Ah, Twilight. You never disappoint me. You are a regularly occurring topic in the car when I discuss books on road trips to Iowa to see the extended family. You are brought up when topics are scarce, or I need a good long rant session.
I love to hate you Twilight.
Since the writing is fairly simple but the chapters are long, I’ll be going chapter by chapter picking this thing apart. Don’t worry, I’ll still give you five chapters to work with this week.
Alright, I’ll stop stalling I swear. We enter our tale with a teaser of Bella facing an unknown enemy. This teaser already has problems, since even upon my first reading of Twilight many years ago, I was fairly certain this wasn’t Edward coming to kill Bella.
Speaking of first impressions, I’ll give you mine. (No, I’m not stalling….much.) I’ll admit that when it first came to my attention, I was excited to read it. I’d been an avid reader of young adult fiction up to this point. I did not read it immediately after its release in 2005. It was 2007 when I first encountered this book, just a short time before Twilight hype really hit. I thought the atmosphere was slightly ominous on first read through, but the tension was already undercut by the fact that I knew by this point that despite what the book was leading me to believe, Bella was not going to die. Eclipse was coming out at this point. I arrived late in the game, and it did ruin any suspense I might have had. This creepy atmosphere disappears after repeated reading, and in context with the series as a whole.
And then there’s this line:
“When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.”
Ah Bella, do try to remember this line in New Moon.
On to chapter one. As we enter this scene, we are introduced to Bella Swan. She is leaving her mother, Renee to go to Forks. Which she promptly complains about, even though it’s her own damned fault. Really, it would not be unreasonable for Bella to stay on her own while Renee travels with Phil.
Bella is seventeen years old, does most of the cooking and cleaning at their home, and is implied to act more maturely than her own mother. Why wouldn’t she just stay home? She doesn’t have to “intrude” on her mother and her step-father, who we never really meet. It just seems to be illogical for her to exile herself to Forks when she loathes the weather, the people, the change. She could stay in Phoenix and finish school, then move out if she were truly that uncomfortable.
This is our first, and most minor, example of Bella’s Martyr complex. It will be a reoccurring point in this series, unfortunately. Bella is leaving her mother Renee for her own good, so she can be happy with Phil. Although I’m personally inclined to think that she’d be happy with her family together in one place. Unless Meyer is implying that Renee regularly bitches to Bella about how it’s such a drag to be at home with your only daughter, and you’d literally be anywhere else?
We also stumble across another of the many problems I have with Bella:
“I felt a spasm of panic as I stared at her wide, childlike eyes. How could I leave my loving, erratic, hare-brained mother to fend for herself? Of course she had Phil now, so the bills would probably get paid, there would be food in the refrigerator, gas in her car, and someone to call when she got lost, but still…”
Bella thinks her parents are morons. I’m not saying that women like Renee don’t exist, cause I’ve met them. It’s a prevalent trope in media, to have an unreliable main/side character in the cast. However, this text implies that Renee can do absolutely nothing for herself, when we see evidence to the contrary in later books. There’s a scene in the Eclipse movie that I loved, which fleshed out Renee as more of a person, but sadly she never gets that sort of characterization in the books.
This line sort of implies that Renee has put a lot of stuff intentionally or unintentionally on Bella’s very young shoulders. Growing up before your time is sad. Watching someone you love suffer from the bad choices they have made is sad. I think we have a missed opportunity here. This dynamic would have been interesting if it were intentional. And it would go a long way in explaining away some of Bella’s character flaws. However, it’s not, and we’ll never get the Twilight or the Bella we deserved.
Bella gets on the plane, and arrives in Port Angeles several hours later. She hates it. What a shock.
Bella’s distaste for being driven around in a police car is understandable. If there’s one thing that I can praise even slightly in this book, its Bella’s attitude. She does read like a seventeen year old. She’s entitled, she’s convinced she’s right at every turn, and she’s cripplingly afraid of a situation that might make her look foolish. I remember what a little self-righteous twat I was at seventeen. Bella’s attitude is awful but accurate.
Bella arrives at Charlie’s house, is gifted a free truck and moves her things in. The description of the desktop computer makes me smile a bit. Ah the nostalgia. While not ancient myself, I do remember when computers still had floppy disc drives and used dial up.
The next day Bella must face the horrors of public school. As a person from a small town, I don’t really get Bella’s phobia here. If I had to guess, it would relieve some of Bella’s cripplingly low self esteem to not be the center of attention, which she immediately becomes after she arrives.
She fills the reader in on a typical high school schedule, and describes a few of the people she meets who will become side characters who only exist to serve the plot. Bella makes snide asides about the people she meets, and judges them immediately. Though if I’m being fair, Bella expects people to judge her negatively immediately after meeting her, so I guess it could be projection. Then we get to what everybody was looking forward to. We finally get our first glimpse of the Cullens.
“I stared because their faces, so different, so similar, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful.”
Meyer gives us a page and a half full of exposition about how beautiful the Cullens are, and it makes Bella insecure. My question is, if she can use the descriptor “inhumanly beautiful” wouldn’t that clue her into the fact, especially with what comes next, that they aren’t human? Why is Bella left ignorant for so long during these books, even to the point where readers are shouting; “He’s a freaking vampire! For the love of God stop being such a dumbass!”
Meyer should trust her readers to pick up on certain things, not string us along like we are a bunch of morons. Anyways, moving on.
Bella ogles Edward during lunch, not touching any of her food. I’ll get to that at a later date. Bella gets up and goes to Biology class. Bella is disconcerted by Edward’s rudeness, and his immediate dislike of her.
She finds him trying to rearrange his schedule on her way out of school, and assumes it is her fault he’s doing it. It doesn’t matter that she was correct this time, the way she internalizes every problem is annoying. It’s also indicative of how selfish and self-absorbed Bella will become in later chapters. Edward glares some more, Bella leaves in tears.
Let’s recap. What have we accomplished in this chapter? Exposition about Charlie and Renee. Bella’s wangsting about her decision to come to Forks, despite it being her own damnded fault and totally preventable. Bella’s secret, mean judgments about others. Edward is an asshat, Bella thinks it’s all her fault. She cries, and goes home. What a day.
This is a miserable day by all accounts, and not a fantastic way to hook your readers. The preface was nice, but sort of a cheap hook. We already know Edward won’t kill her. This is the most menacing we will see Edward Cullen in the whole book, and to be honest, it’s not that bad. I’ve had way more intimidating encounters with people in school.
We’re twenty-eight pages in, and we still know very little about Bella. At this point in other books, I knew way more about the main characters. By this point in Harry Potter, we had alluded to a lot of main plot points. At this point in any Dresden Files book, we’d have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Not only do we not have a framing device here, we haven’t even gotten started on it. Arguably to make this book better, there should have been more of a threat made by Edward. Hell, bring the car scene in earlier, when Edward would in no way be prepared to be in such close proximity to her in order to save her life. Stakes Meyer, they’re not just for killing vampires. If you don’t have them, it kills your story.
Midnight Sun has the advantage over Twilight because we do see the danger of Edward’s thirst. This whole thing would be better from his POV anyhow. He’s pretentious certainly, but he’s not pretentious, bland, and insufferable the way Bella is.
That’s all for chapter one. Stick around for another long-ass rant about chapter two.