Saturday, November 21, 2009

CHROLS--New Moon Book Thoughts, I

I finished New Moon this morning. Hmmm. Want to say I liked it and liked the books so far, but I can’t say I do. I’m still only barely sympathetic to Bella (and if it weren’t for Kristen Stewart playing her in the movies, I know I’d like her even less!), and I’m now less sympathetic to Edward than I used to be.

Overall, I still like Charlie, and I like the Cullens, and the La Push wolves, and Billy and Emily. To me, their ongoing struggle to transcend their biology and live in a new way that overcomes their baser urges and live with love and as family is the only really compelling part of the novels. Bella’s line to Jacob to the effect of “It isn’t what you are, it’s what you do” that is the heart of the story and the only thing (besides urging from all of you) that keeps me mildly interested in finishing any of the books. The Volturi were kind of fun (especially Aro) but at their glee when the tourists came to their lair for dinner, I lost interest in them.

The major exasperation to me, and where Edward fell many notches in my mind (though he still gets points for choosing the Cullen way of being), is how both Bella and he clearly hate themselves. (I know some people really do care this little for themselves so perhaps it's good to get a glimpse into this kind of mindset, but I just don't enjoy spending time there.) This mutual self-loathing causes them to cling so tightly together—they are each other’s fix—in ways that make me completely uncomfortable. And this is especially bad—-harmful to people, even-—because Meyer thinks, and I think that most readers must think, that theirs is some great love story when it’s really just major dysfunction. Romeo and Juliet are NOT models for genuine love yet Meyer and others hold their story up that way. These books (so far, at least) are, like that play, heroin for romance junkies. “If only I can find my one and only, I will be complete…” “I’d rather have him here with me for just a few more minutes and die than face life without him.” “I can’t live in a world without you in it…” Holy crap! That’s obsession, not love. It’s unhealthy, and far too many people who don't get that will feel badly that they have never felt so deeply about another that they will think there is something wrong with them. I know I need to give folks more credit than that but here in the midst of New Moon mania it's hard to think there is a lot of deep self-reflection going on. (Of course, much of it may simply be because of beautiful boys and beautiful abs and women now feeling empowered to lust much more openly than they used to.... I hope it's mostly that!)

I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m really feeling pretty worked up right now. Sorry to be so blunt! Please fire back and help mellow me!


Haley said...

I agree with a lot of it. But I think you are reading too much into it!! I know that is in your nature to do that, especially being an editor. It really is just supposed to be a fun romance for YA's. I don't know, I do agree with what you are saying though. It is a little unhealthy the way they feel about each other but it's also kind of the fun of it, they know and acknwoledge that it's sort of wrong how they feel about each other.

Emily said...

Alright Dan, let me give you my reflections on the books (well, the first two). You do hit the nail on the head on your major points- yes, Bella and Edward's relationship (especially where you have left it), can rightly be called unhealthy. Both of them would rather die then live without the other- Meyer makes no bones that New Moon can be linked easily to Romeo and Juliet. -One of the books mirrors Wuthering Heights I think it's Eclipse, but will have to reflect for a bit to say for sure- but that's neither here nor there right now though. Basically, Edward and Bella's relationship is meant to be one of those classic romances for the ages you could say. --Totally fictional and unrealistic. The fact that it is aimed at young adults, and possibly damaging since they may read something like this as true to life, well that can be a legitimate concern for a parent and I think parents have a right to look at it as damaging for their teen. I don't know a lot of parents who would ban that same child from reading Romeo and Juliet though. I think teenage girls (the VAST majority) need some credit though, to separate this line and when true love really does come their way to see reality as a much better option. IE- Edward may be pretty and love Bella insanely, but how appealing would hugging a marble statue really be? The girls that don't fall under the "vast majority" well, they were probably doomed to begin with, and I would never blame a stupid book series on whatever problems may come their way in the ways of love. I'd understand completely Dan if this kind of love and romance isn't your cup of tea, you aren't exactly the demographic these books are aimed at. I do however give you kudos for hanging in and plowing through. I like your candidness, and hope you continue and be blunt etc. I don't think you are over analyzing at all- in fact I love it! Some of my favorite back and forth conversations and writings (such as this) have come from analyzing the crap out of a book -or anything really-. It's fun, bring it! I don't get to do it enough with the people I hang out with these days and Rob would never do this and I would get little satisfaction doing it with strangers online or something.
Anyway, I would like to hear more about why you were turned off by the Volturi because they were gleeful about having a meal. Isn't it contradictions like that that make the Cullen's so much the better?
About the mutual self loathing of Edward and Bella. Bella's bugs the CRAP out of me. I am constantly bugged by her behavior and self image. Especially New Moon- I am thinking to myself the whole time -GET OVER IT, HE WAS JUST A DUDE! The good news is, by the end of Breaking Dawn, I am entirely satisfied with all of that. I can go back and read the previous books with a new eye. Edward's self deprecation on the other hand, always made more sense to me and didn't bother me a whit. He was a monster and he also didn't believe vamps have souls. Perhaps he goes a little overboard in his quest to keep Bella's soul in tact at the expense of his own suffering, but still, it sat a lot better with me (I didn't always agree with him, but understood his reasons).
At this point Dan, considering your feelings, I feel like you really really need to finish the series. I would like to hear your point of view very much when you have reached the end of book 4.
I am going to go invite my friend Ami into this discussion. She has a great articulate and analytical mind and also loves these books and we have never really discussed them, so I would very much like to bring her into this and hear her feelings.

ajmah said...

To be described as having an articulate and analytical mind by one such as Emily is enormously flattering and intimidating.

I would love to give my thoughts on the books, but I need another day to quickly peruse them. Having just seen the movie, I'm having a hard remembering why I like these characters at all.

Can I get back with my two bits tomorrow?

Emily said...

Of course- yikes about the movie, that doesn't sound good. Guess we can discuss that on Friday.....

By the way, no one listen to Ami- she's just flattering me. There is no way my brain could intimidate her, but you'll find out for yourselves soon enough I'm sure.
You can however listen to her New Moon thoughts. Speaking of which, Em since it seems you may read this- as one that also read the books- please give your "two bits" I'd love to hear them too.

Dan W said...

I was already feeling calmer after I wrote my diatribe. Appreciate you guys hearing me on the issues I focused on and proving again how important it is to give readers credit and know that they are seeing and feeling things at a much more self-reflective level than ever gets shown through the media and sound-bite culture. Hope and Lorri said a lot of the same basic things, that though they loved the books, they also didn’t see the Bella and Edward relationship as particularly healthy. They cared about the characters but there was more to the books that captivated them and kept them reading. I could tell, however, that neither are quite as negative as I am toward the whole romance “ideal” of soul mates (or everyone having someone whose blood sings out to them) as I am. Perhaps that, then, is the biggest dividing line between me and you guys who are finding the books more compelling than I am (so far, at least).

Em, I will read the rest. I trust all of you who have said that there are evolutions in characters and relationships that makes Bella’s and Edward’s recklessness with their lives and unhealthy co-dependency more bearable and understandable. I still can’t quite get why a publisher and then millions of fans wanted Meyer to write more books to even give her the chance to redeem their love story in the final couple of books given how non-compelling these protagonists are in these first two, but as you say, I’m obviously not the target audience and have never been enticed by romance novels and the idea of love that is written in the stars and potentially all-consuming.

I also appreciate your question about why the Volturi turned me off after initially enjoying them. As I think about it again, I think it is a matter of their turning out (at least so far) to lack deep complexity. (I was also judging them by the standard of “Is the character striving to overcome themselves and be something better than they are?” that I’d alluded to in my comments on the other characters in the book.) As I think back on the Harry Potter series versus this one and why I enjoyed those books so much more than these, and I think it’s because Rowling made even most of her evil characters somewhat complex. We were never sure if Snape was good or bad and whether Dumbledore’s trust in him was warranted. We got backstory on him as well as Tom Riddle and others that allowed us to see pain and struggle that no matter how they chose to act at least made them more compelling. Maybe it’s coming with the Volturi, and if so, I look forward to it.

When all is said and done, I think I end up judging books by criteria that essentially boil down to whether or not the characters were enjoyable or intriguing enough for me to want to invest my time to be inside their heads and/or their world. Am I learning something important about human nature or having vicarious experiences that are valuable to me as I meet the world around me? So far, I’m giving the Twilight books a “no” on that score. I guess I’m learning about all the chaos and self-doubt in the head of (some) teenage girls, and I’m learning more about the romantic ideal of fated love and how seriously many people take it. I suppose that makes these books worth my reading of them (along, of course, with continuing to cheer the Cullens’ and wolfpack’s efforts to transcend their own biologies and also see each other as something more than mere monsters). I look forward to something more profound than just these things as I keep going.

Pops said...

I just kicked back for a few hours reading each of the books after the Phisters all said they loved them all so much. I thought Bella a major whimp and couldn't see the thrill of kissing cold marble lips. Other than that, I had a plesant time killing time reading the books. I am not into analizing fiction. It's not scripture need I remind you. Props to S. Meyer for making a s... load of money. I did think the last book "The Host" was a book that one could think about. It had some real substance as well as an origional story.

Dan W said...

It's not scripture. Love it! Agree! Thank goodness, too (but as you might guess, I generally critique the heck out of scripture, as well! I'd be a good Jew. Anyway, I'm glad God loves me--at least for being a good source of amusement).

I'd heard from another person that she thought The Host finally showed that Meyer had an interesting mind and some insights into life and the human condition. This same friend liked the Twilight books better than I do (so far) but I know didn't think they were deep. I look forward to getting into The Host sometime.

Emily said...

Far as I know, no one on the planet ever called these books deep. Like my dad said, they are fun ways to pass the time. I believe I originally called them "brain candy" to you. But that doesn't mean I won't analyze the crap out of them here for fun. Rob said kind of the same thing last night as you did dad. After watching the Soup and then the news, he said something along these lines, "man I wish I could write some lame love story and make billions of dollars".
Dan, I don't want to crush you, but don't hang your hat on finding something more profound then what you're getting now. That kind of talk makes me think you will be let down. All it really will do is make a little more sense as to why these two love each other as much as they do.
I laugh that the example of soul mates (and it's absurdity) you chose was the blood singing- because that is the one thing about them that rang the most true with me in my own life and love. I touched on it before I think on your Twilight review but didn't explain it. Immediately upon reading the first two books, I decided that if Rob was a vampire I would be his singer. I explained it to Rob sometime ago and even though he affectionately called me his little nerd, he also agree with me. Rob and I were friends and hung out for about 6 months before officially dating. After we were official, he brought up the subject about how good I smell. I almost always wore scented lotion and often wore perfume in those days, so I thought nothing of it. I would occasionally have him sniff a lotion bottle and ask him if that was it- every time I did he would insist -no, it was just me (or my skin he would say). I never believed him cause no one had ever said that I smelled particularly good. I persisted with laundry detergents, shampoos, shower gels etc. Anything I could find to account for this. Yet he went on insisting it was my skin. Finally after about 4 months I conceded that chemically I must just smell really good to Rob. I moved to NY shortly after that and he kept remarking that missing my smell was one of the hardest parts for him to deal with. I ended up (kind of tongue in cheekish) packing up a shirt I wore for two days in a tupperware container and sending it to him. He loved that surprise and kept it until my smell was gone and shipped it back to me, I'd wash it and wear it and send it back. He came to visit me after I was there about 5 months and we drove up to Boston to visit his brother and his wife. I remember one day, I wore a sleeveless shirt and put on some tanning oil for walking around Boston all day and he was upset because it was the first thing I had ever put on my skin that masked my smell so entirely. He doesn't mention my smell anymore but every once in a while I ask if I still have that smell, he says yes (I actually haven't done that for a few years). I suppose living with me for 7 years has made him desensitized to it. Anyway, sorry if that story is a little personal, but when I read Aro talk about singers I was like- wow! that's it-- I'm totally Rob's singer. You know, with out all the wanting to eat me angle (but that's just because he isn't a vampire). So anyway Dan, Rob and I aren't NEARLY as melodramatic as Bella and Edward, but a few soul mate things can ring true from time to time in real life.

Dan W said...

Great story, Em! Very cool about the shirt/Tupperware shipping. Reminds me a little of George's toothpick brooms he'd send to Janie but yours being way more pheromonal.

Let me qualify my position a bit. I'm not at all arguing against people finding people who are "just right" for them, and I totally believe that some of that has chemical elements (predestined from a previous life or simply how subconscious states create physical effects, I don't know). So "blood singing" is a cool metaphor for that. I've gotten pretty familiar with a lot of theories about why people are attracted to some people and not others and the one I buy into the most (discussed in a therapeutic approach called "imago therapy") plays somewhat in this ballpark: our subconscious selves recognize in another person the right fit for us to work out unresolved issues in our lives/souls. (Not too romantic, I know. But, interestingly, sometimes it can get a little "soulmate-ish" sounding.)

I guess where I draw the line is when it moves into "one and only" territory and melodramatic "can't live without him/her" kind of things. I'm fine with that sort of talk as a "stage" in either the falling in love portion of a relationship and as something to pass through as part of grieving a partner's loss, but giving it "real" status in a kind of "this is an absolute truth of the universe" way is unhealthy and deserves at least some questioning.

Pops said...

Interesting story, Ems, on body smells and lotions. Funny and sweet regarding Rob and you and the smells. You are such a thinker and good story teller, Emily. I'll get flack for telling this, but you remind me of the famous quote of Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit fame. "When I get home I'm gonna smack your mother in the mouth, because you could not possibily have come from my loins." Love you Emily, you are the best.

Haley said...

That's such a funny quote!!!

Dan W said...

Link to an easy-going quick-hit article about some of the issues I was getting at. Yay on the poll results at the end about Bella as a role model...

Neaners said...

Great comments. With me looking for my "soul-mate" they made me think. Do we actually have one or many? I do know Randy wasn't mine. The smell Em mentioned was interesting. There is a real study and proof of Phermones we give off to the opposite sex. Bella and Edward are overly dramatic but I do agree with Pops that the books are easy reading and I did not take them too seriously.They were a complete fantasy to get lost in. Steph has a way of writing that is engrossing. Maybe I will check out the Host at some point. Thanks for all your interesting comments. You guys have such excellent writing skills and perhaps ought to write official reviews? What do you think Dan?

Amy said...

I have to agree with most of everything. I like how Jeanine summed it up. That's how I feel. I think it's great she got teenage girls reading. I don't know if we'll have any major social problems down the road or not. Meaning, girls waiting and waiting for the "Edward" to come along and he's just not out there! Sorry Scott, I love you. I think most girls know that it's fantasy and who doesn't like to fantasize just a little bit.

ajmah said...

Okay, I know I'm coming in late in the game, but I still want to say my two bits, per Emily's request.

I’ve thought a lot about what it is I like about these books and these characters. I enjoyed Twilight for the fresh reminder of first teenage love that it was. Doesn’t every teenage girl want to be the girl that everyone secretly likes, and to have the mysterious boyfriend who’s just a little dangerous? It’s like Anne says in Anne of the Island, “I wouldn’t want to [date] anybody who was wicked, but I think I’d like it if he could be wicked and wouldn’t.” I completely related to that sentiment as a teenage girl. Unfortunately, I also related to Bella’s obsessive nature (and I’m wagering I’m not alone here!). My high school journal is riddled with whatever boy I was interested in at the moment. Unhealthy? Yes. Reality nonetheless.

The intrigue and courtship was the fun part of the book for me. I can certainly understand why a guy would not be interested (never having been a teenage girl), but I found it fun. I am happily married and intend to stay so, but I do NOT believe in soul mates or there being only one person for each of us. That's simply absurd! However, I do love reading about the thrill of falling - and staying - in love. I think it helps us to remind us of the thrill of falling in love ourselves. Great literature it isn't, but good story-telling and good escapism it is.

That being said, like Emily, I wanted to poke my eyes out for the first part of New Moon. I spent too much reading time thinking, "Get over it already!!! He’s just a guy!" To me, this is where Bella’s obsession became utterly ridiculous. Any healthy teenager would snap out of it. I was completely uninterested in both Bella and Edward for the first 2/3 of the book. Jacob's character was the only thing keeping me reading. He was the only dynamic character - Edward and Bella certainly weren't!

As to other points mentioned: I agree with Emily that Edward's self-loathing is understandable given his belief system. However, Dan, I'm curious as to why you feel Bella is self-loathing as well. That's not the vibe I got. Clinically depressed, completely obsessive and selfish perhaps, but not self-loathing. What exactly, led you to that conclusion?

I have about a zillion other thoughts, but my post is WAY too long, so I'll stop now.

I'm interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on Eclipse.


Dan W said...

Great to hear your comments, Ami!

Self-loathing may be too strong, I'll admit. What got to me was how she never thought well of herself. She's bright, attractive but right from the start downplays all of that and plays up her clumsiness (which could be endearing) and all the things about her she doesn't like. Then she is so quickly ready to chuck her entire life of family and friends and human food and a heartbeat and sleep, etc. to become a vampire.

I'm sensing more and more it's just typical human female teenager emotion to not like many/most things about oneself, but I'm still astounded at how quickly she wanted out of her life and regular skin. To me, this represents something way beyond regular teenage self-image issues and bumps into self hatred. Perhaps I'm just overly sensitive because I have a fifteen year old daughter and therefore want to scream at how this portrayal is absolutely a terrible model--enough so to even rail against Romeo and Juliet.

Emily said...

Glad you finally weighed in Aim. The main reason I've read any young adult fiction is because it does bring back the past to me and feelings I remember having and that is fun. It is an excellent form of escapism and has always appealed to me. I'm happy with my life as an adult, but sometimes it's fun to revisit that part of me. I totally remember the "could be wicked but isn't" thing and I must say, I don't think you could have nailed that little fantasy any better then you did by marrying Alex. To me that describes Alex to a tee. My bad boy actually was pretty bad there for a while, but rose above it to be the good guy that he is today.
But I digress-- The Twilight books played on my love of young adult fiction, interesting storytelling, can't put it down until 3:30 in the morning, and of course- vampires-- the most compelling monster in monsterland or so it has been for me for as long as I can remember.
I haven't given a lot of thought to Bella as a role model before. I suppose Scout is not at the right age for that, or more likely perhaps I can't imagine in real life a girl would act as Bella did. It is just so fictional to me, I can't take it seriously to worry much about it. I also haven't given my views on soul mates here or "only one person on the earth for me" There is no way I believe that, and frankly, find the theory total bullcrap. Fairly recently I had to listen to Rob's mom tell me about how she and Joel (her husband) have mirror image birthmarks on their legs or something and she had a whole list of things I have thankfully blocked out to support her theory that they are soul mates and finally found each other blah blah blah. In my head I'm thinking, "awesome Linda. Good for you. Glad you found him. Glad you left my husband in his formative years to be with him. Couldn't be happier for you." Personally, I think there are millions of people you can marry and build a wonderful life with share forever with and be perfectly blissfully happy. I'm so happy it's Rob I am doing all that with, I couldn't imagine being with anyone else, but in reality- I'm sure I could have been happy if my life had gone down another path. A subject I could go on about, but won't. Key point: don't believe in soul mates, but do believe in a "meant to be" kind of scenario.
Also- I just don't share your viewpoint Dan on how you are so affronted about Bella's ease to leave her human life to be with Edward- your viewpoint is perfectly valid, it's just not mine. I believe they formed a strong bond and love and "meant to be-ness" and I totally support her want to be young with him forever. Perhaps it is simply my pure romantic sensibilities vs. your down to earth realism here. I get as annoyed as the next guy when it comes to a lot of her whiny, clingy, hole-in-her-chest stuff, but when it comes to her and Edward being young and in love forever together-- well, it is something that I was/am a sap for and was on her side in becoming a vampire since Twilight. I wish she could have been stronger about it in New Moon, I think if she showed some strength there and fell in love more obviously with Jacob- said, "screw you Edward you wienie!") and STILL ended up with Edward at the end, the story (and Bella's image to the young girls reading about her), would have been a lot better for it. But I didn't write the books (too bad, I'd be a rich lady if I had).

Haley said...

Definitely agree with you all on the soul mate thing. I also don't think that Stephenie Meyer believes in it either, see New Moon and Eclipse and the entire Jacob Black character as proof. She believes that there are many people you could love and be happy with. When someone asks her why the heck she had Bella fall in love with Jacob too she said this, "First of all, let me say that I do believe in true love. But I also deeply believe in the complexity, variety, and downright insanity of love. A lucky person loves hundreds of people in their lives, all in different ways, family love, friendship love, romantic love, all in so many shades and depths. I don't think you lose your ability—or right—to have true love by loving more than one person. In part, this is true because you never love two people the same way. Another part is that, if you're lucky, you learn to love better with practice. The bottom line is that you have to choose who you are going to commit to—that's the foundation of true love, not a lack of other options.

Next, Bella does not fall in love with Jacob in Eclipse. Bella falls in love with Jacob in New Moon. I think it's easy to understand why this fact doesn't occur to her. Bella has only fallen in love one time, and it was a very sudden, dramatic, sweep-you-off-your-feet, change-your-world, magical, passionate, all-consuming thing (see: Twilight). Can you blame her for not recognizing a much more subtle kind of falling-in-love?

Does this love devaluate her love for Edward? Not for me. For me, it makes that perfect true love stronger. Bella has another option. She has a really good one. An option that's easier in many ways, that takes nothing—like her family, present or future—away from her. She would have love, and friendship, and family—an enviable human future. But she chooses Edward over all of this. This makes it real for me."

So anyway, hope that helps. I believe in true love and maybe someone that you are "meant" to be with but not the only one you could be happy with. You could be happy with many people. Anyway, I think you will enjoy Eclipse more Dan, it's my favorite. Still, I agree with Emily that it is about teenage love and it is mostly for fun. Not real. Also, about the whole Bella and confidence thing. I can really relate to that in some ways. Not that I never had any self esteem but I think especially teenage girls struggle with that, I know I did. It kind of makes you feel better when you see someone else struggle with it as well, like you can relate to them and you aren't the only one feeling that way.

Dan W said...

Fun to hear from everyone. Glad for the good discussion. Glad to hear again that Bella is problematic for others. And I'm actually looking forward to seeing how her whole "none of your vampire powers work on me" abilities might play into the overall plot. And so far, so good, as I'm enjoying Eclipse a bit better than the others (only a hundred pages in still as I've been distracted by another book a friend lent me to read that I want to return pretty quickly).

You KNOW I'll share what I think when I've finished!

Emily said...

Good points Haley about her falling in love with Jacob more subtly and I remember SM explaining that you can love two people at once. The most real part of all that is when she is crying in Edward's arms over Jacob in Eclipse (I won't go into more detail here since Dan hasn't read that far). Eclipse does seem a little more grounded in the love side of things, which is GOOD. Her love for Edward just "eclipses" her love for Jacob, and I agree Haley- it doesn't devalue her and Edward's love any.