Friday, January 29, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Breaking Dawn (Book #4 in the Twilight Series)

Book: Breaking Dawn (Book #4 in the Twilight Series)

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publication Info: 756 pages (hardcover), young adult fiction, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, New York 2008

Jacket blurb: none

My rating (out of five stars): [none]

Ohhh, Edward and Bella, Bella and Edward! Here we are at the beginning of the fourth and final and longest book in the Twilight saga, wondering where your true, pure and endless love will take you next. And let me just say that, since Breaking Dawn was published nearly two years ago, everyone in the world knows that the altar is where the two star-crossed sweethearts are headed.

Why? Well, you could be pardoned for thinking that it was about love, right? Because ever since Bella and Edward first laid eyes on one another in the Forks High School cafeteria a mere twenty months ago -- minus the time when Edward left town to spare Bella from further harm and Bella drearily marked time with the wolfy, hunky Jacob -- they have been all about being toether. Edward in the more traditional sense that requires vows and Bella in the sense that requires, er, interconnecting anatomical features.

At the end of Eclipse, the third book in the series, Bella and Edward brokered a deal for their future which included them getting married before Edward would either "turn" Bella or have sex with her. With negotiating skills like that, he should run for a political office. Bella agrees to this with bad grace, and Breaking Dawn opens with Bella at a level of excitement about her wedding day that people usually reserve for running sores. Given the fact that she's been pining for an eternity in which to drink in Edward's physical beauty, listen to his musical voice and even smell his breath, you'd think she'd be galloping altar-bound down the aisle like Seabiscuit in the final furlong at Pimlico, but Bella's vision for her future evidently doesn't extend as far as death, as in "until death separates us," which is kind of a joke on both of them. Because she's going to do just that -- die -- in approximately three hundred pages. THE LONGEST THREE HUNDRED PAGES OF YOUR LIFE.

So Bella stands like a wax figure while Alice dresses her, does her hair and makeup (Bella doesn't even bother to look in a mirror before leaving Alice's dressing room) and steers her to the staircase of the Cullen home, which is where the ceremony is to take place. At that point, plan to be wishing that Alice will just give her a solid push. Few people will blame you, if the reviews of this book at are any indication. Friends and family members of both the human and vampircal variety are in attendance and the whole thing kind of passes in a blur. Bella mentions "profusions of white blossoms....hung in garlands" and "long lines of white gossamer ribbons" and "white petals swaying above [her] head," but that's it.

Bella's description of her wedding gown?

"Shiny fabric."


Things pick up at the reception, especially when Jacob shows up to pay his respects. He's just back from traversing all of Canada in wolf-form, trying to outrun his feelings for Bella in spite of the fact she treats him so badly. Things sour abruptly, though, when Bella artlessly reveals to Jacob that she and Edward plan to have a "real honeymoon," in spite of the fact that Bella will still be a human.

Jacob reacts in outraged shock and dismay. After all, Edward is immortal, cold, as hard as marble and possessed of superhuman strength. It has been indicated more than once that a human woman and a male vampire having sex would be extremely physically dangerous for the woman, but Bella handles the situation with all the maturity we've come to expect from her over the past three books.

"I'm not putting anything off," I snapped. "And yes I can have a real honeymoon! I can do anything I want! Butt out!"

Jacob goes all wolfy at this bit of unwelcome news and begins to undergo transformation right there at the reception, which is slightly more awkward than someone slipping and falling down on the dance floor. He threatens to kill Edward as the other members of the wolf pack try to hustle him away into the woods behind the Cullens' house, but I myself was still right there, thinking What a really stupid thing to say. She is such an idiot.

I proved to be the idiotic one in about thirty more pages, because Edward and Bella did it. They consummated their marriage despite the fact that Edward knew beforehand what the likely outcome would be -- Bella injured, if not killed. To be quite clear, Bella knew beforehand, too, but she is so pathetic and stupid, I didn't really count on her to do anything that made sense, relying on Edward to be the rock of self-control he's always been, in spite of his indications of being a potential abuser.

And somewhere in the murky fade-to-black of page eighty five, this book completely and irrevocably lost me.

Meyer chastely refuses to describe what ensues, but the morning after the night before, Bella awakens to a brooding, haunted Edward, a bed full of feathers and, "large purplish bruises...across the pale skin of my arm...up to my shoulder" and relates that her naked body was "decorated with patches of blue and purple" and admits that she'd "look even worse tomorrow." The whole scene, in which Bella soothes Edward by telling him that the experience was "wonderful and perfect" and that she's "totally and completely blissed out" and that "[she] can't imagine that life gets any better than [this]" was utterly ghastly, a total mockery of two young lovers meeting one another for the first time in the sweetness of their wedding night.

Edward feels so remorseful. He vows that it will never happen again. Aaaaand...does anyone have that checklist for Things Abusers Typically Say and Do handy? Because Edward, you see, is no longer a potential abusive partner.

I didn't get actual bile in my throat until the next night, when Bella and Edward do it again. She wakes up from a powerful dream about makin' the sex and boo-hoos and begs and whines until he finally gives in and nails her.

Okay. Could there be anything sicker than lovemaking on one's honeymoon that ends with one spouse battered? That is wrong and bad on so many levels, I'd be hard put to list them all. Let me just start by saying that a decent person would NEVER DO SOMETHING that would put something he loved in danger of being physically or emotionally harmed. Edward knows how physically fragile Bella is compared to him, but he goes ahead and gives in to her infantile pleadings for sex and PHYSICALLY HURTS HER.

That's sick, Stephenie Meyer. Really, really sick. Especially since Bella's extra-mature way of dealing with her aching, black-and-blue body is to basically tell Edward it's okay if you bruised me because I know you love me. God help us all.

Since this book is seven hundred fifty-four pages long, I'll spare myself the anguish of exploring every nuance of this unbearably hefty plot line. Frankly, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense in places anyway - events happen here and there that simply don't hang together, are left unexplained, or are referred to once and never mentioned again. So I'll hit the low points from here on out -- after that honeymoon, I can't bring myself to call them high points -- designated numerically.

1. While Edward and Bella are still on their honeymoon, a curious thing happens: Stephenie Meyer breaks another rule of vampire lore, only in this case it's her own vampire lore. According to Stephenie, vampires have no liquid inside them except for their venom, so imagine everyone's surprise -- theirs, Carlisle's, Alice's, yours and mine -- when Bella suddenly gets nauseated, develops a stubborn appetite for certain foods and discovers a baby bump between her hip bones. Yes. In spite of the fact that Edward supposedly cannot produce sperm cells, Bella is pregnant.

The two of them head back home, where Carlisle and Edward press for an abortion: they know that any child created by this union is likely a monster of unknown quantity. Bella allies herself with the baby-wanting Rosalie and refuses to consent, protecting her "little nudger," which is growing at a pace that is faster than the speed of a vampire running through the forests of Washington state with his girlfriend clinging to his back. And not only is the baby growing fast, it's also killing Bella. The story takes over in Jacob's first-person narrative and he describes Bella's weakness as she lies on a couch in the Cullen's living room, fading away by the moment. Edward fades right along with her, becoming a total helpless wreck, moaning and brooding and generally doing all that he can to make sure that the family has two invalids to care for.

Until, of course, someone thinks that maybe the baby and Bella aren't really being properly nourished on pickles and ice cream and those giant vitamin pills pregnant women have to swallow. No, this baby and this mother need some blood. Big ol' cups of it, with straws. Straws that will allow Bella to gulp it down and burp gently.

Human blood.

I'll pause to let you process that and maybe go find a small wastebasket to vomit into.

There. Better now? Oh, too bad, because you're going to be sick again very shortly.

So the Little Nudger gets stronger and starts nudging her a little too hard. Jacob relates that Bella's entire body is bruised, and before long, the baby starts cracking her ribs. When Bella experiences placenta abruptio and vomits "a fountain of blood," the Cullen gang realizes that it's now or never and they whisk Bella to Carlisle's study, which has been turned into a birthing center. Jacob performs CPR a little too roughly while Edward struggles to deliver the baby (Carlisle is not at home at this crucial moment) and CHEWS THE BABY OUT of Bella's uterus WITH HIS TEETH.

I found it very ironic that Meyer, who did that coy fade-to-black on Bella and Edward's honeymoon sex just freaking UNLEASHES on the birth scene, with blood and anguish and broken spines and floppy legs and a cracking pelvis and the sound of Edward's diamond hard teeth scraping and rasping and tearing through his wife's flesh... It's not the kind of thing you'd want to read while eating a bowl of chili. And it goes on for pages, like my gosh, the soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy didn't see this level of violence.


2. Slightly before the baby is born, Edward and Jacob have a conversation at the Cullen's house. Jacob is there because he can't bear to be away from Bella, which is.....huh? I mean, she is another man's wife at this point, right? So Jacob's continued worried presence is there and he makes himself useful by sitting next to Bella and warming her up when she gets cold.

Uhhh, okay.....

Not many husbands I know would be all that thrilled to have their main rivals for their wives' affections before marriage present and accounted for in order to warm her chilly pregnant body, but whatevs...By this time, who expects any sense out of all this?

Given what Edward does next, though, you may want to find that little wastebasket you just used, because what's coming now won't make any sense, either.

Out on the front porch of the Cullen residence, Edward suggests to Jacob that perhaps, if this baby, erm, DIES and Bella survives, that she's going to want children someday. She loves her little unborn devil-baby, after all, and he, Edward, just KNEW that the maternal urge would grab her someday, so if Jacob could be so kind as to oblige....

I think the charming way Edward put it, this whole notion of putting his wife out to be bred, was "She can have puppies if she wants them." With a sidelong glance at Jacob. The shape-shifting wolf.

Jacob takes a personal moment to consider how awesome it would be to make the weekend sex with Bella and give her a little pack of wolfbabies to cuddle and then send them all back to the Cullens on Monday mornings. And could there be a bigger EWWWWWWWWWW!!!! than this?

Honestly, just when you think Stephenie Meyers has already hated the idea of independent, strong, smart women enough, you find out that she has deeper levels of loathing to explore.

Fortunately, Jacob sees that this preposterous and SICK idea is going to be absolutely unworkable because how are they ever going to get Bella to agree to it? At this point, I had a mental flash of Spike and Angel discussing Buffy in this manner and both of them saying nervously, "She's going to stake both of us with a telephone pole for even thinking such a thing," but come to think of it, there's no way they'd ever have such a conversation because their respect for Buffy and who she is and what she can do is so immense. It would never cross their minds, this kind of perversion.

The fact that Edward could even come up with an idea like this and be serious enough to entreat Jacob to help him convince Bella that this plan could work is Edward has no respect for Bella as an autonomous person, like, at all. This is his wife, his companion for eternity, and yet he feels free to come up with a plan like this behind her back? Stephenie Meyer, what the HELL is wrong with you??!!

3. The baby is born alive, but Bella is dying quickly after the traumatic birth and Jacob tells us that Edward goes to work on her with a syringe full of vampire venom so that it can spread throughout her body while her heart is still feebly beating. She is going to die, but the venom will heal her. And it will take a few days, but then everything will be like, YAY! because being a vampire is something only very, very special people get to do and aren't you sad you're not one?

But then.....

While Edward is injecting deadly venom into his nearly-lifeless bride, Jacob is holding the baby. If you read New Moon and Eclipse, you might guess at what's getting ready to happen: Jacob imprints on the newborn baby. Yup. He looks at the newborn baby and is all SCHWWWIIING!!!

Yeah, you made it past the honeymoon and you struggled through the idea of Edward and Jacob sharing Bella for sex and you hung on through that revolting birth scene, only to arrive at the place where Jacob decides that this baby is the person destiny has picked out for him to spend his life with. The bewilderment and gagging just start all over again, don't they?

What kind of life does Stephenie Meyer live that she can think up all of these unbelievably disturbing male-female relationships and present them as if they're acceptable? Like, sure it's okay for a little girl to grow up with a young man that she would probably perceive as a brother or even a father figure, someone who's poured juice into her sippy cup and taken her to the potty and then....marry him? The fact that an imprinted relationship between a baby and a teen wolf pre-supposes that someday, they're going to be sexual partners is just so messed up, there aren't enough negative words in the English language to convey how wrong that is.

4. Thankfully, Stephenie ends with the crazed and possibly illegal and definitely immoral relationships and we move on to Bella, who is now a vampire.

Through all three of the previous novels, we've been warned repeatedly that not only is the process of "turning" very painful and difficult, but that the first few years of vampirism are difficult to navigate: the new born vampire will be a creature of enormous strength and thirst, making him/her a danger to everyone around, both human and vampire. So Bella goes through her change -- and of course, we have to go with her, this heeeeyooooge rite of passage Meyer has been preparing us for, and I was expecting Bella to fly up off that table in Carlisle's study and start with the killing, maybe making that snotty Lauren she graduated high school with her first victim.

But guess what? Meyer lets us down flat. There is no conflict. None. Anywhere. There was a great opportunity here for Bella, who has been possibly the lamest, weakest and most clueless heroine in post-modern American literature, to grow into a character of substance and depth. The biggest conflict we experience in Bella's turning is the fact that, while she was out of it, Alice dressed her in a gorgeous, shimmery dress that made it hard for Bella to run in the woods on her first hunt with Edward. So guess what? She had to tear the dress. OH THE AGONY!

As she moves into vampire life, the Cullens are stunned and incredulous that Bella can control herself. Sure, there's a brief moment of wanting to indulge herself in a yummy-smelling hiker out in the woods, but Bella just claps a hand over her nose and runs in the other direction: problem solved. And they're concerned that she might attack Renesmee, who has a heartbeat, but her great love and bonding with the baby lead her to be able to see past that moist and luscious sound and cuddle her daughter protectively. And Esme's antique dining table is in a moment of danger as Bella and Emmett consider it as a place for an arm-wrestling match, but that's all.

That's all. Really. Truly. There is no conflict. Bella is the most beautiful, the most strong, the most gifted, the most graceful vampire ever, like, in the whole world. Her voice is like the music of tiny bells! Her ability to leap over the river surpasses even Edward's, and as for speed? Well, up until now, Edward has been the undisputed Speedy Gonzalez of the Cullen clan, but Bella leaves him eating her dust. No one has to buckle her seat belt for her anymore; no one has to carry her anywhere because she can't twist her ankle; Charlie is a little freaked out by her but prepared to accept the unacceptable; brown contacts hide her bright red new born vamp eyes; who knows what happens with Renee and Phil, because they're never mentioned again; and it's really kind of too bad that Bella doesn't have to poop anymore, because you can be certain that Meyer would go to great lengths to tell us how beautiful and fragrant her bowel movements are.

I mean, really, girls, who wouldn't want to be a vampire? Bella can die and go through this incredible change that makes everything different and yet there's not one single consequence. She has everything! Supermodel looks! The most perfect husband ever! A lovely baby, who's so perfect, you just want to brush your brain with toothpaste to get all the sticky sugar out of your mind after reading about her! The perfect adoring family! Who are, like, mind-blowingly rich! Closets full of designer clothing! A perfect little rose-covered fairy-tale cottage! A Ferrari! An alliance with the werewolves! Amazing talents that surpass the talents of everyone else around her!

There is a tiny misunderstanding with the Volturi and Meyer builds us up for pages and pages, leading us to think that there's going to be an epic battle, like the one between Voldemort's followers and Dumbledore's army, or the one between the forces of Mordor and Aragorn's troops, but it all amounts to nothing. Just a misunderstanding. The Volturi literally turn around and drift away sulking and go back to Italy. And it's all because of Bella.

This is just.....unconscionable. At nearly eight hundred pages, you'd think there could have been room for some real plot and character development - that Bella would have to go through some massive internal and external struggles to make her ready for her new life, to help her grow and change into the person she is going to be, um, ETERNALLY. Harry Potter had to do that along with all of those Hogwarts kids we followed from the first book to the last. Bilbo and Frodo and Sam had to do it; it took Aragorn three thick books to come to terms with his rightful place as the king.

But Bella? She can just jump from one milestone to another with no struggles whatsoever. Oh, sure, she had to wear the brown contacts. And the stupid things kept dissolving on her, because of the venom filming her eyes. And she had a difficult time figuring how to meet up with J. Jenks and discerning his relationship with the Cullen family. And she was pretty ticked with Jacob for imprinting on her baby, but that actually turned out to be a blessing. I was ready to see her go on a killing spree and for Charlie to be caught up in the investigation for this string of brutal murders and for the Cullens to be providing moral and physical support and then for the Volturi to show up and for there to be casualties on either side.

But no.

Bella was perfect from the start of her vampire life and when the book ends (with Edward referring to Jacob as -- PUKE! -- "My son"), everything is just like a really stupid fairy tale. It is the laziest and most shiftless writing I've ever read and it galls me that Stephenie Meyer could write this pap and be smirking all the way to the bank with her stupid books and her stupid Bella and all those woman-hating, freakishly messed up male-female relationships. This, my friends, is what passes these days for stellar literature for our young adult readers.

Read it and weep.

1 comment:

Yamin said...

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