You want to tread with care when you’re treading on the dreams of young girls, but by God, that pitiless fountain of Mormon gibberish Stephenie Meyer is a bad writer, so bad she’s apparently unable to spell her own first name. An English BA at BYU doesn’t keep you from writing sentences like “It was just the sort of car that my truck would make scrap metal of.” This would perhaps acceptable in a young girl’s diary, but not in a book narrated by someone who is a brilliant student, as Bella Swan is supposed to be.
And any one who has done a bit of teaching knows a Bella: she can recite the right book titles even if she hasn’t cracked the books.
Swan—a delicate flower transplanted into a school full of muddy-booted Cascadian rednecks—is unable to describe her love object in any better way than “he was handsomer than any movie star,” “a Greek God,” “imagine the handsomest man in the universe and he would be the muggliest creature in Mugglyville compared to that hot vampire of mine …” I made up the last of the three, but I couldn’t make up the first two.
In one scene in Twilight, Meyer introduces the Native American character who tells the legend of “the Cold Ones”: the tribe of emo vampires who have lived in the Pacific Northwest even before Nevermind came out. (It used to be Gypsies that did the explanation. Here it’s Indians.) Meyer’s attempt to lighten the scene includes the following line: “’You wouldn’t happen to knew where I could get my hands on a master cylinder for a 1986 Volkswagen Rabbit?’” he asked jokingly.” Aw, he busts me up. Remember that time he asked if you knew where you could find a tail light for a Jetta? Almost swallowed my tongue.
The publishing industry is praying that Meyer will be the next J. K. Rowling: start the deforestation already! I’m not a slavish fan of that Hogwarts series, but I feel you can meet Harry Potter halfway. Those books were for young adult readers, but you make allowances and read fast. Moreover, Rowling is obviously a writer with compassion and some breadth of knowledge. And she isn’t a prude; maybe the Twilight books are bestsellers because there aren’t any sensual undercurrents. It turns a powerful and erotic literary tradition, the legend of the vampires, into something like the earnestly sensual horse paintings 12-year-olds used to make. And Bella, deciding breathlessly to wait for Edward to make his move, is a step backward for children raised with the minxish Hermoine.
This is retrograde stuff, a series that’ll show up at your door on time in a coat and a tie, will call you ‘sir,’ and will bring your daughter home by 10 on the dot.
Strangely, the TV shows Twilight sources so shamelessly are much more transgressive than the books. Twilight is like reading someone doing a blow-by-blow description of an episode of Dawson’s Creek or Smallville. Compare the first reveal to an outsider of Clark Kent’s powers on Smallville when he saved someone from a car crash—exactly what Edward does to the stuck-up and oddly inert Bella.
Someone ought to do an essay “The Literary Offenses of Stephenie Meyer,” using Mark Twain’s hit piece on James Fennimore Cooper as a model. This Wal-Mart Gothic is as heavy as a brick and every bit as intelligent, and its sequels are reportedly worse. It’s doing damage. When Amazon calls Twilight, the “book of the decade,” there’s trouble afoot because the next blockbuster will be just that much lowest-common-denominator. And now comes the film …
Tomorrow: the film itself. Admittedly, movie history is full of dreadful books making good movies …