Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The vast world of Twilight Fan Fiction is one I admit I am only slightly familiarized with so far. I'm trying to keep the slate clean for the rest of the books and all, but I can't help but occasionally try my hand at it. I also can't help but occasionally take a look; you people out there are really into writing about Bella's masturbatory habits! Obviously that won't be the subject of today's entry; what Bella does in the shower is her own business. Today I'm taking on the difficult task of filling in Alice's backstory. Details are sketchy, I know, but I'm pretty sure this is exactly what happened:

"Holland, 1945"

In the summer of 1945, the Cullen family walked through the woods somewhere in Holland. Dr. Carlisle Cullen led his party dashingly through the trees. His wife, Esme, was close behind; his sons Edward, Emmett, and his daughter Rosalie followed at a distance of a few meters.
“Carlisle” said Edward.
“Why haven’t we gotten involved in this war? I’ve heard some terrible things have happened to the Jews—it seemed like maybe we could have helped.”
“It’s a good question, Edward,” Carlisle said thoughtfully.
“And what’s the answer?” Rosalie asked.
“For one thing, it’s sort of the cardinal rule that we vampires keep a low profile.”
“That doesn’t seem like it should stop us,” Edward said. “A few years ago when I was killing child molesters I was able to do so without attracting a lot of attention.”
“And why didn’t you kill Hitler, back then?” Carlisle asked defensively.
“I don’t know,” Edward said. “It was a confusing time in my life, and I suppose I didn’t have my priorities straight. But when I think about it now, it seems like a moral no-brainer. We’ve been in and around Europe a few times in the last couple years, and I don’t see why we never stopped in Germany to kick a little Nazi ass.”
“We are non-violent, Edward,” Carlisle said, getting a little testy.
“But isn’t our whole moral proposition that we are refraining from doing evil? Isn’t not acting to end violence a kind of violence of its own? Isn’t non-intervention itself evil, in a case like this?”
“No,” Carlisle said. “Okay, maybe.”
“They’re Jews, though,” Esme chimed in. “They haven’t accepted the healing power of Jesus, so why do we care about saving them?”
“Esme,” Emmett said sternly, “that’s a fucking horrible thing to say.”
Just then they were stunned to encounter a clearing in which a pale, thin girl sat calmly on a rock, naked except for a torn straitjacket.
Carlisle silenced his family. He looked at Edward for confirmation.
“One of us,” Edward whispered.
Carlisle signaled for his family to make themselves scarce—she could be dangerous, and he would talk to the the girl alone.
“Young woman,” Carlisle called out in a friendly voice as he approached. “My name is Carlisle Cullen. I’m a vampire, like you.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” the girl replied.
“My family, we’re sort of er—vegetarians,” he started.
But the girl started taking off his pants.

After they finished having sex, Carlisle found his family waiting several hundred yards away. “My guess is she just escaped from an asylum,” Carlisle said. “What’s your read on her, Edward?”
“She’s confused,” Edward said. “She doesn’t know how she got here. And she’s…sexually aroused.”
“Still?” Carlisle asked, beside himself.
Esme glanced at him sideways.
“I mean, uh, that’s interesting,” Carlisle said quickly. “Edward, why don’t you talk to her?”
Edward found her in the same place, only now she wasn’t wearing the straitjacket anymore.
“Hi,” Edward said nervously. “My family and I, we were thinking you might like to…come with us.”
“In what way?” the girl asked, her eyes lighting up.
“As in, travel with us,” Edward replied, confused.
“Oh, I thought you meant something different.”
“Well, what do you think?”
But Edward saw what she was thinking, and it had nothing to do with leaving the clearing.

After they finished having sex, Edward returned to his family. “I don’t know. Rosalie, Emmett, why don’t you go reason with her?”
So Emmett and Rosalie went to talk to the strange girl.
“I had a vision you two would be coming,” the girl said as they approached.
“You mean like, walking toward you in the woods?” Rosalie asked.
“No,” the girl smiled. “That’s not what I meant.”

After they finished having sex, the girl finally rose gracefully and followed them out of the clearing. She said her name was Alice, and the rest of the family introduced themselves.
“What should we do now?” Emmett asked.
“Well, I still don’t have any clothes,” Alice said. “What should we do about that?”

After they finished having sex, the Cullen family gave Alice some spare clothes and they all headed for Sweden, a new sister in tow. They would later learn that Alice had escaped from the asylum years ago, and that she’d just been really, really, really high that fateful day in the forest.

Previous entries can be found in the directory.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

BLOGGING TWILIGHT, pt. 23: She's Got Blood In Her Eyes For You

I’ve been reading Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. We’re actually wrapping up this book; we’re two chapters (and um, about seven more posts) from getting started on New Moon, which many say is the Empire Strikes Back of the Twilight Saga. Okay, no one says that, but I just did. So the plan for the rest of this book is I’ll do the remaining two chapters, review the film adaptation, and given the success of the first Twilight Roundtable maybe we’ll crowd-source our final thoughts on book one. So dust of your copies of New Moon, but for now it's once more into the breach, dear friends.

Previous entries can be found in the directory.

Chapter 22, cont’d: Hide-and-Seek

Bella runs to the ballet studio, out of breath and nearly paralyzed with fear. There’s a hand-written note on the door in hot pink paper announcing the studio is closed for spring break. If James wrote that himself, it’s a nice touch. It also occurs to me that this blog has probably approximated the chronology of this book a little bit; spring break is happening for a lot of people now. Of course, this is 2010, and Twilight takes place in an alternate version of 2005 in which the internet and various other technologies have not developed beyond 1998. But still, kinda freaky!

Once inside, Bella again hears her mother calling her name. She runs to the voice, and then hears her laughing.

There she was, on the TV screen, tousling my hair in relief. It was Thanksgiving, and I was twelve.

It’s a video! That’s what clever ol’ James was up to with that VCR in Bella’s house. It’s kind of weird that no one really took the time to wonder about the particulars of that vision Alice had. It’s a leap, I admit, to guess what he might have been doing, but maybe if they hadn’t been so busy having drug-fueled sex in their hotel room for the last few days Alice, Bella or Jasper might have figured it out.

Bella is mostly relieved her mother is OK; James seems kind of let down she’s not more miffed about getting punk’d. Really, she should be upset, as now she will die for no reason at all, but I don’t blame Bella for not taking a lot of time to consider all the implications.

James gets philosophical before attacking—he’s one of THOSE villains:

“I will give your strange coven this much, you humans can be quite interesting. I guess I can see the draw of observing you. It’s amazing—some of you seem to have no sense of your own self-interest at all.”

Of course, we know the Cullens don’t ascribe to this Ayn Randian theory of the virtue of selfishness either, so we can see a glimmer of a moral theme emerging. Other vampires are raging egomaniacs, and our good vampires are not. Bella has been as of late shocked and stressed out at the appalling selflessness of the Cullens. James, Victoria, et al. want people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps; the Cullens are Great Society era Democrats. Maybe I’m reaching a little. It’s a subtle theme.

Speaking of subtle, did you know that James is nondescript? I’ve missed that so far.

He was so very average looking, nothing remarkable about his face or body at all…he wore a pale blue, long-sleeved shirt and faded blue jeans.

He has “white skin” though, so I guess we’re settled on the race question. S. Meyer was not avoiding sounding like a racist, she was just avoiding sounding like someone who is bad at describing things. This time, anyway.

James starts asking Bella if Edward will avenge her—he’s looking forward to it. Something tells me he’ll regret looking forward to it when Operation Enduring Bella inevitably drops on his fucking head in a few minutes, but for now he is disappointed when Bella tells him about her Letter from a Birmingham Jail (er—Phoenix Hotel Room).

They have a LONG conversation—Bella is perversely amused by how easy it is to shoot the shit with this “genteel hunter.” And he IS a talkative motherfucker. He proceeds to talk for most of page 446, explaining every single detail of how he found her. First of all, I think it would have been better to leave that to the imagination rather than have James come across like a Bond villain (or worse—A Scooby-Doo villain). Second of all, it wasn’t that difficult, James! When you boil it down it goes like this: “I found out where your hometown was because you said you were going there and I thought maybe you were lying but decided I should check anyway so I looked up your address.” That simple! Just get on with it, mother—[gunshot]. Okay, I promise to stop making Wire references soon. (No I don’t.)

"You know, Bella, you gotta think about what we got in this game for, man. Huh? Was it the rep? Was it so our names could ring out on some fucking ghetto streetcorner, man? Naw, man. There's games beyond the fucking game."

James finally shuts the fuck up for a fucking second and breaks out a video camera—it turns out he’s also a budding snuff film director—and then we finally get an interesting story. Turns out James is still smarting from a defeat a few years ago—he met another vampire who, like Edward, had a human girl he was quite fond of. This particular vampire had a job at an asylum. (It’s a living. Well, I guess not technically.) This girl was a patient at said asylum. Spooky. To paraphrase James Franco (shudder) this was the "olden days" of mental health care—shock treatments and dark cells, not pills and well-lit padded rooms. This was some Shuttter Island shit. But anyway this vampire was smart enough to steal his beloved out of the asylum and make her into a vampire straightaway, at which point James no longer wanted to hunt her—no use killing a brand new vampire and all. So he killed the older vampire “in vengeance.”

“A man's got to have a code.”—Omar

James says the girl didn’t seem to notice the pain. Uh, how would he know? Presumably he wasn’t there at her transformation, given that he was hunting her and all. Maybe he dragged the older vampire into a long, drawn out conversation like this one so he could get all the details after-the-fact. Or maybe he was there when she was bitten, and he got distracted talking to her about it for three days and forgot to kill her until it was too late. I’m sure that happens to James a lot. The girl suffered from terrible visions, as it happens. OH, I KNOW WHO THAT GIRL WAS!

“Alice,” I breathed, astonished.

Well, shit. That’s a big reveal! I don’t really know what the implications are, if any. But wow!

Finally James closes in, and Bella realizes it is probably not going to be quick and merciful the way she’d expected. He’s got a video camera; he’s probably going to put on a show. That’s usually what dudes are planning on when they break out the camera (see Edwards, John or Lee, Tommy. Well, don’t see them, please). Not usually in this way, though.

She tries to run and then James is in front of her. Then she’s flying through the air, crashing against and shattering one of the huge mirrors. Just when I was thinking to myself, that would be a very cinematic moment, James briefly adopts the voice of the author:

“That’s a very nice effect,” he said, examining the mess of glass, his voice friendly again. “I thought this would be visually dramatic for my little film.”

I see what you did there, S. Meyer. Bella starts crawling toward the door, and James steps on her leg, breaking it. I hope James has like, a wide angle lens or something. Where is his camera positioned that he could possibly get all this? I’ve got my priorities all wrong.

There’s a scene in The Sopranos where a guy gets unexpectedly shot sitting next to Silvio Dante in a restaurant. Later he tells Tony that he didn’t even hear the bullet until the guy next to him was already dead. There’s a lot of that sort of stuff here—James kicks Bella’s broken leg and she hears a piercing scream she only later realizes was her own voice.

James tries to get her to incite Edward to violence on video, but she won’t. So he throws her into the shattered mirror again, cutting her head badly. Covered in blood, Bella sees a horrible need and hunger in the hunter’s eyes and hopes the rest of it will be quick. She can’t keep her eyes open anymore, and the last thing she sees is James rushing toward her. She raises her hands to cover her face. And then Bella is dead. The end.

That was unexpected, huh?

Chapter 23: The Angel

Okay, just kidding. Bella does not die. She’s dying, an experience she likens to being under dark water. In her bloodied, half-conscious, fucked up state, she hears a second roar in the room, one that “rang with fury.” Oh shit James: the cavalry’s here.

Bella experiences a sharp pain in her hand, and then she’s pretty sure she’s finally dead and seeing an angel.

“Oh no, Bella, no!” the angel’s voice cried in horror.

Listen, Bella, I know you’ve lost a lot of blood, but are you a fucking idiot? That’s not a god damned angel. Bella hears a weird collection of other sounds, growls and screams and cracking noises, which is most likely James getting dismembered. He’s so nondescript even his death is vague.

Edward is irritatingly described as “the angel” as part of this narrative device for the first two pages, but luckily that aspect of it is eventually dropped, and then we have this cool situation where Bella (and we) are only half aware of everything going on around her. It’s probably the most detailed and subtle chapter, and it’s also the shortest. Carlisle tells Alice to hold her breath, and that’s the only suggestion we get that being in a room full of blood is probably testing the Cullens’ restraint. It’s also probably part of how Carlisle retains his composure in operating rooms.

Edward—I’m sorry, the angel—is freaking out and “sobbing tearless, broken sobs.” Okay, S. Meyer—you obscured it with a few adjectives-- but you definitely just wrote “sobbing sobs.” There is no excuse for that. Note also that vampires seem unable to produce bodily fluids. It seems like that should have implications later?

Carlisle is examining Bella and we learn she probably has some broken ribs, too. The pain in Bella’s hand is agonizing but she can’t seem to muster the energy to tell anyone. Finally she manages to describe a burning sensation down there (her hand, I mean), and Carlisle and Edward realize she’s been bitten. Fuck.

For some reason, by the way, Bella moans “Alice” apropos of basically nothing in the middle of this chapter. Revealing her true preferences, perhaps? Wishful thinking, probably?

It seems like maybe Alice is pushing for Edward to just let the venom make Bella a vampire. “Edward, you have to do it,” she says. Do what, exactly? Let it happen? Is there some other step we haven’t learned? In truth this chapter isn’t all that vague, but compared to the recent over-explication we got from James some of this stuff seems maddeningly complex by comparison.

Carlisle seems to be stitching up Bella’s head, and he tells Edward to try and suck the venom out. He’s understandably nervous about doing that. I don’t really understand why Carlisle can’t do it—someone else can’t handle sewing? He’s probably trying to test Edward, but this doesn’t seem like the time for that. As Edward equivocates, they’re running out of time. Man up, Hamlet!

He finally goes for it, and the pain gets way worse. Alice and Carlisle hold Bella down (HOT) and slowly her hand goes numb. Edward eventually announces that the blood is clean; he can taste the morphine. Um, hey Carlisle, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but that seems like a lot of morphine you are administering! Edward tells Bella he loves her.

“I know,” I breathed, so tired.

As a child I was incredibly paranoid about what my last words would be to family members were they to leave home and suddenly die, so I was borderline fanatical about saying “I love you” and extracting an identical response from my parents. I now basically behave the same way with my wife, so what I'm trying to say is: that pissed me off.

Carlisle thinks to ask Bella where her mother is as she’s passing out, so she feebly explains the trick and remembers the story James told about Alice’s origin. She tries to tell them, but gets distracted by the smell of gasoline—they are burning James and (as it turns out) the whole ballet studio. Awesome.

By the way, is there a better “spreading gasoline around a building” scene than the one at the end of the third season of Weeds? That is a big-time goosebump-scene. That show strains my affection every year—the torch I carry for Mary-Louise Parker can only get me so far—but it always redeems itself at the end. The most recent season especially. No spoilers, but FUCK YES, am I right?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

TWILIGHT ROUNDTABLE #1: The Cullens and Moral Culpability

From time to time, I think we need to discuss some of the larger issues surrounding Twilight. I can't always flesh these things out with only one brain, and only 2,000 words or so per entry. Together we are a smart group of adults, and we in no way need to feel bad about discussing the moral implications of YA fiction at length. It's okay, everybody. We're all okay. Post in the comments, and I will reproduce your thoughts here.

Hey, here's a question: Edward and Carlisle (at least) were around at the beginning of the 20th century, and thus were around (and were vampires) during WWII. So why didn't they do anything about the Holocaust?

Obviously I'm thinking about Twilight a little too often.

Bridget: It seems kind of inconsistent, doesn't it? Veggie vamps who feel bad about hurting people not doing anything to stop innocent people from being brutally tortured and killed.

But then when you think about it, the Cullens didn't seem to show much concern for other people. They were all too pretty for their classmates at Forks High School, so it doesn't shock me that much.

But then, if Edward spent his early vampire days preying on douchebags, you'd think Hitler would be at the top of his list.

Zac: Especially when you consider that Edward's "adolescent rebellion" came about ten years after he became a vampire, so 1928? Depending on how long it lasted, it would have been a prime era for some Dexter-style vigilante fascist killing! What was he doing instead? Killing child molesters is the suggestion. Not that there's anything wrong with doing that (I mean, morally it is fraught with complication, which is what Dexter is about, but I'm saying once you've decided to become a killer of bad people because you can't help but kill, which is the basic proposition of both Dexter and this period of Edward's life, sort of) but isn't the greater sin genocide? Pretty much always? Edward has a bizarre moral code, or maybe Stephenie Meyer wasn't really thinking about the implications of her time-line.

Kira: dr. cullen seems like the only one who takes a superhero-type approach to caring about humans. none of the rest of them seem to care much either way. at least not enough to go out of their ways to seek out ways to help innocent people. it's sort of an interesting question (not really) - are they morally obligated to use their superhuman powers for good, or is it okay for
them to just not use them for evil? when we learn more about the volturi, we find out there are rules against doing things that reveal the presence of vampires to humans, but you'd think they could fight a bit of crime here and there without breaking too many rules...

the characters as they're written are so christian-y, i bet they all feel kinda nyeh about jews anyway. i mean, carlisle only saved hot white teenagers from dying, right? aside from esme? i'd bet there were plenty of homely jewish and black teenagers who could've been saved, but dr. whitey revealed his true colors with his choices. (and his true colors are white.)

(i think we can exclude alice from this latent, well-meaning racist slant. i'm sure she dated tons of black dudes, especially during the 60s, when you know she was dropping acid and getting freaky all the time at be-ins.)

Zac: Alice still dates black dudes all the the time; she and Jasper have an"open" situation going on. You can't fuck one person for literally eternity.

Renee: While writing a Twilight inspired story several weeks ago, I had a similar thought. I think it's for the same reason that the US didn't get involved much sooner when they easily could have. As selfish as it is, they didn't feel it was their fight. They don't seem very concerned about vampires like James and Victoria killing people either, unless it somehow affects Bella.

Kira: man, the more i think about it, the more i feel like if *I* were a vampire, and i was going to live forever, i would spend at least one human lifetime being a superhero. what an opportunity! even if you didn't have a "power" like some of the vampires, you'd still be a total bad-ass compared to normal humans.

if, hypothetically, i was turned into a vampire, being the person i am now, with all the same moral wiring, i don't think i would be able to just hide in a foggy place and pretend to be a normal citizen. fuck that. i'd go to, like, sudan and kick some mujahideen ass at night, and maybe hide out during the day, so as not to be overly conspicuous.

you could really do a lot of good, on a grander scale, with powers like that. i mean, batman is a force for (mostly) good, using only technology and some martial arts skills. he has no superhuman strength, no icy-yummy smelling [breath], no otherworldly hotness...it would be a piece of (blood) cake!

now that we're talking about it, it's pretty lame that carlisle is the only one doing anything for the humans they all profess to care about, and carlisle is totally doing it on a small scale. dude's been a doctor for longer than any doctor in the world and he's just a small town hospital doctor? lame, carlisle. he should use all his NEVER SLEEPING time to become an expert in something that requires that kind of superhuman time investment and actually make a real difference.

and he should force the rest of the family to, also. they've ALL got 24 hrs a day to devote to something. what the fuck do they do all night? book 4 suggests they fuck a bunch, which is kinda gross to imagine, but we can't just spend all our time fucking and pretending to be normal high school students, cullens and hales. do your parts!

alice and jasper could volunteer with autistic kids or something, since she's very friendly and he can read their thoughts and make them feel safe and happy. he'd have to work on his hunger, since he finds not eating people a challenge, but whatever. does jasper's power work over the phone? because, if so, he would be perfect working a suicide prevention hotline. no face-to-face contact will limit the chances of him accidentally killing someone.

rosalie should work with something not alive, since she's a sour bitch and no man, woman, child or shelter dog wants to deal with that. she can do river clean-up in the middle of the night. or pick up trash by the freeway. she wants to have a baby too much, so we definitely can't give her a job with kids, though she'd probably be a really devoted (and insane) Big Sister.

emmett is sporty and "funny" and fun, so maybe he can coach sports teams for kids and/or recovering drug addicts and the homeless and stuff. he'd be a rad Big Brother, too.

esme is maternal, but not in a creepy way like rosalie is, so she could take care of crack babies, or be a Big Sister, too. what is esme really like? she's not a terribly well fleshed out character, actually.

edward, since he's pretty broody, might need to just cruise around, reading minds and killing rapists, animal abusers and child molesters, probably. he doesn't seem especially good with people. he sure used a weird smothery tactic to woo bella.

it's decided. they are all assholes for not being more involved in making the world a better place. i say avoiding doing bad isn't enough. especially given how weirdly conflicted edward is about his very right to exist, he needs to get his head out of his ass and stop thinking about himself. THEY ALL DO. if there is a judeo-christian god who feels like they're hell-bound abominations, they should do everything in their considerable powers to tip the scale in their favor, right?

Rosanne: Hmm. While it doesn't seem that they do enough volunteering, isn't it like, priority number 1 for vampires not to be noticed? They don't want to be called out with their picture in the paper as "Greater Forks' Volunteer of the Month" and have Rosalie Hale day declared July 22nd. I think the vampire commandments begin and end with "thou shalt maintain a low profile."

Besides, vampires are kind of dicks. Essentially they're just a bunch of addicts looking out for their next score and their own preservation.

stephenie meyer might just be too retarded to think of these simple facts. just saying.

Zac: I think Kira pretty much summed it up-- and I don't think the moral questions we've been pointing out are too obscure to have been on Stephenie Meyer's radar. It seems to suggest itself pretty easily, which I know because I started off on this tangent based on something I thought of while I was half awake yesterday morning. Charlie even says that Carlisle could be practicing medicine elsewhere. Like fucking Johns Hopkins working on gunshot victims, maybe? Or working in Chicago doing simultaneous heart-and-lung transplants? Basically anything other than removing splinters at the Forks Hospital? Kira, your career suggestions made me laugh, and are great. Suicide prevention hotline, especially. There is a suggestion in Book 4 that they fuck a lot? I can't wait for this Breaking Dawn shit!

Bridget: I talked to my friends about this at lunch today (the original question, that is), and some of them were convinced that Edward and Carlisle (and company?) would have too much trouble getting into Germany from the US. I ain't buyin it.

The more I think about it, and this might be obvious to the rest of you, but I think that most of the appeal of the series hinges on Edward (and to a lesser extent, his family) being almost totally fixated on Bella and indifferent to every other human in the world.

Elinore: Maybe Meyers doesn't believe in the Holocaust. She doesn't seem to be the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Inte den skarpaste kniven i lådan...

Renee: I don't think we've yet considered that this omission might be more of a reflection on Meyer's Mormonism. From what I've read, Mormons posthumously baptize people of many faiths(including a number of Holocaust victims) without consent. That displays an amazing amount of disrespect toward other religions. It's entirely possible that Meyer herself does not feel the Jews were worthy of saving (except by Jesus) and therefore it never occurred to her to have the Cullens do anything about it.

Zac: OH SNAP RENEE. Bringing out the big guns. I should say, by the way, w/r/t your earlier comment about the US and showing up late to the WWII party that it helps in these cases to avoid the standard IR perspective that states are unitary actors. FDR wanted to get involved in WWII much earlier than an isolationist Congress would allow. The Cullens in this case may be more equivalent to the Catholic Church, an actual unitary actor who chose to stay out of the Holocaust, despite it being in their backyard. I agree that the Mormon retrospective baptism thing is weird, and kind of a mind-boggling act of hubris, but I suppose when you look at it from the perspective of a True Believer it's sort of a nice thing to do.

And I think that, at this stage in the game, it is unfair to ascribe much of anything to S. Meyer's Mormonism. I don't see those specific religious influences-- sexual repression is sort of a common Judeo-Christian thread. It's entirely possible that Stephenie Meyer "does not feel the Jews were worthy of saving" but it is also entirely possible, and probably more likely, that she feels the normal way, that the Holocaust was an unfathomable tragedy. It's probably too hyperbolic of us to ascribe genocidal sympathies to the author.

Elinore, I'm glad you're making this discussion multilingual. That translates to "Not the sharpest knife in the drawer," in case anyone was wondering. I'm glad we seem to share idioms with the Swedes, if not sexual mores. Just kidding around with Elinore, I know you need to get back to your orgy.

Bridget, I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that the Cullens could have been dropped into France, dressed as civilians, a la Inglourious Basterds. They could have even come ashore at Normandy-- they can hold their breath underwater, right? I think we're all with you that the general thrust of the novel is at such a scope that these questions don't really need to be considered, but they do in a "bigger picture" sort of way. This blog is at least concerned with the bigger picture, even if S. Meyer is not.

Oh, and Rosanne-- fuck their priorities.

Sabinlerose: Others have said it, but I think its because they the majority of the Cullens just didn't give a damn. Edward was probably to busy being a "hero" that he didn't care about a war.

It leaves questions about other vampires though. You would think that the people eating vampires would have flocked to the war. Perhaps they did, and we just don't know about it because of a lack of "Vampire History" that doesn't include the Cullens take.

Another side thought. WWII is something that always seems to be sidestepped in "Modern" setting fantasy. Provided it won't have any direct impact on the plot.
I don't believe the Dresden Files ever touched on the subject. Despite the fact its something that would have been impacting on the White Council.

Zac: I have no idea what the hell most of that means, but you know, I'm new to all of this.

Have something to add? Comment and I'll add you to our dialogue. If you want your name to link somewhere, let me know on Twitter or here or wherever. We should do more of these.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

BLOGGING TWILIGHT, pt. 22: The Terrors Of The Earth

I’ve been reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Previous installments can be found in the directory.

Chapter 22: Hide-and-seek

Bella is a little paranoid to be hanging around Alice, worried that she’ll get a vision. It turns out that’s not an irrational fear at all—almost immediately Alice bends over the desk and her eyes roll back into her head. It doesn’t seem like a good vision, all evidence to the contrary. Jasper comes back in and loosens her grip—so I guess that means that when Alice gets a vision she clenches her hand around whatever she’s touching and can’t let go. Must be rough for Jasper if those visions come at inopportune times, if you know what I mean. Alice is reluctant to say whatever she saw, which makes Bella panic and makes Jasper confused. Actually, it makes his eyes confused:

His eyes were confused as they flickered swiftly between Alice’s face and mine, feeling the chaos…

Oy vey at that last part. Jasper kicks in the Vampire Valium, and Bella decides to harness it to steady her resolve. Alice starts calmly asking if Bella wants breakfast. She’s all blank-eyed and detached—she and Bella have a “who can be more suspiciously calm” contest for the next few pages. Bella puts her money stash in her pocket—the one she brought to Forks intending to buy a car with—it’s a testament to what a boring town Forks is that Bella has found nothing to spend money on for the last few weeks.

They drive to the airport, and Bella asks Alice how the visions work. “Edward said it wasn’t definite…that things change?” Bella says. “Some things are more certain than others… like the weather. People are harder.” That’s what she said. Alice, I mean. It’s good to know that Alice understands the weather is determined by science—Edward probably thinks that Jesus picks out the weather every morning like an outfit. Alice can’t see the course people are on until they are on it, which is why she hasn’t handcuffed Bella to the car door yet. She’s probably can’t see the forest for Bella getting killed in the mirror room. It makes for a weird conflict in this chapter—Bella is basically being chased by the idea that Alice might figure out what she’s doing at any second.

Edward’s plane is landing in the largest terminal, and Bella starts using her knowledge of the layout of the airport to formulate her plan. Alice and Jasper look at the departing flights, trying to figure out where to send Bella. It seems like the obvious choice is somewhere on the other side of an ocean, if this guy is tracking by scent and everything. Really all of my knowledge of survival vis-à-vis the outdoors and animals tracking you comes from reading Gary Paulsen novels as a kid, so I probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

The minutes passed and Edward’s arrival grew closer. It was amazing how every cell in my body seemed to know he was coming, to long for his coming. That made it very hard.

That is a lot of what she said! Bella, I mean. Alice keeps pushing for Bella to get some breakfast (motherly instincts—that’s a plus because if they ever adopted Bella would be a bad mother. I say adoption because surrogacy would be out of the question—Alice did a lot of LSD a few decades back). Bella eventually announces that she’d like to go to breakfast.

Alice stood. “I’ll come with you.”
“Do you mind if Jasper comes instead?” I asked. “I’m feeling a little…” I didn’t finish the sentence. My eyes were wild enough to convey what I didn’t say.

There’s an awkward rhyme to that last line, but whatever. Bella’s addicted to the Vampire drugs ALREADY? That was fast. Jasper takes Bella to the airport cafeteria, and she asks to go to the bathroom. He lets her go, and she starts running. The bathroom has two entrances, and she goes out the other. What follows is a long sequence of Bella running and being afraid to look back—she slips into an elevator, gets outside, can’t find a cab, and hops aboard a shuttle to the Hyatt. There are few scenes that would qualify as action in this book, and unlike the car crash, this one is nicely paced and structured. I only really object to this:

“This is a shuttle to the Hyatt,” the driver said in confusion as he opened the doors.
“Yes,” I huffed, “that’s where I’m going.” I hurried up the steps.
He looked askance at my luggage-less state, but shrugged, not caring enough to ask.

Askance? Somebody has a Word-of-the-Day calendar. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with flexing a little vocabulary every now and then—to quote the Jurrasic 5, “You gots to have vocab/ letters make words/ and sentences makes paragraphs”—but it’s so rare in this book that it always feels weird.

Bella has a fleeting image of Edward coming to the spot in the road where the shuttle took off, the place where her trail will go dead. It’s a cool little flash-forward, and it is all too brief. Bella gets a cab at the hotel and tells him her mother’s address. He complains that it is too far away. Fucking cab drivers, always giving you shit.

When I waited tables at the Hard Rock in Boston I used to get out around 2am, when all the bars close. So it goes without saying that the Faneuil Hall/Government Center area of Boston is a hellscape around 2am, and cab drivers generally refuse to pick up people they assume to be drunk. I used to see drunk guys diving into the street trying to stop empty cabs, bribing them for fifty or a hundred bucks over the fare to get them to let them in. Most of them still wouldn't do it, they’re probably too used to getting burned.

So the first thing I had to do was make it clear to cab drivers that I was not drunk, but the bigger hurdle was the fact that I live in East Boston, which is on the other side of the tunnel with a toll on the way back in. (So you know, I couldn't even walk home; I would have needed a canoe.) There aren’t a lot of bars in East Boston that aren’t patronized by East Boston winos, so there’s nobody to pick up once over there either. I realize that cab drivers therefore have every reason to not want to give me a ride, but I used to have to spend a good hour getting turned down by 20 or 30 cabs before someone finally agreed to do it. They would always bitch the whole way over, and I always gave them a big tip as a little “shut the fuck up” on my way out of the cab. My logic was that if I did it enough I could eventually turn the tide of anti-East Boston sentiment among the cab driver population, but it never happened. And I eventually just stopped showing up to work at the Hard Rock anyway.

Bella does the same thing I always did, throwing eighty bucks over the seat. The driver changes his tune, and they’re off. On the car ride, Bella fantasizes about having stayed at the airport to meet Edward—visualizing the reunion, thinking about where they’d relocate.

North somewhere, so he could be outside in the day. Or maybe somewhere very remote, so we could lay in the sun together again. I imagined him by the shore, his skin sparkling like the sea. It wouldn’t matter how long we had to hide. To be trapped in a hotel room with him would be a kind of heaven. So many questions I still had for him. I could talk to him forever, never sleeping, never leaving his side.

It reminded me weirdly of the “let’s away to prison” speech from King Lear where Lear, reunited with his estranged daughter but defeated in war, entertains delusions of a happy ending with her as they are being carried off to jail:

No, no, no, no. Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down

And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues

Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too—
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out—

And take upon ‘s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies.

Both speeches are upsetting because they are utterly deluded, but I’ll give the edge to The Bard because Lear and his daughter die a few hundred lines later, and I think we all know that Bella is not actually heading toward certain death.

The cabbie asks after the house number which ends Bella’s fantasy, “letting all the colors run out of my lovely delusion.” Maybe I’ve been too influenced by the recent dream imagery in Shutter Island, but how could the filmmakers behind Twilight miss this cue? It seems directed specifically at them, but nothing like it exists in the film. (Jesus, I keep saying I’m going to review the film after we finish this, but I keep giving away the store!)

Bella gets to her house and runs to the phone where, as promised, a number is written on a whiteboard. She tries to enter the number but is so nervous she has to start over again, which is another one of those cinematic details I really like. She starts over again, and eventually nondescript, bland, red-shirt wearing, ethnically vague, boring-ass James comes on the line. He tells her to come to the ballet studio. Duh. We saw that coming; so did Bella. Why didn’t she just go straight there?

Bella has more fleeting visions as she runs from her childhood home, picturing her mother in her youth. Putting aside being almost completely certain that Bella will be OK, this is really upsetting when you think about it. Bella is heading for a quick, violent death—alone, in an unfamiliar place. She’s not going to have an opportunity for her life to flash before her eyes, so she’s getting it in while she can. Abrupt death is totally unromantic.

Chapter 22 is epic in length by Twilight standards, so we’ll pick up here from here next time.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

BLOGGING TWILIGHT, pt. 21: Fevers & Mirrors

I’ve been reading Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. Previous entries can be found in the directory.

Chapter 21: Phone Call

Bella calls her mother and tells her to not come back to Phoenix yet, and also not to worry because she will explain everything later. I'm sure that will work. Knowing as we do how Bella's mother is a calm, rational person who will certainly not freak out when she hears that message. Bella ends up falling asleep waiting for the phone to ring and Alice carries her to the bedroom. She wakes up some time later and it's dark out. "I knew I was getting the schedule of my days and nights reversed," she says. I've been looking for a big number 4 made out of plastic or something so I can sit it out in the sun and take a picture of the shadow it casts, because then I would have a "four shadow," get it? S. Meyer gets it.

Bella goes into the other room, where Alice is sketching.

I watched as Alice drew a square room with dark beams across its low ceiling. The walls were paneled in wood, a little too dark, out of date. The floor had a dark carpet with a pattern in it. There was a large window against the south wall, and an opening through the west wall led to the living room. One side of that entrance was stone - a large tan stone fireplace that was open to both rooms.

This is a detailed sketch! It's a good thing Alice brought her colored pencil set! How long does Bella stand there and watch? Then this happens:

"The phone goes there," I whispered, pointing.
Two pairs of eternal eyes stared at me.
"That's my mother's house."

This is a pretty weird beat, no? It's supposed to be kind of suspenseful, I think - the big reveal w/r/t what Alice is sketching - but don't you feel like Bella probably would have just said "Holy fuck, that's my fucking Mom's house," and not bothered with the business about the phone? It's too clever. Not that Bella isn't a clever girl, but this is supposed to be a serious, tense moment, and in a few lines Bella will fall into a total panic and basically become incapable of verbal expression. I found myself backtracking to this section over and over again while reading the next few pages, because it seemed so inconsistent with the rest of it, tone-wise.

Anyway, Alice snaps into action and calls Carlisle. Jasper slides next to Bella and uses his Vampire Valium to sedate her like they've put out an Amber Alert for her children. His power is apparently stronger when he makes physical contact - he puts his hand on Bella's shoulder - and now I'm seeing all sorts of reasons Alice is with this guy.

Alice tells the drugged-out Bella that Edward, Emmett, and Carlisle are coming down to take her away and hide for a while; Alice and Jasper are going to stay in Phoenix to guard her mother. It barely registers, but Bella is vaguely happy to know that Edward is coming. I've got to hand it to the Cullens, by the way. In a pinch, these guys are capable of Avon Barksdale-level change-ups.

"Remember Bella, you only do two days in here.
The day you go in and they day you come out."

Jasper must have let up on the sedatives for a second when he felt Bella get excited about Edward (gross, Jasper) because suddenly she is overcome with like, a super panic attack. The tracker is after Bella's mother and even if he never catches her he'll find and hurt someone she loves and there is nothing anyone can do about it because they'd be risking their lives to do so - in response to all of this, Alice glances "meaningfully" at Jasper. I'm guessing the meaning is "take this bitch out," because "a deep, heavy fog of lethargy" washes over Bella. Jasper has ditched the Vampire Valium for the Vampire Roofies I guess, but Bella fights it and runs into the bedroom. Then she really has a breakdown, staring at the wall for three hours and eventually coming to the conclusion that she's not going to make it out of this predicament alive, and the only thing that really matters now is keeping as many other people from getting hurt as possible. In the ideal movie version of this scene, Elliott Smith's "Needle In The Hay" would be playing.

Bella goes back into the main room, ashamed of her behavior - a nice, endearing, child-like gesture. Now that Edward's not around these reminders that Bella is young aren't as creepy. Alice is getting off the phone with Carlisle - they're getting on a plane - and Jasper has gone to check out of the hotel. Then the phone rings again and Bella starts walking forward, "reaching hopefully for the phone." I was weirdly reminded of being like, eleven years old at that image. Alice hands off the phone to Bella, mouthing "your mother."

It's weird that she would mouth it, because is there anything wrong with Bella's mother hearing that? But people really do that sort of thing, so I guess it's more a problem with real life than it is with S. Meyer's writing. What sort of people do the "mouthing who is on the phone" thing? My hypothesis is that it is a protective gesture, so you see it more with mothers and the more protective sort of friends. So Alice probably would make a good mother (though I doubt vampires can get pregnant) and a good friend. Maybe that's a stretch. But I've been extrapolating a lot about Alice's personality for the #TeamAlice movement, which is a movement I've decided to start as we move into New Moon and all of its subsequent push and pull between Jacob and Edward.

Having not actually seen the movie of New Moon, I'm not entirely sure what else I'm in for, but not being totally blind to marketing I know there is a lot of "Does Bella belong with Jacob or Edward?" stuff. Edward, duh, it's pretty fucking obvious that's where these books are going. I've resolved to not let myself be manipulated by this totally manufactured controversy, and instead invest my loyalties not in Team Jacob or even Team Edward, but rather a third way - one that's even more of a long shot than Team Jacob, really. Namely, I'm advocating for a homosexual relationship with Alice. I'm also open to the possibility of a polyamorous relationship with Alice and Jasper. I know that these books have all ready been written, so it's not like this can actually happen, but then again the last movie doesn't even have a director yet! It is not too late to re-write the Twilight Saga and do right by Bella. Plus there's always FanFic.

It should be noted, from the outset, that my advocacy for Team Alice is not at all borne of a Joey Tribbiani-like fascination with lesbians. The fact is, I like Bella as a human being. She is a good person, and does not deserve to be in a relationship with an asshole like Edward or a douchebag like Jacob. They are both terrible people. She deserves to be in a loving and mutually-respecting relationship, and I believe Alice could offer that. Let's examine the facts, and see what we can conclude.

"How YOU doin', Bella?"

Alice doesn't hesitate to tell Bella how vampires are made - she doesn't shield her from information in the patriarchal way Edward does. It's hard to blame Edward for having antiquated, anti-feminist values - he was born before women could vote. But a modern woman should not have to put up with that shit. Put Edward in some Women's Studies classes, and then we'll talk.

A relationship between Bella and Alice would therefore be much more egalitarian and would have much less potential for future domestic abuse and/or divorce.

Edward likes the patriarchal music of the fifties and the misogynistic music of the eighties.

Edward is a Republican; his favorite presidents were Eisenhower and Reagan. Edward believes in fucking Trickle-Down Economics. Alice likes rock and roll. Her favorite Dylan album is "Blonde on Blonde." She once followed Tom Waits across the country with the intention of turning him into a vampire, but found out he already was one. Her favorite president was Bill Clinton. Alice says she's an Independent, but she'd never vote for a Republican other than maybe Ron Paul.

Alice has a mature perspective w/r/t evolution and the origin of species. She doesn't spout a bunch or propaganda from the pages of Of Pandas and People when someone asks how vampires came to exist, like Edward does.

Alice is an atheist. She thinks the term "secular humanist" is for pussies.

Edward plays the piano, and is generally a snob about classical music.

Alice plays bass. Jasper plays drums. They have a Death From Above 1979 thing going on, and they do twice as much blow.

Alice is a skilled artist.

Alice went to art school. Alice smokes Lucky Strikes. Alice has a tattoo of Marcus Garvey on her bicep, and one of Asaata Shakur on her ass.

As we learn more about Alice we will revise these assumptions - maybe in Eclipse we'll learn she smokes Marlboro Reds or something - I could be off a little bit. But I think my case is pretty strong.

So Bella gets on the phone and hears her mother's voice, but only for a second. BECAUSE IT'S NOT BELLA'S MOM ON THE PHONE.

"Be very careful not to say anything until I tell you to." The voice I heard now was as unfamiliar as it was unexpected. It was a man's tenor voice, a very pleasant, generic voice - the kind of voice that you heard in the background of luxury car commercials. He spoke very quickly.

I like that "nondescript" James has a "generic" voice. S. Meyer is clearly not invested in this guy at all - he's not going to live very long is he? If James was on Star Trek, he'd have a red shirt on. Either that or James is black and S. Meyer is trying to avoid saying "he spoke in a negro dialect."

So James tells Bella to do exactly as he says if she ever wants to see her mom alive again. He has her saying stuff out loud like "No Mom, stay where you are," while he instructs her to get away from Alice and Jasper and come her mother's house, where there will be a phone number she needs to call to get further instructions. This seems kind of needlessly complicated. At this point it is already pretty clear that James will tell her to go to the ballet room from Alice's first vision. Bella even says something immediately after the phone call about how the only thing left to do is "go to the mirrored room and die." But okay, whatever. Bella fights away waves of terror and panic and tries to put on a normal face when she returns to face Alice. "The only expression I could manage was a dull, dead look," she says. She manages to not arouse Alice's suspicions, telling her that her mother has decided to stay out of town for now. Bella spots a piece of hotel stationary and asks Alice to deliver a letter to her mother after she leaves with Carlisle and the gang (of course she just told Alice that her mother is not coming home anytime soon, but Alice doesn't point this out - I take this as further evidence toward my hypothesis that Alice does a lot of drugs and is not really paying attention). Instead she writes a letter to Edward, which she assumes will get to him eventually (she's also resting on the assumption that Alice won't read the letter immediately, and she doesn't, and you KNOW that Edward would). She apologizes to Edward for her future actions (and you know, death) and begs him not to come after James. This is kind of a great, selfless gesture. It's the kind of thing Alice would understand, but obviously it will just piss Edward off. Bella holds out hope he will understand, sealing up the envelope. "And then I carefully sealed away my heart," she says.

Ordinarily I would object to a line like that, but one of my favorite albums of all time, "One Jug Of Wine, Two Vessels" - a collaboration between Bright Eyes and Neva Denova - is being reissued this week. The best and last song, "Spring Cleaning," contains the line: "My heart is in mothballs, it's been/ packed away." It's not the best line in the song by far (that would be "He's poisonous, reason-less/ demons and Jesus") but I don't hold it against Conor Oberst, who wrote it, or Jake Bellows, who sings it. People in glass houses, you know?

By the way, Stereogum is giving away two of the tracks from "One Jug," so here they are! Dig it. Alice would. (Right click to download.)

"Happy Accident"

via Stereogum.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WRITING TWILIGHT: Bella, Alice and Jasper Go To White Castle

I've been writing Twilight Fan Fiction on this blog from time to time to hone my skills. FanFic is a delicate art, and some of the world's best writers (Orwell, Shakespeare) sucked at it. So obviously I need to tread lightly before I am so bold as to submit a piece to Twilighted.Net, which is basically the First Folio of stories about Bella and Edward fucking and masturbating. I'm not ready to walk and fuck and masturbate with the Titans over there. But here's another attempt. This one takes place somewhere around chapters 20 and 21 of Twilight, when Bella is holed up in a hotel with Alice and Jasper. The details we get from S. Meyer's original text are vague. Obviously some events were left out. Here they are. (Previous entries can be found in the Directory.)

"Bella, Alice and Jasper Go To White Castle"

Bella Swan woke up in a haze. She tried to remember the last 36 hours or so, but nothing came back at first. She groped around in the dark for her clothes - they were all over the bedroom so it took a while to gather them up - some of them appeared to be burned. Slowly the images from the previous day or so in the hotel room crept back into her brain. Jesus, what had they done? Bella knew she had to make sure Alice and Jasper were okay, but a bright flash of light made her drop to her knees. She stayed on the ground for a few minutes, or maybe hours, until she felt ready to walk again.

She could hear someone whispering in the next room, a quiet incantation. She dreaded seeing what the rest of the place looked like, so she decided to put it off for a few more minutes and take a shower. She left her clothes in a pile on the corner of the bed and walked into the bathroom, finally getting the nerve to turn on a light switch. In the mirror, she looked dead. For a second it occurred to Bella that she might be—maybe Alice or Jasper, during the—but she didn’t feel like a vampire. She mostly felt like vomiting, and was pretty sure vampires didn’t vomit. Bella looked again at her face. Someone had written “ALICE LOVES COCK” in huge letters on her forehead. In fact, she had messages on most of her body, scrawled sentences in black marker.They seemed to get dirtier the further down they went—by the time Bella was reading the messages on her knees they were describing sex acts she hadn’t even heard of before.

On her back was a scrawled phallus with a note in a different set of handwriting, thoughtfully written backwards so she could read it in the mirror: “Dear Bella, I traced my penis on your back, Love Jasper.” Bella laughed, but the laugh made her chest hurt, and then she vomited for a while into the bathtub. She decided to not take a shower just yet. She got dressed instead, and stumbled shakily into the main room. It was a disaster—the couch was torn in half, someone put a chair through the TV screen, and the walls were smeared with what looked eerily like human blood. Alice was standing in the middle of the room naked, next to an open bucket of red paint. Bella sighed in relief. Alice had smeared some of the paint on herself, almost as if she’d tried to make a bathing suit. She was staring at the ground, saying “curiouser and curiouser,” over and over again in a soft voice.

Jasper looked even worse. He was crouched in the corner, looking even paler and crazier than usual, holding two knives and rubbing them together. Bella walked over to Alice, wiped the cocaine dust and dried blood from her nose, and ran her hand back and forth in front of her eyes for a while. No response. At least none that Bella could see; her own vision kept blurring. It would have been a lot easier to concentrate if the room stopped spinning. Was there a motor controlling the rotation that she could turn off? Bella decided to look into it after she’d dealt with Alice, who was still standing perfectly still. “Alice!” Bella shouted.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Alice said.

A sharp sound made Bella look up—Jasper was lighting matches, trying to set the remains of the couch on fire. She ran to stop him, but somehow ended up on the floor. How did the floor get here? She might have tripped on some pills—there were a lot of them on the floor. There was a green one right next to her mouth. What did the green ones do again? Bella grabbed it with her tongue and swallowed it. Maybe it would do something about this sharp pain she was suddenly feeling. Bella decided to rest for a while. The tile was cold at first but the blood seeping from her head was warm. “It’s like a blanket for my head,” Bella said out loud.
“Curiouser and curiouser.” Alice replied.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

BLOGGING TWILIGHT, pt. 20: Fear and Loathing in Phoenix

Previous entries can be found in the directory.

We were somewhere near Phoenix, on the edge of the desert, when the vampires began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And then suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screech and diving around the car…We had one energetic and eccentric Alice, and one calming and lethargic Jasper. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious relationship with a vampire, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
–Bella S. Thompson

Chapter 20: Impatience

This chapter starts out by jumping ahead a day or so and then hazily working its way backward—it’s the first moderately “structured” chapter we’ve seen. It leads to some confusion with past-perfect tense—Bella talks about things that “had happened” but lapses into regular past tense and then shifts back again—but that’s really ground we’ve tread before. It does, however, bring some form/content questions into the fold. That isn’t to say I have any answers, but it’s worth bringing up.

Like everyone, I don’t really know what we mean when we say “post-modern” but a good working definition is “pertains to a work of art that in some way calls attention to itself as a work of art.” Semi-self-consciously toying with vampire myths aside, Twilight is not a post-modern novel. Most YA Fiction is not, and in some ways it might be one of the last bastions of “non-post-modernism,” if that is a thing. To quote David Foster Wallace’s self-deprecatingly post-modern essay “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky”:

Upon finishing Frank’s books, though, I think any serious America reader/writer will find himself driven to think hard about what exactly it is that makes many of the novelists of our place in time so thematically shallow and lightweight, so morally impoverished… why we seem to require of our art an ironic distance from deep convicting or desperate questions…[W]e now presume as a matter of course that “Serious” literature will be aesthetically distanced from real lived life.

So, okay, Twilight is not necessarily Serious Literature, and it is definitely “morally impoverished,”( profoundly so). But what’s key here is the fact that it does lack the ironic distance we are (supposedly) accustomed to. The Harry Potter series, books we can at least credit with skimming and appropriating most of the western cannon’s deep convicting and desperate questions, also lack this post-modern, form-over-content sheen. So why do we seem to exempt kids from the ironic distance we apparently require? Or is that what makes it YA fiction? (Is that why we like it despite it being YA Fiction? Aren’t we the ones who designated it YA Fiction in the first place?) Can the Great American Novel only be written by white men with post-graduate degrees?

Plenty of adult-fiction writers don’t write very well—John Grisham, to use an example DFW invokes in his essay. What makes Twilight for kids, exactly? Because it’s about kids? You can see how that logic would break down pretty quickly. Is it just a question of marketing, then? Adults like sexy legal dramas and kids like chaste vampires? As you are probably thinking, John Grisham is another one of those writers who lacks ironic distance, and he is not considered a YA writer. But he is considered a bad writer. Are we sure he actually is? Or is he just writing against the scholarly grain? Is the only thing stopping John Grisham from being a YA author the fact that he writes about the judicial system? In one way or another, it seems like we manage to find a way to relegate most of the new fiction not written by over-educated white men (like, it should be mentioned, David Foster Wallace) into one cultural ghetto or another. See also: Stephen King.

Are we sure Stephenie Meyer is a bad writer? If we limit the definition to “one who is able to structure dialogue properly, use capitalization and punctuation consistently, and avoid periodic Sarah Palin-esque syntactical train-wrecks,” then yes, she is a bad writer. But is that really the definition we want? Those are my most specific complaints with this book, but I was never making the argument that Twilight does or does not deserve to exist, nor whether or not Twilight deserves to be relegated to the intellectual dustbin. Adults who like Harry Potter do so with their own kind of ironic distance—you’ll find very few unabashed supporters the higher you go up the intellectual ladder. Why?

Let’s end the serious theoretical discussion here, but if anyone has an answer to the barrage of questions above, I’d like to hear it.

At the start of this chapter, Bella wakes up in a hotel room, unable at first to remember how she got there. She wanders from her bed to find the place trashed; Alice can’t find her pants, Jasper is missing a tooth, and there’s a tiger—okay well I made most of that up.

Bella does wake up in the hotel room dazed, after a marathon drive from Forks to Phoenix. Apparently she spent a good portion of the trip crying against Alice’s “granite neck,” and only remembers bits and pieces. They found a hotel near the airport in case they need to flee again, since we’ve already observed that their plan sucks and is doomed to fail. Alice dragged the still-half-conscious Bella to a bed; She’s woken up some undetermined period of time later. Bella eventually discerns that it is three in the morning, but isn’t sure of what day. Alice and Jasper are sitting in the other room, watching TV silently.

This chapter gives you the sense that being a vampire must be really boring most of the time—both of them are incredibly good at sitting completely still and doing absolutely nothing. It is suggested that they aren’t even really watching the TV, and that maybe they operate on a different time scale than normal humans do—their lives are apparently so uneventful that they’ve gotten used to just letting hours fall away, wasted.

This is actually a video clip, but you'd never know!

Naturally Bella is not so content, and she basically spends the chapter wandering back and forth from the bedroom being eaten alive by anxiety. She’s also a little suspicious about her protectors, who seem to be A) keeping something from her and B) as much concerned with controlling her and keeping her in one place as they are with protecting her. Bella thinks the weirdness and vague stress in the room has something to do with the fact that Carlisle hasn’t called yet and probably should have by now. Jasper doesn’t understand why Bella is afraid, as they are keeping her safe—none of the vampires seem to be able to grasp the idea that Bella is worried they themselves could get hurt trying to save her.

“What if something goes wrong, and they get separated? If something happens to any of them. Carlisle, Emmett…Edward…” I gulped. “If that wild female hurts Esme…”

Notice that Bella apparently could give a fuck if Rosalie dies. Alice tells her they are concerned for her basically because this is the first time Edward has been happy in a hundred years, and if anything should happen to Bella now no one will want to deal with the kind of super-asshole Edward will surely become for the next hundred. She says it in a nicer way than that, I’m just cutting through the bullshit.

Alice calls down to the front desk and tells them to ignore maid service for a while, and they proceed just sit in the hotel room for hours more. What must that look like to the hotel staff? Putting aside for a second the fact that three underage kids could even get a hotel room—two girls (one of whom was barely conscious) and one guy check into a hotel room and ask to not be disturbed for the next few days? Either it’s a serious drug binge or a serious orgy. Really, I’m surprised one of them hasn’t suggested doing either of those yet. They are really just going to sit in the room and do nothing? I feel like they should at least fool around, just for something to do. Maybe the drugs are in the subtext somewhere—Bella talks a lot about tracing abstract patterns in the wallpaper to pass the time, so she must be stoned right?

Bella knows that Jasper is controlling the emotional climate in the room—he’s basically got Bella on magic telekinetic vampire Quaaludes—and she doesn’t want to be sedated anymore so she decides to go back to bed to get away from him. Alice casually follows her into the bedroom. Cue porn music, but not really. Alice has no real sense of personal space, and because she’s a girl she thinks she can just follow Bella into the shower or whatever. It becomes abundantly clear that she is not going to be leaving Bella alone anytime soon.

They talk, and Bella gets Alice to explain how vampires get created, despite the fact that Edward apparently didn’t want her to know. Vampires have venom, which is meant to incapacitate their prey. Alice calls this “superfluous”—which is a weird concession to the theory of evolution, when you think about it. Vampires have a bunch of redundant abilities, sort of like how snakes have vestigial limb bones. It flies in the face of Edward’s earlier contention that humans and vampires must have been intelligently designed. I hope we get some kind of ideological tension in later books, like Edward is the Kirk Cameron of vampires and Alice is the Richard Dawkins (I’m Team Alice). But the use of the word “superfluous” as opposed to say “vestigial” leads me to think that S. Meyer actually wasn’t thinking about it that much and maybe would have changed the line if she knew it could be construed as a nod toward Charles Darwin.

So the thing with the venom is, if someone manages to get bitten by a vampire and NOT killed immediately thereafter, then after three days or so the venom goes all the way through his or her body and they have become a vampire. Apparently this process is rare, because A) few vampires have the self-control to do it, as in not just kill the person they’ve bitten, and B) it is also very painful. But Alice doesn’t remember her transformation, so she doesn’t really know how painful. She reminds us that she has no memory of being human at all. Why do I feel like that’s going to factor into the plot soon?

So something happens while they’re sitting on the bed—Alice gets a vision of the tracker in a room with a lot of mirrors. Then she sees him a room operating a VCR. Has he traveled back in time to 1996? Jasper explains that the vision means the tracker has changed course, and has now embarked on a series of actions that will eventually lead him to a VCR. So naturally no one has any idea what the fuck that means or what to do, whether they should call Carlisle and tell him to hang out at Blockbuster or just do nothing. Then Carlisle calls and talks to Alice, and then she puts Bella on the phone with Edward. Weirdly, this is the first time they’ve talked on the phone, right? I feel like they are missing out on an important rite of passage. Edward tells Bella they’ve lost track of the tracker, and she’ll be safe, and he misses her. Bella tries to be flirty, and Edward’s voice gets “hard,” but not in a good way. He’s too busy thinking about the tracker to have phone sex, which is too bad for him.

Alice starts sketching the vision she had of the room with the mirrors, and Bella points out that it looks like a ballet studio. In fact, it looks like the same dance studio she went to as a child, which is right around the corner from her mom’s house. Then everybody’s like, oh shit, but then they think for a little longer and they are all like wait, why would you go to a dance studio now? And they dismiss it outright, so I’m sure nothing will happen at all involving Bella and a dance studio for the rest of this book.

And that, I think, was the handle - that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Phoenix and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.- Raoul Swan

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

BLOGGING TWILGHT, pt. 19: Stephenie Take A Bow

I've been reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, and I can honestly say that the hating/loving ratio, which used to be something like 80/20, is now like 50/50, or maybe even 40/60. I don't know what's going on. But we are coming up on the end of Book 1, which is hard to believe. We made it, everybody! Previous entries can be found in the directory.

Chapter 19: Goodbyes

This is one of those chapters that sort of defies summary. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is well-written, but it is genuinely affecting. The fleeting glimpses we do get of Charlie in this book have endeared him to me, and it is actually upsetting to see him hurt. But Bella has to hurt him, enough to keep him from following her escape party. Okay, technically I guess she doesn't - there's an argument to be made that she could just tell him the truth - but I suppose time is a factor and you never really know how your dad will react when he finds out you've been dating a vampire as a result of which another vampire is now hunting you in order to kill and eat you. I mean, he could be fine with it, or he could freak out and run into the woods and get himself eaten, you don't really know.

On her way out of the car, Bella is still trying to think of what to say to her father. Emmett takes a moment to reassure her:

“Don’t worry, Bella,” he said in a low but cheerful voice, “we’ll take care of things up here quickly.”
I felt moisture filling up my eyes as I looked at Emmett. I barely knew him, and yet, somehow, not knowing when I would see him again after tonight was anguishing.

The tears inspire Bella, and as Edward walks her to the door she slams it in his face and starts screaming. Charlie jumps up and follows her as she storms into her room and closes the door. Edward is already there, packing her clothes. I feel like that would be weird, Edward selecting bras and all that. Weird for Bella, I mean. Great for Edward, I’m sure. Not that he hasn’t gone through her drawers before, while she sleeps. Dude probably knew exactly what to grab. Shudder.

Charlie’s on the other side of the door, shouting. Bella is shrieking hysterically. Edward makes for the truck and Bella storms back into the hallway. She tells Charlie that she broke up with Edward, because she didn’t want anything tying her down to Forks. Charlie physically stops her in the kitchen. “I don’t want to end up trapped in this stupid, boring town like Mom! I’m not going to make the same mistake she did,” she says. Charlie looks wounded, and all he can manage to say is “Bella, you can’t leave now. It’s nighttime.” Fucking heartbreaking, I’m not kidding. I’m weak. Then she twists the knife, saying the same words she remembers her mother saying as she left him: “Just let me go, Charlie.” Her father stands in the doorway, stunned, as she runs away in tears.

I know I have a lot of fun at S. Meyer’s expense here, but seriously: Brava, Stephenie. That’s a hell of a scene. Or is it bravo?

Edward takes the wheel, as Bella is in hysterics. Alice is behind them in the Jeep. Edward tells her the tracker heard the end of her fight with Charlie—so presumably has taken the intended bait—and is following them right now. Edward is filled with remorse and anguish, and for once it seems justified. Before he was only paranoid about his own perceived inability to control himself around her (during sex—I mean, marriage—especially), but now his enthusiasm for bringing Bella into his world has genuinely put her at risk. The next time your new boyfriend/girlfriend brings you to meet his/her parents, remember that no matter how awkward it is, the night will almost certainly not end with you being hunted by an undead sociopath.

I suppose there was an outside chance that even if Edward had never met Bella she could have met an end at some other vampire’s hands—he jokes that it is partially her fault, after all, because she smells “so appallingly luscious”—but what really made the situation desperate was the fact that Edward made a show of defending her on the baseball field. “[W]e’ve just made it his most exciting game ever,” Edward says.

So I suppose this is as good a time as any to mention that my previously mentioned possibly dogmatic writing professor who opposed the use of any colorful word meaning “said” other than “said” was not alone on that. On a recent episode of the Slate Culture Gabfest, they were discussing an article from the Guardian in which several prominent fiction writers were asked for their 10 Rules For Writing Fiction, and Elmore Leonard proscribed the very same behavior: don’t use “replied,” “asked,” “shouted,” et al. when writing dialogue. Leonard took it a step further—don’t color the “said” with an adverb. So “Edward said darkly” is against the rules too.

Part of that is if you’re a good writer you can convey the emotions you need to convey in other ways, but I don’t know think that’s Stephenie Meyer’s problem. I wouldn’t have any problem figuring out the emotions in the car without all the “shouted” and “said with a smile” stuff. Most of the stuff that Edward says darkly is pretty dark anyway. In this case it has more to do with the unmentioned other half of that rule—having faith in your readers to figure it out for themselves. I always come down on the side of having faith in your audience, but this being YA Fiction, maybe Stephenie Meyer is right. A few months ago during the heat of the health care debate I wrote three sketches sarcastically calling for the privatization of other government services. My friend Jory Caron wanted to put a disclaimer at the end of the video making it clear that we were being satirical. I was against it, because I thought it was totally obvious. People who have to finish something with “in case you couldn’t tell, I was being sarcastic” don’t have enough confidence in their work. And it was totally obvious, actually, but he was still right. When we released our video calling for the privatization of the fire department, we got flooded with angry messages from people claiming to be firefighters attacking us for you know, calling them fascists (in very obvious jest). And that was with the disclaimer at the end.

I’m not going to stop having faith in people, but maybe S. Meyer knows something I don’t know.

Edward says he thinks they are going to have to kill James to keep him from hunting Bella—recall that a long time ago Edward mentioned that there are very few ways to kill a vampire but did not elaborate—so we finally find out how to do that. “The only way to be sure is to tear him to shreds, and then burn the pieces,” Edward says. Well, that’s simple enough! I thought for sure it was going to be an elaborate, multi-step process. You can kill a normal person that way, too!

They get to the Cullen house, and Emmett literally picks up Bella from the car and runs her into the house tucked in his arms like a football. The rest of the Cullens are there, and so is Laurent. We learn that Alice “danced to Jasper’s side” (of course) and whispered in his ear, and they go running up the stairs to pack. A while ago I was speculating as to the nature of Laurent’s evil—he seemed friendly enough, so what was going to be wrong with this guy? Turns out his thing is he’s a coward. He was hanging out with James and Vicki because it was easy, and now that shit is getting heavy he’s decided to flee. Laurent is a real douchebag. He starts talking about how relentless James is, then looks over at Bella and says to Edward “Are you sure it’s worth it?” OH SNAP. Edward roars, Laurent cowers. He’s also the kind of asshole who lingers in a room for too long (echoes of Mike) before he finally decides that no one is going to offer to help him. Carlisle diplomatically tells him to “go in peace,” and then he’s gone.

The Cullens decide to leave in groups. There are some funny moments here, because the vampires are so impatient that when one of them has to take Bella somewhere they just pick her up and carry her rather than wait for her slow human legs. Edward tries to get Rosalie to switch clothes with Bella, but she won’t do it, so Edward basically pretends she’s dead (which I guess maybe she is) and asks Esme the same question. She runs Bella up the stairs and starts taking our heroine’s clothes off. It’s kind of awkward. Edward, Emmett, and Carlisle leave first—Edward and Bella have a goodbye kiss, but she notes his eyes are “curiously dead” as he turns away.

There’s a beat where the rest of them wait for Carlisle’s signal and Bella has to stand in a room with a bunch of vampires awkwardly looking away while she cries. It’s a great little moment, thankfully not over-explicated. Like that “real crying jag” line from a long time ago, there are plenty of individual bits of pretty good writing scattered around here. Usually they seem to involve crying.

Esme and Rosalie leave, and when Alice goes to get the car Bella is left alone with Jasper.

“You’re wrong, you know,” he said quietly.
“What?” I gasped.

“I can feel what you’re feeling now—and you are worth it.”

Perceptive kid, huh? That’s a pretty specific emotion—inadequacy? I always thought Jasper could “feel” sadness, happiness, tense or calm feelings, that sort of thing. If it extends much further than that it’s basically mind-reading and no different from Edward, right? I feel like we should keep the vampire-powers distinct. Maybe Jasper is just being a nice guy and he’s lying.

Alice actually asks permission before picking up Bella and carrying her out the door, for which Bella is grateful. When you’re being hunted by an undead psychopath and you have to stage elaborate histrionic freakouts to protect your father and your boyfriend has just left you alone and on the lam for an undetermined period of time with his awkward vampire siblings, you learn to appreciate the little things.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

BLOGGING TWILIGHT, pt. 18: You Can Never Go Home

I've been reading and blogging about Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. And how long have I been reading and blogging about it? A while. Previous entries can be found in the directory.

Chapter 18: The Hunt

Enter the bad guys (and also, some semblance of a plot!). The (presumably) evil trio of vampires come out of the woods into the field where Bella and the Cullens (my new band name, obviously) are playing baseball and introduce themselves nicely. Huh? That’s not how villains behave! Everyone is too nice in this book.

S. Meyer does something genuinely clever here, mentioning offhandedly that the two males switch places as they exit the forest “in a manner that clearly displayed who led the pack.” We will eventually learn that this display was just that—a display. It’s a detail I missed the first time through this chapter, but I see what you did there S. Meyer.

Bella characterizes the new vampires as “different” from the Cullens. They are more animalistic, their walk is “cat-like.” We just heard that Alice moves like a gazelle, and earlier heard that Edward hunted like a lion, though. So I guess it’s not that different, but whatever.

The bad vampires dress like “backpackers,” but I’d say they sound a little more like “vagrant dope-fiends”: no shoes, they walk as though they are “constantly on the edge of shifting to a crouch” and the female has “leaves and debris” in her hair. They straighten up around the dapper Cullens (my new techo side-project, obviously) and then come the introductions. In the movie one of them is black, right? I don’t think any of them are black here. One has “olive-toned” skin—he’s Laurent—and he might be black. Later he is described as “the dark-haired one.” I’m getting mixed signals. The girl is Victoria, who has “brilliant orange hair” described as “chaotic” and (as we already learned) debris-filled. Last is James, who is literally described as “nondescript.” Really? It’s like S. Meyer ran out of adjectives. In the movie, I remember that James is the one who looks like Sabretooth in the first X-Men movie. But maybe here James is the black one, and S. Meyer just can’t bring herself to write “and then there was a black one.” They also have deep burgundy eyes. Doesn’t that clash with Vicki’s hair?

Laurent is friendly—dare I say likable?—and Carlisle lets slip a few details as they chit-chat, mentioning that they keep a permanent residence nearby. Why tell them that? He’s either bragging or evangelizing (which is its own sort of bragging). Laurent says something about them having a lot to learn about each other, so Carlisle invites them back to the house—he’s trying to get a chance to let Bella slip away.

But then the wind blows. Remember The Happening? That movie sucked, but the most common thing people object to is the whole idea that wind is supposed to be scary. There’s nothing wrong with that. The Ring expects us to fear a VHS tape, no? The problem with The Happening is that M. Night Shyamalan is a terrible writer, and his idea of a funny joke is to have a character talk about hot dogs a lot. It’s actually similar in genus or species to a Glenn Beck “joke,” which is to say it is some kind of set-up without a punchline, or just a complaint spoken with exaggerated disbelief. There’s no real construction to it. The Happening is actually sort of fun in an “I can’t believe this is a real movie I am watching” sort of way though, despite the scorn heaped on it. The real abomination in M. Night’s catalog is Lady In The Water. There’s an old saying that “comedy should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.” The same is true about M. Night Shyamalan. Lady In The Water is such a navel-gazing, self-absorbed piece of shit it’s like M. Night was trying to become the Charlie Kaufman of retards.

Anyway, all of that is to say that here, a brief gust of wind is unsettling, because obviously it carries Bella’s scent to the new vamps. Everybody immediately freaks out. Shit commences hitting fans. What’s funny is Laurent is just genuinely surprised—all of his evil senses (if he even has any) abandon him because a human at a vampire baseball game is such a mindfuck.

James is a little more like “DO WANT,” and he and Edward start snarling and posturing. It gets tense. Laurent does the math and realizes he should probably not let the situation escalate when they’re outnumbered, so he makes nice and accepts the invite back to Chez Cullen. Jasper, Rosalie, Esme and Carlisle agree to show them the way (now I’ve got Peter Frampton stuck in my head) while Alice, Emmett, Edward, and Bella get the fuck out of there. James seems pissed off that Laurent is being so accommodating.

A few chapters ago I was wondering when Bella’s weekend was finally going to be over and the mundane school schedule would kick back in, but now I realize that’s not going to happen. In fact, I think it’s finally time for this:

Shit did just got real. They run through the woods back to the Jeep (sadly, Emmett does not yell “GET TO ZE HUMMA!”) and Edward just floors it and starts driving somewhere.

He mad.

He mumbles another string of unintelligible profanities, and Bella starts to try and get out of the harness she’s strapped into. Emmett holds her in place. This scene is probably supposed to be kinda hot, Bella restrained and all that, but mostly it’s kind of creepy until Alice starts to chime in on Bella’s behalf. That doesn’t make it hot either, I just mean it stops being so creepy.

I really never had a sense that Alice was supposed to be very important, from either the media campaigns around the Twilight film or the film itself. But she really is! Alice tries to get Edward to pull over.

“You don’t understand,” he roared in frustration… “[James is] a tracker, Alice, did you see that? He’s a tracker!” (382)

For some reason I’m hearing Edward in McNulty’s voice right now. Like this rage is earned for once. Or maybe it’s because he’s driving recklessly.

Emmett stiffens at the sound of the word “tracker” but I don’t think it’s the good kind of stiffening. Alice again commands Edward to pull over “with a ring of authority.” It eventually works, but first Edward says James will probably get a hold of Bella’s scent and follow it through town—and Bella realizes this will take him to Charlie. So they get down to formulating a plan. Edward refuses to take Bella back to Forks. “He’s no match for us,” Emmett says. “He won’t be able to touch her.” Edward counters that the tracker will just wait. “I can wait, too,” Emmett replies, smiling. We’re getting there, Emmett! I’m still waiting for the one-liner that will endear this guy to me.

Emmett and Alice come around to the idea that Charlie has to be protected. Edward has a tantrum for a few more pages, but eventually he calms down. They decide to take Bella back to her house (knowing that James will follow them there) where she will pretend to get angry at Charlie, storm out, and run away. Then they’ll get out of Dodge. This plan turns out to be more complicated—Bella can’t go away alone, but she can’t go with Edward, because it would be weird if he’s not around Forks after she disappears (N.B. this detail turns out to not matter at all, because Bella leaves Forks going South and Edward immediately goes North, leading away the bad guys. So I guess keeping up appearances is not all that important. But whatever, you have to get Bella and Edward apart for a few chapters somehow, right?). Emmett doesn’t want to leave Edward, so Alice agrees to go off with Jasper and Bella. There’s also a lot of concern about who is going to take what car (echoes of the jackets) but I’ll spare you that.

Bella also realizes that when she gets fake-angry at Charlie she should say she’s going back to Phoenix, so that the tracker will hear her and think that she’s trying to throw him off, and you know, not going to Phoenix. But then she’ll really go to Phoenix, which will be the last thing he will expect!

“She’s diabolical,” Emmett chuckled.

Okay, but that’s more like the third thing he would expect, you know? Maybe he’ll look somewhere else first, and follow any red herrings the Cullens throw his way, but he’ll probably check Arizona before he heads to Afghanistan or Zimbabwe or something, right? She’s not even going to go back to her mother’s house in Phoenix—just in case the plan doesn’t work. They’re just going to stay in a hotel or something. So why not go to Mexico?

This plan sucks.