As I said on Facebook when I took that picture, I am not prepared. And after reading the first seventy-one pages (the amount I need to read daily to finish it in a week) I’m thinking I’m still not prepared. Perhaps if I’d fortified myself by reading some Stoker and drinking a fifth of bad, bottom-shelf scotch I would be prepared. But I didn’t and I’m not.
Where do I even begin?
Ok, let’s just summarize the plot: Bella Swan (short for Isabella but I’m sure Meyer intended for her name to mean “beautiful swan”), who lives
happily preferably in Arizona with her scatter-brained mother, martyrs herself by moving to Forks, Washington, the rainiest, most depressingly non-Arizona place on the earth, to live with her father Charlie. Why she does this isn’t explained for nearly fifty pages but, boy howdy, does Meyer have Bella tell you often just how much she HATES Forks. She hates the clouds, the lack of sun (which is separate from the clouds), and the rain. She hates that it is small, and not pretty (though she does mention she thinks the green of the plant life is pretty but wraps that up into the general “BUT IT’S NOT ARIZONA” vibe she’s got going) and that the people aren’t interesting. She also hates it because her father, whose only apparent crime in life is that he lived in Forks because he’s presented as nothing but a stand-up guy who is generous with his daughter (by buying her a truck and providing her a place to live) and loves her very much (as seen by several gestures and the number of her pictures scattered through his house), is there.
You later find out she moved to Forks to allow her mother to be free to follow her new, minor league baseball playing husband around without having to worry about bringing her daughter or leaving her at home. *staples hand to forehead* Woe, woe for Bella Swan.
Moving on, Bella goes to school and meets a bunch of people that, frankly, she doesn’t seem to be able to be bothered with. She spends much of her first day minimizing the generous help she gets from people, forgetting their names in a fairly snooty fashion, and brands the first boy to talk to her as an “overly helpful chess club type”. God forbid she associate with one of those sorts of boys. At lunch she sees Edward Cullen. Edward is part of the Cullen family, a total coincidence I assure you, who have also adopted two other kids who are Hales. Edward is many things including (in the first seventy-one pages) beautiful x 5 (four of these were in the three pages where she first saw him), gorgeous, absurdly handsome, very attractive, dazzling, flawless, perfect x 2 and stunning, which reads a little like the stats of a Revised Edition Mind’s Eye Theater Toreador (that’s a LARP reference for the uninitiated). I will be continuing to keep a count as the series progresses, I assume the number of these and similar adjectives will rise.
So, Edward and his family sit alone and seem snobbish or standoffish to the other kids of the school. Yes, some of the girls of the school think Edward is attractive but none of them are stuck with such moon-eyed, self-punishing wonder as Bella. Perhaps the other girls at the school have grown immune to Edward’s beauty rays and Bella, being new, has no defense against his hawtness; regardless, she is so fascinated she can’t stop looking at him. Eventually lunch ends and she goes to Biology class where, I’m sure you’ll be surprised by this, Edward is sitting at a work station with the only empty seat in the class.
Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Edward spends the entire class glaring at her hatefully and trying to be anywhere but near her while still sitting in a chair next to her, which does nothing to minimize Bella’s attraction to him. Edward tries to switch science classes to one with 100% less Bella Swan and fails and does the next best thing by leaving school for a few days. Because if there’s one thing Edward is, it’s subtle.
A few days later Bella is in the school parking lot when another student loses control of the van he is driving on a patch of ice and very nearly squashes Bella. He only very nearly squashes her because Edward suddenly swoops in, pushes her to safety, and stops the van from killing her with his bare hands.
Like I said. Subtle.
Bella is whisked away to the hospital to get checked out where she confronts Edward about him saving her life and essentially has the following conversation.
“I totally saw you speed across the distance of four cars, knock me out of the way, then stop a sliding van with your bare hands!”
“No you didn’t!”
“Yes I did!”
Edward doesn’t tell her what’s going on but implies he’d like her to keep what she totally didn’t see to herself. Bella leaves the hospital with only some slight aches, while the boy in the van had his face get sliced up by glass. She goes back to school and we leave off with the days before the Forks High School’s version of a Sadie Hawkins dance.
“What about the writing, Matt?”
What about the writing. Oy.
It’s…it’s bad. Bad in so many ways. First there’s the over-all style of the writing. Meyer abuses adverbs like she bought them in bulk from a dollar store and flings them about at will. Now, don’t get me wrong, I use adverbs in my writing but sparingly (see what I did there?). A few adverbs can add a nice descriptive touch to a scene, rounding out the details, but too many and it smacks of laziness; why bother to “show” and not “tell” when you can just say “he smiled perfectly” instead of describing what a perfect smile looked like? This is a pretty frequent issue in these first seventy-one pages; more often than not it feels that we’re being told what’s happening, rather than being shown. Then there’s the adverbs she uses. Take this example: “…the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van’s body”. Now, I get how his hands being there to stop the van could be an example of providence (i.e. luck or sent by God), but them fitting into the dent they’d caused isn’t providential. I get the intent but the usage feels awkward to me.
Then there’s the editing. Look, I know that my writing could often use a good edit or two and that my editrix often makes my pages bleed with red ink but let’s consider the following passages:
“Finding the school wasn’t difficult, though I’d never been there before. The school was, like most things, just off the highway. It was not obvious that it was a school; only the sign, which declared it to be the Forks High School, made me stop.”
So you have a school which is some how not obviously a school despite the fact that it’s so easy to find a person who has never seen it before can locate and identify it and there are SIGNS IN FRONT OF THE BUILDINGS THAT PROCLAIM THE BUILDINGS BEHIND THE SIGNS ARE, IN FACT, A SCHOOL. Here’s a picture example of how obvious a sign makes something.
The one on the left? Is it a school, is it a church, I don’t know? The one on the right? Yeah… Now, the rest of the paragraph illustrates what Meyer was getting at, that the buildings themselves were not in a shape that Bella would’ve associated with school buildings (they looked like brick houses while Bella is used to gulag-like bunkers behind chain-link fences), but the first part of the paragraph I quoted doesn’t help convey that intent at all, especially when you find out two pages later that all the buildings have large, black numbers painted on them making it even more obvious what the buildings might be.
Then there’s this: “His hair was dripping, wet, disheveled — even so, he looked like he’d just finished shooting a commercial for hair gel.” I don’t know about you but every commercial for hair gel I’ve ever seen has never had a guy in it that was “wet, dripping, disheveled” except at the beginning before the poor schmuck got his hands on the Wonder Goo 5000 and became a perfectly made-up, commercial model. The images are contradictory, and meant to be so in the hair gel commercial. Maybe Meyer meant to say that Edward needs to get his sparkle hands on a tub of Wonder Goo 5000 to tend to his bronze (yes, his hair is bronze colored) locks.
Lastly, let’s get to the belle (har har) of the ball: Bella. Bella, to me, comes across as an image-obsessed, self-focused, self-punishing, liar of an individual. She bemoans the fact that she’s not some stereotypically tanned Arizona/valley girl despite being, apparently, fairly attractive, pale, and slender; considering how she describes one of the Cullens girls as Sports Illustrated swim suit model, “the kind that made every girl around her take a hit on her self-esteem just by being in the same room”, you can see Bella’s standard of beauty.
As stated, she’s dismissive of the people she meets and the help she receives on her first day despite people positively falling over themselves to help her and get to know her, often throwing in bits about their appearance that one can read to be negative (such as the “chess club” kid or a girl “with a really bad perm”). Hell, if I’d had people be that friendly to me on my first day of school I probably would’ve been a lot better off; as it is, the person she describes as “the nicest person to help her all day” is an attractive and friendly young man named Mike, a person who she barely has talked to before she proclaims him the “nicest”. That seems to be the thing that separates Mike being friendly from the scads of other helpful people Bella dismissed throughout the day: he’s attractive and male and not Edward.
The self-punishing descriptor comes from the fact that it is obvious that Edward doesn’t like Bella yet she wants him. Now, let me describe, in quotes, some of the ways that Edward reacts to her:
“He stared at me again, meeting my eyes with the strangest expression on his face — it was hostile, furious.”
“He was leaning away from me, sitting on the extreme edge of his chair and averting his face like he smelled something bad”
“He was glaring down at me again, his black eyes full of revulsion.”
“But Edward Cullen’s back stiffened, and he turned slowly to glare at me — his face absurdly handsome — with piercing, hate-filled eyes.”
And yet no truer words were written in these first seventy-one pages than when Bella thinks “If I was being honest with myself, I knew I was eager to get to school because I would see Edward Cullen. And that was very, very stupid.” Hell, she expresses disappointment that he doesn’t show up to school after her first day there when he was giving her nothing but “I’M JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU AND WOULD, IN FACT, PREFER YOU EITHER MOVED BACK TO ARIZONA OR CEASED TO BE” vibes.
Now, being male I’ve never been a teenage girl so I have no idea if this chasing after someone who is being a dick to you is something that Typically happens with teenage girls (although from my own experience I know I’ve gone after some people I probably shouldn’t have so maybe it’s much more universal), but considering the amount of animosity he was throwing her way, one would assume a reasonable person would stay away from someone who glares at them with hate in their eyes and whose hands curl into fists every time they see them. Yes, I’m sure there’s a reason for this behavior that supposedly makes sense later but, for now, Edward screams “abusive jerk-off, stay away” and what does Bella do? Continue looking at him longingly.
Bella also is a liar. She lies to everyone, she lies to her dad, her mom, the classmates she meets. She even lies to herself. Let’s consider that the reasoning she gives Edward for wanting to know “what’s going on” because she “wants to know why [she’s] lying for [him]” and that she doesn’t like to lie. And yet, despite apparently not liking lying, she pretty much spends all of the subsequent email communications with her mom lying to her.
Bella’s not the most internally consistent character I’ve ever met.
Beyond these things that I find to be flaws, she is also, supposedly, very clumsy. How clumsy? “Crippling” clumsy. Despite that, she has only two times shown any evidence of clumsiness by tripping over something. I’ve seem clumsy people. Bella’s just easily distracted.
And I’m disappointed, not a single sparkle in the first installment.
I have heard from several people that the writing improves over the course of the series. Maybe that’s true, but I still have 427 pages to get through of this book and if the rest of them are as bad as this I’m going to need emergency alcohol, stat.