Of course, there was no way around it. I was going to have to read The Book. Not just because I am one of those hopeless voyeurs of pop culture – - long after I’ve popped, and despite being an outspoken literary…well…snob. And not just because I AM sort of a vampire myself, feeding on the lives and experiences of others to bring energy to my work. (Hopefully, the victims feel no pain.)
I was going to read The Book because it was about young women and desire, about unattainable longing. About wanting something that’s bad for you but wanting it anyway. It was about the birth of self-knowledge, when you realize you have the power to evoke something crazy and wonderful in someone else. It was about the nostalgia of discovery.
It’s not just that I read the book: I really enjoyed it.
Twilight, the first installment in Stephanie Meyer’s wildly popular young adult fantasy / romance series, is about a smart, capable, too-mature girl with irrelevant, clueless parents (as voted into genre law years ago by the Dawson Act) who moves to live with her dad in a backwater Northwestern town, in order to give her mom and new step-father some space.
It’s always raining and dark in her new hometown, and the kids are super nice, and, as a consequence, terribly unsophisticated. Bella (and, one assumes, her millions of adoring teen fanettes) is just miserable enough to need saving by something far less disappointing than another boring, bumbling, self-absorbed human male.
Enter Edward Cullen, whose name I saw in tender teen phrases on Facebook Flair long before I knew who the hell that was. Meet Edward: He simmers with anger, he crackles with mystery. He is the ageless, sinewy, well-dressed, drop-dead gorgeous loner of a sophisticate who has little interaction with his peers, out of choice. (No female has ever gotten through his well-polished armor, although clearly there have been many attempts.) There is something beneath the pale glow of Edward’s skin and the smoldering hellfire in his eyes that everyone fears and covets. He is aloof and intense and ….you get the picture, yes?…
…And when he looks at Bella across the room, she is a goner.
Perhaps literally. Because, as most of you must know by now via osmosis, Edward is a vampire, a 107- year-old virgin (he’s been 17 for nine decades) who was “turned” as a teen at the turn of the century (the other century) and belongs to a committed ‘vegetarian’ coven founded by the town’s doctor – - also a vampire, unbeknownst to his patients.
These ethical and aesthetic batmen hunt animals instead, and live peacefully with the unsuspecting humans. Poor Edward lives in a constant state of mild thirst but manages to quell his longings via morality. Three cheers for religion and erotic abstinence!! Meyers is a Mormon, by the way…
But here’s The Thing: Bella challenges Cullen’s 90-year-long ascetic diet with her heavenly scent, driving him to distraction (“You are,” he tells her later, “exactly my brand of heroine.” Ha, ha, and shriek / faint…) and making him want to break all of his sacred vows. Hey, can anyone hear a Thornbird chirping?
Cullen suffers terribly: He wants to be with Bella, but doubts he can do so without harming her. He doesn’t think he can resist her, but is driven both by the insane competitiveness we can only have with ourselves, and by something like love, to push the limits of his self-control. He follows her in the shadows, both hunting her and protecting her, tortured by the possibility that he may harm her, tortured by the possibility that someone else will, tortured by the option of NOT being with her. (Western society has admired altruistic, super-human outsiders who submit themselves to torture for roughly 2000 years.)
You can just hear the planet’s girls swoon when Cullen mutters (musically, we are told) things like, “I’m tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella…” (Sigh) and “You have no idea how long I’ve waited for you…” (LOL) and “…So the lion falls in love with the lamb…” Again, you get the idea.
Clearly, Meyers knows teen girls. She also knows religious teen girls – in any religion – because I grew up Orthodox (Jewish) and I wish I had a quarter for every guy in high school who told me something like Edward’s, “I decided as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.” You know who you are, dear readers.
What emerged for me most strongly from the reading, however, was the crazy desire to be Edward (or his “sister” Alice), not the besotted human Bella. He doesn’t need to eat, doesn’t need to sleep, is effortlessly lean and chic and graceful and fast, and has a ferocious, yet dignified, feral quality about him…the better to hunt you with, my dear.
There is something about the super-human. And something about the hunt.
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