Saturday, August 22, 2020

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

I was still a teenager when I first read TWILIGHT, and now I am... well, not a teenager, obviously. (Beware, kiddos who follow me, one day, you too will be one of the "olds.") Since that first initial read, I've reread TWILIGHT a handful of times, and each time, I've felt a little differently about it as my thoughts about feminism, young adult fiction, and romances slowly changed and evolved with my own self-identification over time. I eventually settled on a sort of affectionate resignation. No, TWILIGHT won't be winning any female empowerment awards, and it's all too easy to make fun of (whether it's vampire baseball, sparkling in the sunlight, or the infamous misuse of the word "nattering"). But it was a book written by a woman for young girls that somehow became overwhelmingly popular and a cultural phenomenon, and women really didn't get to have a lot of things like that. Most things in pop-culture are created by dudes, from the perspective of the male gaze, so it was refreshing to see a romance novel become so inescapably popular that it gained a firm toehold in the fantasy/paranormal literary canon forever.

Even if the heroine was a klutz with zero self-preservation.

I actually read the original version of MIDNIGHT SUN back when it was still available to read for free on Stephenie Meyer's website. I remember when she first announced the project, she got so much backlash for it, and everyone said she was greedy/milking the cash cow/etc. (and yet radio silence when every other romance author decided to copy her and write POVs from their own abusive heroes' perspectives). I remember there was a lot of drama because someone had leaked the chapters, and they were circulating the internet, and Meyer was mad and said something like, "I'm not going to write this anymore because if I did, I'd let James win and kill off all the Cullens!" And in a final "so there!" she had posted a PDF version of the leaked chapters on her own website. Which... yikes. Not yikes to Meyer but just yikes because I honestly felt so bad for her at the time, getting all that hate and then someone screwing her over like that. I'd probably want to red wedding my own characters, too, at that point. So I read the 12 chapters on Meyers' website and went on with my life...

Until our year of 2020 when Meyer announced to the world that she would FINALLY be publishing MIDNIGHT SUN, the rewrite that nobody asked for. Or... um, wait, actually I think LIFE AND DEATH was probably the rewrite that nobody asked for. Anyway, people took in this news and basically lumped in with the general craziness of 2020 but they also had Thoughts. I had Thoughts. Namely:

1. Ummm, okay, that's great and all but WHAT ABOUT THE HOST SEQUELS.
2. And why does that cover make me so uncomfortable? It looks soooo sexual.
3. There is no way that this is going to be good but I am a trash can-- we all know that I'm a trash can-- and TWILIGHT was my shit back in the day, so we all know I'm totes mcgoats reading this.
5. Does this mean that vampires are FINALLY becoming popular again?
6. Just kidding. That was a trick question because we all know vampires never left.

Anyway, I finally got my hands on this book and managed to read it in a day with some skimming and all I can say is HOLY HELL WHY AREN'T MORE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT WHAT A CREEPS MCDEEPS EDWARD IS. Like, yikes. If you thought he was problematic and patriarchal in the firsts four books, grab a blowtorch and some mace, because he takes stalking and problematic behavior to serial killer heights. Where it's methodically breaking down how he would go about meticulously snapping the necks and killing everyone in his biology lab in order to get to Bella while her blood is still warm, or stealing what I believe was her house key (some kind of key) while sniffing her hair and then OILING HER WINDOW TO MAKE IT EASIER TO SNEAK INTO TO WATCH HER SLEEP, Edward is the King of Creepy. And what makes it worse is that he knows what he is doing is creepy and he literally does not care.

Another thing that I found really funny in this book is how Stephenie Meyer really tries to give us a reason as to (1) why every single heterosexual man with a functional penis pants after Bella in the books and (2) belatedly and retroactively tries to infuse her with a "personality." What results is that we are treated, through Edward's psychic powers, of the inner monologues of EVERY MAN in this book who finds Bella attractive and told over and over again how dazzling, how stunning she is that she leaves boys literally unable to think while speaking with her-- and she doesn't even know it! Bella dramatically understates her own worth and Edward finds this so charming, compelling, and appealing that he has taken it upon himself to act as appraiser. Which is... gross. But gross is a recurring theme in this book, just as another recurring theme in this book is every attractive woman who actually knows she's attractive being repeatedly looked down upon, rejected, and shamed.

Woo, feminism!

Through Edward's eyes, we're told how selfless and good Bella is. They have a conversation that definitely wasn't in the first book and felt about twenty pages long (I think it was actually ten) in which Edward asks Bella all of her favorite things, and she answers, so we learn her favorite flower (dahlia), candy (black licorice and sour patch-- is she an old lady??), and ALL OF HER FAVORITE BOOKS which we already kind of knew about from the previous four books, but now in addition to the Jane Eyres and Jane Austens, we're informed that she loves Robin McKinley and the Dragonriders of Pern series, and oh yes, Agatha Christie! She's BRANCHED OUT!

I must say, this book felt about a thousand times longer than it actually was. In addition to the long odes to Bella courtesy of Edward's being psychic, we're also treated to long and waxing odes of how rich, attractive, and amazing Edward is, courtesy of his being psychic. One creepy thing in this book which I'm really not seeing mentioned more in the reviews of this book is how Edward allegedly looks seventeen and yet a number of older women-- adult women-- in this book are panting after him and fantasizing over him, EVEN THOUGH HE IS A TEENAGER. I'm sorry, that's gross. That's just as gross as a one-hundred-and-four-year-old man panting after a teenager.

Which is another thing that makes this book creepy. Being inside Edward's head, we find out just how unequal their relationship is. Edward holds two medical degrees and is over a century old, and yet he doesn't like women of his own age and doesn't like women who have sexual agency (they seem to make him feel some weird mix of scorn and shame). Instead, he goes to a high school, where he sneers at the biology teacher for not knowing as much as he does with his ~sniff~ two medical degrees, and tunes in to his fellow "high school students" like he's watching a soap opera on the radio. Like... why?? If I was an immortal psychic vampire, high school is the literally last place I would go. I'd be on a remote island somewhere with my own personal library, or travel the world. I certainly would not be looking at lab slides and writing out prophase, anaphase, interphase.

TWILIGHT works because it's written (allegedly) from the perspective of a teenage girl who doesn't feel like she fits in, who feels like she's more mature for her peers, who feels like she sacrifices endlessly and nobody knows it and she doesn't want people to know it, but also she does. She whines about attention while craving it, and even though she's annoying, she is also a perfect stand-in for the walking, irrational paradox that many teenage girls (and boys, and people) are. It works. And how many of us, told that "things will get better in college" haven't innocently fantasized about a dashing older man (or woman) who would sweep us away from high school and tell us we're special and also a secret princess or heiress or faerie queen or whatever? Everyone wants to be special, especially people who are not. So, even though TWILIGHT doesn't really make sense, and Edward is ridiculous and toxic AF, the fantasy is appealing because it taps into Bella's desire to be seen and, yes, special.

MIDNIGHT SUN, however, doesn't work-- because it rips the sparkly tablecloth off that fantasy, revealing the horrors underneath. Edward is dangerous. He's a stalker, he's a bit of a psychopath, he has anger issues, he's jealous, he's possessive, and he's one-hundred-and-four years old and in love with a teenager, and because of that discrepancy, he feels like he knows what he wants better than she does-- because he's an adult, and she's the irrational, and naive teenager. In this book, it's no longer romantic; it's creepy. As we see Edward not through Bella's rosy lenses but through Edward's own, we realize just how creepy he is. So if this was an attempt to rationalize and humanize Edward's behaviors, it failed, because it only served to make him 10x creepier. But if this was Meyer's attempt to be like, "ha ha! you want dark?? I'll give you DARK," then she succeeded, because man, Edward is super scary and I want no part of him. Team Jacob all the way, thanks. At least he's her own age.

The only thing this book really succeeded at was filling in some of the bizarre plot holes from TWILIGHT, such as why the tracker didn't recognize what Bella was right away at the baseball game, and why, between Alice's mind-reading and Edward's psychic powers, Bella ended up having so much bad shit happen to her in this first book anyway. I didn't ask for MIDNIGHT SUN and I'm not really sure it adds anything of real value to the series, apart from doubling down on the Edward is Creepy vibes from the previous book while trying to ret-con Bella's vapid, schoolmarmish character based on criticism from the first four books. Only one of those things was successful, though, and I don't think it was the one that the author was going for, sadly.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

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