It’s not good if you don’t suffer

I learned to read when I was three and was able to read-if not understand-adult books by the time I was four (this trait runs in my family, both my mother and brother were the same). I read voraciously as a child and teenager, but as an adult I don’t do a lot of fiction reading anymore. I do have all the Harry Potter books, many of them nerdily obtained on the first day of release. I like Sue Grafton, love Sharon Kay Penman and Margaret George, and my guilty pleasure books are the Meredith Gentry novels by Laurell K. Hamilton, a/k/a “elf porn.”

Then I heard about the Twilight phenomenon, courtesy of a friend who’s a young adult librarian. And it is indeed a phenomenon, seemingly filling the gap left in teen girls’ hearts after Harry Potter’s adventures ended. There are four books so far, detailing the “forbidden” love between a teenager named Bella Swann and a vampire named Edward Cullen. The movie of the first book, Twilight, is coming out Friday and teenage girls are coming out in droves to Hot Topic stores to swoon over Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays Edward in the movies (yes, the next two are being filmed as well). A few weeks ago one of my neighbors, whose daughter is thoroughly caught up in Twilight, asked me if I was interested in reading the books as her daughter recently won a set of all four and now had doubles. I said sure, she gave me the books, and they sat on my kitchen table until this weekend, when I caught a horrendous case of stomach flu and needed something to … well, read in the bathroom.

I had heard from other friends that these weren’t written all that well, and that proved to be true. What also proved to be true is that Edward, generally described as “beautiful,” “perfect” and “sparkling”, acts very much like a typical abusive boyfriend, although it’s all mental rather than physical. Bella, who for the most part narrates the books, frequently describes herself as ugly, stupid, clumsy, and having no common sense. Edward tells her he will take care of her, even as he has to resist sucking her blood (the vampires in the book are “vegetarian,” meaning they get their nourishment from animals rather than humans) or otherwise harming her. Their romance is painted as that of star-crossed lovers, much to the dismay of Bella’s parents. Still, in the first three books the pace was quick and the story interesting enough that I could understand why even adults would enjoy them.

Then came Breaking Dawn, the most recent book in the series, released this summer. It is rare that I speak aloud while reading a book but I found myself groaning “Oh, this is BULLSHIT!” almost continously.

The author of the series, Stephenie Meyer, makes no bones about the fact that she is a devout Mormon, and Breaking Dawn showcases this big time. Bella is now eighteen and wants to marry Edward. Her parents, previously resistant, are all “oh, okay!” Gone are plans for college, etc. So Bella and Edward get married in a lavish ceremony and Edward sweeps Bella away for a romantic honeymoon on a private island off the coast of Brazil. In another writer’s hands Bella and Edward would probably have been having sex a while ago, but Meyer has her teenage sex take place within the confines of marriage. Okay, no huge deal, I thought. But Edward, being a vampire, apparently likes his sex on the rough side. He destroys a bed and basically bangs the crap out of Bella, who only coos about “finally being close” to Edward. Adding insult to injury, Meyer doesn’t even describe this bed-breaking sex after a three-book buildup. I don’t mean she had to write porn, but you CAN write young adult books including sex tastefully.

But oh, now we get to the good part. Because a teenage boy and girl (Edward became a vampire when he was 17) just can’t have fun having sex almost immediately after the honeymoon, in classic fashion, Bella learns that she’s pregnant. Never mind that Meyer’s vampires have no bodily fluids-somehow Edward was holding back some semen just for Bella. Apparently vampire-sired fetuses go from zero to viable in about a month, and the fetus breaks Bella’s ribs while kicking and makes her vomit blood. The birth scene was probably one of the grossest things I’ve ever read. If you’ve ever seen Rosemary’s Baby, ratchet that up about a hundred notches. The fetus literally snaps Bella’s spine, and Edward performs a c-section … with his teeth. What makes all this even more WTF-inducing is that in previous books Bella had said that she wasn’t interested in having kids, and when it’s first learned that she’s pregnant pretty much everyone-including sparkly Edward-begs her to get an abortion because of the rib-splintering and spine-breaking and blood-puking that will ensue. But no. In classic fundie fashion Meyer has her heretofore child-indifferent heroine suddenly pine to be a mommy, down to giving the kid the creatively spelled name Reneesme.

The worst part of this? If you read the readers’ reviews for Breaking Dawn on or other such places, there are thousands of teens and adults who think that the whole thing is romantic. “Oh, isn’t it wonderful that Bella and Edward have a baby together?” “Oh, Bella’s so brave to go through all that to give Edward a baby!” Never mind that Edward seems pretty indifferent to his daughter once she’s born (due to a REALLY creepy situation involving another character). Bella has Fulfilled Her Womanly Duty. Oh-and she finally gets to be a vampire too.

I realize that the Twilight books are intended to be fantasy and there’s nothing wrong with fantasy … as long as it doesn’t take the place of reality. But it kills me that in 2008 the “life is meaningless unless you have a baby” line is still sold, even in teenage vampire romance novels.

Oh, and Stephenie? For the love of Cthulhu get an editor and buy a thesaurus.