Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The hidden secret of Twilight

A smart review that touted the first blush of high school romance and the overwhelming feelings that come raging hormones and the perfect guy, usually older and out of reach, made me decide to ignore the bad reviews and read Twilight for myself. There's good news and bad news.

The bad news is that, as Stephen King said about J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer never met an adjective or an adverb she didn't like, and she uses them all, frequently, sometimes many of them in a single sentence, and I won't go into the fact that there are no paragraphs devoid of overwritten, overblown and overused adverbs. The writing is sophomoric at best and needed a good editor. And how many times is it necessary to tell the reader how perfect Edward is? Certainly not in every single chapter or several times on the same page. Please. Now for the good news.

I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep so I continued reading Twilight with the intent of being able to fall back to sleep. Eight chapters in, it hit me, a rush of emotions and memories that exploded as if they were happening all over again. First, it was a trickle and then a deluge. This is where the book should have started, not with all the drivel that went before.

It is that first roller coaster, heart and stomach jostling to reach the throat first and that low down, aching, humming void that threatens to engulf you that Meyer tapped into and wrote about. That's what makes the book so appealing to young girls and middle-aged women caught in the irreversible tide of aging, car pools, teenagers and bills. It's not the writing because that is facile. It's not the evocation of a place or characters that transcend the page. It's that wonder, awe and aching need to touch another human being that is too far above you to even notice a little nobody like you.

I was a sophomore and had fallen head over heels for a senior. He was perfect, from his crew cut and athletic body to his black pants, black silk shirt and thin white silk tie. He radiated confidence and a worldliness that was so powerful I couldn't speak when I was near him, and he spoke to me, invited me to see him in the library where I stood every free period just to listen to him talk, half afraid anything that came out of my mouth would be inane and naive. I was besotted. He noticed me. Talked to me. Spent time with me. He was a god.

We went for a walk in the woods at Darby Park, wandering along the trails until we got to the river. He leapt from rock to rock, urging me to follow him to the island on the other side of the stream that joined the river surrounding the island. He came back for me and I started across. I fell into the water and he fished me out and got me to the island. That's when it happened, that yawning, aching void that opened just below my belly button and sent my blood hurtling through my body.

I was soaked, and so was he, so we took off our clothes, not all of them, just shirt, shoes, socks and pants. We lay down in the warm sunshine in a hidden glade on the island after laying the clothes out on bushes and grass to dry. Clad and bra and panties, I was nervous and shy. He wasn't. Even wearing just jockey shorts, he was impressive. And then he touched me, his hand warm on my chilled skin, and my body went up in flames. His caress was feather light along my trembling skin. He thought I was cold and moved closer, holding me in his arms. I wasn't cold. I was in shock. He touched me.

He was a gentleman and didn't take advantage of our situation. I didn't understand it at the time because I wanted -- more. He wanted more, but not from me. He was in love with someone else, a girl two years older than he who had offered her body to him and he had refused out of fear and awkwardness. He wanted her. I wanted him. His best friend wanted me.

I had the same effect on Paul, two years older than me and a senior, that Dick had on me.

Every time I walked into a room, Paul lost the power of speech. When I got near, I heard his heart drumming in his chest and see the sweat that beaded his upper lip and forehead. His hands shook and he always stuffed them in his pockets so I couldn't see. If I touched him in any way, like brushing off a piece of lint or taking his hand or arm, he trembled, sometimes so violently I thought he had St. Vitus' Dance. The first time he put his arms around me he nearly passed out.

Bella's feeling and reactions to Edward were the same as mine, and Dick's and Paul's, and reading about the two of them in the sunlit glade brought it all rushing back. All those feelings of unworthiness, awe, trembling and that aching void begging to be filled are there. That's what Stephanie Meyer captured.

There are stories that cannot be dimmed by a lack of technical skill and writing talent. No matter how bad the writing, the essence of the story, like a perfect diamond in a pile of muddy sand, shine with fiery clarity. Stephanie Meyer has a lot to learn about writing and a lot of bad habits to break, but she definitely found the diamond in the mud and reminded legions of women and teenage girls that they're not alone. What they discovered they share with millions of other teenage girls and adult women -- the first disconcerting, painful, awkward and reverent blush of love.

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