Thursday, April 15, 2010

Velour Septic Tank – Some Twilight Saga Impressions

So since I got a nook, I decided that one of the first tasks I should undertake was wading my way through that paragon of tweens and housewives, that epitome of the zeitgeist, that effigy that most people seem ready to string up and burn. Yes, that’s right, I read the Twilight books.

I’m not going to waste a ton of space on this, because I imagine there’s nearly as much text on the internet devoted to Twilight as there is to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter at this point. Unlike those books, though, Twilight is often commented on through reputation alone.

So, as a hater who likes to feel self-righteous about saying something is bad, I had to read them myself. Just so I knew, y’know? I mean, they were probably ridiculous, what with sparkly vampires and all. But I read through the latter half of Anne Rice’s vampire books. How bad could this be, in comparison?

I will never ask that question rhetorically again.

Anyone who follows me on twitter probably followed with some degree of schadenfreude my blow by blow response to the experience of reading through the tetralogy for myself. I was kind of exaggerating the melodrama, but my reactions were honest.

The Twilight Saga is bad. Not just ‘not for me’ but genuinely bad. Badly written, badly conceived, badly executed. I could easily say that it’s the worst thing I’ve ever read, but since I don’t normally seek out bad books, I’m a poor metric. I will say that it’s the worst example of tasteless bestselling fiction I’ve ever seen. Stephanie Meyer makes Dan Brown look like William Faulkner.

The worst part of this series is that it didn’t even start out all that terrible. Twilight (the first book, to clarify) isn’t that terribly written. It’s rough and kind of slim, but it reads with the tentative steps into a world of unreality that isn’t too far off from Harry Potter. Sure, it’s a more romantic bent instead of a school days adventure one, but there is an everyman heroine who encounters the supernatural and takes to it. There’s an arc, a villain, some motivations. It’s not good, but it’s not abysmal.

But as soon as Twilight ends the series drops into the depths of the most ridiculous fucking melodrama this side of telemundo. And the worst part is, I’m not sure how this could have happened.

What you have is basically just a boy-meets-girl-but-circumstances-drive-them-apart. It’s cliche, but it’s a cliche that works. Or should work. But instead of keeping that the story, it drifts into both characters worrying about hurting each other, brooding over each other’s absence and the consequences of their forbidden love.  Which might be fine in the hands of a good writer, but here it has all the grace of a brick thrown at a curio cabinet. All the delicate minarets of girlish fantasy crushed by the weight of adult escapism into bodice-ripping wish-fulfillment.

And that’s really the problem with the series. For all the other problems, the glaring problem is that the story centers around an avatar of the author that is given everything good and wonderful and to whom nothing REALLY bad ever happens. The only real threat and villain is in the first book. After that every character continually assures Bella and the reader that everything is fine, and it always is. You can’t have your only source of tension your main character’s lack of faith in the people who are telling empirically sound truths to her until they’re blue in the face. Not that vampires can get blue in the face.

There’s a thing in fan fiction called Mary Sue. It’s when a writer injects a character that is a shallow facade of the author who gets to interact with the character of their dreams. And there’s no doubt that Bella Swan is a Mary Sue in a fanfic all her own. She is fought over by two good looking men, is able to pick whichever she wants, becomes a vampire that’s better than all the other vampires, becomes rich and fabulous (even though she was always beautiful to everyone other than herself) and who lives happily ever after. Every good guy likes her. And everyone who hates her is the bad guy. I’d call it an insult to my intelligence, but my intelligence shatters upon the coral of Isle Stupid.

I could go on and on and point out how this Mary Sue is poorly used in relationships that are unhealthy at best and abusive at worst, but … well, unhealthy relationships are a part of young romance. It’s that one that is so poorly mismanaged has gathered such a rabid fanbase that strikes me as the worst part of this whole series of books.

And let me tell you, I don’t begrudge a young girl who looks at this books and wishes she was Bella Swan and that she had a vampire and werewolf fighting over her. We’re all dumb at 14. We all have our wish fulfillment fantasies. But it isn’t the teen audience that’s pushed Twilight fandom to the ridiculous heights its at now, it is the adult fanbase.

I think that bears repeating. There are adults—people with jobs and children and mortgages and whatnot—who enjoy Twilight. Who love Twilight. And that’s baffling to me. Childhood dreaming is all well and good, but at a certain point people learn some damn sense. And at that point, I don’t know how a sane person could look at the Twilight saga as anything other than one woman’s warped perception of what teen romance should be like.

These people are the problem. There’s plenty of bad writers in the world. There’s plenty of teenagers who haven’t developed taste or have the scope to see the conclusions and consequences of the narrative threads in books like Twilight. But adults who buy into this shit? They are the ones that have driven this series into the greater public eye.

And to those people, I say … have some respect for yourself. Read something that isn’t mindless wish fulfillment. Art is about more than that. You’re the assholes made Transformers 2 a success. Because apparently being entertained on a base level is okay, even if you have to have your intelligence insulted along the way. 

This has been pretty rambling, but I didn’t want to go on at full length, so you’re getting a kind of scattershot of feelings about Twilight. But really, when we break it down, I can just say this—if you want to understand good writing better, reading Twilight is a great learning experience. Just understand what you’re getting into. Because around page 1000 of the same 2 plot points being regurgitated on the page, I about threw my nook.

For anyone who doesn’t have that morbid sense of obligation, stay away. Stay very, very far away. Every bad thing you heard was true. Every. Single. Thing.


Anonymous said...

See, as painful as it was, it's actually good that you read the series. Because now you know and can comment with the strength of knowledge behind you. You can hate with more passion.

The real question is, are you going to read "The Short Life of Bree Tanner" to complete your Twilight knowledge? :-) Don't hate me because I want you to. Your enraged tweets were just too entertaining.

Carrie said...

Dude, best review ever. You should do these more often. I loved this.