Okay, one more post about Twilight and then I’m done for now, I promise. I wanted to link to the best article about the books I’ve read so far, Jenny Turner’s piece at the London Review of Books, “The Beautiful Undead.” Turner hits many of the same notes that other journalists and bloggers have: there’s the lament for the lost complexities of Buffy, the mention of Meyer’s Mormonism, the raised eyebrow at the book’s not-so-subliminal argument for chastity.
But Turner’s essay is more complicated than that, and lovelier. Witness her response to Meyer’s introduction of the beautiful undead as they sit at lunch in the Forks High School cafeteria:
I defy the reader at this point not to be ‘gawking’ along with Bella, and to be gasping, as she is to her dowdier companions: ‘Who are they?’ ‘They’, Bella is informed, are an adoptive family of orphans, now cared for by Dr Carlisle Cullen — himself ‘really young, in his twenties or early thirties’, and his equally youthful wife. The dark boy is Emmett, the bronze one Edward; the pixie girl is Alice, and the blond boy and girl are Rosalie and Jasper, twins. Oh, and ‘They’re all together though — Emmett and Rosalie, and Jasper and Alice, I mean. And they live together,’ the voice of Bella’s geeky informant holding ‘all the shock and condemnation of the small town’. And here you have it, the essence of what Lev Grossman, in Time magazine, called ‘the power of the Twilight books: they’re squeaky, geeky clean on the surface, but right below it, they are absolutely, deliciously filthy.’ Their situation seems lawful and proper and harmless even though a little odd — a household of teens, like the Waltons or the Partridge Family — but it hints at the limitlessly libidinous, as an image already supercharged with fantasies of caste, sex and pro-ana gorgeousness (that unbitten apple! that unopened soda!) is given a decidedly incestuous Flowers in the Attic frisson.
Turner recognizes Edward, whose “flesh [is] so cold and hard and ‘perfected’ — like the dead body in Sylvia Plath’s final poem, ‘Edge,’” as a “cunning piece of fictional engineering … never designed to work on mocking readers in the first place.” (That Sylvia Plath reference!) It’s the “fictional engineering” that’s making me think I ought to read the rest of the series. When I told my students I’d read the first book, I asked first how many of them had read the book. Every single girl in my all-girl class raised her hand. Fourteen out of fourteen. I won’t pretend that I think Meyer’s a great stylist, but her engineering skills are worth studying.
Speaking of engineering skills, I also wanted to pass on this list of classic short crime stories, and specifically the recommended story “A Jury of Her Peers,” which borrows elements of the mystery-story format for feminist ends. I think I’d read it once before, but so long ago that I could feel little tickles of familiarity. I’d forgotten how hard it punches, and how precisely.