself I was going to just enjoy the vampire books and turn off my inner literary critic, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to do so.

I know that these books are not great literature, nor is anyone claiming that they are, so I’m not too worried about that. The books appeal to middle and high school girls with a romantic bent, and I’m OK with that … mostly. I don’t need Bella to be a feminist role model to enjoy the books. I remember what that kind of book- or movie-inspired daydreaming was like, and it’s a fantasy, and I think (I think, anyway) that I even knew that at the time. I am bothered, though, by the escalating level of control Edward exerts on Bella as the series progresses. Quite literally, by Eclipse, it has gotten to the level of getting his sister to kidnap and hold her hostage for a weekend, because he doesn’t want her associating with her friends while he’s gone. Isn’t that one of the questions they specifically ask you in domestic violence situations: “Does your partner try to control or limit your access to friends and family?” Perhaps more distressing is that Bella, although furious in the moment, melts and instantly forgives Edward:

I tensed, waiting for the fury — both his and mine — but it was only quiet and calm in the darkness of his room. I could almost taste the sweetness of reunion in the air, a separate fragrance from the perfume of his breath; the emptiness when we were apart left its own bitter aftertaste, something I didn’t consciously notice until it was removed … And I didn’t care that I was supposed to be angry with him. I didn’t care that I was supposed to be angry with everyone. I reached out for him, found his hands in the darkness, and pulled myself closer to him. (Eclipse 185)

I can overlook all of that, because, again, I’m not trying to get much out of these books. The more egregious sin is that the plot seems to be falling apart. The first book was really just interpersonal negotiation between Bella and Edward. The second introduced larger elements of the shadowy vampire world. But Eclipse, halfway through, is starting to feel like it’s running off the rails. And that’s unforgiveable, because over time writers are supposed to gain more control over their material and their plots and, especially, the alternate realities they have created.

This is certainly how J.K. Rowling managed Harry Potter; in fact, my main complaint about The Deathly Hallows was that it seemed less thought out and less controlled than the books in the middle of the series, which had clearly set up plot points well in advance. Meyer seems to be losing control of her saga, rather than inspiring the reader’s confidence that she knows what she’s doing and where this is all going. The fact that the last book, Breaking Dawn, which comes out August 2, is a rehash of what we’ve already read, but from Edward’s perspective instead of Bella’s, confirms my belief that Meyer had no master narrative for this from the beginning and instead just kept tacking things on.

None of this is to say that I won’t read Breaking Dawn, although Nate’s arrival may intervene. I may not get to it until it’s in paperback, and I won’t be disappointed by that. My interest in the series has definitely peaked, and now I’m just hoping to finish Eclipse for completeness’ sake before Nate gets here. Should I finish it before he arrives, I’ve lined up Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, to put me back on a more literary footing.

5 Responses to “Vampire books and the women who love them”

  1. regan
    July 8th, 2008 13:07

    I’ve been holding off on reading Eclipse because I’ve been dreading the way that Edward’s control over Bella might play out. Stephenie Meyer is Mormon and that makes me wonder if she is pushing the church’s “husband above yourself” in a subtle way through out these books. Perhaps she doesn’t even mean to have their relationship play out this way, it might just be the only way she knows relationships to work.

    (disclaimer: I’m not saying Mormon relationships are abusive. Just that with the Mormon folks I know, the husband is always the decision maker for the family and tends to “guide” the wife in her personal decisions)

    I’m also sprinkling in some “real literature” between Twilight books. Not sure what’s up next, but it won’t be teen fiction :)

  2. Erin
    July 9th, 2008 15:46

    I completely agree that the series breaks down rather disappointingly in the third book. And oddly, part of what’s great about the second book is that Edward’s missing for most of it.

    If you’re looking for something completely different but equally enjoyable from the YA section, check out The Mysterious Benedict Society. Otherwise, I endorse Midnight’s Children as one of my all-time favorites. Magic nose powers! Killer knees! Fun times.

  3. erinmak
    July 11th, 2008 09:24

    I, too, have wondered about the Mormon influence in the books, and I can’t help seeing it everywhere. For example, Bella is choosing between a mainstream human life with a marriage that would end in this world and a marriage of eternity that will never end. That’s at the core of Mormons’ views about marriage, from what I understand (i.e., if you marry a non-Mormon, you’re only married until your corpses lie in the ground, but if you marry a Mormon, you’re married for eternity).

    As an aside, I read the excerpt from Breaking Dawn when I finished Eclipse last night, and apparently it’s not a rehash from Edward’s perspective. It seems to pick up where Eclipse left off. I wish I could find again where I had read that it was a retelling of the saga from Edward’s perspective. Oh, well.

  4. regan
    July 13th, 2008 20:13

    I just read in Entertainment Weekly that Ms. Meyer’s has a book on her computer that is a complete retelling of the tale from Edward’s point of view. She says that right now “it’s just for her” but that she might feel the need to share it in the future.

  5. Alicia
    July 15th, 2008 18:22

    Yay! I’m so very happy to hear that I’m not the only educated person wasting away her summer reading this series. ;) I confess that few things have brought me more pleasure in the last few weeks than curling up in the backyard with these silly books. That being said, I completely agree that the “control” factor makes Edward a lot less endearing. I, myself, am on “Team Jacob.” No kidding. My sister bought us shirts. Sigh…

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