Sunday, October 14, 2018

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

 🦇 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2018 Reading Challenge for the category of: A romance about vampires 🦇

This is the one romance book that many men have deigned to pick up, even if just to look at the cover and sneer, and is frequently used as the scapegoat example to bemoan about the romance genre as a whole as being a tasteless wonderland for idiots without brain cells, i.e. women. Because, as you might have noticed, anything that is marketed exclusively to women is frequently condemned by the "general populace" (i.e. men) as being without taste, merit, or worth. E.g. romance.

My feelings about TWILIGHT could be mapped out as a series of complex dips and rises. I've always been really into vampires and remember seeing this book on Amazon back in 2006 - you know, back in the days when it only sold books and CDs - while looking for books about vampires to ask my mom to buy for me. Intrigued by the promise of dark romance, I clicked to read the Kindle sample and was a little surprised when the opening paragraph featured not vampires but some privileged bitch in an eyelet lace blouse whining about how she was exiling herself to one of the most beautiful places in the world as punishment.

I remember thinking, "Wow, this is dumb. Nobody is going to read this."

And that is why I am not a marketing executive.

When the book became ridiculously popular, I was curious. Because I was a teenager, and if there's a demographic that's demonized more than women it's probably teenagers (e.g. teenagers are sheep, etc.). My mom bought me the book from Costco, of all places, and with no small amount of skepticism, I settled in to read. I actually stayed up until 3AM that night to finish it, and ended up getting only a couple of hours of sleep for the classes I was taking the next day. It was good. There wasn't a lot of action, but in a way that was kind of comforting. Bella was one of the first heroines that I really identified with - she was quiet and studious and socially awkward. She enjoyed reading and not just in that token way that makes her not like other girls; she wrote an essay on the misogyny in Shakespeare (a topic that I, myself, explored in one of my college essays). I also liked the fact that she seemed both jaded and naive; something that I, as a "world-weary" eighteen-year-old strongly related to. I burned through the second and third books (also purchased at Costco, thanks, Mom), and then noped out of the fourth book when I found out that there were things like baby soulmates, sex scenes involving pillow-eating, and weird science that involved giving vampires venom in place of bodily fluids and, for some reason, a different number of chromosomes that just so happened to equal that of the pineapple. (Let's all just take a moment to sit back and imagine a pineapple with fangs.)

My point here is that TWILIGHT was easy to read and featured a generic heroine who had a quiet personality that didn't make me feel like I wasn't enough. After all, she was ordinary and got a GQ vampire boyfriend. Maybe that meant that being ordinary was okay. Many YA novels stress the quirkiness or the glory of their heroines, but I liked the idea of a "plain Jane." It was also my gateway novel to classic literature. I made my mom buy me copies of all the books Bella read or mentioned, which was how I ended up reading a slew of classics like JANE EYRE, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY that year. For fun. I know, right?

Then the movies came out and Kristen Stewart became the much-mocked star with her dead eyes and Robert Pattinson the questionable hero with his scoffing interviews and scruffy appearance. I wasn't happy with the casting choices and did not see the movie, but other people did. Many other people did. Suddenly the movie - and the merchandise - were everywhere and so were the fans. My god, honestly if anything put me off this book it was probably the fans. Especially the ones who tore forums apart with their vicious arguments over the battle that will go down in history long after everything else has crumbled to dust: Edward vs. Jacob? I found myself growing embittered against the book that I had previously enjoyed, and suddenly I could see all the problems with it that I had previously ignored. The relationship is toxic. Bella lacks agency. Grand sweeping gestures of "love" are expressed in the form of mortal peril. TWILIGHT also ushered in a whole new era of copycats, as everyone tried to write TWILIGHT with angels (FALLEN, HUSH HUSH), TWILIGHT with werewolves (SHIVER), and TWILIGHT with faeries (WICKED LOVELY or THE IRON KING).

I decided to read this ten years later for a Halloween-themed romance challenge, and also to see how my perspective on the book changed with time. It is hilarious to me that Bella, with her limited experiences at the ripe old age of seventeen, sounds at many times like a weary Mormon housewife, speaking about her father the way one might express frustration about a husband (creepy), and about her mother as a child. She claims ignorance to social practices, and yet gives herself the advice that a Mom might, and lectures her friends about being rude or irresponsible. Also, who says "Holy Crow!" unironically who isn't either eighty years old or Mormon? Exactly.

Edward is also significantly less attractive to me this time around. I think maybe it's because he smacks of the patriarchal, with his constant talking down to her as one might a child, and his sly winks about her being so young while seeming old, if you know what I mean, hurr hurr. That's a little creepy. All the claims about their relationship being unequal are valid; he is so much older than her that he has so much knowledge and experience and resources that she can never really aspire to be on equal footing. The relationship is skewed in his favor and he is, by his own admission, a master manipulator. It's also very creepy that he watches her sleep and knew without asking where she kept her house key. I'm still not over that. Even as a teen, I was kind of like, "Um, hey wait."

I also never noticed that... um, Edward's taste in fashion is kind of bad? In fact, he dresses kind of like a sleazy 70s actor. I have receipts. Go through some of my status updates for the book and see what pics I paired with them. All that he's missing is a Ron Jeremy mustache. I guess this could also potentially tie into the whole "30-year-old mom" vibe if Bella is actually modeled of Stephenie Meyer and she's using Edward as a template for all of the heartthrob leading actors in movies that she watched growing up, which probably were from the 70s or 80s and probably featured questionable fashion choices like ivory turtlenecks and beige colored leather jackets.

I do think that TWILIGHT changed the young adult and romance genres for the better, in that it showed people that things ladies like can not only enter mainstream pop culture, but also become raging successes that empower women not just to seek out and enjoy their own entertainment, but also to go out and create their own. I could say a lot of things here about some of those paranormal YA copycats and how I feel about P2P fanfiction that is repackaged as original fiction but this review is already getting pretty long, so let's save that for another day. Part of the reason it's so hated is because dudes had to confront the fact that a movie for women had entered their "safe space." There was no room in this world for them; the narrative was not about them. There aren't any guns or lasers in TWILIGHT and the "action" doesn't happen until the last 100 pages (unless you count vampire baseball or near-car accidents). It's an entirely character-driven romance between a female teenager and a vampire, and about how their relationship develops over 4.75 books (I'm counting that BREE book as .5 and MIDNIGHT SUN as .25, since it was never released). People love to demonize romance, and I still get comments from individuals telling me how stupid they think the books I read are, but honestly, TWILIGHT, like all romances, was just about escapism and having fun.

3 out of 5 stars

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