At the Back Fence Issue #312

August 4, 2008

From the Desk of Jane Granville:

In Defense of Breaking Dawn

Warning: This column includes spoilers!

Although at AAR we are generally loathe to include spoiler information, in this instance we take our cue – as we often do – fromEntertainment Weekly. Earlier this year critic-at-large Ken Tucker penned an opinion piece entitled I Spoil if I Must–And I Sleep Just Fine, and roughly at the same time, film critic Owen Gleiberman’s review of the Sex and the City movie led off with this warning”“SPOILER ALERT! CLICK AWAY NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ANY PLOT DETAILS FROM THE SEX AND THE CITY MOVIE!” If you don’t plan to read Jane’s segment on Breaking Dawn, please click here for more discussion on spoilers so that you’ll be able to participate in this week’s ATBF Forum.

Though I’m a recent addition to the hugely popular Twilight Saga fan base, I’m a devoted one; I went to Borders at midnight to get my copy of the fourth and final book, Breaking Dawn and read through the night to finish it. Already, I have seen a lot of negative feedback about the book, some people calling it a glorified fan fiction, others saying it’s a “bizarrely sexually horrific drama,” as one Amazon reviewer put it. On one of AAR’s forums, a thread about the book was entitled: “The Breaking Dawn Trainwreck–Thoughts?” I’ve seen multiple people saying that Stephenie Meyer is “dead to them,” and that she had to have been on drugs when she wrote this installment. I, however, am fully behind Stephenie Meyer’s dramatic conclusion; though it’s undeniably different than the previous three, it’s a wonderful book. (Readers beware: I cannot write this without spoiling it heavily. If you do not want to know what happens, stop reading.)

When the book begins, Bella and Edward are finally getting married; they’re both ready to take the last few steps to being together forever – matrimony, then Bella’s change to a vampire. Though Bella is still upset about Jake’s heartbreak, she’s also anxious to begin her new life with Edward. After their wedding, which is fairly uneventful, they head off to Brazil for their honeymoon (and those waiting for them to have sex, like I have been, will not be disappointed). However, several weeks into her honeymoon, they make a shocking and terrifying discovery – Bella is, inexplicably, pregnant. And her pregnancy is moving at an astonishing rate, giving Bella a “baby bump” just days after she conceived.

No one knows what to do about the baby; Bella refuses to abort it, even though its presence in her is draining her and will likely kill her. When the wolves discover what has happened, Sam believes it to be a threat, and decides that he must take it down – which means killing Bella. Jake obviously refuses, and in doing so assumes his birthright as “alpha,” and splits from the main pack to protect Bella and the Cullens.

Meanwhile, Bella grows weaker and weaker every day. No one really knows what to do, or if Bella will survive. When she finally gives birth, she must instantly be converted to being a vampire. And when Jacob sees the baby girl, Renesmee, one of the most unexpected (and possibly the most contentious) part of the story occurs: he imprints. However, the Volturi soon learn that there is a child living with the Cullens, and believe it to be one of the taboo and strictly forbidden “immortal children,” or, essentially, baby vampires. They plan to eliminate all of the Cullens, without trial, in a fight that is hopelessly one-sided, unless Bella and her family can find a way to save themselves.

One thing is absolutely certain: this book is not a young adult book. Though it’s classified as such, and the main characters are in their teens, the themes in this book are probably too much for the younger fans of the series. Maybe they can handle the material, but probably can’t appreciate or understand it all. There is sex (though subtle), violence, frank discussion of the biological side of reproduction (well, frank for a book geared mainly toward young teens), and some unorthodox relationships and requests. Though the other books aren’t exactly light, this volume is darker. Many characters have to make really difficult decisions, between the ones they love, choosing between death and life for themselves and their families, and deciding where their loyalties lie. Everyone faces these choices – Bella, Edward, the Cullens, Charlie, the Denali clan, the wolves, and other friends of the Cullens – and do so admirably; their choices in this book truly show the strength and depth of all the characters.

A lot is being made about Bella’s daughter, and Jake’s imprinting on her. While a previous, similar situation between another wolf and a two year old weirded me out, for the first time I understood imprinting while reading this book. All of what we’ve previously witnessed between imprinted couples – like Sam and Emily, or Jared and Kim – were between two people of the same age, who are sexually attracted to each other. There is nothing, nothing, sexual about Jake and Renesmee. At all. I truly think that people who are disgusted by this aspect of the story simply don’t understand the nature of their relationship. Jake is like a father, or an overprotective big brother. That really is all there is to their relationship. He’s not a pedophile, nor is Stephenie Meyer for making this part of the story. Though I was shocked when I realized what had happened, I was not horrified or scandalized. I accepted. I don’t think what is happening between Jacob and Renesmee is any different than what happens between Edward and Bella. Edward was, after all, a vampire for at least 70 years when Bella was born. Jacob just happens to be around for Renesmee’s childhood, while Edward was not around for Bella’s.

I’ve heard people say that the book is out of character, as well. However, I thought that was perfectly normal and natural. I would be shocked if Bella didn’t change after everything she goes through in the first half of the book (not to mention the second half). In re-reading it, I saw her progression as more slow than I originally thought. She finally matures – much, I imagine, to the pleasure of all of the readers who complain about her being too whiny, too much of a teenager. You have finally gotten your wish. She grows up a lot in this book. She’s simply not in the same place as in the first three books. They’re not in high school anymore, and she, for the most part, has stopped acting like a high schooler. It’s only to be expected.

And I loved the changes in both Edward and Bella when she is finally changed. I think Meyers did a wonderful job making the unbelievable real, when Bella first experiences her grace, speed, and heightened senses. It’s absolutely fascinating. The details, be it /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages, time, sensations, smells, or tastes, were brilliant. And we finally get to know the real Edward, who doesn’t have to hold back, who is playful and sexual. I loved him that way. I had such a huge grin on my face whenever he let himself go. He is all that he was, but more. I was so happy when Bella was truly part of the Cullen family, when she was their equal.

There are so many great moments between Edward and Bella, and Jacob, and the Cullens, and Charlie, ones that those who disliked the premise of the book likely forgot in their misery. Fun, light hearted scenes that eased the dramatic tension and brought joy back into the characters, reminding the reader that even as terrible as things are, and were, and could be, they all have each other and the people they love. We also learn so much about other vampires, the world beyond the Cullens and the Volturi. It was so interesting to learn about the powers others have, their own special skills.

Another unwarranted complaint I’ve seen around is that it’s written like, and has the plot of, a “badly written fan fiction.” The writing style is the same as the previous books, in my opinion. Stephenie Meyer is the same writer she was for the other three. For some, who dislike her style, this may be disappointing, but I know the majority of the fan base loves her sense of humor and voice. And in terms of fan fiction… I haven’t read many, but none of them came remotely close to the truth of what happens in Breaking Dawn. Not to mention the fact that I don’t read much fan fiction because it’s next to impossible to find well written, well plotted stories. Though I agree with her own assessment, that she is a storyteller and not a writer, Stephenie Meyer’s writing is so far above “bad fan fiction” level, the comparison is almost laughable.

Now, I realize the book wasn’t perfect; while the part in Jacob’s voice was far from the worst female-written male point of view I’ve read, it wasn’t the best, either. I fully understand and appreciate the necessity of it, though. The issues of the wolf pack needed to be told in Jacob’s point of view. There was no question. It was just that Jacob’s voice was less convincing to me. And also… Renesmee? I like the sentiment behind the name, but Bella and Edward would’ve been better to call her “Carlie,” her middle name, as that, at least, is a normal name.

And there are certainly a lot of things that made me uncomfortable, that maybe grossed me out, that had my mouth hanging open while I was reading them. But they were necessary for the plot. I may not have been totally comfortable with some things, but I accepted them in the grand scheme of the story, which was surprising and creative and unorthodox and complex.

When it comes down to it, though, everything that most readers wanted happened: A happily ever after for Bella and Edward and Jacob, no character deaths (that we cared about), surprises and unpredictability. I think a lot of the backlash is because the book was so anticipated, and the fans re-read the previous books so often, the characters so ingrained in our minds, that anything new, anything final, doesn’t seem right, doesn’t fit. Because it isn’t our own perfect vision of the HEA we imagined, it’s terrible. The same thing happened with Harry Potter, and a number of other series that I’ve read. Everyone complains, blames the writer, says that they should never have read that book because it’s ruined the entire series for them. The author either doesn’t give the readers what they want, and they bitch, or the author does give the reader what they want, and it’s a cop out. They are in a lose-lose situation, and it saddens me that fans turn so quickly on beloved authors. I feel hurt and offended on Stephenie Meyer’s behalf when I read some of the truly harsh criticism. If you don’t like the book, that’s okay. I disagree, but as long as you have legitimate reasons you didn’t like it, you are absolutely allowed you have that opinion. But don’t forget the reasons you waited for this book, why you read Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse, why you rushed out to buy Breaking Dawn.

LLB: We look forward to hearing from you on the ATBF Forum about Jane’s column and/or your thoughts on spoilers. Added food for thought on spoilers: Vulture, the entertainment and culture blog for New York Magazine, published a piece in March entitled Spoilers: The Official Vulture Statutes of Limitations. Their recommendation is that unmarked book spoilers are acceptable three months after a book is published. Spoilers about a book that appear in an article’s title are acceptable six months after a book’s release. And in Pete Howell’s June article for the Toronto Star, he writes: “It’s the paradox of modern life that the more tuned in we become, the more tuned out we want to be. Maybe that’s the reason for this spoiler mania.”

Jane Granville