Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm finally going to talk about Twilight.

Much has been said about the Twilight series, and the feminists are blogging brilliantly (about all the rich dysfunctional gender issues, as well as the racial ones. I have read all but the last book- the first two were swallowed whole, and the third became tiresome quickly.
Stephanie Meyer is a figure I am ambivalent about. Her Twilight series came out while I was in my last months of pregnancy, a time when I was very aware of my lack of writing. The story of a good little housewife writing in the wee morning hours while half-delirious from lack of sleep from breast-feeding a newborn struck a chord with me. I felt that it was possible, then, to write and to be a mother, to write and be successful. Ah, but how I mistook success for talent! I had read articles praising the books, the sexual tension, the purity of the characters, the simplicity of the life, the huge numbers of books sold, and I thought that the writing was good.
I did not read the books until months afterward. I had still not written much of anything- while my son was still very very small I traveled to Barnes and Noble and while he slept in the sling around me I spilled out poems about labor and childbirth and pain and identity. Other than that, my pen was largely unproductive. The idea of a mother of more than one, but most importantly, the mother of an infant, could pound out a four book series in a mad fever dream of inspiration over six months still haunted me. I had no inspiration to speak of.
So there is still a mythic awe of her fecundity, as relates to production of stories. As I continue to write my critiques, please keep in mind that though I never hope to write in her style, I do hope to write like she did. In the dirty hectic midst of children clamoring for attention, and hope that neither the story nor the children suffer any want.

To be fair, one must remember that Stephanie Meyer calls herself a storyteller, not a writer. I am afraid that she has fulfilled that nicely- but she cannot even be called a good storyteller, because if one compares Twilight to the fairy tales of folk lore, it is too wordy, too detailed. If one were to look to a writer of novels, her stories are lacking in depth. Too much one to be any good as the other.
So how could a woman write so poorly and get so rich? Why is her work so well-received? It is in what the characters and plot is not that we find the answer. The characters are sketches of types, not actual people. She does not draw on the power of mythos, it is the type of popular culture that we see in her novels. Teens, Tweens and twentieth century women with shallow educations can seize on the types easily- there are no references to ancient archetypes, no mother or father gods, no labyrinths, nothing to resound in the mind deeply.
There is the good little housewife, Bella, who fulfills her destiny by the end of the novel, there is Edward, the polar opposite of Jacob in the discourses of the male libido. And then there’s everyone else. All other characters serve only as plot mechanisms, they are all the dreaded “side characters”. As Stephen King so aptly said, “It’s also important to remember that no one is ‘the bad guy’ or ‘the best friend’ or ‘the whore with the heart of gold’ in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us baby. If you can bring this attitude into your fiction, you may not find it easier to create brilliant characters, but it will be harder for you to create the sort of one-dimensional dopes that populate so much fiction.”

In all the whole series, there are truly only three characters, the love triangle of Edward, Bella, and Jacob. But I must reiterate, I use the word character loosely. They are three types sketched in, and Edward feels the closest to real because of his normally reserved, tight laced nature. We are supposed to know all about Bella, since she is our narrator, but sadly there isn’t much to know.

She herself doesn’t quite know who she is- all the feminist takings on it use the actions she describes without much thought, such as cooking dinner and doing laundry- it is in her lack of attention to these daily rituals that we see how she aligns her priorities, the things that make her up. One may try to posit her as the virtuous heroine, the shining white princess of fairy tale, but the truth is, she can’t wear white, she’d spill the spaghetti sauce on it. That banality in her character is glossed over, barely paid attention to in the narrative- it is simply assumed. And this is the most important point to make- it is assumed, taken for granted, that she would rustle about the house, taking care of her father, habits learned from parenting her own flighty mother.

Bella’s entire existence as detailed in the series is filling needs- at first she fills the needs of her mother, by paying the bills, cleaning up and cooking- in short, providing food shelter and security. But this is referenced perhaps in three full sentences in the first book. If any more is said of it, it is only repetition.
She removes herself from her mother’s home to make room for the new man, and heads off to take care of her father in the same way. He, too, seems to take her care-taking for granted. It is seen as a kindness, not as a defense against encroaching chaos, which is the only way I can imagine a sixteen year old girl parenting her own (non-addicted, assumably mentally sound) mother. No one ever notices that this girl is not a girl at all, but a rather empty and friendless adult in a sixteen year old’s body.

In fact, her father urges her to stop care-taking, and go get some friends, a life. Bella is not only not needed as the little mother, but is told to relate to people she cannot relate to- after all, what do 16 and 17 year olds know about caring for your parents?

Here is where I see some serious issues at play. Now, granted, I've come out of a dysfunctional home, and had access to some other seriously dysfunctional family systems, so please believe me when I tell you, taking a tour through Bella's family life looks, well...familiar.

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