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"Twilight" of the Dummies
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
As a fire-breathing young writer, I thought it was my duty to be as offensive as possible, so I wrote a bunch of short stories aimed at shocking the great unwashed out of their bourgeois sensibilities. Many of these stories featured a tough-talking, no-compromsie protagonist, "Drew Stevens," a fervent, truth-seeking young man who (coincidentally) lived in a medium-sized city in Indiana and worked in restaurants. It was Drew's mission to right the wrongs, to call-'em-as-he-sees-'em, to expose the injustices of the sleepy populace with his piercing insights. The stories usually ended the same, with my hero conquering the age-old fears and prejudices of the locals by the sheer force of his personality.
I'm guessing most writers have similar embarrassments in their trunks, those unreadable, unbearable cartoons that document an artist's fledgling attempts to find a voice. I reviewed my "Drew Stevens" stories recently, and, after wincing through most of the pages, I discovered a line in a story that I was actually proud of. It was from my "battle of the sexes" story, and the line came from my cynical protagonist, who was describing how easy it was to get women: "'Mad Boy, Sad Boy, Bad Boy,'" Drew said. 'It works every time'."
The story itself was misogynistic crap, of course, but I think I might have been on to something. I didn't realize it at the time, but "Mad Boy, Sad Boy, Bad Boy" perfectly describes every male love object in every "Romance" novel ever written. I read Stephanie Meyer's phenomenally successful Twilight last week, and the novel's dreamy hero, Edward Cullen, is the maddest, saddest, baddest boy of all time. He's also a vampire, and a Greek god, and beautiful, with a rippling, muscular chest and intoxicating, ocher eyes. (Ocher?) The Twilight books are sensations, and the passionate love affair between bad boy Edward and his pale girlfriend Bella has dominated the pop-culture zeitgeist in the absence of another J.K. Rowling novel.
I used to work in a bookstore and I couldn't believe how popular the "Romance" section was. It easily outsold every other department. Every once in a while I'd drag a Harlequin title off the shelf and read it, just to see if it was as bad as the cover promised, and every time I would discover that it was much, much worse than I could have imagined. Those heaving bosoms and forbidden passions and Fabio main characters with their gladiator chests and poofy pirate shirts — the books were so awful that I was left open-mouthed that such dreck could get published. Even more incomprehensible to me were the women (and only women) who bought the books — most seemed smart and friendly and well turned-out, yet they fell for that moony, damsel-in-distress drivel. I couldn't understand it. But the books flew off the shelves.
I know I'm not the target audience for the Twilight series — the eternal passions of Bella and Edward are aimed directly at impressionable, dopey teenage girls, girls who listen to Coldplay and draw hearts when they dot their "i's." But the success of the novels has moved beyond its niche audience and into the mainstream. At my daughter's show choir competition, I saw a middle-aged woman reading Eclipse, the third novel in the series. This depressed me greatly, for it meant the woman had trudged through the first two books without recognizing how awful they were. And yeah, I'm a snob, with my Harold Bloom books and my Collected Shakespeare and my dog-eared Tolstoy novels, but I also love trashy thrillers that regularly land on the Best Seller list, and I can tell you that the difference between Michael Crichton and Stephanie Meyer is like the distance between Dostoyevsky and Jackie Collins. I read Dennis Lehane's thriller Shutter Island recently and I marveled at how economical and unpretentious it was — a page-turner, to be sure, but one that obeys the rules of the genre without making you feel like a stooge. Meyer's book gives reading a bad name. Twilight is 500 pages long but it's so inept it feels like a thousand — when teenagers brag about reading such a long novel, remember that Stephanie Meyer is a hack who will gladly write eight sentences when one will do the trick. She also hapless with dialogue declarations: instead of a clean "he said" or "she replied" she clogs up her pages with "he intoned," "I encouraged," 'he teased," "she fished."(!) This completely cripples the flow of the narration and makes the reader insane with impatience.
But okay, who cares about stylistic quibbles — people read romances for the payoffs, for the forbidden yearnings and thudded heartbeats and deep, soul-enrapturing kisses in the moonlight. But even here Meyer botches it. There's a lot of blather about electric touches and desperate desires but the virginal couple rarely does anything but blaze torrid looks at each other. I got pretty annoyed with all this restraint. I kept waiting for Edward to make his move, or at least give in to his vampiric lust and rip her throat out. Deflower or devour, for God's sake, but quit wasting my time.