I have read all of the Twilight books. I have not seen all of the movies, since they tend toward the stupid when you get passed the third one (pretty stupid getting to that point, but still tolerable).
I used to be on the bandwagon, just like many of us were. I thought the books had something new and interesting, I thought the characters were romantic and pretty fun. I genuinely enjoyed reading the books.
In high school.
That was a long time ago for me now, and like anyone who’s left their adolescence far behind them, a few things have changed. I have a bunch more hair now, I have bills and an engagement, and I got more mature. Specifically, mature enough to realize that the books, and especially the movies, are pretty creepy.
Yet, I really don’t mind reading them again, even now. I realize perfectly well that Edward’s obsession with Bella and the way he treats her are truly stalker-creepy. I also acknowledge utterly that Jacob’s treatment of Bella throughout the series is emotionally manipulative and very toxic. Bella is a Mary Sue, the superpowers for vampires is kind of lame, and the ending to the entire series is anti-climactic and boring.
All of that is true of the series.
And then Life and Death came out, and I have been curious ever since.
For those who don’t know, Stephanie Meyer doubled down on the criticism of her characters, something kind of unprecedented when talking about books. In the Forward for the book, she states that she’s been aware of the backlash against Bella for being a damsel and for the obsessions between the two characters and how unhealthy it is, and thus, decided to perform an experiment
What if you took the cast of Twilight, and did a Genderbend? Or, what if you made all of the male characters female, and all of the female characters male? What would that do to the story? More importantly, it would be a test to prove that the story held up no matter what gender they were, and that by switching them, people could come to their conclusions about the book and realize that it wasn’t as bad as they had envisioned.
In my opinion, I think it’s a pretty genius move. In fact, I thought the experiment was fascinating for a few reasons. For one, nothing like this has ever really been attempted before by another author, and no other author would really have the courage to try and pull it off. Other books in the mainstream right now haven’t gotten the same kind of flack as Twilight, unless you count 50 Shades, but a classic like that simply cannot be changed (a young boy writer becoming a submissive to a rich play girl? I mean, maybe? But it kind of loses the audience, gender is more important for that story).
Hemingway didn’t go back and change any of his characters to thwart critics, nor any other noteworthy author. This is something usually reserved for the fans to mess around with the characters and experiment after the fact, not a project that the author herself takes on. It’s pretty wild.
What’s more, it could actually work out for her. For perhaps the first and only time ever, we have author going back and professionally editing her own work post-publishing. If this worked, it could open the door for other authors to follow in her footsteps. Is your story to misogynistic or old fashioned? Just publish it and wait for the tumblrites to start blogging about it and change it later to better suit the climate. At first glance, the self-censure implies that there’ something inherently wrong with the story, but perhaps there actually is. Suddenly, if you’re first book is not quite the success you were looking for, you can take the first edition out of print and make something new out of a good premise, turning a crappy book into a better one. It’s exciting for someone like me who really likes a good premise and wants to see them succeed. I’m willing to see someone learn from their mistakes.
The other, and more obvious possibility, was that the experiment could fail, but even that was interesting in its own, tragic kind of way. For if the grand re-write failed, that implied there was something truly wrong with the story of Twilight that no amount of character changing could repair.
If it was going to be a failure, it would be a fascinating failure.
And so, I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy, as cheaply as I could (if this WAS going to suck, she didn’t need more of my money). So when Sam found it hanging out at the library, she picked up a copy for us to look at, and we began yesterday. As a warning to everyone reading, this is going to be a bit of a long one. I really want to get into the meat of the story. If we can peel back the skin and look at the sparkling inner workings, we can really determine where the success or fault truly lies. So in the first part of three posts, we’re going to go through the first eight chapters, so we can be as detailed as we need to ensure we get the full picture.
As always, there’s gonna be hella spoilers all throughout. I encourage anyone to read the book for themselves and form their own opinions. But if you’re like many who are curious but don’t feel like reading it again, I entreat you to join me as we experience it together.
Let’s get to it.
Charlie and Renee remain the genders assigned before, as well as Renee’s new boyfriend that forces Bella, now Beau (Beaufort? Really?) to leave in the first place. It’s an interesting choice, but looking back at the Forward, Meyer gives a reason.
“Beau was born in 1987. It was a rare thing for a father to get primary custody of a child in those days – even more so if the child was a baby.” – Stephanie Meyer
In her eyes, apparently it would be easier to notice the fact that the father kept the child from the mother than the fact that everyone had changed genders other than the parents in the scope of the new book (it wasn’t, that thought never even occurred to me)
I’m not buying it, Meyer. To be real, we’re talking about believability in a world of vampires, werewolves, and super powers, so already we’re suspending our disbelief. We wouldn’t have to push that much further to get there. But it also reveals the first symptoms of a deeper problem that we’ll probably get into later. The first symptom being, if you change the gender, and it is the year that you say it is, characters would have become substantially different by the time we saw them in the series. The year is still 2005, the whole Tumblr spread notion of raising kids gender neutral was still a pretty new thing. Thus, people would probably be really different when we got to meet them having been brought up as either a boy or a girl.
I felt like there was a missed opportunity. Why can’t Beau leave his whimsical father who wants to travel with his new, zany girlfriend to stay with his kick butt cop mom? She would have been serious, focused on her career, and not really interested in raising an infant. But looking after a teenage boy, although still a colossal pain in the ass, seems easier and a little more dignified than changing diapers. Some woman would probably think like that, and it would have been a breath of fresh air for a series that’s slowly moving to the dusty back of everyones’ bookshelves.
But I digress.
Beau gets to Forks in the same way as Bella, but almost immediately gets into a fight on arriving. I struggled to think of a reason for this, but I came with up with a few guesses. For one, I think it shows early that Beau is just as clumsy as Bella (I find that hard to believe. I have never met a boy I would have classified as clumsy, big or small, tall or short). It sets up some later events and also might be there to show that Beau is a “big, strong man like his dad”? And the fight is pretty much over nothing with a guy that’s shorter than Beau and his shitty girlfriend?
We’re off to a really good start.
Beau still gets his truck and is still really awkward. He heads to school and things continue as they do in the first book. He meets some “normal”, but boring friends at school that aren’t vampires before seeing the Cullen’s for the first time
First of all, changing the genders of Bella’s human friends made something very apparent to me: they are all super boring. Like watching paint dry while reading a math textbook boring. All of the human friends are generic characters with no soul. They don’t want for anything, they have no goals or anything else other than just being a group of kids hanging at high school. On the other hand, the Cullen’s are all way over interesting with so much going on its hard to follow. In Twilight, it wasn’t so confusing, but in here, it gets a little over complicated if you knew the characters from before and how they’ve changed in the rewrite.
And how they don’t.
Because, whether girl or guy, the humans are just really boring. I don’t care about them at all, and changing the names a little and what gender they identify with only makes them more cookie-cutter high school stereotypes (Wasn’t this book supposed to prove the opposite?). It’s blatantly obvious that there’s nothing unique or fun about them, and you already know it’s not them you should be worried about, it’s the vampires. Which is a little unfair, I think. All of the characters have the right to be interesting, at least have something about them that makes them fun when they’re around. Seeing them pop up in the story just makes me want to skip forward (which I had to do at a few places).
The Cullen’s have also all changed. What I liked about the book before was that they were all very characterized. You could tell that Meyer spent some time with them to make them interesting, and it just goes to show what she can do when she gives those characters the time of day they deserve. They weren’t super diverse, but they all had their own personalities and things that they wanted or hoped for. That was a nice change of pace.
Here, however, it kind of gets confusing who is who since all of the names have changed. They all still kind of represent high school stereotypes, which makes them recognizable, but for those who have read the book, you know you don’t really get to be around them until later in the book. Right now, it’s all about Edwar-I mean Edythe (yea, I know right?).
Beau heads to biology, and things are just as normal. Blood-crazed vampire doing everything she can not to kill you in front of the whole class since your blood is just so delicious. Normal stuff that happens everyday. Things also continue with the weird cryptic hints from Edythe and Beau trying to ignore them. He also still gets asked out three times for the dance, which is another problem I had.
I was willing to let that slide in the first book. Three guys asking a girl out, even on the same day, is pretty rare, but not unheard of. And it made sense. Sure, it was stupid because it showed “hey look at Bella, she’s so desirable. Everyone wants to be with her but she just wants to be with Edward”. Yea, that was really dumb, but it’s high school, and all the boys really want to do is make out and get laid, even if the girl is super uninteresting, which Bella is.
But the same would not hold true for the new boy in town, I refuse to believe something like that would happen, even in a world full of vampires. Beau states right out that he’s a boring person with no hobbies because all he does is take care of his mom. The fact alone just shows me now, more than ever, how dumb that was in retrospect. No one goes through life without picking up things they like to do. No one is that boring. That just makes for lazy writing. “But oh, they can only have each other in their lives. All they care about is the other person”. And that’s the problem. That’s really creepy, Meyer. People, vampire or not, would not be like that. There’s no excuse for it.
There is no way that three different girls would all ask out the same guy in the span of a single day with a personality like Beau’s. Gender roles aside, if we’re being honest, girls aren’t going to go with a guy for looks alone. There has to be at least something about him that makes him interesting for them to take notice, otherwise he’s just another face in the crowd. Beau is the most boring human on planet Earth by design. There’s no way that many women would suddenly latch on as soon as they saw a new face, no matter how small the town was. Better luck next time, Meyer.
Edythe plays a little hard to get and Beau gets frustrated despite his growing interest in her. This now fully changes Edward’s character from being a knight in shattered armor to a manic pixie dream girl in Edythe. All of the signs are there: she only cares about Beau and his needs, she doesn’t have to worry about herself since shes’s just a vampire. She’s mysterious and put up on a pedestal for Beau and it’s all just really lame now, more than it ever was. They go to the beach, meet the Quilettes on the reservation, Julie Black (seriously?). They head to Port Angeles and Beau almost gets hella dead when he runs into the couple he almost got into a fight with at the beginning of the book (So what’s why they were there!). Apparently they also think he’s a cop since they saw his dad before, even though he definitely looks like he’s seventeen. They are more than willing to just kill him when Edythe swoops in for the rescue. Because, you know, they can’t do the whole “rapey” thing here since Beau is a guy (wow, that was really stupid in the first book too).
They go out to eat because Beau just doesn’t care that he almost got iced in the streets, and Edythe is being overprotective to try and prove the point that it wasn’t weird before, anyone would have read all of the minds and town and hunted someone down just to protect them from something no one knew was going to happen. It still comes across as really weird and awkward that she cares so strongly about Boring Beau, more so than ever before. Beau tries to be gentlemanly about their “date” by trying to open doors and even pay for the meal, but I feel like it kind of spoils the fantasy, right? Part of Edward’s appeal was that he appeared to be a gentlemen in a world where chivalry had died. He would open doors and pay for things and compliment you and all of the things nice guys feed on to try and pick up chicks. Trying to do it the other way is interesting, but for people who really liked the aspect before, the dream is over.
Thus concludes the first eight chapters, with Beau having some idea of what the Cullen’s are. I apologize for the length, but I’m just really interested in the experience. Be sure to check back for the next two parts while we make our way through to chapter sixteen. I may not like Stephanie Meyer much as an author, but I will say, she’s given me a lot of material to work with. So thank you, and we’ll be back soon with the next part in this disaster.