Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Life and Death: A Critical Analysis of Twilight, Reimagined, Chapters 8-10


Chapters 1-3

Chapters 4 & 5

Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 8: Port Angeles

Summary: Bella/Beau go to Port Angeles with friends. Do some uneventful shopping. Depart from said friends to find a bookstore, and find themselves on the wrong side of Port Angeles. Bella is seen, then followed, then accosted by a rapist and his drunk cronies. Beau stumbles across--I don't know, something, a drug deal maybe? Diamond smugglers? Who even knows--and is recognized from an earlier encounter (airport) and mistaken (inexplicably) for an undercover cop. Both Bella and Beau escape mortal danger by the arrival of Edward/Edyth in the silver Volvo that launched a thousand Volvos. They all go to dinner (mushroom ravioli!) and Edward/Edyth reveal that they can kinda read minds.

Analysis: Meyer does a good job recreating the dynamics between Bella's friends with Beau's friends. Maybe I'm just speaking from my own naivete or gender assumptions, but I would think that it might be hard to get the tone quite right, and she does a nice job recreating the dynamic with boys without it being a send-up of the girls' dynamic.
But, to the real point of this chapter:
Bella is walking along, alone, in a lonely neighborhood. Mistake number one. She is noticed by a group of men. Mistake number two. After that, she's rounded up and accosted. The message that she's about to be sexually assaulted--and possibly then murdered--seems pretty clear, because she's a woman and they're a group of men, and quite frankly, that's how things go down. (If we're using Midnight Sun as reference, which, whatever, I am, the "gang" is lead by Lonny, serial rapist, which, if I'm being frank, is still way too much set up. I vastly prefer screenwriter Melissa Rosenburg's more organic townie-bros conceit).
What's really noteworthy is how much trouble Meyer is forced to go through to get Beau in a similarly dangerous situation. She sets it up at the airport, for crying out loud. Bumping into these "gangsters" (Beau's word, man, not mine. because I have too much dignity) is the very first thing that happens to him upon arrival in Washington. They somehow mistake him for an undercover cop. There's a drug deal, there are guns, there's a lead pipe--Meyer basically unleashes the entire game of Clue to create a situation as dangerous as one Bella can effortlessly find simply by walking while female. It's kind of . . . amazing. That doesn't feel like the word, but it is amazing. And, again, maybe it's my own baggage talking, but Beau still doesn't feel as threatened. There are three people when he's accosted: a woman with red lipstick, a short guy, and a not short guy. Beau is tall, sturdyish, so, unless they are really committed to shooting him, he still stands an okay chance of getting out of this situation. Bella, on the other hand, is a young girl, surrounded on all sides by four dudes. Though they're unarmed, barring the deus ex machina that is Edward's arrival, she's not getting out of there unscathed. It's interesting, and sad, to compare Bella's fundamental vulnerability to Beau's.
Secondly, dinner. It's an important step for all involved, because it represents the first conventionally romantic setting in which we see Bella/Beau and Edward/Edythe. It's also important because it demonstrated why the gender reversal fundamentally does not work for me. So, as a reader, I am inclined to identify with the person I feel most like, which, generally speaking, starts with the person of my own sex. So, when I read Twilight, I identify with Bella. When I read Life and Death, I identify with Edythe, because, if there's a female main character, I'm hardwired to identify with her. Which, gets me thinking. When I identify with Bella, what I have is a handsome and mysterious stranger interested in me. Which is fine.
HOWEVER.
When I identify with Edythe, what I'm dealing with is being interested in a 17-year-old boy, which is way less fine. Apart from the fact that it genuinely makes me feel like a creep, I am really, really wondering, why is Edythe interested in Beau? I am about 70 years younger than Edyth, an the idea of being attracted-in any way-to a 17 year old boy is, not only gross but, frankly, baffling. Why wouldn't she pretend to be in college? At least there she could date a grad student or something. I mean, do you remember 17-year-old boys? They are so awkward and weird. They smell weird and haven't read all the things you've read. What is she hoping to have in common with this kid? Beau seems like a really nice 17-year-old kid, which means that he'll probably be cooler and better looking in his mid-to-late-20s, so maybe Edythe should just give it a second.
And I know! It's the same questions we could ask about Edward and Bella (and should!), and did! I did, the second movie jokes about it. The question is there, but, I don't know, it just seems less important somehow.
And why is that? Is it because we're just socialized to feel like it's fine for an older man to be attracted to a younger woman (or, in this case, girl)? Is it because--as a society--we sexualize women at a very young age?  Is it because we're willing to believe that Edward is shallow enough to be attracted to Bella based entirely on her face, body, and scent, but Edythe wouldn't--or shouldn't--be that shallow? Is it because, when I identify with Bella in Twilight, I see myself as 17, and, even when I was only 17, I saw myself then as I see myself now--as a complex, interesting person with something to offer?
I don't know! Who even knows what the answer is here. All of the above, maybe?


Chapter 9: Theory

Summary: Right, this is where I describe the action in this chapter. However, in this chapter, there is none. They literally just drive in a car for twelve pages. I mean, okay, Bella/Beau asks some follow-up questions about the mind reading thing, and Edward/Edythe debunk basic vampire lore and then demand an explanation for Bella/Beau's latest theory about them. Spoiler alert, Bella and Beau both guess that Edward and Edythe are vampires. Then, Bella/Beau says that she/he doesn't care, and Edward/Edythe get real mad. There's that odd moment where Edward/Edythe kind of give in to their impulse to be around Bella/Beau, despite the fact that they feel they shouldn't.

Analysis: Because this chapter is so dialogue heavy, not much changes. Like, not much at all. There are huge blocks of text that are exactly the same. There are some differences, which, I think might have more to do with better writing in Life and Death than it has to do with gender analysis, but, it should be mentioned: Bella and Edward's conversation feels way more passive aggressive than the conversation Beau and Edythe have.
Twilight
"Can I ask just one more?" I pleaded as Edward accelerated much too quickly down the quiet street. He didn't seem to be paying attention to the road.
He sighed.
"One," he agreed. His lips pressed together into a cautious line.
"Well . . . you said you knew I hadn't gone into the bookstore, and that I had gone south. I was just wondering how you knew that."
He looked away, deliberating.
"I thought we were past all the evasiveness," I grumbled.
vs
Life and Death
"Can--can I ask just one more?" I stuttered quickly as she accelerated much too fast down the quiet street.
I was in no hurry to answer her question.
She shook her head. "We had a deal."
"It's not really a question," I argued. "Just a clarification of something you said before."
She rolled her eyes. "Make it quick."
"Well . . . you said you knew I hadn't gone into the bookstore, and that I had gone south. I was just wondering how you knew that."
She thought about it for a moment, deliberating.
"I thought we were past all the evasions," I said.
I said. I SAID. Again, I really think we can chalk a lot of this up to a more mature writer in Life and Death, realizing that she doesn't need to use quite so many adjectives and adverbs and that sometimes simplicity can be powerful, but the end result is that--especially when I compare them--Twilight sounds like a child is talking to an adult, and Life and Death sounds like two adults talking.
Add this to that thought: Bella stalls getting out of the car, doesn't want the moment to end. Beau does the same thing, though, he leans in, wanting to kiss Edythe. She puts a stop to it (presumably because she'll be forced to drink all his blood if she gets to close), but we have a more mature relationship with Beau and Edythe. Where Bella waits around for cues from Edward, Beau appears to exercise more agency, making the relationship appear more balanced.
Though, I have got to give Stephanie Meyer proper credit for sticking with the epitaph, "Holy crow!" that both Bella and Beau deliver when they realize the speed of Edward/Edythe's car. It appears, famously, in Twilight, and she stuck with it in Life and Death. And it sounds just as dumb the second time around. But, it took chutzpah to do it, so, good for you, Steph.
Also, a note: So, when Bella tells Edward that she doesn't care that he's a vampire, that it's too late, Edward gets all mad about it and Bella starts to cry. Which is fine, she's allowed to cry. When Beau tells Edythe the same thing, and she gets mad, he's "glad again for the scarf. My neck was a mass of crimson splotches, I was sure." This is a reference to my earlier point about how icky it is to be attracted to a 17-year-old boy. With women--and girls--a blush can bloom, a throat can flame, blood can rush into cheeks. Maybe that's part of the reason Edward's attraction to Bella feels more plausible: romantic and sensual language can be used to describe her. But, splotches? Yuck.


Chapter 10: Interrogations

Summary: Edward/Edythe picks up Bella/Beau for school, and tongues get to waggin'. Jessica/Jeremy confront Bella/Beau about the relationship with Edward/Edythe. Edward/Edythe waits outside trig for Bella/Beau, and they all go to lunch. During lunch Bella/Beau and Edward/Edythe have a real serious conversation about who likes who better.

Analysis: The most significant thing about this chapter is the way in which Jessica and Jeremy each talk about Edward and Edythe, respectively. Jessica's inquiry is nosy, though comparatively toothless. She asks if the date with Edward was planned, wonders why he picked Bella up for school, and finally if Edward has kissed her. Everything that she goes on to say after that is pretty flattering to Edward (how he's such a hottie, etc, etc), and then she finally asks Bella if she really likes Edward.
But Beau, poor, poor Beau, has to deal with Jeremy, who, as it turns out, is a real jackass. His first question (that Edythe can hear because of the mind reading) is exactly to which base Beau has gotten himself with Edythe. Gross, Jeremy. Then, in trig, he gets down to brass tacks. He is, at first, highly congratulatory of Beau, until he learns that Beau is not crowing his sexual victory. Then things take an ugly turn. Even the mean-spirited Jessica is civil enough to conceal her apparent shock that Edward has found Bella attractive, but Jeremy does Beau no such favors:
"Because, you know, it's not a secret that you've been, like, obsessed with her since you got here . . . So, I have to wonder how you turned that around. Do you have a genie in a lamp? Did you find some blackmail on her? Or did you trade your soul to the devil or something?"
He then asks, "Exactly how much did you get out of the bargain? Bet it was a pretty wild night, eh?"
Again, Jeremy. So gross.
Where Jessica reasonably assumes that Edward simply picked Bella up that morning for school, Jeremy (grossly) assumes that Beau and Edythe spent the night together (where though, man? they both live with their parents. think it out, Jeremy) and that's how they ended up carpooling that morning. And when Beau admits it was an early night, free of sexual conquests, Jeremy drops the hammer, "Obviously, it's just some pity thing." And then, "It won't take her long to get bored with you, I bet."
Ouch, man.
THEN, where Jessica was like, 'well, Edward doesn't like me, but, I don't think that makes him a bad person because I'm not a loser psychopath who thinks like that", Jeremy leans over to tell Beau that, really, he (Jeremy) is better off without a girl like Edythe. "You know what, though? . . . I think I'd rather be with a normal girl."
Beau intuits that Jeremy is implying that there is something "off or wrong" about Edythe*.
Classic Jeremy.
This is a fictional exchange, written by a woman who might not necessarily have her finger on the pulse of how 17-year-old boys talk (though, maybe she does, I don't know her life), so it might be wise not to try to learn too much from it, but, I do think the assumption from Jeremy of Edythe as a fundamentally sexual being (because he finds her sexually attractive) seems accurate, as does Jeremy's complete dismissal of her after it turns out that she's not, and, more damningly, now appears more out of his reach than ever.
So, score one very rare win in the depiction of girls vs. boys.
Also, while eating lunch in the cafeteria, there's a decently funny run between Beau and Edythe about vans trying to kill Beau. It's nice that enough time has passed that they can laugh about it. Actually, it's just nice that they can laugh together at all. Bella and Edward never laugh about anything. Like, sometimes they almost laugh at a private joke, or a mouth turns up in a half-smile, but they never laugh together. That bums me out.


Okay, up next: there's a VCR! And VCR-related sexual tension! And badminton! This chapter has it all!

*for the record, I actually think this is a stronger choice, narratively, because it adds to the tonal danger that should surround both Edythe and Edward.

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