Thursday, August 20, 2009

Didn'tcha hear? Twilight's a Cautionary Tale

(Partially cross-posted to Livejournal. Read at own risk...plot points revealed within.)

So I have this friend. And by friend, I of course mean myself. And this 'friend', not five days ago, walked into Barnes and Noble and bought--you may want to sit down for this--Breaking Dawn. Yes, the Breaking Dawn of Stephenie Meyer infamy. And as she stood in line with the book unceremoniously stashed under one arm (hoping to keep the cover from view), she stared tensely straight ahead while willing the line to hurry the hell UP already, because every second that ticked by was a second someone she knew--perhaps one of the many, many people in her life she had berated for reading Twilight trash--might recognize her and read the truth of her ungodly errand in her eyes (and on her dust jacket). When--finally!--the sales clerk rang up her purchase, she told him impulsively that she was buying it for her 15-year-old niece.

That was a lie.

A horrifying, sordid, shameful lie.

The truth? I had to buy it. For myself. To read. As immediately as possible. If I could have slunk out of the store carrying it in a nondescript paper bag and then downed it in one gulp on the curb, I would have.

If any one of you had told me a month ago that I’d be typing these words, I’d have laughed in your face. But here I am. So allow me to start at the beginning, so that you to see for yourself just how quickly it’s possible to slide from literary elitism to rock bottom.

To be fair, that statement’s not completely accurate. I’ve never been a literary snob. A good story is, after all, a good story. But before last month, I did not apply that logic to the Twilight Saga. Oh, no. Ask any one of the people I positively ridiculed for reading it. (To all of whom I now humbly apologize…I won’t ‘out’ you; you know who you are.) I’d read a few excerpts, I’d seen for myself the sub-par prose, I’d heard tale of its manically insane and infantile fans, and I knew I would never be going anywhere near it. It didn’t hurt that Robert Pattinson just Does. Not. Do. It. For. Me. (Thank God.)

But then four simple facts changed everything: 1. I had nothing currently to read. 2. I had an iTunes gift card I wanted to use up. 3. I was about to embark upon a road trip of over 35+ hours of driving time, during which time I would be a 100% captive audience. 4. I get horribly motion sick at even the hint of the written word while in a moving vehicle.

You do the math.

Are you there yet? That’s right…I went to iTunes’ audio book bestseller list, and what do you think was at the top? Those disturbingly pale hands offering me that shiny, shiny apple.

I downloaded Twilight with nothing more than a curious shrug, uploaded it to my iPod, and somewhere around Reno, Nevada, I began to listen.

And I listened. And I listened. And I know I’m going to hell for this (my degree in literature right along with me), but I could not stop.

As God is my witness, I did scoff. I groaned aloud. I swore to myself on several occasions that if I heard the words “sparkle” or “breathlessly handsome” or “crooked smile” just one more time--just one more, dammit, don‘t push Stephenie--I would put it down.

But you know what happened. There were more crooked smiles and breathless good looks, and I did not put it down. What was it that mesmerized me? I still could not tell you. At every turn--once ever chapter at least--I found Bella to possess half the backbone she should. With every (audio) page, I thought Edward became more morose and self-loathing and controlling. By the time I came to the end of Twilight, I didn’t like either of them, but was beginning to think they deserved each other, for eternity or otherwise.

So I ask you: why did I download New Moon at very first opportunity (somewhere in Utah)? I don’t know, but I did. I did. And this time, I didn’t even have the excuse of ignorance. I knew what I was getting myself into…more broody teenage angst. More descriptions of Edward’s all-empowering awesomeness. Sweet-smelling blood and tears and more blood and then running from said blood. But what’s this? He dumps her? I sat up with renewed interest (somewhere in Colorado, I think). And then we got Jacob. Lots of Jacob. And I was even more interested. Because he was sarcastic. And funny. And took exactly no bullshit from Bella (unlike Edward, who had oddly turned into the pushover of the bunch). In fact, Jacob told Bella all the things I’d been shouting at her in my head since the Nevada-Utah border.

By the time I arrived in California, I’d downloaded Eclipse.

And by now, I was so used to the mortification each purchase triggered, I barely noticed the absence of my pride. I barely flinched at the word ‘sparkly’ now. Each time SMeyer blundered through a description or mysteriously dropped the suffix from her adjectives (truly, this is a baffling habit), I’d barely twitch. I was, I will admit, engrossed in the story. This is the due credit I will give her: I was interested enough to burn through these books. There, I said it.

I finished listening to Eclipse on the final stretch of freeway home (and I can honestly say I don’t even remember what happens in Eclipse, with the exception of the Jacob-tent-space-heater deliciousness), and that, my friends, is how I found myself desperately buying Breaking Dawn the very next day. What can I say? I simply had to know how the story ends.

I finished it yesterday. And that book is, in my opinion the feast de resistance of bizarre in a series of bizarre. With each new, insane plot turn, your threshold for ‘normal’ just keeps going up and up, until quite honestly, it could have been revealed that Bella was actually Edward’s biological sister and I would have thought, “Huh. Well, if you say so.” Each layer of whaaaa? builds until you’re buried under a numbing blanket of fluff and craziness. It’s like Novocain for reality. It’s like SMeyer painstakingly and artfully (ok, just painstakingly) wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages to create a series, then decided to drag it out back by the woodshed and shoot it.

Which is what brought me out of my stupor to finally…finally…form enough coherency to think, “Hey! I think I’ve just been insulted as a reader.”

And so now I feel vaguely sick. Like I’ve repeatedly ridden a roller coaster that kept me right on the edge between nausea and horror. Like I’ve lost all self control and eaten way too many See’s Bordeaux in one sitting. Either way, I’m done. And should have stopped long ago.

And I certainly feel better with this off my chest.

But I will leave you with just one pressing question for you to ponder (if you can stomach it). For the life of me I can’t decide which is creepier: Renesmee the character, or Renesmee the name? Because I’m pretty sure that was the moment something vital snapped in my brain.
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