For a while I thought I wanted to do a complete, detailed, Left-Behind-style smackdown of Twilight, but then I decided that I already read the darned thing once, I didn’t want to read it again. Anyway, I thought it would be corrosive to my soul to spend so much time dwelling on something neither pleasant, nor necessary. Slacktivist, I salute you for your fortitude. I have not the strength.
Instead, I’m just going to throw out my two theories about Twilight that I never got to share on the panel that didn’t happen.
Theory 1: Bella is actually intended to be an unreliable narrator. The narrative appears to be mind-numbingly overt, with Bella telling (not showing) everything that happens (although really not much happens) and telling (in excruciating, repetitive, hyperbolic detail) us how she feels about things like the perfectness of Edward the sparkly vampire. It appears as though we are intended to take everything entirely at face value. There are no clear tells in the text that Bella’s viewpoint is untrustworthy, that the story she’s relating to us is not supposed to be quite the story as it actually happened.
But this is Meyer’s genius. The tells are all there, they are just unusually subtle. For example, the clunky, overwrought, slightly illiterate prose is our sign that Bella is not as mature and observant and intelligent as she thinks she is. It is a signal as to the depth of her self-delusion. Twilight reads like the fevered adolescent romantic fantasies of a shallow, self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing teenage queen bee because that’s what it is — her fantastical version of her own life.
Are there any literal vampires in the book at all? Or is Edward just the sinister, controlling sociopath she starts dating, transformed by her fantasies into a vampire to explain her subconscious ambivalence toward him?
Her description of Edward is another tell. She tells us repeatedly how “beautiful” and “perfect” he is, yet she describes him in terms that sound anything but appealing — his skin is as white, hard, and chilly as marble, his eyes are sunken and shadowed, and he glistens ominously in sunlight (like a banana slug). The meaning is clear: she finds him inhuman, untouchable, and slightly horrifying, and yet keeps trying to tell herself that he’s perfect, that she’s in love, that things with him could not be better.
Perhaps the biggest tell is Bella’s clumsiness and physical weakness. She is always fainting, falling down, tripping, and otherwise putting herself in physical danger. This “forces” Edward to act in an invasive, controlling manner in order to “protect” her from herself. Bella seems very keen to emphasize how weak and powerless she is without him, as if attempting to convince herself.
But it doesn’t add up. Normal, healthy people don’t just randomly fall down as Bella seems to. It isn’t normal for a person to faint at the sight of even the tiniest amount of blood. She even describes her heart as literally stopping when Edward kisses her, as confirmed by the machine she is hooked up to in the hospital. This same scene has Bella and Edward conspiring to invent an explanation for her bruises and broken bones — supposedly at the hands of some evil vampires, of course, not perfect Edward. But, of course, nobody who can be considered an outside viewpoint, nobody from the real world, such as her father, ever saw these other vampires.
Their cover story? She fell down the stairs.
At that point, it all snaps into horrible focus. Her “clumsiness” is a cover story, has always been a cover story. Her subdued, passive-aggressive rage toward her mother and father suddenly has a cause — long-term physical abuse (although the book’s amazing subtlety doesn’t make it clear whether the abuser was her mother, her father, or her mother’s boyfriends — chillingly, it could easily be all three). Edward at first seemed to her like a way out, like he had the strength to protect her from a toxic family environment. But he is, if anything, worse. Her parents are abusers, but Edward gives every indication of being a serial killer.
Even Meyer’s public persona is part of the sophisticated deception. When, in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, she described films like Interview with the Vampire and The Lost Boys as “yucky,” and talked about being “embarrassed” to show her work in progress to her husband because “it was about vampires,” that was all merely to keep up the illusion that Twilight is not intended to be horrific or subtle. If we suspected that Meyer was familiar with vampire tropes, we might be clued in that perhaps she is subverting them to an ironic or horrific purpose.
We are invited to discover her ruse, but only if we’re ready for the horrific revelations that follow. Meyer herself must be heartbroken that her work seems to be interpreted entirely without irony by legions of teenage girls who truly do see Edward as the “perfect” male.
Theory 2: Stephenie Meyer can’t write.