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More 'Twilight': Is Bella A Sympathetic Teenager Or A Weird Marble Fetishist?

Today in our consideration of Twilight: Seriously, what is Bella's deal? hide caption

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In today's edition of the Twilight-reading I Will If You Will Book Club, we present a discussion of Bella Swan, our heroine — who, we have to admit, does not entirely make sense to us. Once again, I am joined by Monkey See contributor and non-member of the Twilight target demographic Marc Hirsh.

Linda: So when we first started discussing this book, the very first thing you told me was ... what was it again? That you thought Bella was TOTALLY AWESOME?

Marc: That IS what I said, yes.

Linda: Okay, that's not what you said. You said something about maybe the least likable protagonist ever.

Marc: My exact words were "Bella is one of the most genuinely unlikable protagonists of any book I've read. Certainly recently, possibly ever." She's like a Smiths song without the humor. Or if Roald Dahl had decided Veruca Salt was the hero.

Linda: To what degree, though, is that the result of the fact that she is a teenage girl, and therefore kind of immature? (Nothing against teenage girls, but they can tend toward drama, simply because ... it sometimes comes with the territory. I was one.)

Marc: No, that's a very good point, and I'm sure that that has a great deal to do with the books' popularity amongst that particular demographic, the fact that they might be able to relate. But my devotion to the Shangri-Las — who are nothing BUT hyperbolic teen angst — tells me that I'm not against adolescent melodrama. I just think that Bella's is drawn in particularly crude and unsympathetic brushstrokes.

Linda: You know, part of it, to me, was that I never understood why she was so grouchy. What's to be so miserable about? The fact that it rains? The fact that you trip over things sometimes?

Marc: Right. She goes on and on and on about how unappealing she is, and then she's asked to the dance by three non-mythical boys, and she turns them all down. And then she laments how alone and unappealing she is all over again. Pay attention, girl!

Linda: I love, love, love the way those boys just parade through the story so that she can deny all of them, boom-boom, boom. "I shall not go to the dance with you, sir! Nor you! Nor you!" They have absolutely no other reason to exist.

Marc: If her reaction to that had been frustration that she attracts boys that don't interest her while the object of her own crush rebuffs her, that would be a different story. But she continues to insist that nobody will ever like her, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Linda: Considering that she apparently stumbles around like a sedated clown (seriously, how many times did her clumsiness come up?), perhaps she's right. Maybe she was standing still when they asked her out, and she was afraid that when she started walking and immediately fell down, the spell would be broken.

Marc: She is attractive only in stillness. Her clumsiness... Wow. In my entire life, I have never met anyone who was as uncoordinated as Bella. I was surprised that she was allowed in the kitchen.

Linda: Maybe they only have dull knives.

Marc: With round tips. Charlie has nothing but pizza cutters. Which, considering how Charlie is portrayed as a cooking-incompetent bachelor, could be the case, actually.

We turn to Bella's combination of vampire-loving and domesticity, after the jump.

Linda: You know, to take Bella seriously for a moment (I KNOW), it's very interesting how careful the book is to take her I-love-vampires side, which is sort of sex-seeking (once you accept the biting = sex metaphor that basically drives the entire series), and balance it with this super-domestic side where she CONSTANTLY describes the food she's cooking for her father to keep him from, like, gnawing on soup cans in the backyard.

Marc: She's responsible for her man's food in one way or the other, I suppose.

Linda: Ba-dump-bump!

Marc: Hiyo!

Linda: What I kind of don't get is her self-loathing, in the following sense: I would summarize her initial meetings with Edward as, "He hated me, so obviously, I was desperate for his positive attention." I just feel like somewhere, Judy Blume just burned all her books, like, "Whatever, I guess I needn't have bothered."

Marc: Exactly. She becomes instantly obsessed with somebody who immediately treats her horribly for no apparent reason. Both sides of that equation are equally inexplicable.

(This is where the calls to read Midnight Sun are renewed, to which I say: no thanks.)

Linda: Well, as you were saying yesterday, it's almost like it has to be repeated over and over how perfect-looking he is, because otherwise, honestly, it just makes her seem like she has no self-respect at all. And when I hear people say, "Oh, but this is what teenage girls are like," I think, "Right, exactly. But those guys turn out to be BAD IDEAS, not YOUR SOUL MATE."

It's this weird combination of believability in the beginning followed by the opposite outcome from what you actually get when you do that. And in that sense, it's exactly like Reality Bites (I am old). And I didn't even do that "bite" thing on purpose, I'll point out.

Marc: Maybe Reality Bites is a secret vampire metaphor.

Linda: And while I am haranguing, can I discuss Bella's inexplicable attraction to cold marble? WHAT ON EARTH? You know the line in The 40-Year-Old Virgin where Steve Carell makes the comment about "bags of sand"? That's what it feels like to me when it's this business of, "I touched his hand, and it was ice-cold and bloodless, so obviously, I was all, 'yowza.'" That isn't what lust feels like, even teenage lust. That makes no sense to me at all.

"I touched his cheek, and it was like a big bathroom counter." Yeah, SEXY.

Marc: Well, we've talked about her skills in the kitchen. Maybe she's thinking years ahead, to when she might want to save money on a cutting block.

Linda: "Here, stoop down by the sink, honey, I need to chop an onion."

Marc: "Hold still, you know okra's tricky."

Linda: It actually occurs to me that she can never cook again if they wind up together. Given her WORLD-FAMOUS clumsiness and the fact that, if she cuts herself and he smells her blood, he'll have no choice but to immediately consume her.

Marc: To say nothing of the awkward dinners at home in general. She's made a nice seafood risotto, he's gnawing on a bear...

Linda: Can you imagine if she cuts herself shaving her legs? She's in the bathroom like, "Uh, I'll be out any minute now." And he's clawing at the door...

Here's another thing: if she has the survival instincts to get away from mashers in the city, why doesn't it bother her when Edward keeps dragging her into cars?

Marc: Why doesn't it bother her when he bosses her around in general? Why doesn't it bother her that, culturally, experientially and mentally, she's essentially dating a World War I veteran?

Linda: It's interesting that she never asks him things like, "What was the Great Depression like?"

Marc: They never talk! There is not one hint in their relationship that she has the slightest interest in him beyond his beauty and his vampireness, or that he has the slightest interest in anything about her. Their entire relationship exists as dramatic pronouncements of their burning fealty to one another, despite the fact that we're given absolutely no reason to understand why their feelings exist in the first place.

They may love each other, but I see no indication that they even like each other.

Linda: I suggest that we make tomorrow's topic, "Their Relationship: We Kind Of Don't Get It."

Marc: Fate!

Linda: DEEEESTINY!

Marc: The inscrutable hand of an ineffable God!

Linda: Or else: she has the scent of a woman. A clumsy, plain-looking, woman who happens to be a damn good cook.

Marc: Which is wasted on him.

Linda: I know! "Hey, I made you this cake for your birthday." "That's super, honey." [throws entire face into cake, makes grunting noises]

Marc: "There was a squirrel in there, you know." [pouts]