For reasons sort-of already articulated, I am going to read the entire Twilight Saga from beginning to end, and report on my experiences. Naturally, the following entry contains information/spoilers about the first book, Twilight. If you are interested in reading the books and somehow have not done so by now, you are me, so I won’t be telling you anything you don’t already know.
We begin in media res, with a pretty decent first sentence: “I’d never given much thought to how I would die—though I’d had reason enough in the last few months—but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this” (pg. 1). Part of me would say you could lose that middle section, since we’re already beginning mid-story, which is apparent enough without referring back to essentially nothing, but I like the pause it forces between the first part and the “but even if I had.” First sentences are important. It’s no best-of-times, worst-of-times, but it’ll do.
Our narrator is apparently in the grips of a “hunter,” and we get the idea that he or she is here for self-sacrificial purposes. The narrator muses that this death might even be a “noble” one. I’m guessing this is Bella Swan, because she talks about how if she’d never gone to Forks in the first place she wouldn’t be about to die, but she doesn’t regret her decision. But I probably shouldn’t know that, right?
So death is coming, and the hunter is apparently a nice guy, or the kind of mean guy who acts nice ironically, because he looks at her “pleasantly” in the second paragraph and then smiles “in a friendly way” as he moves to kill our heroine in the fifth paragraph, and then the preface is over. That was quick.
Chapter 1: First Sight
[Isa]Bella Swan, (who is our narrator after all) begins the chapter en route to an airport, her eventual destination the aforementioned Forks, WA. I’m already beginning to feel like that preface was superfluous, because check out the first sentence of chapter 1: “My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down” (pg. 3). A nice little unadorned sentence. I appreciated it all the more a few lines down, after this: “It was in this Town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen.” Uh, what? That’s like a double-hidden-reverse passive voice or something. I’m not even sure there’s a grammatical classification for it.
Bella is moving to Forks as a bit of a self-destructive gesture. Doing so is “an action I that I took with great horror” (pg. 4). The word “that” shows up with disconcerting regularity in these first few pages. I have a feeling that if you were to make a frequency-distribution chart out of the first few pages of this book “I” and “that” would be the ones most often used. Also there’s this:
“I want to go,” I lied. I’d always been a bad liar, but I’d been saying this lie so frequently lately that it sounded almost convincing now. (pg. 4)
I feel like Stephanie Meyer could have fit the word “lie” in there at least two more times if she was really trying.
I’ll get off of page 4 soon, but there is something really problematic here. Bella’s mother says to her “You can come back whenever you want—I’ll come right back as soon as you need me.” Bella says that she could see “the sacrifice in her eyes behind the promise.” When Bella’s mother says she (Bella) can come back, she presumably means to Phoenix, where we are told she lives. But from where is Bella’s mother coming back? What sacrifice are we talking about here? I know from the film Twilight that Bella’s mother goes on the road with her boyfriend—as I recall he is some kind of athlete. The details have yet to be provided to the reader here, though. We don’t know about her mother’s plans, or even that her mother has any plans regarding her boyfriend or anything else. Bella’s only mention of the boyfriend comes a paragraph or so earlier when Bella reassures herself that her “harebrained” mother will be okay without her: “there would be food in the refrigerator, gas in her car…” etc., which doesn’t make it sound like they are about to live out of hotel rooms for a few months. So this detail, that presumably her mother would regret coming back (from somewhere?) if need be, is entirely lost on the reader, and not drilled home to the extent that we would remember it later. In other words, it doesn’t come across as deliberately mysterious, a puzzle piece that we’ll figure out how to use later. It’s just an awkward allusion to nothing, as if an explanation existed in an earlier draft and was later deleted or moved.
Bella gets picked up by her father Charlie at the airport and they share an awkward drive home. We learn that Bella is getting a truck from her father’s wheelchair-bound friend who lives on an Indian reservation. She complains about Forks while describing its physical beauty. I can relate to this. I come from an ostensibly beautiful tourist town in New Hampshire from which I could not wait to escape as a teenager. From what I know about Phoenix, it sounds like it sucks. So really Bella is trading one awful place to live for another. But people don’t like going home, for totally irrational and totally understandable reasons.
It turns out the truck is pretty cool and retro and Bella kicks the tires and all that, but she’s still in a bad mood. She looks out the window of her new/old bedroom and lets “just a few tears escape” (pg. 9). “I wasn’t in the mood to go on a real crying jag,” she says. First of all, I dig the hell out of that line. It’s like Bella got a flash of inspiration on account of the retro truck. Could it be that the sub-average prose so far was meant to reflect Bella’s dead-inside mood? Are we going to get rocking when the vampires show up? I doubt it, but I would be over-the-moon if that was the case. It would really be quite the trick. Second of all, I am completely relating to this. Bella is horrified that Forks High has three hundred fifty seven students. She is later annoyed by the small-town gossipy nature of the place. I am totally with you, Bella.
So she cries herself to lousy sleep and goes to school the next day. Page thirteen and we’re already there; we’re moving right along. Bella gives herself a pep-talk in the truck before she goes to her first class. "I can do this, I lied to myself feebly. No one was going to bite me" (pg. 14).
Something tells me that’s a little bit of irony right there.
Bella goes through her first few classes, meets a few boys who already seem to be jockeying for position, and has a generally awkward first day. In her English class Bella goes over the reading list for the semester: “Bronte, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner. I’d already read everything”(pg. 15). Maybe it’s me but isn’t this sort of like when politicians compare themselves to Lincoln or FDR? I think you’re better off not name-checking these guys.
Also, after a guy starts hitting on her and she jokes that her mother is part Albino and the joke falls flat, Bella says “A few months of this and I’d forget how to use sarcasm” (pg. 16). Phrases like “use sarcasm” really bother me, but when I was trying to figure out why I realized it’s because that’s how people talk in high school.
Then comes lunch, and Bella notices a gang of weirdos huddled in the corner, not eating. Uh, is she looking at me and my friends, circa 2004? Nope. It’s the vampires.
There’s five of them, and we learn that they are the Cullens and the Hales, a group of adopted kids who have been taken in by a young doctor and his wife. They are all incredibly good-looking. This point is driven home hard. One boy is “muscled,” one is “leaner, but still muscular” and one is “lanky” and “boyish.” One girl is “statuesque,” the other “pixielike” (pg. 18). Oh, and their faces are all “devastatingly, inhumanely beautiful” (pg. 19). They are all just sitting there, moody and silent and not making eye contact, like a magazine ad for Ralph Lauren, basically, except they are vampires. I guess Bella doesn’t know they are vampires yet, so we shouldn't either. Anyway a girl at her table fills in the backstory (although not the part about how they are undead) in a hushed voice, while Bella and the lanky one make fleeting eye contact.
And then it turns out she and the lanky boy are lab partners in her next class! Eye-flirting chickens are coming home to roost! But he’s not a very nice lab partner, this lanky one, who at some point we find out is named Edward. When she walks in he gives her a “hostile, furious” stare (23). I remember Robert Pattinson’s take on that one from the movie. I couldn't find a screenshot but this one will do:
He sits next to her silently, his fists all balled up and his body tensing with rage. Bella doesn’t get what she did to deserve this. “He didn’t know me from Eve,” she protests (pg. 24). If you’re keeping score at home, that’s Biblical Allusion #2. If this were you, and the kid one seat away looked like he was going to go Columbine at any second like this, wouldn’t it bother you more than intrigue you?
Oh, and while we’re keeping score, Bella first bites her lip two pages earlier: “I bit my lip to hide my smile.” We’ll try to keep track of both as we go, and see if there is some kind of causal relationship between the two.
So then gym class, and then school is over. On the way out Bella has to check in at the front office, and guess who is there? Edward. You probably guessed that, but I led you all the way to the water’s edge. He’s trying to switch into a time-slot for science class. He is unsuccessful. I could have told him that would happen.
By my count Bella had like four classes. This school has like 300 students. I find it hard to believe that another science class even exists. If Edward knew how to work the system, he’d lobby for an independent study. I did a lot of those in high school, and “independent study” is code for “do nothing and have no teacher be responsible for you for several hours a day.” Presumably this not Edward’s first rodeo, in terms of going to high school, since I remember that line from the movie about he’s been 17 for “a long time.” He doesn’t know how to work the system yet? What’s the learning curve on a vampire?
Bella goes home, fighting tears the whole way. What is the deal with this mean, pale, lanky boy? I guess you’ll have to wait until next time to find out because that’s where chapter one ends! It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, but I have a feeling we’ll get some of those later.
3,000 words into this series, and we’ve finally made it through the first chapter. I would say that I am mildly intrigued so far. I have yet to contract Twilight Fever, but I have a mild Twilight Sinus Infection. Or maybe just an actual sinus infection.