Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Book Review: Life and Death, by Stephenie Meyer (10th-anniversary edition of Twilight)



Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined
(Twilight 10th-Anniversary Edition)
Stephenie Meyer
Hardcover, 442 pages
Little, Brown, Oct. 8, 2015
Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Source: Amazon

Book Synopsis:
Celebrate the tenth anniversary of Twilight! This special double-feature book includes the classic novel, Twilight, and a bold and surprising re-imagining, Life and Death, by Stephenie Meyer. 

Packaged as an oversize, jacketed hardcover “flip book,” this edition features nearly 400 pages of new content as well as exquisite new back cover art. Readers will relish experiencing the deeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful love story of Bella and Edward through fresh eyes. 

Twilight has enraptured millions of readers since its first publication in 2005, and has become a modern classic, redefining genres within young adult literature and inspiring a phenomenon that has had readers yearning for more. The novel was a #1 New York Times bestseller, a #1 USA Today bestseller, a Time magazine Best Young Adult Book of All Time, an NPR Best-Ever Teen Novel, and a New York Times Editor’s Choice. The Twilight Saga, which also includes New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella, and The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide, has sold nearly 155 million copies worldwide.












This is going to be my first "rating-less" review ever, on A Night's Dream of Books. Why? Because I love The Twilight Saga, and admire Stephenie Meyer, too much to ever give any of her books a negative rating, although, in this case, I do have to point out several things about this novel that are simply not positive at all. However, I am not going to give this novel a rating. That might seem paradoxical, but there it is. I am also not going to post this review anywhere but here, on this blog. I think there's enough Meyer-bashing going on elsewhere, such as on Goodreads and Amazon. I certainly don't want people to think that I'm joining the ranks of the Twilight and Stephenie Meyer haters, because that just isn't true at all. In fact, it just will never happen!

It's well-known that some people really enjoy knocking Stephenie Meyer and her books, no matter how many copies have been sold, no matter how much devotion has been poured out by fans all over the world. There are people -- and a lot of them are female, which I find pretty hard to believe -- who just love to hate her books, and don't mind spending as much time as they feel they need to in writing scathing reviews of them.

I am not one of those people. I belong to the much larger group of devoted fans, those who have read the books more than three times each, who have held home Twilight marathons whenever the need arises, who collect as much Twilight memorabilia as they possibly can. Yes, I am one of the obsessed ones, and I really don't care who doesn't like that. I love The Twilight Saga, and that's that.

Having said all of the above, I must sadly confess that I actually thought of returning this book almost as soon as I began to read it. The only reason I didn't, though, is that it's another piece of the Twilight universe, and we fans are always starved for more.... In fact, I bought this book, which is part of the 10th-anniversary edition of the original novel, almost as soon as it was released.

My conclusion is that -- and I am very disappointed to have to admit it -- this novel simply doesn't have the appeal of the original one, Twilight. Meyer calls it "a reimagining" of the original novel, with the genders of all the characters (except for Charlie and Renee) reversed. Edward has become Edythe, and Bella has become Beau. The other Cullens are also now of the opposite gender.

I do think this is an interesting experiment, but it just doesn't work, and the reason is that Meyer didn't change the original novel enough, and in the right ways, for her experiment to be successful. 
  
The things I'm going to point out have already been mentioned by other reviewers, on both Amazon and Goodreads, and I'm also mentioning them because I have to admit that I totally agree.

Transforming Bella into Beau is probably the most awkward aspect of this reimagining. Bella's clumsiness and lack of athletic ability simply are not endearing when they are applied to a guy. This might be the result of gender stereotypes deeply ingrained in our culture, but the fact remains that these qualities make Beau very unappealing to females. If they had been balanced by something else -- like, for example, the ability to write exquisite poetry, or some other intellectual attribute -- then that would have been fine. But instead, Beau turns out to be a very boring, as well as weak, male version of Bella. As such, it's hard to believe that Edythe would be as interested in him as she is, in spite of the attraction of his blood.

As for Edythe herself, she was more believable, but she, too, suffered in the transformation. Meyer should never have had her do the very same things Edward did, such as stealing into Beau's room at night to watch him sleep, and  carrying Beau on her back. This last was ridiculous in the extreme, and just not believable. Edythe is described as being shorter than Beau, so this became very awkward when I tried to picture it in my mind. There was no question that, as a vampire, she had the necessary strength to carry him. The differences in height, though, made this totally ludicrous.

All the other characters were off, too. They came across as very shallow, wooden versions of the originals. Alice, who was now Archie, did not possess any of the fun personality quirks the original character had. True, these could have been more in the nature of male traits, but Archie simply had none. I couldn't see how he and Beau were going to become such good friends. 

I was really surprised to see that I was put off by this re-imagined story, since I'm all for women and girls being portrayed in non-stereotypical ways. The same goes for men and boys. Yet, this gender reversal struck me as very awkward. I actually think that Meyer should have changed the original story much more than she ended up doing. She did change the ending, but that, too, was unsatisfactory, in a romantic sense, even though, in a literary sense, it did work. Also, perhaps it was more believable than the ending of the original novel. I have to say that it was much too sad, though, and it did nothing to make me enthusiastic about the future of Edythe and Beau's relationship.

Other reviewers have mentioned the silly, unattractive names of the gender-reversed characters in this version, and again I must agree. I especially dislike the conversion of "Rosalie" to "Royal". What was Meyer thinking? As one reviewer pointed out, she could have changed the name to "Ross" instead. Also, instead of using "Archie" as a substitute for "Alice", why didn't Meyer choose "Alan", for instance?

The most important problem with this version of the original novel, though, is the poignant, bittersweet quality of the romance, which was present in the original, but totally missing in this alternate version. That certain quality that makes the hardcore Twilight fan  sigh happily as they read the meadow scene, for instance, simply was not there in the re-imagined version. I have to sadly conclude that certain aspects of the female experience of love are not there for males, so, when you transform lovers into the opposite gender, such experiences simply do not ring true.

There's another aspect of the original version that's entirely missing from this one -- the effectiveness of the vampire metaphor. This was referred to in an Internet article I read some time back. Male vampires represent the baser instincts in a man. It's very powerful and endearing when a man controls these instincts, which could lead to violence, in order to protect the woman he loves from himself. This is the underlying reason for the popularity of vampire romance novels, and is especially true of The Twilight Saga. But, when you reverse the genders, the metaphor doesn't apply, because men don't have as much to fear from women, in regards to violence specifically,  as women do from men. The metaphor contributed to the poignant, bittersweet aspects of the original "Twilight", as well as of the rest of the books.

Interestingly, this failed literary experiment opens up a whole slew of questions about what it really means to be a man or woman in love. Perhaps we do need to move beyond gender stereotypes. However, it's an undeniable fact that romance novels are, for the most part (excepting such writers as Nicholas Sparks), written by and for women. Therefore, it's only logical that these books should reflect the female experience of falling and being in love.  Equality notwithstanding, men are simply not wired emotionally the way women are. This is an undeniable psychological fact. If you're going to reverse genders, then you really need to make some major changes to your story, especially where the male protagonist is concerned, if you still want the story to appeal to a primarily female audience.     

I have decided to keep this 10th-anniversary double edition, in spite of the fact that I didn't enjoy reading the re-imagined version of Twilight as much as I did the original. Still, it has made me think about male and female roles, especially where romance is concerned. It has made me wonder whether the romance genre is one in which these roles cannot be arbitrarily reversed without losing the romantic feeling altogether. So this means that I might be writing a future blog post dealing with the widespread appeal of romance novels among us females. Can we be committed to equality between the sexes, and still love romance novels? It would be very interesting to explore this issue further.

Meanwhile, I am left with the thought that I need to read the first novel of The Twilight Saga yet again. I need to recapture the original magic. And I'm wondering just what that magic consists of. So I might go into a more detailed comparison of these versions of the story as well, also in a future post. 

In short, reading Life and Death has not made me hate Stephenie Meyer or The Twilight Saga at all. That's totally impossible for me! Instead, it has actually reaffirmed my love for these books. It has also made me think about gender roles, and whether it's a totally good thing for these to be entirely reversed. Meyer is to be credited for trying out something new and bold, something that represented a literary risk for her. That she hasn't entirely succeeded in making this reimagined version as compelling as the original is something that can be overlooked, in light of the tremendous impact this series has had in the literary world, as is evident from the short excerpt from her Wikipedia biography below.            




  

Stephenie Meyer is best known for her vampire romance series, The Twilight Saga. The Twilight novels have gained worldwide recognition, and sold over 100 million copies, with translations into 37 different languages. Meyer was the bestselling author of 2008 and 2009 in America, having sold over 29 million books in 2008, and 26.5 million books in 2009. Twilight was the best-selling book of 2008 in U.S. bookstores.

Meyer ranked No. 49 on Time Magazine's list of "The 100 Most Influential People in 2008", and was included in the Forbes Celebrity 100 list of the world's most powerful celebrities in 2009, entering at No. 26. Her annual earnings exceeded $50 million. In 2010, Forbes ranked her as the No. 59 most powerful celebrity, with annual earnings of $40 million. (Source: Wikipedia) 




 

3 comments:

  1. Absolutely fascinating post Maria.

    I have never read Twilight. My wife has and she liked it.

    In principle I really object to modifying a work after it is released.

    I could see how this dramatic alteration while interesting, could really turn out bad.

    As you know I have been thinking about gender issues a lot lately. As you brought up in your commentary, these things are so complex and I switch like this is not likely to make sense. Love it or hate it, gender is one of the most basic factors the way we see the world, interact with one another and tell stories. Thus, it seems, that swapping gender like this, would tear at the basic building blocks of a narrative. I suppose that the fact that did not work is in itself interesting, illustrative and worth a lot of thought and discussion.

    Beyond that, I worry that such a radical imaging of an original work might in some way, mar the original.

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  2. Hey, Brian!

    I'm very glad you enjoyed reading this review. Thanks for the compliment!

    I totally agree with you on modifying a book that has already been released. I really should have mentioned that in my review. However, I do like the fact that Meyer embarked on this literary experiment. I don't think any other author has ever done such a thing. Still, she really should have thought long and hard about this new version, and considered how men and women act when they're in love. Heck, she should have considered the fact that there are certain male and female behaviors -- unrelated to love and romance -- that simply will never change. Most women are not interested in being car mechanics, for instance. There might be a tiny minority that are, but that's it. This has nothing to do with patriarchal oppression, I firmly believe. It's just that most women don't find such an occupation appealing. In the same way, how many men would be interested in knitting or sewing? A very tiny minority, as well. That's just the way it is. I am interested in none of those things myself. I find knitting and sewing to be unutterably boring. However, I sure wouldn't want to be working in a hot garage, sweating and smeared with grease! Lol.

    When it comes to romance, there are differences as well. For instance, in "Twilight", the first book of the series, Edward climbs into Bella's bedroom through the window to watch her sleep at night. While some women and girls have criticized this as stalking behavior, others, like me, find it incredibly romantic. (BTW, Meyer was also criticized for this because most guys would not be content to just sit there and watch the girl sleep. But then, Edward is a vampire, and he's afraid of hurting Bella.) Anyway.....Edythe, the male version of Edward, does the same thing in "Life and Death". She, too, is afraid of hurting Beau. However, I find it VERY hard to believe that Beau wouldn't have tried to have sex with her when he found out she had gotten into his bedroom. How many guys would be content to let a girl watch them sleep, even if she IS a vampire? Lol.

    I don't think men would cry at a happily-ever-after romance ending. But that's just exactly what we women do. Perhaps extremely radical feminists (as you know, I am more moderate in my feminist views) would not act this way. But most of us women do. We also cry at weddings, and also sigh with contentment when looking at gorgeous wedding dresses. The buildup of sexual tension is also very important in a romance novel, and most romance authors are well aware of this. Oh, the thrill of that first kiss! I think men just don't feel the same at all about all the little romantic details -- how he gazes into her eyes, as she feels mesmerized by them, how he gently caresses her cheek, the thrill of that first phone call, and the torture of sitting by the phone waiting for the next call....although nowadays, women, especially of the younger generations, are much freer and bolder in initiating, and maintaining, contact with men, and I'm all for it! But still, there are those emotional differences. We women tend to just 'melt' when reading certain passages in romance novels. This is something that I don't think men will ever feel, or understand. And, as a matter of fact, most men and boys dislike The Twilight Saga. My husband totally HATES it! He thinks it's totally weird for a girl to be attracted to a boy who's a vampire, and he thinks it's even weirder for women to love these books.

    (I’m splitting this comment in half because it’s too long, and the system won’t accept it.)

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  3. (Here's the rest of the comment, which has turned into a blog post, lol.)

    The most important thing about the series that makes it SO appealing to females is precisely the fact that Edward is a vampire, and yet, he controls his lust for blood when he's with Bella, so as to avoid hurting or killing her. I read an article once, by a very perceptive guy, in which he stated that the vampire thing is a metaphor for a man controlling his baser instincts when with the woman he loves, so as to avoid hurting her. I totally agree (I should go back and include this in the review!). This type of thing just isn't the same when Edward becomes Edythe. How many men would sigh happily at the thought of a woman controlling herself so as not to hurt them? This just doesn't work, precisely because it's WOMEN who have to be afraid of men, and not the other way around!

    So I really do think that Meyer should have totally re-vamped (pun intended, lol) the original book, if she wanted to publish a 're-imagining'. Some things just don't work, when genders are swapped like this. However, she really should have left the original work stand as is. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I have read reviews mentioning that she embarked upon this experiment in order to silence feminist critics who said that Bella was just 'a damsel in distress'. But Meyer should simply have ignored these critics. Why did she feel it necessary to placate them, if this is what she was attempting to do?

    As you can see, this new version by Meyer really does lead to much food for thought. Since gender issues are important for me, as well, I know I will be revisiting this topic at a later time.

    Thanks for the great comment!! : )

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