Friday, August 7, 2009

The power to break you

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown & Co., 2006) 563 pages

This should have been called my best friend's a werewolf and ... my ex is a vampire. Again, I will not recap the plot in Meyer's second book in the Twilight series in great detail. You are either on board or not. The train is leaving folks ... I know I will not be able to persuade non-believers.

Okay, the general premise is enormously silly, I will grant you that. And yes, I sometimes hide the book when guests come over. And, oh, alright, when I leave the house with a book I rarely take this one in case people see what I am reading on the subway ... and yet, and yet. Ms. Meyer is on to something. She captures teenage angst so well. She captures desire and the loss of a loved one exceptionally well. Because it is a sort of death, the end of a relationship, especially if it is your first love.

I found that while I read the book I was doing what I often wish readers of my own fictional work wouldn't do, wondering: "Did this happen to her? How much does it reflect her own experience? Did Meyer lose someone close to her - how does she understand this depression that envelops Bella? How does she understand that pain so thoroughly?"

Meyer sets the stage early when Edward and Bella are watching a production of Romeo and Juliet for a school assignment and Edward claims that if Bella died he would try and kill himself by approaching the Volturi in Italy (more on that later). Soon after, a violent incident involving the Cullen family convinces him that Bella is not safe around the Cullens and the Cullens realize how dangerous it is to be around Bella with the risk of exposure should their true identities be revealed. They leave Forks suddenly and Edward leaves Bella. Quickly. Painfully. Brutally. It will be as if I never existed, he says. The phrase rings in her ears for months.

The book is, for nearly three quarters of it, a dark, bitter chronicle of Bella's depression and her efforts to deal with the situation. Bella thinks miserably: One thing I knew ... was how love gave someone the power to break you. I'd been broken beyond repair.

She is utterly lost and sinks into black hole which she barely recovers from. When the grief stricken Bella impulsively tries to approach a group of boys in town whom she thinks (mistakenly) might have almost attacked her the year before had Edward not thwarted them, I understand the impulse. I have never seen this described in print before.

When someone close to me passed away fairly suddenly at the age of sixteen, I found myself behaving irrationally, attracted to dangerous situations and people. I could not have explained it if I tried. I still can't. My actions were inexplicable to those around me. I only knew I felt a compulsion to be exposed to these things. So I understand Bella's obsession with riding motorcycles, with dangerous boys, with the ridiculous cliff diving that she sees some of the boys on the rez do. I get it. It's stupid and irrational. Completely. And yet I felt I had no control over my actions at the time either.

Meyer uses a heavy handed metaphor about Bella now being like a zombie in a horror film. Indeed, that would be good description for this condition in that you don't feel that you are in control of your emotions or actions and are pursuing a course of action which leads to disaster and possibly death.

The focus in this book is on her relationship with her best friend, the sweet tempered Jacob Black, who becomes a werewolf during the course of the novel. This leads me back to an earlier thought in a previous blog about the fear Meyer evinces about teenage boys: they are sometimes violent, feral, uncontrollable. Is this an anti-sex message as some have contended or a harsh truth - aren't boys more volatile at this age? It's an apt symbol for the intense mix of hormones and sexual desire during the teenage years. Jacob can barely contain himself after the "change" to werewolf which all the boys on the rez will eventually experience. Is this a metaphor for boys being unable to control themselves sexually as well?

There is an enormous importance placed on the chastity of youth in the Mormon faith which Meyer practices. One source I consulted stated that "The doctrine of this Church is that sexual sin—the illicit sexual relations of men and women—stands, in its enormity, next to murder." Hence, perhaps, Bella's chaste relations with Edward and then Jacob. Great passion yes, but sexual expression, absolutely no. Hence, the danger that sexual desire represents.

I remember being petrified of boys at that age. I didn't see them as potential loving companions with similar interests or as friends. I saw them as crude, violent, selfish creatures who took what they wanted. It might have been unfair generalization but I think it reflected the world as it existed for me then.

Here, in the West Side Story Jets vs. Sharks style showdown (which in itself is a modern spin on the original Romeo and Juliet story), the werewolves which include Jacob Black and the Indian boys of the Quillette tribe on the La Push rez who serve as protectors of the tribe, square off against the vampires, initially they are the "bad vampires" Laurent and Victoria but then also possibly the "good" vampires, the Cullens. The vampires must stay off the rez and refrain from killing humans which both Laurent and Victoria refuse to do.

At one point Bella openly muses what if rather than die, Romeo simply left, leaving Juliet with Paris, the man her parents wanted her to marry - would she have married Paris? Would it be possible to love another?

New Moon does keep you in suspense awaiting the couple's reunion and concludes with a Romeo and Juliet-like plot twist which compels Bella to go to Italy to save Edward from self-destruction in seeking out the Volturi, a group of vampires that he seeks to provoke so that they might destroy him as he vowed in the early chapters.

Despite the novel idea of accident prone Bella potentially saving anyone, there remains the ever present image of the powerful male who comes to the rescue of Bella - suicidal Bella cliff diving and then being miraculously saved by Jacob, Bella amidst the Volturi protected by Edward, Bella torn between two powerful, macho males - Edward her love and Jacob her best friend. And this is how it ends with Bella trying to reconcile the two boys with the now new threat of the Volturi returning to claim her some time in the future.

For Eclipse, book three, I am hoping there will a moratorium on the following verbs: gasping, chortling, chuckling, gawking, eye rolling, gaping. Again, can a sister get a competent editor please? It's young adult fiction - that doesn't mean it has to be sloppily written and/or edited does it?

Also verboten please: the coldness and beauty of the vampires, how solid and marble-like they are; the perfection of Edward's face, his voice, his scent, his everything; the "russet" colour of the Indian folks' skin. Indian folk come in all shades thanks to Europeans' thoughtful invasion of their lands and near destruction of its peoples even on a reserve the size of La Push.

I'm being a bit snippy here about these deets but you can bet that I will be reading the third book this summer.


Anonymous said...

I totally relate - my daughter the teacher told me she wasn't speaking to me when said I liked Twilight! But I did!

A Lit Chick said...

oh, that snobbishness is silly ... that book gives people great pleasure.

Anonymous said...

OK Lit Chick, so I finally read New Moon. I was so disappointed.
It was very poorly written. I wish she had chosen to expand on the relationship between Bella and Edward and left out the werewolf stuff altogether. Instead of being sweet and full of feeling, this book was silly. This makes me sad because Twilight was such a real portrayal of teenage angst and longing for love. Sigh. I guess I will just roll my eyes, chuckle, and gasp at my godlike husband's beauty. Less is more.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Just as an example - the Cullens are intelligent and accomplished but can think of no better life than repeating high school over and over again? Talking about a living hell!!!

A Lit Chick said...

Yes, she is not a great writer. I absolutely agree but I do feel that she has tapped into a certain type of teenage angst which resonates with me still. Admittedly, I could not continue with book 3 as I felt it repeated the same romantic tropes and the sloppiness of the writing irked me. And yet I know a number of higly accomplished, intelligent women who are completely captivated by the series and the film. And I WILL be seeing New Moon. :)

Cheryl said...

I finally saw New Moon (the movie) and was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was way better than the book. Hooray for screenwriters!!!

A Lit Chick said...

Thanks Cheryl (and welcome). Love your blog, so prettty!