Let’s Read Life and Death: Chapter One

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The cover is someone holding a green apple. Get it? Green is the opposite of red. Just like boy is the opposite of girl. Heteronormativity, like Nyquil, only comes in red and green.

There’s A Foreword, Because of Course there Is

Meyer starts out with “I’M SO SORRY,” which made me bark with ugly laughter. Unfortunately, she’s only sorry for this not being Midnight Sun. I had no idea that was still an idea with traction. I’m really not that into Edward, though. If she made a spin-off about Alice and Jasper I am not ashamed to admit I would read the hell out of it.

Anyway.

Although her editor asked for something small, she decided to write this instead, because it sounded fun, and ten year retrospectives are boring. I’m behind this, but a little iffy on when Meyer learned the difference between “fun” and “boring.”

(flashback clip to when I first read the hotel sequence)

Ugh. So. We get more half-assed explanation that Bella was not a damsel in distress, she was a “human in distress,” and Meyer treating this as though it were completely unavoidable… which bugs the hell out of me more and more. Treating characters as though they are individuals with thoughts and feelings and not creations of authors with agendas is like, number one mucho big time mistake in literary criticism.

She does have some smart analysis to offer, though, which maybe came from ten years of rumination, and collecting other analyses of her work. She says criticism of Bella being “consumed with her love interest,” is treated as though that’s just “a girl thing,” which I hadn’t really considered. She also asserts that “gender and species aside, Twilight has always been a story about the magic and obsession and frenzy of first love,” which I will definitely buy. Twilight is absolutely about the ills and the uglies and the utter freaking madness of first love. Hold it up next to my first relationship–aside from the copious black leather and Rammstein albums, there are few differences.

There’s a lot of discussion of how she didn’t change Charlie and Renée around, which amounts to “a male Renée would never have been allowed to keep Beau.” I suppose that would have required more rewriting than she had time for. But: what if a female Charlie in Renée’s place, and then Beau went to live with a male Renée, who was largely absent? Still leaves just enough neglect to let Beau futz around with vampires without any adult noticing. Call me, Stephenie. I’m full of great ideas.

She lists the other changes she made in strange amount of detail, including things she assumes we won’t notice. Why mention them? Also, Beau is “more OCD” than Bella, apparently. Pet peeve time: is he literally obsessive/compulsive or do you just mean he’s detail-oriented? A mentally-ill main character would be great but I’m pretty sure Meyer means this in the awful, lazy way.

Meyer is excited to fix this mess after ten years (I bet!) and it sounds like she has definitely grown as a writer. I mean, the proof will be in the 440-page pudding, so to speak. So I’ll just jump into the preface.

…which is almost exactly the same except for a pronoun change, gotdamn it. She even left the clunky adverbs. Ugh. Ugh. Rum and soda time.

Chapter One: First Sight (Again)

Beau’s mom, Renée, drives him to the Phoenix airport. He really hates leaving, really hates Forks, but feels he has to leave his mother.

Even though she needs him so, so much. We get a lot–like, more than the original source material–on just how much Renée needs Beau. She can’t pay bills or fix a toilet without him. She is “childlike” in one part, he is leaving her to “fend for herself”–but at least now she has Phil, so she’ll probably survive. Charlie never fought Renée for custody of Beau because he “knew she needed me.” Frickin yikes, all around!! Before it was Bella and Renée, potential Gilmore Girls just toughin’ it out, now it’s “this silly woman needs a man in her life or she literally can’t buy food.” -10 feminism points, 10 points to Gryffindor. Meyer could easily have rewritten this with Renée keeping some ounce of capability, and made it so… I don’t know… Beau just really hated Phil and wanted to leave!

But remember: THIS IS EXACTLY THE SAME WITH DIFFERENT GENDERS.

So this chapter for some reason didn’t skip out on the dreary details of being the new kid at school. Now that I don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, the overwrought descriptions of the environment and the rain are making me feel kind of homesick–it WAS claustrophobic! it WAS gloomy and junk!–but I could still do without the hour-by-hour schedule of Beaufort Swan. We get an early title drop when he tells himself high school isn’t “a life and death situation.” He meets people, promptly forgets their names, has to remind them to only call him Beau (poor kid), and goes to the next class. Wash rinse repeat until lunch time, the infamous first sighting of the vamps.

So, let’s get started.

We get them all without names, first, true to form, but we know who’s who by now. Unfortunately, every one of them is given their height as relative to Beau’s, so solving for their height is like looking at a damn logic puzzle. The blonde one is taller than Beau but shorter than the dark haired one, who is not the tallest of the five. Please just say they were all tall, with one unfortunate exception.

Anyway, the girl that was once Emmett. You remember Emmett? THE HUGE BEAR-EATER? Well, she still keeps her height. She’s no longer “muscled like a serious weight lifter,” which leaves me a little cold. I’ve seen lady weight lifters. They’re incredible. Well, she’s got legs that go on forever, at least, and looks like she “might be captain of the volleyball team,” and from my logic puzzle notes she seems to be the tallest of the vamps. I’ll have to take it where I can get it. Her name is Eleanor, which I like. Plus points.

Jasper, the creepy-yet-somehow-awesome Civil War veteran. The only description we got of him in Twilight was he was leaner than Emmet, “but still muscular.” Thankfully, we get way more flavor out of her now, and she is “intense,” “edgy,” and also described, at length, looking like an actress in an action flick “who took down a dozen dudes with a machete.” (Uma Thurman. Just say Uma Thurman. We’re all thinking it.) Beau is a teeny bit of an asshole about it: “I remembered thinking then that I didn’t buy it–there was no way the actress could have taken on that many bad guys and won.” Great. Cool. Thanks, prick. Uh, so, Jasper’s new name is Jessamine, and I’m sort of bummed it wasn’t still Jasper but I don’t think it’s gender-neutral enough to justify.

Then there’s our beloved. Edward was “lanky” and “boyish” at first glance in Twilight, with red-brown hair. Now she’s “smaller” (??!!) but otherwise the same, with a new metallic sheen to hair. Let me just take a minute–smaller? Smaller?? Why? Why did we need to preserve the sanctity of this, the silliest of hetero-details? Beau has to be super tall and Edythe has to be super short? Don’t get me wrong, I like small terrifying women, but–but–ugh. Hang on, adding more rum to my soda.

Okay, Rosalie. Rosalie was hyper-feminine, “statuesque” with a “beautiful figure” that senselessly murdered the self-esteem of any other girls in the same room as her. He’s now a weight lifting athlete, and probably prom king. With a frigging man bun. Oh, “but there was nothing feminine about it.” Whew so glad he didn’t look feminine in the least! Dodged a potentially gay bullet there. Anyway, his new name is RoyAL PFFFFFTTTTT HIS NAME IS ROYAL god I thought Beaufort was bad, yikes.

Alice, my secret favorite, was “pixielike,” “thin in the extreme, with small features.” Now he’s described as a skinhead at one point, because of hair “so short it was just a shadow across his scalp.” Hm. I mean. Maybe. They would have shaved his head at the institution he was bailed out of. I kind of like that he’s the shorter, wirier, shaved-ier one, which gives us someone unconventionally attractive, but I’m still mad Eleanor isn’t a female weight lifter so I’m not giving any points for this one. Oh, and his name is Archie. 😦

Beau gawks at them, Edythe tries to pretend she isn’t gawking at him. We get a cute aside about how they’re named like grandparents, but then, Beau got his name from Grandpa Beaufort, so maybe it’s just a trend in Forks babies. Jeremy, who used to be Jessica, makes the same snide comments about how Edythe thinks she’s too good for the guys at this school, and in this version I’m like “you’re damn right she is.” So there’s a big difference for you.

Blah blah blah no one eats their lunch, everyone moves like a dancer. It’s funny that after ten years Meyer still thought everything in this chapter was hyper-relevant. I’m worried about the future.

The next sexually-charged scene in science class happens. Beau is forced to sit next to Edythe, who reacts with anger and revulsion. Man, do I like her. Who is this gross nerd? she’s thinking. I want to kill and eat him so bad. It’s making me feel sorry she’s going to fall in love with this boring weirdo. She is also described as having “surprisingly hard muscle” under her beautiful flawless skin, which is making me swoon a little. Is that the rum?

An odd part that pulled me out at this point is Edythe being described as having “long, black eyes.” Long eyes? This word wasn’t in the Twilight version (which I can helpfully, if not clumsily, check at a moment’s notice). I’m wondering wtf a long eye looks like.

Mike is McKayla now and she’s so super sweet!! I’m remembering that I actually liked Mike, a lot. Poor McKayla.

Beau has the run-in with Edythe in the office, and is thrown out of sorts by what a mega-bitch she is to him. I am, too, for entirely different reasons. His voice cracks (aw, gee, Beau) when he talks to the administrar after she leaves.

Beau and Bella

There are things I’m having trouble tracking as changes in the actual writing and changes in my perception, so I may miss some details that need to be edited later, when I feel like spending some time spinning a book around on my table. That said…

I like the new Beau, and I like his dynamic with Charlie. Beau is an awkward, pale, gangly nerd (now with Monty Python t-shirts), who has never had a real relationship with his dad and has to remind himself not to call him “Charlie” to his face. They give awkward one-armed hugs, grunt and shrug at each other. I no longer feel pressured to like and identify with him, which of course makes me like and identify with him. I, too, was a weird splotchy nerd in high school. I, too, wanted the hot vampires to notice me.

Beau is also more self-aware than Bella–he recognizes when he’s being melodramatic and chides himself. We aren’t constantly reminded that Beau is wiser than his years, something Twilight kept trying to pull on me with Bella and I would have none of it. And, while Beau is still kind of an asshole in places, so far he isn’t nearly as whiny as Bella was, raging about how people are so mean and things are so unfair. In further contrast, he’s patently weird looking–where I had trouble believing that Bella’s long dark hair and porcelain skin were somehow freakish, it’s easy for me to picture a splotchy gawky nerd and believing that he isn’t really that cute. (Or is this me writing off other women’s insecurities and whole-heartedly believing a man about his own experiences? Ugh, this is going to be a nightmare.)

In a twisted way, Beau’s awkward unattractiveness makes me empathize with and like Edythe even more. Her rage at how dull and boring and geeky Beau is warms my silly little heart. Sorry, girl, this story doesn’t end well for you. Hope you like tired “Holy Grail” references.

Basically, I’m picturing Harry Potter-era Robert Pattinson as Beau and Kristen Stewart with that amazing new haircut as Edythe. I’m cheating. I don’t care.

what a nerd HEART EYES

WAY too hot for this nerd.

There are definite signs of editing, I’m happy to report. I flippin hated the word “greenly” and I’m glad she came to her damn senses. That said, there are still hot messes of sentences like “The engine started quickly, which was a relief, but loudly, roaring to life and then idling at top volume.” And damn it, the adverbs. Listen, adverbs aren’t the instant literary death I used to consider them (I’m a kinder, gentler editor), but when you see the phrase “said gruffly” and don’t think “hmm what about ‘grunted'” I’m gonna get mad at you. Stronger verbs! Less words!

I’m… cautiously optimistic. I like the potential the gender-changes bring to this, but so far a lot of that potential is not being lived up to, and some of it is just flat out wasted. I’m alarmed at the turn Beau’s relationship with his mother has taken–her dependency on men to take care of her is, uh, yikes to the max.

And I guess it’s not that I expect this novel by Mormon Housewife Romance Sensation Stephenie Meyer to suddenly be Queer As Hell, but I mean, a little muscle on the girl who’s a different version of the beefy bear-eater would’ve been nice. A little androgyny in the boy who used to look like a 20s movie starlet would’ve been interesting. Keeping the main love interest tall would’ve been exciting as hell–I mean, I’d even have settled for “Beau is still an inch taller than Edythe,” but you didn’t have to make her small.

I guess we’ll see what keeps popping up.

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