Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Twilight (halfway through)

I am halfway through the book, Twilight, and many times I have felt the urge to throw it across the room. At the halfway point, this book offends my feminist sensibility and romanticizes controlling behaviors that, in my line of work, I have been trained to see as red flags for abuse in relationships. This books makes me so angry. And I am horrified that so many young girls LOVE this book and see the vampire protagonist, Edward, as "dreamy", an ideal boyfriend. Ugh!! I am so tempted to toss it out all together.

The thing that keeps me from doing this is that is that the book belongs to my friends Juli and John. And it's not that I want to take care of things I have borrowed (which I do), but because I have such respect for Juli and John as intelligent, thoughtful, reflective, and feminist people. And they loved the book. And so many other people I know, love, and respect, absolutely LOVE this book, indeed the whole series. My college friend Becky, a feminist and a children's librarian, claims that this is one of the few series she has ever reread. What am I missing here? I am committing myself to finishing the book to answer that very question.

In the meantime, I am wrestling with the intense response this book has provoked in me. Part of my response is cerebral. But much, much more is emotional and personal. And while it is tempting to keep all of that at a distance, to strictly write a rational, feminist evaluation, if I am going to honestly critique this book, without having even finished it, then at least I need to acknowledge the emotional component of my response up front.

So, where to begin? Stephenie Meyer certainly does know her audience. She writes to teenage girls, in the voice of a teenage girl. And she skillfully and exquisitely captures the angst and insecurity, vulnerability and turmoil of adolescence and young love. Her female protagonist, Bella, doubts her abilities, lacks confidence, and sees herself as clumsy, dumpy, and ordinary. Just like I did. Didn't you? And Bella becomes infatuated with beautiful, brilliant, strong, and mysterious Edward, who happens to be a vampire. Talk about the ultimate bad boy. But Edward doesn't always play like the bad boy. He's becomes Bella's knight in shining armor, her savior. Again and again, he saves her life, proving that he is really a good guy, despite that pesky little thirst for human blood thing. And Edward doesn't want to be bad. He struggles with his own nature. He's a tortured soul, who longs for human contact and he turns to Bella, who is the only person who can truly know him and who can save him from himself. He sees beyond her perceived ordinariness to the exception wisdom, beauty, and mystery she possesses.

A perfect romance, eh? The beautiful, tortured boy saves the plain, ordinary girls from great evil (and mundane living), and she in turns saves him from his a loneliness and through her love, helps him to find himself. It's what every teenage girl dreams, right? I know I did. Bella becomes hopelessly weak and reckless in her infatuation. And she doesn't show the strength or backbone I would want her to show. She gets all ga-ga and stupid. But every girl does that. As my friend Jen states, "Weren't we all a little dysfunctional at seventeen?"

But this book, at least the first half, goes beyond the "normal" dysfunction of teenage girls in love. Edward's behavior is consistent with that of an abuser. He professes his desire to keep Bella safe, from danger in the world and from his own nature. On one hand he tells her that she is amazing and strong, and all the while he undermines her confidence. He claims that she is so special and unique that she needs to be protected. Never mind that Bella has done a fine job taking care of herself for seventeen years with absent parents. Suddenly, she is "delicate" and needs the protection only he can offer. And Edward casts everyone around her is a threat to her, even her friends and himself. And so he begins to manipulate her to mistrust her friends and to lie to those around her. Classic abuser behavior. He constantly does this come-closer-pull-away trick, to keep her uncertain of their relationship. Remember, she no longer has friends she can confide in the help her discern what is happening between her and Edward. He is extremely jealous of any attention given to her by other boys or any attention she may show to them, even as friends. Edward constantly tells Bella that he just cannot resist her, that she has such power over him. And he's a stalker. He follows her. He watches her sleeping. He eavesdrops on conversations.

And when Bella finds out, she thinks it's romantic. "Ah, he likes me."

And when teenage girls read this, they think it's romantic. "Ah, he likes her."

And when teenage boys treat teenage girls like this, they think it's romantic. "Ah, he likes me."

But it's not romantic. It's sketchy. It's creepy. It's controlling. It's manipulative. And it's abusive.

My friend Amy, a leader of the Women's Center on our seminary campus, has told me to "hang in there", that Bella develops a backbone and matures as the story progresses. I hope she's right. And I hope that when Stephenie Meyer smartens Bella up, that she will call out Edward's controlling, manipulative behaviors and name them unacceptable. Otherwise she does a great disservice to her readers by framing romance in the terms of these abusive behaviors.

I am continuing to read. And if I feel the need to throw the book while reading it, I will just conjure up any of the Edwards I have known (and loved) in my life and throw the book at them.


  1. This is a great half-review! I will continue to maintain that yes, lots of intelligent and mature women find Edward a bit over-bearing (to say the least). I find Edward completely inexperienced. I find him at a frozen state of 17, where he has never EVER felt this way about anyone, human or vampire. I find him unable to control his thoughts and actions, which is completely out of character for him. He is a champion at controlling himself and has been for decades. All of a sudden, this girl appears, and his life does a 180. He doesn't want her to go away, but he knows that she should, he doesn't want her to get hurt (by him, his family, or anyone else that's out there), so he secretly begins to protect her. I do see your point, but I have read quite a lot about Edward and Stephenie's perspective on writing him, and I simply have a different opinion about his motives. When you are done with Twilight, you should go to Stephenie's site and read the partial manuscript of Midnight Sun, which is Twilight written by her from Edward's point of view. It changes things greatly. It is spectacular. I am happy to send you the link if you decide to finish the book and want to continue to explore Edward and his motives. :) (It's Becky, BTW.) Great review and good blog!

  2. Thanks, Becky. I did finish the book (after putting it on hold for a few days). Meyer is quite a story teller; she certainly pulls me in. Please send the link for Midnight Sun. That certainly sounds interesting.

    If I were still doing congregational work and interacting with youth on a regular basis, (first of all, I would have read it years ago, since I tried to stay abreast on what youth were into) I would certainly use this book as a launching pad for a discussion on healthy vs. unhealthy romantic relationships, empowering young people to think critically about the behaviors exhibited in this book and to determine what is good and healthy and what is not. This is fodder for some great conversation. Regardless of Edward's motives or perspective, his behavior is "consistant with that of an abuser". Helping the young people who LOVE this book to understand that and to recognize such behaviors is essential.