Twilight… the next teen classic or teen harlequin romance novel

I inhaled the Twilight series.  It helped that I started the first one when I was sick one weekend, so I finished that in a sitting.  I borrowed the second one a week or so later and finished it over the course of a week or so and then I finished the third and fourth books over 4 days — reading the last one 12 hours straight. 
 
I had pretty mixed feelings about the books though.  There’s definitely entertainment value that kept me take in the words on the page as if I was given a pitcher of water after hiking a week in the desert.  At the same time though, I found the storyline so simple, borrowed and cliche.  The whole time I thought to myself, is this what a Harlequin romance novel is like?  I almost felt like a vegetarian who was eating steak and potatoes for dinner… it tastes good going down but then leaves you feeling heavy and slightly sick afterwards.  And the sickness is b/c your system isn’t used to the change in diet but also from the guilt of breaking your own principles and worse yet… it’s so good, you want more and wonder if you can fundamentally still call yourself a vegetarian.  Ok, that’s a bit dramatic…
 
Here’s what I liked about the series (BEWARE OF SPOILERS):
 
  • The vampire and werewolf lore had a very interesting twist. 
    • The existance of wolves only as a result to providing a natural predator to the vampire — this is Buffy-esque
    • The vampire in the sun — a surprisingly refreshing deviation from the typical vampire myths
    • The extra "powers" each vampire had and how they carry over from your human nature to your vampire nature.  Made sence Bella’s protective nature of the people around her would translate to the special power she got as a vampire.
  • The progression of the storyline – it was well-planned and well-paced.  I heard some complaints about Book 2 (and I have quite a few of my own), but the overarching storyline across the four books was good.  Things built up and unfolded in a nice manner.  Any longer and it would have just felt drawn out — any shorter and you wouldn’t really be able to appreciate the characters’ growth
  • I have to admit, I was hooked on Edward — the oh so perfect vampire/man.  Stephanie Meyer clearly has a finger on the pulse of what women want in a man, in a relationship.  One of the driving forces that kept my eyes ripping through the pages was Edwards complete and utter dreaminess — the perfect, gallant, gentleman who’s strong, powerful, smart and gorgeous but sensitive, respectful and romantic.  He’s your confidante, protector, mentor, best friend an lover all in one.
  • It’s very relatable.  As much as I hate the fact that Bella epitomizes the weak victim that needs saving and excusing instead of the strong heroine (Buffy) who’s taking names and kicking ass, her flaws, her mistakes, her insecurities… those are all things everybody feels.  On principle, I felt the books don’t give young women a strong female role model but at least by the end of the series, Bella is prety bad ass.  And in retrospect, I think this is why these books are such a strong pull… even the imperfect person, the bumbling clutz, ugly duckling can have their happy ending.

I’m generally not that critical of things that have entertaining value to me.  My friend made the astute observation that I’m like a infant in some ways — very easily entertained and amused.  Not that I don’t enjoy picking apart and analyzing movies and books and whatnot, but I more often than not can just appreciate the escape they provide me from my many other responsibilities.  However, in this one particular case, there were some things that really bugged me.  Some more than others and ultimately not enough for me to put the books down or to consider it anywhere near a waste of time.  Just enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth afterwards.

  • There wasn’t really anything new or deep about the storyline/relationship that was portrayed–nothing that hasn’t already been explored and portrayed in much better ways
    • Typical boy meets girl, breaks her heart, learns he’s made a horrible mistake, makes it up to girl and boy & girl live happily ever after
    • Boy in love w/ girl who doesn’t feel the same
    • Loving someone you’re not meant to (romeo & juliet, tristan & iseult, lancelot & qwenivere, etc.)
    • Typical love triangle
    • Revenge and vendettas
    • Tortured vampire w/ a soul or humanity atypical of their kind
    • Soulmates finding each other
    • True love conquers all (princess bride)
  • The subtext wasn’t so "sub" and ultimately felt like a more entertaining after school special
    • Marriage is binding… forever and ever (we got this on the wolf and vampire side)
    • Marriage before sex
    • Relationships are about open & honest communication and compromise
    • Violence is bad
    • School is good
    • Truth and honesty are good
    • Discrimination and fear are overcome by an open mind and a common cause that binds
    • Protect your soul and ensure your passage into heaven
    • Ugly duckling becomes a swan
    • Recognize your own strengths and what makes you great
    • Modesty is the best policy
    • Love is the desire and willingness to put someone else’s happiness, needs, and desires before your own
    • Undying, unbreakable devotion and loyalty
    • You control your future
  • For all the lessons we learned and the decently good job of portraying positive, healthy relationships, I hated that Bella was so attached to Edward.  She completely lost herself in him and lived entirely for him and was so consumed by him that she did ultimately commit suicide over him.  While it’s realistic that she needed help coming out of that dark period in her life, she never truly did snap out of it on her own.  She never realized her behavior was destructive and juvenile.  It’s like she learned nothing from that.  Same w/ Jake … crazy infatuation/love/desire for another person to the point of becoming a horrible person whether destructive to yourself or someone else.  And what’s worst is that their happiness ultimately was delivered to them in finding that special someone. 

    One of my strongest beliefs when it comes to relationships is that you can’t be happy in a relationship if you don’t know how to be happy by yourself.  I don’t believe that completeness is what your soulmate gives you.  You should be complete on your own and your soulmate makes everything better.  Together you achieve more than you could have individually.  The equation isn’t half + half = one.  It’s one + one = three.  I believe someone can be truly happy without a life long partner… we’re whole on our own and we control our own happiness.

    And surely, there was ample opportunity amongst the three pegs of the triangle to illuminate different paths, different choices, etc.  Edward can have the undying devotion and "this world is nothing w/o you in it so as soon as you croke I’m outta here too" is appropriate for a vampire who has lived 90 years.  I wish Jake would have moved on (and as a side note that the harmony that eventually was created between vampire and wolf wasn’t forced upon them due to a genetic wiring instead of conscious choice like on the vampire side).  Maybe throw himself into truly accepting and embracing his Alpha status and perhaps stumbling upon love perhaps with Leah (which would resolve her special role as the only female wolf — that it’s not that she’s deformed and isn’t meant to propogate the wolf genelogical lineage but rather add to by creating an even stronger lineage w/ another Wolf decendent).  For Bella, it would have been nice to have her snap out of her destructive phase… at least to the point of living a normal life… maybe not quite happy and moved on, but at least functional and healthy.  

  • That leads me to what Book 2 (at least the last two thirds) should have been…

    I would not have had Bella saving Edward w/ the Volturi… I would have changed that whole storyline to be that Edward leaving Bella was more centered around trying to protect her from Victoria.  He still breaks up w/ her under the false pretext of not loving her anymore (hoping that makes it easier for her to move on) but really is doing so in hopes of leading Victoria away from Bella and hunting her downhimself.  Perhaps he sacrifices himself to the Volturi legion for their help tracking and destroying Victoria since he sucks at tracking and she has the uncanny power to elude harm.  Maybe the Volturi reneg on the deal — keeping his servitude but refusing to destroy Victoria since she’s got a special power Aros would want in his arsenal too.  So he risks defying the Volturi and barely escapes death (only due to his family’s help) at their hands (all so he can find another way to protect Bella).  Ultimately, it’s still Alice’s cunning and quick thinking with showing Aros that Edward’s sacrifice is all for a human that will become a vampire but only if they let Edward go.  Of course, now Edward needs to return to Bella to continue to protect her from Victoria and now the Volturi too.   The Cullens are sworn to never tell Bella of the looming Volturi threat (and on a more personal note Edward’s sacrifice and continued devotion during his time away from her to allow Bella to move on).   

    Oh… maybe when Edward returned, Bella is dating Jake and seems happy.  Maybe Bella and Jacob start the same — a friend helping a friend in need — but Jake takes the initiative to the next level b/c he loves her and she thinks she loves him the same way but subconsciously is just filling the void Edward left.   Classic rebound syndrome.  Seeing this, Edward sacrifices his own happiness never revealing his true feeling for her because he wants her to keep her own.  So, he’s back but he keeps his distance — watching and protecting her, but otherwise staying away.  They’re both living a lie.  Bella is the first to realize this and breaks it off w/ Jake when she does — choosing to find strength and happiness within herself to fill that void rather than lead Jake on and continue to use him.  

    She still harbors a strong, stubborn sense of hatred and hurt towards Edward.  But then she starts getting these dreams (which i really wish they’d done more w/ as a Vampire power–like premonitions but somehow different than Alice’s)… where she essentially dreams about a battle between Edward and the Volturi and that he dies leaving her devasted.  She finally realizes her subconscious is telling her that she can’t bear to see anything bad happen to Edward even though her conscious self wants a voodoo Edward doll that she can prick torture to avenge her broken heart (oh come on… you know you’ve wished it before yourself).  The dream while its message shakes her into realizing it’s more natural to love Edward than hate him (although at this point she’s refusing to act on it thinking he has moved on — essentially they’re both now doing the same thing), is becoming more vivid, more frequent and ultimately more real.  Scared, she consults Alice and finally confesses she thinks she still loves Edward and now wants to enlist Alice’s help to protect him.

    Alice is frustrated she’s in the middle of an episode of Three’s Company what with all the miscommunication, assumptions and misunderstandings.  Finally, she let’s it slip that these dreams are alarming considering the conflict between the Volturi and Edward and thus she’s forced to reveal the whole story — the reason Edward left (to hunt Victoria and protect Bella) and his sacrifice then and now and how tortured he’s been this whole time without Bella.  Finally, it’s Bella who finds the courage to clear up all the misunderstandings and finally confesses her love to Edward, who is beyond relieved and euphoric to hear she feels the same way he does. 

    That, in a nutshell, should have been the second half of book 2.  Maybe it’s a bit contrived and still doesn’t offer anything new by way of plot lines but hey — that’s not where this book is meant to make its mark, so at the very least, it could have been written to give some variety in the portrayal of love & loss. 

  • Finally, the character development could have been richer and deeper.  I think my plot would have shown some growth in the characters.  It also feels more powerful becacuse the character’s intentions are not just stated or danced around, hinted at but actually acted on, which is more telling of their character.  Edward does come back for Bella but seeing her with Jake gives up his own happiness for hers.  In the original storyline, he just swears up and down he was on his way back anyhow before Bella saved him — why just have him say it; make him do it.  Jake never really makes his move except later in a very sleezy way which really, just makes the reader dislike him when they shouldn’t have to.  Bella explores her options (with Jake) w/o cheating on her boyfriend… fiance.  Again… making the reader dislike her in a way they shouldn’t have to. 

    If reader’s dislike of any of these main characters, it should be w/ mixed feelings due to their own personal preferences as opposed to character flaws that make them dispicable and not just forgivable human nature.  This isn’t the kind of book where you’re plotting to have an unredeemable force of evil that the reader is supposed to vehemently hate and enjoy doing so.  We’re supposed to feel torn by these very human characters.  For example, disliking Bella because she chooses Edward over Jake is better if it’s b/c you think wolves are cooler than Vampires or that Jake is sweeter than Edward.  But disliking her because the author made her a weak girl who doesn’t have the self respect or self control not to use another person for her own happiness, string along a friend while selfishly claiming the whole time she’s in love with another guy so much but then eventually cheat on her perfect boyfriend/fiance and still expecting everyone to love herand be around her and be the specific role she want them to be in her life.  Not to mention, treating her friends like cough medicine she can take to feel better when she needs or when her father says she needs but then putting them back on the shelf again until she’s feeling blue.  I mean, come on… how can you really like a character like that?  All the empathy or sympathy that you should be feeling for her gets negated by the bad character development. 

    It’s the whole essentential argument that choices you make with self awareness of their consequences are more meaningful than the same choices made out of ignorance or obliviousness.  It applies equally to good and bad choices.  While wrong, Bella’s bad choices would be more forgivable if she weren’t so damn aware that she was making bad choices and ones that hurt not just herself but others as well.  Doing something that happened to make someone else happy is great, but if you did it out of deliberate mindfulness and care for that other person, that’s more admirable. 

For all the complaints, I still have to admit, it was an enjoyable read.  It’s one of the few books I’ve read that I haven’t bought and I wonder whether I like it enough to buy, which assumes I’d read it again.  I’m not sure I like it enough to read a second time, but I am sure that if I did decide to read it again, I’d probably be equally entertained and frustrated by it. 

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