Thursday, August 7, 2008

Breaking Dawn: A Review but Not a Spoiler! (hopefully)

Before I get into this post I want to say thanks. Thanks for all your considerate words about my aunt. And especially to those of you, Jessica and Myssie, who have children with RTS--thank you. I can't imagine the things you deal with everyday but I also know I can't imagine the blessings you receive because of your sacrifices and love. I consider the people who loved and took care of Barbara as heroes and you definitely are too. Again, thank you all for being a part of her passing.

And then there was Stephenie Meyer. When I recently blogged about the first three books in the Twilight saga I didn't know the fourth one was coming out so soon. I also didn't know I'd be getting my hands on it so soon. I know a lot you are interested in it and haven't read it yet so I will do my best not to spoil it for you. If anyone is looking for plot synopsis I'm not doing that here. These are just my thoughts about how it felt to read the book.

My opinion of the first three books was mixed. I enjoyed reading them but was a little disturbed by some of the more erotic moments and some of the violence and the mixture of the two--especially in the third book. I had also been bothered by the lack of character development and what I refer to as the "theme mallet". (The theme mallet is employed when an author relies on the frequent repetition of key facts and ideas rather than artistic skill or the reader's ability to convey meaning in a book.) A friend of mine who is pretty much a superfan of the Twilight saga said she had read one interview (sorry I don't have a better source for this quote) in which Stephenie Meyer basically said, "I'm not a good writer, per se. I'm a good storyteller." That is how I felt about the books. They weren't particularly well written (from an arty/literary point of view) but they were great stories, even if they were a bit disturbing. After all was said and done, I did want to find out what happened.

The fourth book fell into my hands rather serendipitously. Our ward had a quarterly Enrichment activity Tuesday evening and a sister and I had gotten into a heated debate about whether or not Bella and Edward "made out". (For a fleeting moment I was pretty sure I was fourteen years old again!) After a few glances from our perplexed Relief Society president the other sister asked me if I had read the fourth book. "No," I snorted. "I don't even know anyone who owns it. Short of buying it, I have no idea how to get my hands on it." The other sister offered me her copy so long as I promised not to harm it in any way.

So it was that I picked up Breaking Dawn with trepidation. As I read the first few pages Bella was her usual self-deprecating yet competent self. Edward was the same, old, mercurial Ken doll. I sighed and settled in for what felt like the vampire novel version of a sitcom. But then something surprising happened. What is normally the denouement for a sitcom season finale, the wedding, happened in the first hundred pages. With 600 plus pages left to fill I was absolutely lost as to what Ms. Meyer planned on talking about. And she continued to surprise me until the final page, although the ending was not quite as satisfying as I'd hoped.

I finished it quickly and with a relatively light heart--a lot of the things that had bothered me about the first three books weren't problems in the fourth. Since Edward and Bella get married the teenage eroticism is toned down quite a bit. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty details about how their intimate affairs are going but the tension is gone. Once they are married it just doesn't feel as dirty. Instead of Bella trying to be a sexpot and seduce Edward it becomes more of an exploration of female sexuality and how it works in a marital relationship, which isn't necessarily inappropriate.

Anyway, Edward and Bella's sex lives aside, the book was just better written. Meyer takes a few narrative risks and changes point of view in different sections of the book. Those sections are a like opening the curtains in a stereotypical vampire's crypt: such a welcome change! She'd tried it for a few paragraphs at a time in the other books, but here other narrative voices are firmly fleshed out. (Jacob fans, get excited!) The theme mallet was still in operation but I let it go since these books are aimed at teenagers. Bella also becomes more nuanced. In the fourth book I start to appreciate her as a character and not just as a plot device. Edward and Jacob don't grow as much but they have their good moments too. Oh, and Meyer finally trusts the reader to remember how much Bella likes Edward's eyes and chiseled chest. She refrains from mentioning them every other sentence. (Thank goodness!)

The other thing that struck me about the first three books was how "nonmormon" they felt--besides the fact that Bella and Edward hadn't, shall we say, consummated their relationship (which is the main subject of book three), there was nothing there that made them intrinsically Mormon. Which I guess was a little disappointing. I guess some small part of me was hoping that the success of these books pointed to a little bit more opportunity for LDS writers to go mainstream and that just wasn't so. However, the fourth book is very LDS in its overtones and values. It turns out that signature LDS doctrines (like forever families and agency, to name a couple)were driving the books all along. Who knew?

Anyway, to sum up the review: these still aren't my favorite books but they were fun to read. And while I am still uncomfortable with the combination of violence and eroticism in the books I can see why so many readers are pleading that us literary types just let these books be.


Charlotte said...

Interesting review. Thanks Laura!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review!