Sunday, June 28, 2009

Twilight Summarized by a Smartass, Chapter 2

One of my favorite episodes of Futurama is "Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love?," in which Dr. Zoidberg tries to mate with a female of his species, Edna. Because he's so genetically undesirable, he wants to learn from Fry how to fake being in love. Remember this moment?

Fry: Now ask her how her day was.
Zoidberg: Why would I want to know?
Fry: You wouldn't. Ask anyway.
Zoidberg: How was your day?
Edna: Well, first, I got up and had a piece of toast, then I brushed my teeth, then I went to the store to buy some fish, then I ...
Zoidberg: Fry, look what you did. She won't shut up.
Fry: That's normal. Just nod your head and say, "Uh-huh."
Zoidberg: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

That's exactly what reading Twilight is like. You just sort of nod your head and try to keep your eyes from glazing over while Stephenie Meyer pelts you with useless detail after useless detail which do absolutely nothing to add to the story or our understanding of Bella as a character. Ooh, she went grocery shopping. I can see how that's a really, really important detail.

What happens in this chapter? Well, not very much, really. Bella goes back to school, afraid to deal with Edward's instant hatred of her, but he doesn't show up for the rest of the week. When he does, he's in a good mood and they even have a conversation while working on a lab assignment together. So now he understands her better, which seems to make her more uncomfortable around him. And that's really it.

But inside all of that, there's an endless travelogue about not being able to play volleyball well (which is, once again, supposed to make us think Bella is awkward and not good-looking when guys are still falling all over themselves to invite her on beach trips and involve her in snow games, and Mike and Eric seem ready to fight over her) and cooking dinner and having to wash the dishes and answering email from her mother and blah blah blah that has fuck all to do with anything remotely pertinent.

We don't need to know what Bella's emails say, because they don't say anything interesting. She's suffering all by her lonesome (from what I have no idea), so she's got nothing but empty pleasantries for her mother, so why do we care? The idea that Bella even has a mother is so far removed from the story it feels like it happened in some other book. We don't need to know that Bella does all the cooking and the grocery shopping, do we? And Meyer writes this in clunky, awkward sentences like "I did the shopping at home, and I fell into the pattern of the familiar task gladly." Ugh. Do we need to know the precise placement in the fridge she's decided on for the steak she's marinating?

We also learn that those Cullen kids have a Volvo and really nice clothes. How nice? I don't know. Bella says "it was obvious they were all dressed exceptionally well; simply, but in clothes that subtly hinted at designer origins." Obvious? It should be, you're looking straight at them. Subtly hinted at designer origins? If they were designer, that probably wouldn't be very subtle. And that's that; Meyer doesn't describe, she just tells. We're told they're all beautiful and drive a nice car and dress "exceptionally well." It's just all so vague and unformed. Now instead of picturing those sickly vegans from last week, I'm picturing sickly, vegan Eurotrash. Good job. I can see why they're so beautiful and mesmerizing. Apparently anyone can be a published author now, regardless of their ability to actually write.

When Bella's father comes home, there is this whole paragraph devoted to just how he hangs up his gun and that he doesn't remove the bullets anymore, and what his reasoning for that must be, and on and on. If you're devoting that much time to this, somebody better get shot in the living room before the end of this novel. Not that I expect Meyer to know about foreshadowing, since she clearly doesn't know anything else about writing except that words go on paper (though she's confounded by the order they go in).

The dinner scene really only exists for two reasons. First, so we can see how much Bella is doing for her dad, which is something Meyer clearly thinks is a giant sacrifice (because Bella could be curing cancer instead, or something). And second, so her father, Charlie Swan, can make a speech about what a good man Dr. Cullen is and how well-behaved his kids are and how frustrated he is with the town gossip impugning such a heroic character. It is completely out of place. Charlie has barely said anything so far, and suddenly he's turned into an infodump. And not just an infodump, but an embarrassingly impassioned one. As far as we know, there's no connection between Charlie Swan and the Cullens' adopted father, but he leaps to the man's defense. I expected him to fall to the ground with tears in his eyes--it's so ridiculously out-of-place and over-the-top, and completely unbelievable because it's so out of character.

After a lengthy, uninteresting treatise on Bella's first experience with snow--it's mushy, weird, and irritating--and whether or not she likes the local library, we find Edward returned to school. Now he's suddenly personable and talkative. They do a lab assignment together that Meyer not only manages to make seem like total dry-humping, but makes it hard to decide which character she's more cloyingly precious about. Both characters are just oh-so-super smart. Bella's done the lab before, but that's not enough for Meyer--Bella was also in AP biology at her old school and is just naturally a genius and an underachiever at the same time. (She's read her current English assignment, Wuthering Heights, several times before, but will read it again just for fun.) Edward is apparently the smartest kid in the class.

Since the movie's come out (I have not seen it), and since Meyer's descriptions of characters are so formless and vague and flavorless, all I can picture is greasy, ugly, disgusting, unwashed, probably-stinks-like-a-camel-because-he-doesn't-bathe Robert Pattinson instead of this incredibly beautiful, charming guy Meyer would have us envision. She thinks it's enough for Bella to think that Edward Cullen is the most beautiful thing she's ever seen and just give us a couple of details--really white teeth, crooked smile--instead of painting a picture with her words. Bella's intrigued by him, but I have no idea why, except that he fills her narcissistic needs--he subtly acknowledges that she's beautiful and captivating and amazing, but doesn't overtly treat her as though she is. Which is, as I've said before, Bella's problem--she wants to stand out and be different without actually doing anything that would make anyone notice her in any way, because she's too good and too smart and too special for everyone around her, even though she desperately needs the acceptance and validation of those around her. It's like Perez Hilton, who wants to be better than all of the celebrities around him while also being accepted by them as a fellow celebrity. That's Bella right there: Perez Hilton.

What really bugs me about their conversation is that she talks about leaving home, but can't find a satisfactory answer as to why she actually left. Her mom got remarried to a minor league baseball player who has to travel for work. Bella wasn't asked to leave, she gets along with her stepdad just fine, her mom doesn't seem to have any interest in traveling to various towns for ball games. So what's the big deal? Why did she take it on herself to move in with her dad when she finds it so awkward (and she's the only one who does) and hates the town so much (although she probably hates it everywhere)? If and when the explanation for this does come, it had better be really good to justify this much mystery over it.

Edward tells Bella "I'd be willing to bet that you're suffering more than you let anyone see." And Bella is sickeningly thrilled that, at last, someone gets her. But what the hell does Bella have to suffer about? Her dad bought her a truck? She has guys who are fighting over her? The beautiful, removed, standoffish prick that every girl in school wets their panties over is interested in her? The girls want to be friends with her, even though she's the new girl? She's doing incredibly well in school? Bella's only suffering because, like every self-obsessed asshole teenager in America, she wants to believe she suffers. Because she thinks it's dramatic. She likes it. She thinks it makes her life interesting. But she doesn't. She's great. Because she's Stephenie Meyer's pet Mary Sue, she's completely flawless, except where flaws (like a very mild clumsiness) make her apparently endearing. There's nothing dark or dramatic about Bella. Suffering? Join the Army or quit whining, you little idiot.

The chapter ends with Edward now basically having the upper hand in their relationship, such as it is, because now she's nervous around him instead of the other way around. I'd be nervous, too--he knows personal things about her and sounds like he's stalking her.

Yes, I can certainly see why this novel needs to be nearly as long as Moby-Dick.


Alex said...

Thank you for putting yourself through this! I have not read the book or seen the movie (and have no interest in doing so) but I have been very curious about what's so allegedly special here. It is nice to have a snarky play-by-play to turn to. It sounds... riveting.

Jaquandor said...

My fear for you is that every single post in this series is going to sound exactly like this one, because every chapter is exactly the same. Even the "action" chapters. (Although I can't wait until you get to the "Bella and Edward alone in the forest at last" scene...that was the dealbreaker for me.)

SamuraiFrog said...

Alex: I'm glad you're enjoying it. It's been, um, interesting? I'm just surprised how fervently people love something that, so far, is beyond mundane.

Jaquandor: I guess we'll see. I keep hoping I'll get into a groove and not make the same criticisms over and over, but who knows? I'm just reading it at a chapter a week, and it is extremely annoying, but I'm not out of critiques yet.

Seriously, though, I can't believe this thing even got published.

Jaquandor said...

BTW, will you have a separate label for these posts? Or are you taking them provisionally, holding out the possibility that you may conclude that life's too short for crappy books like this? :)

SamuraiFrog said...

I was thinking I'd just link them on a single post and put that in my sidebar when it's done, but the book is so long, maybe I'll just collect them under the "Literary Life" tag for now.