Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Eclipse

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown & Co., 2007) 629 pages
Lady, do you never tire of teenage vampires you may ask? Apparently not. Admittedly, I am late to the game ... many femmes d'une certaine age have long devoured these weighty tomes. I am only just now reading the third of the four books.

What is it about the teenage Bella and her blood that is so attractive to these creatures of the netherworld? That makes her so compelling to us the readers? I am convinced that it means something other than what is on the page. It symbolizes something ... this has been percolating in my mind for the entire time that I have read these books over several months.

And then it hit me ... the virginal Bella's blood is the concrete manifestation of her virginity - this is why is it so precious, so valued, so sought after. A view that is perhaps not inconsistent with Meyer's Mormon beliefs. Meyer has been described as the master of "the erotics of abstinence."

Here in Eclipse, werewolves and (good) vampires literally fight to the death against (bad) vampires to protect Bella and her blood. The novel opens with the news that a serial killer is stalking nearby Seattle. Slowly it becomes evident to Bella and the Cullen clan that the mysterious deaths are the result of a group of "newborn" vampires trying to establish control of this main urban centre of readily available blood supply. They are newly minted, vicious and uncontrollable - hence all the bloodshed which is explained away as the work of a serial killer in the media.

When it is determined that some fanged intruder has been in Bella's house and taken some of her possessions, Edward, ever the doting, controlling lover, tries to ensure that Bella is never alone and initially tries to prevent her from spending time with Bella's best friend and Edward's nemesis Jacob or has her babysat by his "sister" Alice. This sneaky streak of paternalism in the novel hits a crescendo when Edward informs Jacob (after Bella throws a punch at Jacob for kissing her) that: "if you ever bring her back damaged [my emphasis] again ..." he would have to answer to Edward.

Despite this fiestiness, Bella is still transported like chattel from one caregiver to the next for her own protection. She requires constant supervision lest the "bad" vampires locate her. Really ... is this where we are at in the early 21st c. - that we still see young girls as a sort of prized possession to be protected by more dominant male partners even if they are in danger?

In the big climactic confrontation between good and evil, Bella must literally beg for a seat at the grown ups' table ... Why is Bella not respected as the mistress of her own destiny? Is this an accurate reflection of female teenage infatuation and dependency on male approval or a sexist reinforcement of stereotypes?

Cleverly, on Meyer's part, we miss the main action between the "bad" vampires versus the "good" vampires and werewolves and only get a blow by blow description through Edward's telepathic powers off screen. But this particular book strains to include both romance novel quality descriptions of the gropings of virginal Edward and Bella and horror inspired fight scenes between Edward and the ever present evil vampire Victoria who finally meets a well deserved gory end in the forest - it's the last that we will see of that flaming red mop!

We think it's over - the bad vampires are bloodily vanquished by the Cullens and the werewolves. Edward has dispatched Victoria and her newest consort Riley before Bella's horrified eyes. But, uh oh, it ain't over kids till the fat lady sings ...

There is one more scenario featuring the creepily articulate and pint size Jane of the Volturi clan featured in Book 2 (aptly cast in the New Moon film as Dakota Fanning). The Volturi have come by to clean up the mess caused by the Newborns and are vaguely disappointed to see that the Cullens and the werewolves have done an adequate job of this. Jane dispatches the lone newborn saved from the carnage who is literally baying at the moon. Bella also learns then that Jacob has been seriously hurt in the struggles (also off screen).

In the final scenes she rushes to comfort the injured Jacob, with Edward's permission of course. The boys have been sniping at each other and threatening each other during the course of the novel. But Bella has made her choice and by the end of book 3 she is grudgingly looking at wedding gowns.

Male volatility (Jacob) and male dominance over females (Edward) are major chords that waft uneasily through the conflicted Bella's life. But Bella remains untouched, literally, at the end of book 3 and will remain so until she marries in book 4. What should this signify for the teenage reader - reinforcing a fear of/fascination with male sexuality?

And what is up with Meyer and the persistent rape or near rape scenarios? Bella is almost raped in book 1 but saved by Edward. In book 2 she is drawn to a group of unsavoury characters which suggest that they might do similar harm to her. In book 3 we learn of the real life rape of Rosalie Cullen and how she turned from human into her present otherworldly form. Jacob makes a few unpleasant moves on Bella which are disturbing to her and us, the readers (consciously so on Meyer's part?).

The teenager in me relishes the emotional drama that Bella experiences ... the book opens with Bella trying to decide whether to marry Edward. She is beset by a number of fairly normal anxieties: the uneasy truce between boyfriend (vampire) and best friend (werewolf); nervousness about where her post-highschool life will take her - college or marriage or neither; worry for her parents should she embrace the life that she says she wants - being turned into a vampire to live forever with Edward. As silly as these supernatural scenarios may be, at their core, they do strike a familiar chord for young girls.

Sexuality, as represented here by Meyer is potent and possibly destructive … the two lead characters, Edward and Bella, are both virgins. Edward’s fear of relations with Bella which she has pushed for since book 1 and which accelerate in book 3 have to do with the fear that he will literally kill her if they have a sexual relationship due to his supernatural strength.

He counsels abstinence and self-control until marriage which he pushes for and she resists …

Meyer is able to have her abstinence cake laced with sexual fervor and eat it too … she ramps up the sexual tension, making a teenage girl (the primary reader of this series) the sexual aggressor and the boy, unrealistically I believe, the one who applies the brakes to the relationship and insists on marriage.

The adult in me cringes at all the vampire history lore we suffer through in order to understand what the "newborns" are (a major plot element here) and why they are trying to take over Seattle. The long and tedious fake werewolf history of the Quileute Indians rankles ... so too the bloody fight scenes - decapitations, creatures being torn to shreds etc...

Meyer is at her best when she communicates how teenagers deal with everyday issues of love and desire and belonging. Where she falters, for me, is when she tries to exercise her writing muscles and goes into these elaborate, poorly realized back stories for the vampires (such as the exposition of Rosalie's or Jasper's personal history).

She is a truly awful writer sometimes with repetitive descriptions which travel from book to book [see my rant in the New Moon blog entry] and nonsensical descriptions such as this: "His face was as empty as a stone" or describing Jasper as Carlisle's "most recent son".

It will be interesting to see how the film (due June 2010) will treat this book. I had read that the new director will feature more action oriented scenes. They figure they have captured the young female demographic, now they want the male one as well. A great article here in The American Prospect about how Twilight is somewhat denigrated by the media and critics because it involves mostly young females' interest.

2 comments:

WannabeVirginia W. said...

What an excellent analogy. It is exactly why all the teenage girls and some moms love the story since it perpetuates the notion of women needing to be saved or rescued by a strong man and "coveted". My daughter read all four series but she is a level headed young woman and recognizes the subtle sexist themes within the movie. I definitely will show her your blog.

A Lit Chick ... said...

Ms. W, did you see this article? I thought it was very telling ...

http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=girls_just_wanna_have_fangs

Thanks for your input!