A Love-Hate Relationship

Twilight seems like bad news, but it keeps sucking me back in

Karline Koehler |

Confession: I’ve read all four books in the Twilight saga, Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire romance series. I’m a little embarrassed to tell you this. I read them all back to back, a few months ago. As a matter of fact, they’re just about the only fiction I’ve read lately. As a 27-year-old self-respecting feminist and former student of Serious Works of Literature, I have mixed feelings about this. I suppose I could just chalk it up to this little belated gothic phase I’ve got going on. I could call it a guilty pleasure, end of story. But there’s something more to it than that.

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: Edward is a jerkface. He’s boring, he’s controlling, and with those golden-boy looks, he’s so not my type. And yet I see the appeal. If some refined young gentleman from a previous century magically found himself in the present day, it’s safe to assume he’d fare well with the ladies. The chivalrous manners! The anachronistic hobbies, cultivated over centuries of leisure! The accent! Vampire-dom’s cool sophistication only adds to the charm. I, however, have more of a soft spot for Jacob, Edward’s werewolf foil, the cuddly rambunctious puppy who was there all along and one day shows up looking smokin’ hot. He’s comfortable and loyal, like any good canine. It’s a duality you’ve heard before.

The whole four-book epic is pretty much a story you’ve heard before. The books are … fine, I guess. They’re kinda addictive, but they’re not going to win any major awards. What we have here is a garden-variety romance novel, high-school-ified. (And with the message, perhaps surprising given the genre, that premarital nookie = death and possibly eternal damnation. But that’s another thinkpiece entirely.) Main character Bella is really kind of bland, and puts up with far too much of Edward’s aforementioned controllingness for my taste. Half the time I read that stuff for several pages, thinking it’s supposed to be an illustration of everything that can go wrong with a relationship, waiting for Bella to call him on it. Then she kisses him. The “punchline” I’m expecting, where she tells him to shape up or get lost, never comes. And I wonder why I’m still reading.

And yet I finished the first book, and picked up the second, then the third, then the fourth. Obviously I was going back for something, and it wasn’t Edward’s smoldering topaz eyes. The story is set in the little town of Forks, Washington (four hours from Seattle), and I think part of what appeals to me is the dark northwoodsy sense of place – in the vein of Twin Peaks and American Gothic, where you never know what powerful forces lurk just beyond the sleepy small town. In that sense, all tortured romance and social awkwardness aside, it reminds me of the tiny place somewhere between here and Duluth where I grew up. That’s why I was pleased to see Bon Iver on the indie-rock-all-star soundtrack (out now) for the New Moon movie (out Nov. 20). Both are what they are because of the vastness of the woods and the cold.

My quibbles with Twilight are many. But for some reason, this time, I have trouble getting riled up about my objections. This isn’t supposed to be an after-school special. It’s a story of bizarre love and coming-of-age, and who can’t identify with that? Strange as it sounds, I think I read Twilight because it reminds me of some of the mistakes I’ve made, and that I’ve seen others make.

The darkest part of the story, for me, is not that Bella is in all-encompassing eternal love with a guy who’s technically dead … it’s that she winds up with him. No punchline. No sudden discovery of a backbone. I read that story not because I want to live it, but because it happens for real. Most of the time, stories about women putting up with charming but bad-news dudes scoff at the ladies’ stupidity; Twilight empathizes. Maybe a little too much, but I’ve had enough of the opposite to last me several lifetimes, thank you. The series tells the all-too-common tale of the “tragically enamored” with understanding and without judgment, and the eerily familiar setting highlights that reality – it could be you, or your sister or your neighbor.

OK, so it’s probably not the interpretation the author intended. But I’m getting something out of the stories, in a roundabout way, and I hereby resolve to stop feeling guilty about that. If you see something completely different in them, that’s cool too, and don’t let me stop you. Just think twice about getting close to those teeth.