Well, this is embarrassing. I guess if I’m going to do the crime, I’ll have to do the time. Just kidding, sort of. The truth is this: one of those little library boxes appeared in my neighborhood last year, which made me very happy. I wander by it frequently, depositing and taking books, although mostly just perusing them and frowning. One of the books that appeared there almost immediately was Twilight, the first book of the wildly popular, four-book YA series. I figured that at some point I was going to have to read Twilight, because of the wildly popular thing and also because I do read and review YA. So I took Twilight home and set it on a shelf of to-reads. A couple months ago, I finished a book series (which very purposely had been light and positive after an especially dark and upsetting season of titles) and looked over to the bookshelf. Something on the shallower end of the pond, perhaps? And my sight rested on Twilight and I rushed out the door to my appointment, beginning the book in the waiting room.
Oh, bother. As I said on my Facebook feed, “Why, oh WHY did I pick up Twilight yesterday? A middle-aged homeschool mom of a tween and teen does not need this addictive nonsense in her life.” Because this book series, if it is anything, is addictive, at least to the female of the species. I have a hard time imagining most of the men or even boys that I know being sucked into this story, but as for many of the women and girls? There is very little hope for them once they’re a couple chapters in. Funnily enough, a couple of my middle-aged girlfriends responded on my Facebook, admitting to exactly the same vice: helpless inactivity due to having unwittingly starting Twilight.
So, I must have liked the books? Sure. I enjoyed them. And at the same time, putting my embarrassment aside, I could tell that I was eating literary junk food while I was enjoying the story. There were plenty of things not to recommend them. While first person mostly worked for this story, it is still a pretty obnoxious voice in which to read a book. The writing was decent, but not exciting in any way. I understood what was going on. Also, the characters were on the verge of being caricatures, and Bella, the main character and narrator, was often telling us what a particular person (including herself) was like or how they might behave. Which got repetitive in order to make it (almost) believable.
So, when I started reading Twilight I knew that it was YA. I knew vampires were involved, werewolves, and a love triangle: this I had gained by cultural osmosis. I did not realize that it was a romance. I don’t, as a rule, read romance (nor do I read or watch vampire stuff), though I would make exceptions for books on the Best Books list. In fact, when I went to the bookstore to get the second book in the series, I had to be shown where to look because I was standing in the YA fantasy section, looking like a goober. Sure, the first book has romance, but it didn’t read exactly like a romance. Or maybe it did. How would I really know? In the end, it does get more romantic, but despite the occasional steamy scene, it remains quite Puritan, relatively speaking. Perhaps because Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon, there’s an excessive amount of kissing and touching of sculpted pectorals, but she uses the vampire-human thing (and also that one of them was born in like 1900) to streeeeetch out the courtship until she can get her characters properly settled. Then they do a lot more kissing and we bow out of the room. The Mormonism likely also plays into the Dexter-like goodness of some of the vampires and perhaps in what would eventually be revealed as Bella’s “superpower.” And other things.
So what is Twilight? It’s a saga, so they say. It consists of four books and it follows the adventures of Bella, a super-ordinary (though we eventually begin to question this appraisal) high schooler from sunny Arizona who decides to leave her mom with her mom’s new boyfriend to move in with her dad in wet, dreary Washington. (Even the sketched-out details of the story can sometimes feel not quite sensical.) Bella immediately encounters a very attractive student who hangs with a socially bizarre group of very attractive students and who seems to loathe her on sight. Eventually, of course, we watch as Bella falls in love with a guy, gets chummy with vampires, and then accidentally gets involved with werewolves as well. The antagonist varies from book to book, though clutzy Bella is always in some sort of mortal danger, and the love triangle shifts a few times. Bella is also extremely stubborn, and she is always aiming at the same strange, lofty goal. There are some good twists, though most of the plot I could see coming a mile away, even the biggest things. There are some things, too, that happen in the end which are, well, a bit unsettling.
Which leads me to the last book. Book four, Breaking Dawn, just isn’t as good as the other three. It’s too long and it meanders, not having as nicely sculpted of a plot as the others. It can certainly drag at parts, and feels more like fan-fic than a successful conclusion to a popular series. Somewhere, I read a review that said the fourth book spends too little time dealing with conflict and resolves things too quickly. I totally agree, but that’s only part of the issue. Compared to the other three books, this one felt especially contrived and two-dimensional, like hand-puppets with a bow tied on top. And it had too many details. It needed a more stringent editor.
My rather abrupt conclusion is this: Twilight doesn’t feel important or even believable, but it is book candy: for the masses and definitely entertaining. A one-read journey at lightning speed that will leave you with a small library of memorable characters and scenes and answers for pop trivia night.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA
- Twilight (2006)
- New Moon (2007)
- Eclipse (2008)
- Breaking Dawn (2009)
I am planning to watch the also popular movie series, but I am working my way up to it. That seems even more embarrassing than reading the books, which, I must say, I did in full view of my community, because I own my decisions.
It’s been a few months and I have now watched the Twilight movie series. They split the last book into two movies, which is a pity because of what I said above about the last book being the weakest and the least dramatic. Otherwise, these movies are perfect pairs of the books: movie candy. My favorite part was actually the soundtrack, but don’t let me fool you. Like the books, I enjoyed watching the movies despite my twangs of unease or my daughter making fun of me. Sometimes I was watching (sometimes with my daughter) and I would say, “That was a really good scene.” Then a couple scenes later and we would be chuckling aloud because, yes, there are some laughably bad moments, too. My daughter finds the acting to be the worst of it, though I was okay with the acting, mostly. To be fair, I don’t think the writing or directing gave the characters that much to do besides stand there and brood. Like Harry and Ginny in the Harry Potter movie series, Bella and Edward are never given enough smile-time and goof-around time to make him an emotional contender for the audience. Both guys, though, are sufficiently attractive. (The vampire gals, on the other hand, lack an other-worldly beauty, but I suppose that’s hard to come by.)
Overall, I can see why these movies are so popular, like their counterparts. They’re not amazing pieces of art, but they are, let’s say it again, addictive.