Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teen Angst, With Vampires

by Stephenie Meyer

"Softly he brushed my cheek, then held my face between his marble hands. 'Be very still,' he whispered, as if I wasn't already frozen. Slowly, never moving his eyes from mine, he leaned toward me. Then abruptly, but very gently, he rested his cold cheek against the hollow at the base of my throat."

The Premise: We start with one of the more common YA book premises: the new kid in school. 17-year old Bella has moved to the tiny town of Forks in the rain-drenched Olympic Peninsula of Oregon. During her first day at her new school she notices a group of exquisitely beautiful students sitting together at a table in the corner of the cafeteria. They don't seem to be eating and they certainly don't socialize with the rest of the junior class. Sure enough, Bella is assigned handsome Edward, one of the five sublime siblings, as her lab partner in science class, but she immediately notices the dark looks he gives her and he skips class for an entire week after they meet. As the weeks go by, Bella and Edward do get to know each other better and she learns the secret of the siblings. They are vampires. They were once human but were rescued on their deathbeds by Carlisle, a vampire who has overcome his blood lust and seeks to live and work among humans without feeding on them. As Edward and Bella's love grows, the pair are faced with a variety of obstacles but none compare to the dire threat of a visiting clan of vampires who have scented Bella and have no qualms about feeding on humans! The hunt is on, with Bella as the prey and Edward and his family fighting to protect her.

What I (could have) liked (if it were written better): I like the idea of Bella and Edward as star-crossed lovers. Just being near Bella drives Edward to distraction. He expends a great deal of energy controlling his blood lust. Almost half the book goes by before the two can even bear to kiss, so strong is Edward's vampire instinct. He has abstained from human blood and killing for years, but Bella's scent is maddeningly attractive to him. As a vampire, Edward also has superhuman strength. This means that he has to stay aware of every movement he makes around Bella - a fragile human - because he could reach over to caress her cheek and accidentally knock her across the room. Bella doesn't care. So great is her passion for Edward that she gladly risks her life in order to stay with him and further their romance. There is a great deal of erotic tension but intimate scenes are not graphic simply because Edward and Bella can not consummate their love due to the aforementioned, um, incompatibilities between vampire and human.

What I didn't like: The story is serviceable despite the hackneyed plot and several plot holes, but the repetitiveness in the writing really got on my nerves. Halfway through the book I thought, "If I hear one more thing about Edward's smoldering eyes or marble god-like musculature I am going to scream!" I checked with a few of my acquaintances and they too mentioned the repetitiveness of description.

I hope that the later novels in the series flesh out the characters. Edward seems impossibly remote and his giggling/chuckling/smirking add nothing to his character. Bella starts out promisingly, but her characterization all but disappears as soon as she hooks up with Edward. All the other characters are flat and uninteresting.

That brings me to one of my major qualms about this novel: Bella. Her characterization is inconsistent and terribly weak. Is she the remarkably mature, independent, quirky teen we meet in the opening chapter? That certainly doesn't last long as she is immediately overcome by her attraction to "angelic" Edward. She then decides that she would rather die than be without him. She is "unconditionally, irrevocably in love" so any sense we had of her individuality is gone. She becomes pawn in a game between two vampire clans.

By the end of the book I was left with the feeling that Bella was nothing more than a mirror for Edward and his supernatural beauty. Honestly, I kept hoping for a plot twist that would reveal Bella to be under some kind of vampire thrall which caused her to think the same things over and over again. Alas, I was disappointed.

Overall: I expected more from this super-hyped novel (and the series as a whole). I am trying to understand why this series is so popular with teens and young adults but it is something that is alien to me. The characters are so shallow (although Meyer is trying to portray them as achingly beautiful) that they hold little appeal for me.

This is first and foremost a romance - at least in my opinion. In Edward, the reader has an extraordinarily handsome and gifted alpha male, and in Bella, the reader has a girl-next-door with access to Edward's rarefied world.

I will not read the rest of the series. I simply did not get enough out of the characters, the plot or the themes, and I think the writing is atrocious. I truly dislike what happens to Bella's characterization. I can practically hear her thinking, "I love him so much that I don't care that he could kill me at any moment in so many different ways." This does not appeal to me on any level, no matter how popular or how racy the book. I have had better luck with other YA authors, such as Holly Black and Charles de Lint, who include romance in their fantasy novels and are much better adept at imbuing their characters with ambiguity.

Reviewed by Anne

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