Friday, August 08, 2008
So What Was The Problem?
Can you believe Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer has been out less than a week, and I've already finished reading it? Big book, too.
Okay, so I rushed to read this book because of talk about disappointed fans. I checked out some of the 1,800+ customer reviews at Amazon this afternoon and stopped by a Twilight Moms forum. While there certainly are plenty of unhappy readers, there are plenty of happy ones, too. Plus, some of the negative responses at Amazon seem to come from readers who weren't hardcore fans to begin with.
I think one thing to keep in mind with the Twilight series is that it's what might be called a paranormal romance with a big, big emphasis on romance. Laura Miller in Salon said the Twilight books are "romance novels, and despite their gothic trappings represent a resurrection of the most old-fashioned incarnation of the genre." Many of the negative comments I've seen about Breaking Dawn object to its ending. (I'm trying not to give anything away.) Two other recent series, Harry Potter and The Underland Chronicles, ended with bloodbaths. The Twilight Saga ended differently because it is a romance. I think some readers may have been confused by the vampires and werewolves.
Some readers also objected because they felt that some characters, in particular Bella, behaved out of character in Breaking Dawn. I think Bella remained Bella pretty much right to the end of the book. She is a female who is defined totally by her relationships to others. She has no real "self." When she appears to behave differently in Breaking Dawn, she does so because of her relationship to someone else. For instance, she appears to grow a backbone in this last book, both literally and figuratively. But when she does so, it's because of her relationships with two other characters. She becomes powerful, even, but only because of her love for others. And in the final sentences of the book, the power she's developed she gives away as an act of love.
Love--romantic, familial, maternal, and even sexual--is treated pretty much as a cult here. Some readers objected to a character who had never shown any interest in children suddenly being willing to die for one. But that makes sense if you're into the cult of maternal love. I found an extended section regarding a pregnancy and childbirth sadistic, and it appears that a number of other readers were turned off by its "ick" factor. But, again, when you're talking the cult of maternal love, a woman becomes noble through such suffering. Is this a storyline that's going to be compelling to YA readers, though? I wonder if the whole maternal love thing is an adult interest, not YA.
In fact, The Twilight Saga may have moved out of YA in this final book, which could explain the response from some of its readers. Bella and Edward are no longer in high school. They're dealing with grown-up, family problems, not teen problems. When young readers were reading about people they could relate to in the earlier books, they were willing to ignore the way so many characters roll their eyes, chuckle, and snore, the improbabilities regarding plot, and the scenes that went on way too long. But Bella becomes matronly in Breaking Dawn, and Edward seems as if he ought to be out playing golf.
These characters may have outgrown their readers.