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.

7 comments:

Libby said...

Interesting reading. I think you're right that Bella remains in character, but I was disappointed in Jacob and in what happens with him--it really seemed to me as if Meyers was unwilling to disappoint any of her characters, or to force really hard choices on them. There's this odd disappointment, for me anyway, in the way everyone gets what they want, and without really having to change. You're right, that is fundamental to romance novels, but in a way it seemed even less difficult or angst-ridden than many romances. It's clear, though, that Wuthering Heights and Romeo & Juliet are no longer models, if they ever were...but, really, even Pride and Prejudice isn't, in that (again) no one really has to give anything up or make any compromises...

gail said...

Jen Robinson compared the first book in this series to Pride and Prejudice, saying that Bella and Edward had an Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy thing going on. I think that's true, and it helped make the book attractive. That was missing in the other books, of course, once Bella and Edward were a couple.

Anonymous said...

I thought there was a heavy-handed pro-life/anit-abortion theme to the book, but I haven't seen anyone else mention that. The way Edward and others referred to it as the fetus and wanted it gone, but to Bella it was a baby and she was willing to die for it...
I definitely thought my 36 year old friend who just had a baby would relate to the story more then most YAs. Also, I felt the lack of passionate sex scenes was a bit of a let down after 3 books and god knows how many pages of anticipation. She could've given us a little sex!

gail said...

At either Amazon or the Twilight Moms forum I visited I saw at least one suggestion that there is an anti-abortion theme in Breaking Dawn. I can see why readers would think that, though I'm not sure that I believe it was intentional. I think the reference for motherhood and the child worship that was going on here could explain the fight-for- the-fetus that was going on.

gail said...

That should have been "reverence for motherhood" in the last comment.

Alia said...

I definitely got the anti-abortion vibe. Yes, there's the whole reverence for motherhood but I think it is more than that. That scene where Edward first hears the baby's thoughts and all of a sudden starts referring to it as a baby and not a fetus felt very preachy to me, like the book was yelling "It has a soul! Killing it would be wrong!" Never mind that thoughts or no thoughts, soul or not, carrying the child was very likely going to kill the mother.

gail said...

I think that whether or not the author meant to make a definitive anti-abortion statement, she did have to bring up the subject. This is the twenty-first century, and once Meyer decided to go the unplanned-pregnancy-with-possible-monster-child route, she had to bring up the possibility of aborting it. To not do so would have made the subject conspicuous by its absence. At the same time, that character had to go through with that pregnancy or the story would have come to a screeching halt. So putting all questions of morality aside, just logically I think the subject had to come up and it then had to be dispensed with to make the author's plot work.

Whether she needed to be quite so sentimental with the love-my-baby talk is a legitimate question. But the whole love-the-child thing is really strong in this book, anyway.

I'm not comfortable making definitive judgments about another author's intentions, anyway, but in this case I think it's hard to say whether she was trying for a deliberate message or just a bit out of control with sentiment.