Twilight: Not the Antichrist, but that’s not saying much.

There really isn’t a “safe” stance to take in reviewing Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. The book is a smash hit with teen girls all over the world and has a large adoring fandom. It also has an equally large if not larger hatedom that despises the book as an atrocious cancer eating away at the respectability of literature in general and the vampire legend in particular. Tales of the vitriol both sides possess are the stuff of internet legends.

Until about a week ago, I had not read any of the four books, but what I had absorbed through popcultural osmosis led me to cast my lot in with the second half. Finally, on a dare from my sister, I decided to read and review Twilight as a heterosexual adult male, a demographic it is clearly NOT aiming at. I confess myself disappointed; Twilight is a bad book, and I’m not so hopeful about the next three, either, but it was kind of a letdown to merely not like a book I was expecting to practically burn my face off with its badness. Twilight is less of an atrocity against literature and more of a SEVERELY overhyped trashy romance novel. Still, everyone else has thrown in their two cents on the book, so I shall now do the same.

Twilight is, to my profound dismay, told from the first-person perspective of Bella Swan, a mopey and clumsy 17-year-old moving from away from sunny Phoenix and her mother to the cloudy, chilly Forks in Washington to live with her father Charlie for a while, to avoid getting in the way of her mother’s new relationship with a baseball player. More than half of the book then follows Bella struggling to settle in at her new school and house, where she is inexplicably an immediate hit and beset by people eager to make her feel welcome; all except for the hostile and seemingly bipolar Edward Cullen, who Bella becomes intrigued by due to his good looks and mysterious nature and spends a lot of time thinking and asking about. Turns out, surprise surprise, Edward is a vampire, as you can find out by looking at the back of the book before you even start reading. His hostile, bipolar behavior is evidently the result of being torn between immediate attraction to Bella like every other available boy she meets and an overpowering desire to drink her blood. Bella, oddly nonchalant about finding out Edward is a bloodthirsty undead struggling with a very real impulse to kill her, hooks up with him, briefly meets his much cooler family, and finds out a bit about how vampires in Twilight are basically vampires with all of the interesting bits taken out or replaced with something ridiculous. At page 375 out of 498 pages, the conflict finally arrives, feeling rather embarrassed about its tardiness; while the Cullens render themselves basically harmless by drinking animal blood instead of human, three less conscientious vampires happen by and their psychotic tracker James, the only average-looking vampire we’ve seen so far, decides just for laughs he’s going to hunt and kill Bella. A brief game of cat-and-mouse to which Bella contributes nothing at all ensues until James finally tricks Bella into meeting him alone, nearly killing her…before the Cullens show up and kick his ass in a fight that probably would have been pretty cool if our narrator hadn’t been unconscious while it happened. The conflict now packed away as meekly as it arrived, Edward takes Bella to the prom, leaving our adventure to continue in New Moon.

As you may have noticed from that summary, for a book of nearly 500 pages, Twilight is not exactly the most plot-heavy work I’ve ever seen. The first half of the book where it’s mostly Bella pretending to care about her human friends and pondering a question anyone who’s heard of these books already knows the answer to is easily the worst of it. The middle bit with Edward and Bella alone is still pretty bad to incredibly creepy in a way I doubt the author intended, and the climax is adequate thanks to the inclusion of the Cullens besides Edward and an actual conflict. If you like action in your stories or getting right to the conflict, Twilight is not a book for you. If you like mystery and horror, Twilight is not a book for you. If you like romance with a smattering of action, I guess this is the sort of thing you’re looking for, but I have trouble grasping why exactly this book has a fanbase outside the ages of 12 to 15. Perhaps the next three books will be a little more forthcoming with conflict to break up the tedium of Bella and Edward, I don’t know. I haven’t read them yet.

Character-wise, I’m willing to give the book both a little credit and a massive sledgehammer blow to the face. Emmett, Jasper, Alice, and Carlisle Cullen and Charlie Swan were all likable enough characters. The problem comes in with the fact Bella and Edward, our narrator and her love interest, are not. After a solid book of Bella’s point of view, I firmly believe that as the Death of the Author marches on, readers have the right to petition for a point of view change when the narrator starts to suck too badly. Told in third person, I’m willing to believe Twilight may have been a better read. Told from practically anyone’s perspective besides Bella and Edward, I am certain it would have been a better read. Sadly, we’re stuck with Bella, which means we’re stuck with Edward. I wouldn’t have such a problem with this were it not for the fact that as I said, Edward and Bella are completely unlikable characters. If you like either of them, you are not entitled to that particular opinion, you are objectively and provably wrong.

A big part of the problem with both characters is that Edward and Bella are both massive Mary Sues. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Mary Sue (sometimes changed to Gary Stu to refer to male characters) is an overly idealized character that lacks noteworthy flaws in the context of the story, is often absurdly talented, beautiful, and beloved by others, and all in all represents a clear escapist fantasy for the author while being pushed as a “perfect” character to the audience. This is Bella and Edward in a nutshell. While my own analysis offered Bella as a shallow, stupid, and pretentious load of a character, her allegedly plain looks don’t stop every boy that’s not already married from throwing themselves at her and every girl she meets to either hate her (purely out of jealousy for how special she is, of course) or adore her and want to be her. Bella’s token “flaw” of being clumsy is carried to extremes that make me wonder how exactly she survived 17 years, but somehow fails to actually impede her in any way; in fact, rather than being incredibly annoying and earning her scorn and derision as being that klutzy would in real life, Bella’s complete incompetence in doing much more than a light jog without hurting herself or others is oddly endearing to the already-adoring boys. Bella’s presentation as the perfect girl doesn’t really reach the reader, however; seeing things through her eyes, I noticed Bella tends to judge people based on appearance, only seems to want to be “friends” with attractive boys and vampires while thinking she mostly likes girls that leave her alone. Despite Mike and Jessica being unfailingly friendly and helpful towards her, Bella regularly thinks about them rather condescendingly and thinks nothing of blowing them off the second her relationship with Edward rockets her into the immortal cool kids crowd.

Edward…Edward is a whole ‘nother kettle of mutant puppies. Presented to us, we are meant to take Edward Cullen as the perfect man, the guy any woman would dream of being with; filthy stinking rich, absurdly handsome, musically talented, really, really wants to protect his girlfriend (has no life outside his girlfriend, as a matter of fact), athletic, all that and a bag of chips. Stephanie Meyer doesn’t seem to consider the fact he is also a condescending, possessive stalker whose alleged tortured conflict comes off more as whining over nothing to be particularly worth mentioning. I’m not joking about the stalking thing, either; before they were ever in a relationship, Edward was so intent on Bella he would spend his nights watching her come home and breaking into her room at night, EVERY NIGHT, to watch her sleep. All this during the period when he is restraining himself at great personal difficulty from killing her, mind you. Bizarrely, the fact that he invades her privacy regularly without her permission and does not seem to understand that his behavior is incredibly creepy does not bother Bella; Edward’s hot, remember, so she’s flattered he breaks into her house every night and puts her in personal danger because he wants to stare at her all night while she dreams about him. Edward is also just about the smuggest asshole you’ll ever meet, reveling in his superiority to his classmates despite the fact it’s the sort of superiority a 40-year-old man would have in 3rd Grade. While Bella certainly does nothing to deserve or earn his respect, that doesn’t change that he talks down to her regularly, often treating her like a half-wit child. To be fair to Edward here, those three words apply surprisingly well to Bella, but ol’ Eddie also seems to be a bit more into the universal desire to be dating Bella than the other implausible number of boys who want to be with her; he never hesitates to rub his relationship with Bella in Tyler, Mike, and Jacob’s faces, but he gets pretty jealous when Bella gives even perfunctory levels of attention to them. Is…is this supposed to be charming? Are women turned on by a superior man so sure in his superiority that he feels free to stalk, belittle, and act really possessive around the object of his affections? I have seen Edward Cullen raised to some sort of insane sex god by Twilight fans and for the LIFE of me cannot understand his appeal. Every single one of Edward’s family members is much, much cooler than he is, especially Alice, who’s genuinely sweet and quirky and manages in the last third of the book she shows up in to not only be the only character that has any chemistry with Bella, but also has more personality than Bella and Edward COMBINED. Also worth mentioning is Emmett, who makes up for Edward’s status as the family ponce by being so manly he kills grizzly bears for sustenance. He and Jasper are the only hope I have of anything cool happening in these books, because lord knows Edward’s not going to deliver there. Carlisle’s backstory of a vampire hunter becoming a moral vampire and struggling for 200 years to overcome his bloodlust and live as a doctor and family man is much more interesting than anything that happens to Bella and Edward. Why couldn’t the story have been about one of the cool Cullens instead of the creepy annoying one?

Still, I’m rambling now, so I’ll wrap things up. I stand by my statement that Twilight is a bad book. It’s not a horrible one, but it is sub-mediocre. Not as horrendous as I expected but still not worthy of its popularity. Probably not worthy of its immense hatedom, either, in retrospect; Edward and Bella are pretty crappy characters, and so the narrative focusing on them is going to by nature have an unusual share of crap in it, but the books are not the impending death of literature, just a black mark on the vampire mythos and the bane of every Twilight fans’ boyfriend’s existence. In a few years, nobody will remember Twilight.

…I hope.

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