Ever since last Tuesday, more or less, I’ve been living in two worlds: Manhattan, and Forks, Washington.
Yes, it’s true. Stephanie Meyer, the sweet-faced Mormon Mom from Arizona, author of the Twilight series, can now count me as one of her readers.
It shouldn’t have happened this way. I mean, I’ve got a doctorate, fer crissake! In literature! I’m supposed to read books like Twilight with an ironic sneer, with a knowing wink-wink at the cognoscenti to indicate that I’m reading these fat books with their sexy red, white, and black covers just to stay in touch with pop culture.
Truth be told, that is how I started – a colleague and I are having a “book chat” with a group of first-year college students about Twilight and then taking the group to the movie. So when I got my copy of the book, I figured if nothing else I’d get a little insight into the world of the YA reader. An adult friend of mine had started the first book and hadn’t gotten past the first few pages, so I wasn’t expecting much.
That night I read until 1:30. The next night until 12:30. Then I went to Barnes and Noble and bought the other three books (two of which are still in hardcover). This detail matters because I’m a get-it-on-reserve-in-the-library gal – if any more books take up permanent residence in our apartment, we’ll have to move out.
Not this time. Plunked down my money, grabbed my books, and went home to my small fractious children (one of whom had strep throat last week, one of whom was home on a school holiday). I proceeded to let them both watch the telly (usually verboten in our house until that dark hour after dinner and before bedtime) so that I could READ. AND READ. AND READ.
I finished the fourth book Friday night.
Sunday I started the first one again.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME?
Don’t get me wrong. These are not well-written books. The Jack Reacher thrillers, by Lee Child, for example, are probably better written, and the great Donna Leon detective stories, set in Venice (thanks, Sean, for telling me about those), have characters who are infinitely more “real.” In Meyer’s books, characters say things like “I love you more than everyone else in the world combined,” which, while perhaps an accurate transcription of how a 17 year old girl might talk, doesn’t make for profound insight.
And yet – I am obsessed. Maybe I was an easy target: I’ve always been a bit of a vampire junkie, ever since I was a little girl sneaking to a friend’s house to watch “Dark Shadows” (which gave me horrifying nightmares for months, but that’s a post for another day). I loved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which had much more interesting, complicated things to say about gender relationships than does Twilight. But even though Buffy’s sensibility is closer to my own, the show never enthralled me the way these books have. Even that other pillar of vampire pop culture, Interview with a Vampire, which I read when I was about thirteen, didn’t hook me like Twilight has,
So here I am, a middle-aged woman with several advanced degrees, completely enamored of an alternate universe in the Pacific Northwest, where vampires and werewolves and shape-shifters live among us, going shopping, going to the prom, and driving really, really hot cars.
My real life – that pesky pile of student papers on the floor, the email stacking up like planes at Newark, the laundry that threatens to spill into the hallway - seems intrusive, almost rude. Vampires don’t have laundry or dishes or dust or bills or children with strep throat.
Meyer paints a fairy tale about an ordinary girl beloved by an extraordinary being, although this fairy tale has quite the kicker: to keep the prince, you have to sacrifice your soul
And it’s tempting, I have to say. Maybe that’s because I’ve not quite come to terms yet with that whole “soul” question, but from where I’m standing, it looks like an easy trade: sacrifice my soul, which may or may not exist, in order to get: eternal love, exquisite beauty, an extraordinarily well-mannered lovah (as Sarah Jessica P would say), lots of money, loads of free time (no time spent sleeping, you see, so plenty of time to learn a language, travel, paint, write, study). What’s not to like?
Meyer sweetens the pot even further by making her vampires “vegetarians” (their joke): they have sworn not to kill humans, only wild animals. Thus the whole “blood-sucking” thing becomes a little less hard to swallow (sorry, couldn’t resist). I mean, if you’ve ever ordered steak tartare in a restaurant…
So is it just the fairy tale? Is that what has led to the series’ enormous success and the huge buzz around the movie? Is that why I’m feeling a bit befuddled these days (or maybe I’m getting strep, who knows) - a case of fairy-tale-itis?
There is more for me to think about here, in part because I’m vaguely appalled that I’ve been recommending that people read these damn books. But I can’t write any more tonight. I’ve got to go re-read book three.