Tuesday, June 16, 2009

twilight in the garden of predicable & sophomoric

A few well chosen words about the Twilight Saga, an insanely popular teen series written by Stephanie Meyer and published by Hachette. I feel eminently qualified to do so, as I have spent the past four days buried in the four novels—and a good part of the past year lugging and stacking hundreds of copies, almost daily.

I tend to resist reading such overwhelmingly hyped franchises. I’ve never had the urge to read any Harry Potter, for example. And it took over a year before I would pick up Marley. But I digress

These phenomena are so profitable that publishers and bookstore owners drool. They burst forth from their designated markets to become “crossover books,” in this case from teen girls to women to film. I can’t begin to guess how many I’ve personally placed in the hands of moms, enamored by the “greatest love story ever.”

Now that I am on leave from my bookseller duties, I took the time to see what all the fuss is about. I still don’t know. I knew I was in trouble after 30 pages when I was so bored, I started riffling through chapters in search of some action, with no sense of loss. For those of you without a clue, it’s the story of a teenage girl Bella and a (teenage-looking) vampire Edward who fall for each other in the classic star-crossed love affair.

Listen. I was all prepared to fall under the spell. I’m well-up on my vampire lore, Buffy the Vampire Slayer being among my all time favorite TV shows. Of course, that series was created by Josh Wheden. ‘Nuf said.

Meyers is a competent enough writer, and she does a few interesting takes on vamp and even werewolf, mythology but... I list below a few of my turnoffs.

--The books are way way way too long. Situations are repeated in a seemingly endless loop. Book editors, it seems are a truly endangered species.

--We are asked to believe that a good “family” of vampires, some closing in on three digits age-wise, thinks it would be fun to do small town high school for what must be the umpteenth time. Really. What immortal being wouldn’t jump at the chance to take bio and calculus (not to mention gym) one more time?

--The foreshadowing is so heavy handed the pages are almost striped. Example: Bella moves from sunny Southwest when her airhead mom remarries, to live with her clueless father in the dreary Northwest town named—wait for it—Forks. Can you say “a road less traveled” ?

--These vamps are all things desirable, super strong, good-looking, magical, rich, smart etc. Being human is so, well, inconvenient. You have to eat, sleep, age and go to the bathroom. The messy business of feeding off humans is swept aside by these “vegetarian” vamps who make do by hunting wild animals on frequent “camping trips” .

--One interesting (and recurring theme in all vamp lit) is that sex between us humans and vamps is always dangerous. This enables the Bella-Edward love story to drip in desire but remain chaste, cannily effective in the teen genre.

--After pushing myself through 1,200 plus pages, I finally arrived at the final book, Breaking Dawn, an almost 800-page tome. I came close to skipping it and that would have been a mistake. It’s far and away the best—and in my view—the only one worth reading. Editing it down and adding some back story from the first three bloated books would have made one engrossing read. It actually managed to surprise me a bit. I love that.

--In the end, though, it’s really just another girl-falls-for-guy-and-gives-up-all-in-the-quest-for-happily-ever after—emphasis on ever. Is that really the best message to send to our young women?

I could go on, but why.

A final note: For a REALLY intensely well written series, one hell of a touching first love story with the complex layers of real literature, skip the teen section and head straight to the children’s department. Pick up Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, including the Golden Compass, the Subtle Knife and the Amber Spyglass. Buy all three at once, cause you won’t be able to put them down.

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