Eat, Drink, Vampire, Bella: a Review of The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

The perfect romance novel of all time is The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. It was great when I was an innocent twelve, and it’s fantastic now that I’m the 31 year-old mother of three girls, who I would love to have read every single word of Montgomery’s. In fact, if they wanted to read her books and short stories all day long, I’d never make them go to school. I would never ask someone reading Anne of Green Gables to come set the table (see how glad you are that you decided to read the archives of Mom’s blog, 12 year-old Sally?).

If I ever wrote a book and someone (who knew where I got my first and third daughters’ names) said it reminded them of an L.M.Montgomery book, I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry happy tears for three days straight. And then come out and read the Emily of New Moon trilogy again.

So that’s my literary standard. I’ve also read just about every other kind of romance there is, from the classic to the near-pornographic. I’m a Mormon (didn’t say a good one), a woman, a BA-in-English reader, a mom, a wife, a sometime-aspiring writer, and I have to tell you what I think about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, because either you’ve never heard of them and could care less, or you have heard and could care less or you’ve read them all and (love or hate them) have talked/blogged/read enough of other people’s reviews to care less about yet another review.

Still, I have to say that I am conflicted by the Twilight Saga — indeed, one could say, if one were inclined toward impassioned prose, that I want to both love them forever and to sink my teeth into them and drain all the blood from their weak, helpless bodies.

First I’ll admit that I’m jealous of Stephenie Meyer’s success. I’m jealous of her book tours and her new house, and that she never has to cook anymore, and I’m pretty sure she’s hired a cleaner and child-minder. But even more, I’m jealous of her inspiration and focus. That she dreamed a plot and then that she sat down and actually wrote the whole ding-dang thing. So that’s some of the conflict, but mostly it’s that the English major/fangirl/Mormon/Mom/latent feminist in me see the books very differently.

+++SPOILER WARNING+++

As a BA-in-English Reader

Holy get-an-editor, Batman. The first 75+ pages of Breaking Dawn should have been a 5-page epilogue to book three. If I’d picked up the last book in the series without having read the first three or being invested in the characters, I would have been able to put it down and never look back. I get that extreme popularity is an overwhelming validation of good-enoughness, but, these books are lazy. Lazy writing, lazy editing, lazy including-of-every-stray-thought lazy.

One plot point in particular — They’re terrified for Bella to see her own daughter, yet have no fear that the vampire witnesses will be tempted to drink Renesmee’s blood after they smell her half-humanness and listen to her heartbeat. These are vampires WHO KILL HUMANS on purpose. Wuh? Maybe if an editor had read the book this could’ve been discussed? Lazy.

As a Fangirl

I couldn’t put any of the books down. I love that all the ends tied up neatly, that Jacob imprinted on she-with-the-worst-name ever, that Bella got to finally become a vampire, that the vampires and werewolves (shapeshifters — whatever) are all friends. Things turning out well and happily-ever-afters divide enjoyable fiction from serious fiction, and thank goodness for that.

As a Mormon Mother

After Breaking Dawn, I agreed with Tara that how Stephenie Meyer handled the sex/intimacy in the book was fantastic. Meyer portrayed desire without any body parts heaving or throbbing. She also expressed the uncertainty (after months of anticipation) that surprised me on my own wedding night:

I was freaking out because I had no idea how to do this, and I was afraid to walk out of this room and face the unknown. . . .

How did people do this – swallow all their fears and trust someone else so implicitly with every imperfection and fear they had – with less than the absolute commitment Edward had given me? If it weren’t Edward out there, if I didn’t know in every cell of my body that he loved me as much as I loved him—unconditionally and irrevocably and, to be honest, irrationally, I’d never be able to get up off this floor. (p 83)

When Dick tried to get to second-base after our wedding ceremony and before our reception that night, I felt so weird. If you’ve spent 21 years believeing that all sexual intimacy should be reserved for marriage, suddenly being able to express all the desire that has been raging in your body is heady, frightening, exhilirating, nauseating.

And if you’re as lucky as I was, your 23-year-old husband is even more clueless about how the whole process will even work. Ten years later, the fact that, through faith and goodness on his part and, really, blind luck and strange circumstances on my part, the first time we ever experienced connubial bliss was with each other is really one of the biggest wonderful things in my entire life.

Does that sound naive and silly? I want that for my daughters — their own purity and their husbands’. I have good friends, friends I love like sisters who, through different beliefs, different experiences, or just different lives, had slightly different wedding nights. And most of them have wonderful marriages to incredible men. (And on the other side, my sweet sister who never even kissed a boy before her husband is going through a sad divorce. Obviously, virginity guarantees nothing, and experience doesn’t dictate disaster.) But this is still what I pray for for my daughters.

That doesn’t mean I think Edward is the archetypal husbandly-ideal, despite his refusal to sleep with Bella outside of marriage. I like that Mormons revere chastity. But it is incredible to me that fornication is so bad in Mormon terms that the fact that Edward has murdered people is a mere footnote next to the big headlines about his never having been impure. Sure, he now only hunts wild animals, we believe in repentance, yadda yadda, but last time I checked, you could repent for fornication, as well.

So for a woman who has read stuff she really ought not to have read, Breaking Dawn handles newly-married physical intimacy with exquisite appropriateness. But would I want my daughter reading it? This is important not only because I am liberal in the reading department, but because these books are intended for the tween-and-up crowd. If I’m praying daily (or should be) that my daughters will go to their wedding nights MUCH more unaware than I was, I’ll have to seriously consider that.

Other Mormon-ish ideas include the belief in a never-dying soul, the ideal of eternal love, the importance of forming families. My cousin even pointed out that the Cullen vampire coven/family could be similar to the Mormon pioneers in that they’re driven from place to place and misunderstood, but once you get to know them, they’re not so bad.

As a Latent (I hate wearing a bra, but I haven’t burned it yet) Feminist

Bella’s passivity irks. Oh, how it irks. Her existence having absolutely no meaning outside of Edward bites the big tuna. Because Edward is not even that exciting. He’s obsessed with expensive cars, he probably wears cashmere sweaters, and you can’t even warm your feet on his legs at night. What’s to like? And Jacob — what a whiny werewolf. Seriously have not ever read of such a melancholy, effeminate “hero” since Romeo. He’s almost worse than Bella in the “my life is ooooo-ver if I can’t have yoooooouuu” department. At least he’s warm.

But — the baby as parasite! The pregnancy and motherhood as point of entry to actual adulthood (and in Bella’s case person-hood). Oh, how it sings to me. If you’ve breastfed and never once thought of how that darling suckling has quite a bit in common with a vampire, you are less imaginative than I. I love how the baby almost kills her, and yet she is willing to die for it. Die for want of Edward = Let me vomit. Die for baby-love = I actually understand this.

And when Bella becomes a vampire, she almost seems to have her own will. She realizes she is not the center of the universe and that everything is not actually her fault. Of course, this is because all blame for everything since World War II now shifts to her child, but like every good mother she lies to Renesmee and shifts blame back to the bad vampires. Where it probably belonged in the first place.

We should all be so lucky

The best criticism I’ve read of the Twilight Saga was a comment on Mormon Mommy Wars after the third book came out. Someone said that she hated the books — all three of them. If I could be assured of that kind of negative reaction, along with sentiments like this comment I once got: “You obviously suck at reviewing a good book, can’t wait till yours is out so we can smear it,” I’d probably start writing tomorrow. Especially if there were any chance I could stop cooking and start book-touring when I was finished.

Twilight Review Links (if you just can’t get enough) (if you have or know of another review and would like to be on this list, comment or email me, and I’ll add you).

First, if you hated Ruh-nez-mee as much as I did (esp. with the cute Carlie as an alternative!), try Mormonizing your name. The phenomenon of making up your own name is not unique to Mormons, of course: look at celebrities and people who live in Harlem. But somehow I feel like we should know better, or just use some good, old Biblical names, like Keturah.

Gail Collins at the New York Times called Bella A Virgin Goth Girl, and worries that Edward is to the average male as a female porn star is to the average female.

In the same vein, Mormon Mentality discusses whether the objectification of Edward/men is seriously unhealthy. (hat tip to Conscious Intention for those two links, via Feminist Mormon Housewives which is discussing Twilight/Mormonism right now.

Normal Mormon Husbands has done quite a few Twilight posts. Here’s The Twilight Series for Dummies (And Totally Desperate Mormon Guys), and here’s Breaking Dawn: The Spoof. Sometimes I tell myself that I could be funny and interesting if only I had more time. And then I realize I’d also need talent.

Sue at Navel Gazing at its Finest is hilarious, and here’s Why I think Twilight Sucks and Other Important Thoughts. Yeah, talent would probably help in the funny and interesting department (Sue’s pretty busy, I imagine!).

Here’s Laura William’s Twilight Thus Far. I think she nails why Bella’s character is a bit unsatisfying.

Mormon Mommy War‘s the Wiz reviews Breaking Dawn.

Entertainment Weekly‘s 10 part interview with Stephenie Meyer, in which she says she wrote the books for herself and her adult sister (but still I think, as a Mormon, mother, writer, something, she can’t just shrug off the fact that her publishing company markets them to 12 year olds). (hat tip Mom of 3 Crazy Kids).

And can I just make one request: It would make my life so much more complete if Seriously So Blessed would do a review of Twilight. Seriously am on the edge of my seat to see what she (they? it?) would say!