Tuesday, December 30, 2008

So, you're still not over Twilight...

I admit: I am that girl. You know, the girl who read all four Twilight books and went to see the movie and (don’t laugh) thought Edward’s crooked smile was adorable. It sounds bad, but I’m here to confess my latest sin against intelligent thought. Even after I realized that the books were ridiculous and the movie was a low-budget, ridiculously cheesy farce that may have violated the Geneva Conventions by tormenting its audience with heaps of sloppy, angsty dialogue, I went back for more: I read the partial draft of “Midnight Sun.”

For those in the know (or anyone who’s remotely interested in the Twilight series), “Midnight Sun” is the first book of the quartet rewritten from Edward’s perspective. Unlike “Wicked” and other spin-off novels, “Midnight Sun” was written (or, to be more accurate, is in the process of being written), by Stephenie Meyer, the imaginative woman who penned the first four Twilight books. When someone in Meyer’s camp first leaked the draft of “Midnight Sun” she was furious over the apparent violation of her rights as an author and swore never to finish the novel. According to her website, she doesn’t want anyone to read the viral version of “Midnight Sun” but she also doesn’t want to spur readers to seek out the illegal version. As a compromise, she posted to the draft on her website but urged her fans not to read it. Luckily, I’m not a fan.

First, I need to add a little disclaimer. “Midnight Sun” only makes sense if you’ve read all of the other Twilight books. Many of the details of vampirism or the Cullen family history (for example, Jasper’s story) to which Edward alludes during his narration appear only in the last couple of books in the series. Wading through Edward’s tangled psyche is trying enough without having to figure out what you’ve missed from the other books. If you attempt “Midnight Sun” without the background provided by the rest of the “Twilight” books you might assume that you didn’t enjoy the draft because you missed some of the details when, in fact, you probably didn’t enjoy it because of the awful writing and tedious pace.

Question: Why read “Midnight Sun” at all?

Answer: You probably shouldn’t but sometimes you’re just THAT bored. Maybe you liked the books. Maybe you saw the movie. Maybe you thought the combination of the first two left something to be desired, so you kept digging.

For what it’s worth, “Midnight Sun” compares nicely with the original version of “Twilight.” In some ways, the vampire version is better, but in other ways, much worse. During pre-production for the film, Meyer and Robert Pattinson, who played Edward in the movie, worked together to develop a believable personality for the blood-sucking protagonist. The two disagreed on certain aspects because Pattison took the character to a tortured extreme. In several interviews, he said that he drew most of his inspiration for Edward from the “Midnight Sun” version. Well, that would explain why the character was such a huge creeper.

Essentially, “Midnight Sun” is not so much a different version of Twilight as it is a creepier version of Twilight (and I mean much, much creepier.) For what it’s worth, the creepiness does make the narration more interesting. My biggest gripe about Twilight was Bella’s lack of depth as a character. Her motivations seemed so ridiculous. She was just acting out a teenage daydream and projecting unrealistic fantasies on the people around her. How boring. In contrast, Edward is seriously sick in the head. Every sleazy voyeur dreams of Edward’s powers. Not only can he scale walls and silently climb into the bedrooms of unsuspecting girls and not only can he remain completely still while observing his subject for hours, he can read minds. In other words, he can spy on people through their own eyes. He experiences the fantasies of all the high school girls around him from the first person point of view. Talk about freaky—Freud would have loved to get his hands on some of that crazy.

As disturbing as that sounds, it makes for much more compelling reading than Bella’s whiny oh-my-gosh-did-he-just-look-at-me-wow internal monologue. That’s the best thing about crazy people: they are so much fun. Edward’s narration has some of the same attraction that Heath Ledger’s Joker commanded in “The Dark Knight.” You caught hints of Edward’s mental instability in the Twilight books. For example, even the oblivious Bella was a little freaked out by Edward’s penchant for watching her sleep in the original novel. In the “Midnight Sun” version, his psychological issues are a little more apparent. For example, the first time he climbs in her window he realizes he should bring oil to grease up the hinges on the window for future visits. Creep much?

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Just like Meyer’s other books, the narration quickly becomes tedious and plot development slows to a crawl. No amount of crazy can make up for the fact that nothing is really happening in the story. And Edward’s crazy isn’t a dynamic, fluid, fascinating crazy like the Joker. He’s a one-trick pony. His emotional agony, which should have been a symphony of crazy with rolling highs and bitter lows from a century’s worth of experience, had just one note: angst. In the hands of a better author, “Midnight Sun” could have been very cool. Beautiful, bloodthirsty, mind-reading immortal struggles with his conscience for control of his superhuman body, agile mind, and frail emotions—what’s not to love? Unfortunately, Stephenie Meyer is not a better author and “Midnight Sun” has many of the failings of the first version.

So, if you’re like me, no review is going to deter you from satisfying your curiosity, but you’ve been warned. When you’re done reading, you’ll realize that all 264 pages of the draft could be summed up by, “Hi. My name is Edward the Vampire. I like to kill people, but let’s keep that on the down-low while I stalk this high school girl. P.S. I’m in your head.”


Jill said...

I LOVED your article. Hilarious. I too am "that" girl who spent most of winter break reading all four Twilight novels despite the bad writing and cheesy plot. I didn't know there was a parallel book (series to follow?) to the Twilight series, but I will definitely be looking forward to Midnight Sun.

Reason said...


Certain themes pop up in the vampire novels, over and over again, as detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article. The vampires are of course of perfect physique, washboard abs, and beautiful countenances. The vampires are all "rich" and have wealth, and often power, in their own secret societies. Interestingly, most of the novels feature byzantine politics and "treaties" with humans and fellow vampires, other supernatural creatures, that the female protagonists must navigate. The parallels to the tortuous "Mean Girl" politics of High School Girl Popularity are of course, obvious. The female protagonists of course do nothing, really, except land the most powerful, and politically influential (in the "secret society") vampire, and become the "Head Mean Girl" of the supernatural version of High School. Indeed, many of them are set in Vampire Prep Schools.

For all of feminism's chorus of changing society, it is instructive that none of these novels show the protagonist gaining a career, a skill, a family with a supportive husband, or entering into a traditionally male field where the protagonist is accepted as an equal on her own terms. No, instead what these novels provide is the vicarious thrills of being the most popular and powerful girl in school, with the Big Man on Campus as the eternal boyfriend, forever. With no adult responsibility, or anything else to intrude in the "forever now," where time and the idea of time, simply does not exist. No planning for college, no career focus, no concern about family. None of that.

It's striking, how young women want so little of what feminism offered, and indeed chose the exact opposite — updated versions of the Bronte novels, only with supernatural overtones. Contrary to Freud, we can read these novels and discover what their readers want (they certainly reward the authors well, with sales in the millions). Which is, with respect to men, perfect physiques, physical power far in excess of other men, wealth that does not require work, or a daily job, and very hierarchical, feudal style politics echoing that of female cliques in High School.

Which points to the big difference in preferred social structures between men and at least as indicated by the vampire novels, young women. Men like "flat" social hierarchies, where hard work, leadership, and talent combined can give them opportunities to be part of a "winning team" that expands their own social network. Just as Grant and Sherman both protected each other politically, when each was at a low ebb, so too do the preferred social hierarchies of men protect against losing (since to move ahead takes risk). Achievement is measured in concrete goals accomplished — enemy cities taken, armies destroyed, supplies destroyed or rendered useless. In peacetime, games won, or items sold, or buildings constructed. All of which require cooperation, trust, and delegation of duties, indeed specialization, to accomplish anything big and worthwhile.

None of which, of course, are evident in the profoundly feminine world of the Vampire romances. There might be males in them, but they don't bear any resemblance to what most men consider "manly" anymore than Lord Byron would be any man's idea (at least any straight man's) idea of a role model. Indeed, while the relationship is paramount for the female protagonists of the Vampire romance books, for men in fantasy novels dealing with the supernatural, it is usually just an afterthought. Build an army, an alliance of trust, defeat the monster, and get the girl. All of which happen in sequence, as a result of being a supernatural Bill Walsh or William Tecumseh Sherman. Known to his troops as "Uncle Billy" and in the years after, in the habit of quietly assisting his former troops with food and money if they called at his house. For the girls in the Vampire books, it is of course the reverse. Get the brooding, Byronic hunky vampire guy, and then get the rewards, such as social power, eternal beauty, and popularity.