by Linda Holmes
In considering topics for the kickoff of our Twilight discussions, it occurred to me that since I don't know how many of you have entirely finished the book, we should start with something you can have an opinion about from the early chapters: the writing style.
There's also no better way to kick off a discussion than with a discussion, so I'm going to seed our conversation with an exchange I had with frequent Monkey See contributor Marc Hirsh. We raise a bunch of different things here, and in the comments, you should feel free to energetically agree, disagree, create entirely new tangents, or quote your favorite and least favorite lines to illustrate your point. Our discussion does not include significant spoilers, with the exception of things that you knew before you read the book if you have any understanding of the phenomenon. But FYI, as of the time we had this talk, Marc had read about half the book, and I'd read almost all of it.
My general plan is to start off modestly, with this post and your comments, and if it goes well and there's enough interest, maybe we'll actually do a live chat or two later this week or next. And, of course, if there's more interest, we'll pick a new book after that. Because, often, I will if you will.
We were discussing differences between book and movie, and wound up here, having a conversation about what I would personally say is the weakest thing about the book, which is ... the writing itself.
Linda: Edward, in the book, has a sense of humor. Edward, in the movie, does absolutely nothing but scowl miserably the entire time with his bright red lips.
Marc: You mean the chiseled lips on his perfect face?
Linda: Beneath his topaz eyes, yes.
Marc: How many times does she describe his face? And how many of those times does she fail to venture beyond "perfect"? There's no charm to it. It's tell, don't show, over and over and over. She just leans on repetition until her readers finally scream "Uncle! He's beautiful! I want him!"
Linda: The entire book is "tell, don't show," yes. Not just regarding his perfect face.
Marc: Right. I'm 220 pages in, and so far Bella has moved to Washington, started school, been saved from an accident, gone to the beach and gone to Seattle. How is that 200 pages of content? It would be fine if she had an interesting internal life or if Meyer were a perceptive observer (or a sharp describer). But none of these things are true. She is spinning her wheels like a car stuck in mud. (See what I just did there?)
Linda: Well, and here's my other thing -- it has this tone like it's written by an old lady, because it's stodgy and dry. But she doesn't have an old lady's sense of perspective on her situation. So it just doesn't work.
Marc: Right. And as for the little mocking I did there of Meyer's previously-discussed tendency to pick the bluntest, least-interesting analogy, allow me to quote the following, from page 190:
"I quickly rubbed my hand across my cheek, and sure enough, traitor tears were there, betraying me."
That's like saying, "I took a bite, taking some of the food in my mouth." Who writes like that? Who edits and leaves that in?
Linda: TRAITOR TEARS! You know what traitors do? They betray you.
Moats, creaky old vamps, and other marvels, after the jump.
Marc: Right. That's why you call them traitor tears. YOU DON'T HAVE TO EXPLAIN THAT THAT THEREFORE MEANS THEY BETRAY YOU. Somebody's stupid here, and I think she thinks it's me. (Also: "traitor tears" is walking the line as it is.)
Linda: TRAAAAAAITOR TEARS.
Marc: It's just this wildly florid prose that's wielded with the subtlety and repetition of a jackhammer, all in the service of a story that's going nowhere being told by a girl who seems to be fighting me for the gold medal in a not-liking-her contest.
Marc: I have also discovered, which is annoying me, Meyer's propensity for inserting clauses, where they will dangle, in the middle of sentences.
Linda: This is quite true.
Marc: Almost halfway done!
Linda: And loving it!
Marc: Also. Also! She wrote the reveal that Edward is a vampire in such a gradual, drawn-out manner that there was no impact whatsoever when it's finally confirmed. She might as well have learned that he once lived in Toronto but moved to Forks when he was about 4. That's about the impact that it has when it finally comes out.
Linda: Yes. It is a very slow reveal.
Marc: I kept on thinking about Ebert's criticism of A Few Good Men, which is that Tom Cruise's character tells us what he's going to do in court, does it and then tells us what he just did. Bella gets an idea that he might be a vampire, then she looks it up, then she thinks he might be a vampire, then she confirms it. The collective response is, "Ah." It really should be "Dun!"
Linda: I did kind of like that she Googles vampires. Which, after all, is what you would do.
Marc: Yes. And then she settles on the single entry out of hundreds that fits what she wants to believe. Which is, sadly, also common.
Linda: WIKIPEDIA FTW!
Marc: It's just very badly written on many levels.
Linda: Yes, it is.
Marc: Maybe Meyer's like the guy from Memento. Maybe that explains why she constantly repeats herself, why she describes Edward's face over and over again, why she says "the boy named Jacob" a page after she introduces him by name (meaning that she could have just said, you know, "Jacob"), why she keeps changing his eye color and why she writes "traitor tears were there, betraying me." Because she can't remember what she's already written.
Linda: "Happy tears were there, being happy."
Marc: "Green leaves were swaying in the wind, greenly."
Linda: "He took me in his arms, and we embraced, and he hugged me, and we put our hands on each other's backs."
Marc: "I raised my hand, putting it into the air, holding it aloft as I lifted it and reached skyward."
Linda: Well, this is what I was getting at when the very first sentence from the book that I called out was "The tall one was statuesque." They don't exactly mean precisely the same thing, but there is enough overlap that it is not a good use of words.
Marc: Well, I thought it was dumb on account of "statuesque" not being a destination descriptor. You can use it, but you need more than just that or you're lazy.
Linda: Well, once you get used to the fact that "statuesque" really sort of encompasses "tall" (it's very rare to hear short folk described as "statuesque"), you just have a sentence reading, "The statuesque one."
Marc: Right. And then you have to keep writing, which is, like, hard and stuff.
Linda: Honestly, there's part of me that blames, among other things, wretched editing. Because what sold the book was the story, and they could have created a MUCH more palatable book with proper editing.
Marc: Well, this is what I've said. That "statuesque" sentence is followed by: "She had a beautiful figure, the kind you saw on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue." A good editor should have told her, "That is not sufficient. You have to actually write something. You can't just leave it at 'She was as attractive as something that society has deemed attractive.' You really need to push a little harder on that."
Also, in an incident that damns both Meyer and her editor, there is a line about "dust moats" floating in the light. ...Moats. Of dust.
Ah, here it is: "I ate breakfast cheerily, watching the dust moats stirring in the sunlight that streamed in the back window." I think she was going for "mote": "a small particle; speck."
Linda: Dust moats! Dusty moats! Moaty dust!
Marc: Keeping out the dust barbarians!
Linda: "If you want my daughter, the princess, you shall have to cross this MOAT OF DUST!"
Marc: "Lower the lint drawbridge!"
Linda: "Sic the bunnies!" Hee hee, "moats."
Linda: "Stay outta the castle!"
Marc: "Or fear the wrath of my poor housekeeping!"
Linda: And like I said, I don't understand why parts of it are written like Ye Olde Magick Tale, like it's written by an ancient professor. But the content is still very immature. It's like, "Nigh on two weeks ago, yea did I have pizza." There's no distance from teenagerhood in perspective, but there is in tone.
Marc: Maybe it's meant to be a direct analog with Edward. Maybe the only way it wouldn't be creepy for him to have a century-old mind in a teenager's body, she has to have the same.
Linda: Wow, that is ... a good observation. If she talked like any kind of credible teenager, it would seem way weirder that he's a hundred years old.
Marc: Holy [bleep], did I just stumble into actual analysis of this thing?
Marc: Now I'm scared.