The Twilight Saga Saga: Chapter Five

Well god's hairy gravy boat, it's been a while since I've looked at Twilight and attempted to come to grips with Meyer's marketing machine in preteen prose, chapter by chapter. I thought it had defeated me in only four chapters, but the curiosity fueled by boredom is more powerful than Stephenie Meyer's prose. Onward!

Chapter 5: Blood Type

In chapter four Bella receives two invitations - one unwanted but unavoidable, the other desired but fraught with danger. Mortal danger. Nookie danger. That's the most dangerous danger of all. "Blood Type" doesn't get to the nookie (spoiler: it takes four whole books to get to the action) but indulges in a kind of literary foreplay. If you're reading along with me, get used to it. This is three books of foreplay and one book of crazy birth horror. Sandwiched in there somewhere is the actual sex, like the thinnest coldcut ever sliced by man or beast. What we're chewing through now is the endless spongy Wonder Bread of Meyer's writing.

Unlike the previous chapters, which tend to jump forward a day or so, "Blood Type" picks up where "Invitations" left off, with Bella so hot and bothered that she shows up late and "in a daze" to English class. The first Learn To Write moment comes depressingly quckly:

I made my way to English in a daze. I didn't even realize when I first walked in that class had already started.
"Good to see you, Miss Swan," said Mr. Mason in a disparaging tone.


Meyer doesn't trust her reading audience, so she pegs adverbs on nearly every line of dialogue, which makes conversations feel overstuffed but vapid at the same time. Here she avoids it by diluting the adverb into an entire phrase ('in a disparaging tone') and the result is even worse.

In fairness, Mason's line is ambiguous - maybe he's so happy to see Bella that he feels the need to announce it in front of the class (After all, everyone in Forks seems to love Bella Swan so much thather teachers are probably carving hearts into their desks and pasting pictures of her into their wedding albums.) Meyer could have avoided this bit of awkwardness by joining a telling piece of action to the dialogue:

"Good to see you, Miss Swan," Mr. Mason said. Laughter rippled through the room.


We don't need to be told that Mason's tone is disparaging in this scenario; the students' laughter gives the readers all the information necessary to determine what kind of a person Mr. Mason is, how the students feel about him, and how the students feel about Bella. The key to making this kind of scene work lies in the action, not in the narrator's judgment.

It's also apparent in "Blood Type" that Stephenie Meyer is not sure what the form and purpose of a chapter should be. Here she treats a chapter like a junk drawer, full of odds and ends related only by virtue of their sequence - a moment in English class, a lunchtime conversation with Edward, a trip to the nurse's office and a scene in a parking lot. It's a bit of a jumble, with individual scenes that feature some flourishes of talent but badly need an edit. You might reasonably object that the chapter's structure is unavoidable because of the sequence of events, but there is no reason for these elements to exist in the configuration that Meyer presents. Let's take a look at the scenes and see how they fit.

1. English class. There is no reason for this scene to exist. It's a transition from the climactic scene  in "Invitations" to the main action of the chapter. In other words, it's filler. Which is only worthwhile when a writer stuffs it with good material that would otherwise go to waste.

2. The conversation at lunch. Bella sits with Edward at lunch and have a long, frustrating conversation. To a large extent it covers the same ground that was done much more effectively in "Invitations" (Edward can't stay away from Bella, but it might be a good idea for Bella to stay from Edward). Even though Meyer's adverb-heavy dialogue and constant references to Edward's face and eyes is grating, Bella and Edward's interaction tells us a good deal more about their characters than Bella's constant monologue does - largely because dialogue is a series of holes punched in the surface of a narrator's consciousness. It's one of the only points in the book when we glimpse Bella from someone else's point of view.

Unfortunately, that point of view is Edward's, and Edward isn't really a character. He's a fantasy lover with "ocher eyes" who adores Bella to the point of wishing to consume her. It would be nice for someone to come up to Bella and tell her that she's a self-centered jerk who shields her emotions behind a front of adolescent precocity - but that's never going to happen, because this is Twilight.

3. Biology class. After a standard sexually frustrating lunch with Edward, Bella heads to Biology class and discovers that Mr. Banner is planning on taking everyone's blood and determining their blood type. To no one's surprise, Bella turns out to be hemophobic. This is a glimpse into the symbolic latticework that holds up the Twilight books. Blood, stone, sun and mist (there's no darkness in Twilight - just diffused light). A crude reading would simply equate fear of blood with fear of sex and the body. A more sophisticated reading - wait, there isn't one. The Twilight novels work with a simple substitution cypher: blood for sex, hunger for lust, and so forth.

On a practical level, though, this scene is borked. Mr. Banner brings out the lancets and the other instruments of torture and starts pricking fingers. Then he mentions that anyone under eighteen will need parental permission slips, which he has in his desk. So why is he carrying out the exercise? Are most of the students eighteen? This seems unlikely - unless the students of Forks are slow learners. I'd be willing to buy that, but all of the student characters we've met so far (Mike, Jessica etc.) are bright, fashionable, energetic teens who would fit perfectly into an episode of 90210.

I'm guessing that an editor noted the implausibility of a teacher taking blood samples from children, so Meyer inserted a couple of lines to work around the problem. But this raises a host of other problems. In the real world, permission slips would be issued at least a week or two beforehand - which would give Bella plenty of time to refuse or skip class.

Of course, if she skipped the blood test, then the next scene could never happen -  which means that the entire Biology class scene is simply a bridge into the real stuff, which is Edward and Bella dancing around their mutual attraction. In effect, the permission slip detail reveals just how instrumental the scene is, and how uninterested Meyer is in the world she's writing about.

4. The nurse's office. Once the blood lancets come out, Bella turns to clammy mush and needs to be escorted to the nurse. This occasions one of the first examples of interesting writing in Twilight:

He continued through the room with his water drops. I put my cheek against the cool black tabletop and tried to hold on to my consciousness. All around me I could hear squeals, complaints and giggles as my classmates skewered their fingers. I breathed slowly in and out through my mouth.
"Bella, are you all right?" Mr. Banner asked. His voice was close to my head, and it sounded alarmed.


Note the details that Meyer captures here when Bella shuts off her visual channel. Squeals. Giggles. Skewering. There's a kind of slaughterhouse atmosphere here, a note of terror amplified by the purely auditory input. Meyer keeps the conceit consistent enough that Bella identifies Banner's position and emotional state by his voice alone. Blood and helplessness goose the text and bring it out of its slumber (if the Twilight Saga were a sleeping person, then I picture Meyer as the person who sneaks into the room and places the sleeper's hand in a glass of warm water).

The nurse's office has some genuinely good moments. Edward (yeah, he's there all of a sudden) places Bella down "on the crackly paper that covered the brown vinyl mattress on the one cot". In one well-selected vivid detail, Meyer summons up the entire experience of visiting a school nurse. That damn crackly paper covering. We also get to see the casual power that Edward commands in the school, even as he remains in the background.

5. The parking lot. All this leads up to the real revelation of the chapter: Edward is a violent asshole. And this doesn't turn Bella off.

We were near the parking lot now. I veered left, toward my truck. Something caught my jacket, yanking me back.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked, outraged. He was gripping a fistful of my jacket in one hand.
I was confused. "I'm going home."
"Didn't you hear me promise to take you safely home? Do you think I'm going to let you drive in your condition?" His voice was still indignant.
....
"Let go!" I insisted. He ignored me. I staggered along sideways across the wet sidewalk until we reached [Edward's] Volvo. Then he finally freed me - I stumbled against the passenger door.
"You are so pushy," I grumbled.
"It's open," was all he responded. He got in the driver's side.


What? How are we take a scene in which a man physically overpowers a teenage girl and drags her to his car, all under the guise of 'protecting her' and (even more insidiously) keeping a promise? The movie adaptation skips this entire passage altogether, jumping straight from the lunchtime conversation to the beach at La Push. Meyer should have done the same. As it is, we now know that we're reading an insanely popular teen fantasy novel about an abusive jerk and the girl who just can't get enough of it. Slow clap, Meyer. Slow. Clap.

The chapter continues into a long conversation between Bella and Edward about her family, but the parking lot scene damages "Blood Type" so profoundly that there's not much point in examining it.

***

You Suck, Bella score: 5 (she spends part of the time feeling guilty about mistreating Mike, and the rest of the time she's fainting or being pushed around by Edward)
Learn To Write score: too high to count