Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Twilight Fails to Reconcile

Matchmakers know that even the most compatible pairings need compromise to survive. Everything might seem sunny for the love-dazzled couple at first, but if he doesn’t stop carousing with the boys on weeknights and she calls her mother every other day to kvetch, stormy times lie ahead. Authors face similar struggles when attempting to unite disparate genres. It’s a dilemma that Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight doesn't even try to sink its teeth into.

Bella Swan hates her new home of Forks, Washington. Unwilling to skip around the country as her mother does with her minor-league baseball playing boyfriend, Bella has decided to live with her father in the rainiest place in the U.S. And if the near-constant cloud cover takes some getting used to for this former Phoenix resident, the attitudes of the inhabitants of Forks do, too. Unused to outsiders, everyone fawns over awkward, easily embarrassed Bella when she goes into town or school. Or everyone does except the one person Bella wants to notice her -- Edward Cullen. Edward is heart-stoppingly handsome, but not conventionally so. For starters, he has paper-white skin as cold as an ice box. And eyes that change color from ebony to topaz. And a propensity to never come outside when the sun shines. And very sharp teeth. But Bella doesn’t really care. She wants to be with Edward -- even if it kills her.

Vampire romance has an immediate hurtle to surmount, namely legitimizing love with a blood-drinking denizen of the night. Meyers solves it by trimming back the traditional mythos with a machete, as it were. Indeed, her creations are scarcely recognizable as vampires. They aren’t noctural. (Far from hurting them, sunlight makes their skin sparkle as if jewel-encrusted.) They lack elongated canines. (Their deadly chompers are coated with venom.) No one recoils from the sight of them. (Their beauty mostly inspires lust and envy.) Additionally, there are no crypts or coffins, no changing into bats. Edward even hangs a cross in his house. While comparing his oddities with those of various vampire legends, Bella notes, “There were very few myths that matched even one factor.” And there lies the problem: Instead of tackling the tough work of reconciling genres, Meyer simply drops elements that conflict with her vision. Twlight is a pleasant page-turner, but the only vampiric thing it’s married to is the name.

(Picture: CC 2005 by


ollwen said...

I managed to avoid the cultural phenomenon of Harry Potter until I was forced to watch the movies. So far I've escaped Twilight as well. So I know as much about it from reading this as anything else, but I gotta give a man props for using the word 'kvetch.'

Loren Eaton said...

Out of sheer boredom, I picked up New Moon (the sequel to Twilight) and now must admit that the first title was better. Slim praise, I'm afraid. Meyers has decent plots, but her prose is, well, prosaic.

Ah, yes, regarding kvetch, my wife worked for a Jewish doctor who taught her a few colorful Yiddish phrases. Actually, I think he used the most colorful during times of stress and left them undefined ...