Review of TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer (see her website)
Little Brown, September 2006
When her mother wants to follow her new husband on the minor league baseball circuit, Isabella (Bella) Swan decides to move in with her father in cold and damp Forks, Washington. The school there is much smaller than she was used to in Phoenix, and most of her clothes are unsuitable for the colder weather, but she's resolved to suffer through it. It doesn't hurt that her father has gone out of his way to buy her a new (used) pickup truck. It also doesn't hurt that she's suddenly the most popular girl in the school, with any number of guys lining up to ask her to the dance. Bella has eyes only for Edward.
There's something odd about Edward and his siblings. First, they sit in the cafeteria without eating. Second, they're far more beautiful and move more gracefully than ordinary people. Bella's sense that something is off grows stronger when Edward rescues her from a sliding truck by putting out his arm and stopping the truck--creating a deep dent in its steel at the same time. Although Edward wants nothing to do with Bella, he seemingly can't keep himself away.
Gradually, Bella and Edward admit their feelings toward one another--and Bella learns that Edward is a vampire--but the nice kind who feeds on animals rather than on humans (although he had gone through a serial killer phase in his past but he's pretty sure he can now control himself--even if being with Bella stresses his control to the maximum). When a vampire baseball game attracts some not-so-nice vampires, though, Bella becomes the bait in a intra-vampire war.
TWILIGHT has become a huge hit and it's easy to see why. Author Stephanie Meyer writes well enough, keeping the reader engaged. Bella's transition from apparent social outcast (whom everyone in the school wants to be friends with or date) to the one girl who attracts the perfect guy every other girl wants offers a huge amount of wish fulfillment for the target audience--teenage girls. Fortunately for Bella, she doesn't have to do anything to be worthy of Edward's love--there's something inate within her that makes her his dream woman. She can be as snarky as she wants and he simply can't resist.
I had some issues with the story. First, I didn't see Bella and Edward relating as human beings, but simply being consumed by a sensual attraction that flowed from (in the case of Bella's attraction to Edward) his natural predator camouflage or (in the case of Edward's attraction for Bella) a perfect prey match. I would have liked to see that instinctive attraction deepen by shared interests--but I really didn't get this feel. Second, Edward's self-condemnation seemed forced. He's taken the pledge, after all. It's not at all clear that he feels any remorse for the killing he did during his rebellious youth, so, why does he claim to be so bad? Could it be simply that Meyer needed a reason for Bella and Edward to fight the attraction?
Most of TWILIGHT consists of watching Bella and Edward court--with the two obsessing over one another and claiming eternal love, with Edward complaining about Bella's tendency to get herself in fatal situations from which he must rescue her, and with Bella failing to pay attention to her classes because she's so interested in looking at Edward (I can certainly remember classes spent staring at attractive members of the opposite sex when I was in High School so I can relate to this). In the last quarter of the book, Meyer appears to decide that the story needs a bit of action and introduces an evil vampire of the human-killing sort--who instantly is attracted to Bella as food. The transition from pure love story to fantasy-action is a bit abrupt.
In Meyer's world, all it takes to become a vampire is a quick inoculation with the vampire virus, a couple of days of horrible pain, and that's it. Being a vampire means you're effectively immortal (unless chopped into small bits and incinerated), have incredible beauty and grace, become even more beautiful in the sunlight (not sure why this is pro-survival for the vampire species, but it's a reason vampires hide), superhuman strength (think the ability to lift a truck), superhuman speed (faster than a speeding baseball), and don't even have to kill people if they choose not to. So, why shouldn't we all become vampires?
I found TWILIGHT to be highly readable and I can certainly understand its popularity--because of the wish fulfillment it offers. For me, I would have liked more focus on what makes the characters worthy of one another, the action-adventure to start earlier and feel less like an afterthought, and a bit more fully fleshed out world-building.
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