Thursday, February 05, 2009

Fosco Reads What Your Nieces Are Reading

Succumbing to the pestering of several people in his life, Fosco finally read YA lit juggernaut Twilight this week. In case you've been living in Wasilla, Alaska for the past year, Twilight was a genuine pop culture phenomenon in 2008--and not just for teens and tweens. Apparently, there is a large group of Americans who want(ed) to date a vampire in high school. Or, as frequent Fosco Lives! commenter The BeeMistress put it: "everyone needs a boyfriend that sparkles." True enough: Fosco regularly sprinkles Oz with glitter while he sleeps.

So what can Fosco say about Twilight? Well, the short answer is that it's not as bad as he thought it would be (although it's not "good" by any means). It's even appealing enough for Fosco to read the next book in the series (he'll keep you updated with that project). And there are some interesting innovations that Mormon authoress Stephenie Meyer makes in the standard vampire lore, like the aforementioned sparkliness of vampires (but only in direct sunlight).

And yet, at the same time, most of the book is a big ol' mess--from the standpoints of originality, consistency, narrative, and politics. Here are some of Fosco's observations:

  • The story is about a high school girl who falls in love with a vampire who resists his natural urges to feed on humans. Yet, they can never consummate their love physically. In the end, he takes her to prom. You know, I actually liked that story quite a bit when I heard it the first time--when it was called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
  • This is less a fantasy novel than a romance novel. If you're looking for Harry Potter or The Golden Compass, you'll be disappointed. There is the skeleton of an adventure story in the book, but it is downplayed (even at its climax) by the romance. One might suggest that the "suspenseful" preface is misleading, as it suggests a much more eventful novel. I think Meyer was pretty careless there.
  • Speaking of careless: on page 97, our heroine Bella gets nauseous and almost faints at the sight of blood. Forty pages earlier, in the emergency room, she watches as classmate Tyler is treated for cuts:
    I recognized Tyler Crowley from my Government class beneath the bloodstained bandages wrapped tightly around his head.
    As we spoke, nurses began unwinding his soiled bandages, exposing a myriad of shallow slices all over his forehead and left cheek.
    Hmmm. It makes you wonder if anyone edited this book at all.
  • Why does Bella, who is apparently a good student, have to hate math? Could we maybe someday find a girl in fiction who likes math? Or who doesn't really care either way? Some parts of this novel read like they were written by Larry Summers.
  • Maybe I will sound like a teen boy here, but shouldn't there be some fighting in a novel about vampires? And if you are going to describe the one very specific way that vampires can be killed, shouldn't that actually happen somewhere in the novel? It's not that I need violence; it's just that there was an implicit promise of maybe just a little...
  • Here's a weird little sentence:
    I concentrated on the news, watching out for stories about Florida, or about [baseball] spring training--strikes or hurricanes or terrorist attacks--anything that might send them home early. (421)
    Why would anyone think to include "terrorist attacks" on a list of things that might cancel baseball spring training? It just seems like a ludicrous thought. If I'd been editing this novel (and somebody should have been), I would have crossed that out immediately.
  • Is it possible that the whole novel is just religious propaganda for sexual abstinence?
  • And speaking of propaganda, can you imagine a Creationist vampire? Vampire Edward:
    "Or, if you don't believe that all this world could have just happened on its own, which is hard for me to accept myself, is it so hard to believe that the same force that created the delicate angelfish with the shark, the baby seal and the killer whale, could create both our kinds together?" (308)
    I'm not sure what Edward has been doing with his time since he became a vampire in 1918, but apparently college hasn't been part of it.
  • You know what this book is? It's tween girl p*rn. I use the word p*rn here in the sense of material that is designed to evoke comforting yet unrealistic fantasies on the part of specific consumers. (And I don't use the actual word here because I don't really fancy either Google or the FBI coming across a phrase like "tween girl p*rn" on this website.) And what tween girl fantasy is in play here? Think about this:
    While he walked me to English, when he met me after Spanish, all through the lunch hour, he questioned me relentlessly about every insignificant detail of my existence. Movies I'd liked and hated, the few places I'd been and the many places I wanted to go, and books--endlessly books.
    I couldn't remember the last time I'd talked so much. More often than not, I felt self-conscious, certain I must be boring him. But the absolute absorption of his face, and his never-ending stream of questions, compelled me to continue. (229)
    (I'll note here in passing that, despite their shared interest in "books--endlessly books," never do we see Edward reading one and we certainly never see him and Bella discussing one. Books just aren't sexy enough to make it into this narrative.) So what tween girl fantasy is being served here? Clearly, it's the fantasy of a (gorgeous) boy who wants to know everything about them--and who finds it all totally fascinating. Our culture has spent the better part of the last few decades convincing our children that each and every one of them is a precious unique snowflake; naturally, the next logical step is for these snowflake children to want to talk (endlessly) about what makes them so precious and unique.

    Now I'm not saying that each child isn't genetically unique and morally precious; however, I am saying that there is no tween girl (or boy) in this country that has anything interesting to say about their interests, their thoughts, or their lives. They all like the Jonas Brothers, they all wish their parents would treat them more like adults, and they all want to go to the beach for summer vacation. More or less. But before you think I'm being unfair to tweens, let me note that there are very few adults who are more interesting. Most of us like Coldplay, wish we didn't have to work, and want a new flat-screen television (I know I do). My point here is that "every insignificant detail of [our] existence" is just not interesting. Ever. And you just aren't going to find someone (especially someone as gorgeous as Edward) who is actually that interested in it. Either that person is faking or brain-damaged.

    But wait, you say, what's wrong with reading a book that plays to this fantasy? Isn't YA lit all about fantasy? I guess. There is certainly something to be said for escapism. But isn't YA lit also about finding ways to negotiate the adult world? And in the same way that gay porn is a pretty bad guide to the real world of sex (the pizza delivery boy is never hot in real life and, even if he were, he would never join Fosco and Oz for a threesome), books like Twilight are not going to be very helpful when it comes to crafting a meaningful romantic relationship.
As you probably know from reading this blog, Fosco is not above trashy books (does Gossip Girl ring a bell?). And so, even with all these flaws, Fosco isn't going to advocate burning Twilight in a giant Sarah Palin-inspired bonfire. However, he can still wish it were a better, less silly book. And he can also wish for a more thoughtful, more intelligent heir to the Harry Potter "tweentertainment" throne.


Anonymous said...

Hey! You gave it a try, so that's good. I would say, though, in defense of tween girls everywhere - that's not just porn for tweens, it's girl fantasy for all ages! All women want a man so interested in her he wants to know everything about her. All women want a man who's got a tendency (disposition? inclination?) toward a dark side, but supresses it for her. So despite some crazy-ass writing, it does appeal.

And I want to go to the beach during summer vacation as well. Maybe I am a tween girl!

Speaking of tweens, my very own tweens are reading New Moon as well. Maybe you all can discuss together.

Queen B.

m said...


that's all I have to say.


Jill said...

Well, I'm glad you read it...I did not, to much chagrin of one of my best friends. She gave them all to me...the hardbacks, which are huge. I couldn't get past the tween factor. Sounds like I was right. In a vampire book, I want violence and sex...abstinence doesn't cut it! Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

...the pizza boy would join Oz...

...there is rumor that the author was working on a 'Twilight' from Edward's perspective but abruptly stopped doing so because it was leaked... which would be interesting to see because one must wonder what female implications the author will instill in Edward's thoughts...

...even partly through a quarter of 'New Moon', Oz is being drowned with tween drama and sensitivity in which he is reminded why he has a BOYFRIEND...

...yet, Oz is still obligated to read the damned series...

FOSCO said...

@Queen B.: Yeah, I think it even appeals (slightly) to me. But then I'm a big ol' girl, right?

As for tweens, their desires don't have to be mutually exclusive from those of adults. After all, I also would love to ride "Space Mountain" with Zac Ephron. And no, that is NOT a euphemism for anything.

I would love to discuss "New Moon" with your tweens. As you know, I'm pretty fond of those two.

@Mere: Sorry. :)

@Jill: Yes, as an Anne Rice fan, you would HATE "Twilight." No sex, no violence--and not even a hint of homosexuality!

@Oz: But you had better NOT join the pizza boy.