Series: Twilight #5
on October 6th 2015
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Amazon・ Good Books・Book Depository
Celebrate the tenth anniversary of Twilight! This special double-feature book includes the classic novel, Twilight, and a bold and surprising reimagining, 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.
Disclaimer: I read to about 65%. Skim read to about 90% and read to the end. Also, this review will contain spoilers for the alternate ending that are not in spoiler tags.
Years ago, when Twilight was in its prime, someone told me that [book:Breaking Dawn|1162543] was never supposed to happen. That it was the book where Stephenie Meyer was given free reign to do whatever she wanted because the series was so popular, everyone would buy it regardless of quality, and rake in big dough-cheese for her and her publishers. I don’t really know how true that assumption is, but dammit if isn’t true for Life and Death.
Take me for example: I own all of the Twilight books, have read Twilight (just the first book) a total of 4 times, 5 if you include this (and I do), written about some of the good that came of the series (I’m not always a fire-breathing bitch queen), made fun of it, enjoyed parts of it, loathed chucks of it and everything else in between. I also attempted to re-read the series back in 2012 for this little thing I started called Project: HindSight, and had so much fun reviewing Midnight Sun (I really wish she’d finish that), but by the time I got to New Moon (the book I dislike the most), I just couldn’t continue on and abandoned the project.
Over the past few years, I’ve settled on generally disliking everything Twilight stands for while holding onto a morbid fascination and, begrudgingly, bestowing some sort of respect for a series that put YA literature on the map.
So when I heard of Life and Death, literally the day it released, I knew I’d buy it. No questions asked. I was hoping many of the issues I had with Twilight would be corrected with this version. It had so much potential to be great! I never expected there to be huge drastic changes to the story — I did expect it to be pretty much the same as Twilight, so believe me when I say that was the least of its problems.
I won’t bother reviewing this book, because it’s essentially the same as Twilight and I’ve already written a review for that. Just swap around the pronouns in your head as you read it.
In the forward, Stephenie Meyer opens with this:
“But I’ve always maintained that it would have made no difference if the human were male and the vampire female— it’s still the same story. Gender and species aside, Twilight has always been a story about the magic and obsession and frenzy of first love.”
I don’t think she was very successful. There were times when I wondered what Meyer was truly trying to accomplish here. Was she trying to basically say her novel features an unhealthy relationship even with roles reversed? As in, “Hey guys, my book is horrible either way!” Or was her goal to further highlight how Twilight had a lot of instances of sexism, including sexual violence against women? Because if so, then I suppose, yeah, she was successful.
Here’s a general run down: Beau is your classic Gary Stu who falls for The Ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Edythe. He has no aspirations to do or be anything until he spots the love of his life in his high school cafeteria. Not much has changed with our young, desperate lovers except for their pronouns, but Edythe is still a jerk/control freak/stalker and somehow less creepy than Edward. And Beau is still a very weak character and as interesting as the dirt beneath my shoe. There is an alternate ending which is essentially a pathetic attempt to pack New Moon and Eclipse into a clusterfuck of info-dumping. But more on that later.
What I really want to talk about is the treatment of the female characters.
I don’t know how this was even possible, but reading Life and Death actually made me hate Twilight even more than I originally did. This is mostly because it became shockingly evident that certain scenes (sexual assault) were purposefully left out in this version because the characters didn’t have vaginas. Lovely.
Bella’s attempted rape scene has now turned into Beau’s assault scene. If you remember, in Twilight, while Bella is getting lost in Port Angeles, she runs into a group of drunk men who attempt to sexually assault her. This is made clear by their jeers (“Don’t be like that, sugar.”) and Edward’s later dialogue. But for Beau, his assailants are a mix between female and male and have the intention of beating him up because they think he is a cop. The section is entirely re-written with more dialogue, a gun and threats of death.
Then there is Rosalie’s rape scene, now changed to Royal’s assault scene. Instead of Royal being raped, he’s tricked during the wedding and beat up within an inch of his life. Now, one could argue the time period and say, “Well, that’s happened back then. It’s just how things were.” And, maybe, before I read Life and Death I could have seen that point. But when the two biggest instances of female sexual assault are completely left out when you swap the genders, oy, that’s an issue.
Now that is not to say I wanted to see men get rape in Life and Death. It’s just a glaring problem where I now see those scenes as “Literary Rape,” used as plot devices to add depth and sympathy to Rosalie’s character, and to give Edward a reason to look super heroic in the face of rapists. Maggie Stiefvater said it best in This is a Post About Literary Rape:
“I’m talking about novels where the rape scene could just as easily be any other sort of violent scene and it only becomes about sex because there’s a woman involved. If the genders were swapped, a rape scene wouldn’t have happened. The author would’ve come up with a different sort of scenario/ backstory/ defining moment for a male character.”
That is exactly what happened here.
One could argue that Meyer wrote a more progressive version of Twilight with Life and Death and that’s partly true to an extent. Edythe does appear to try to make her relationship with Beau as equal as possible. But there are constant references to the gender changes as if Meyer is trying to prove something to the reader, and they only seemed to further resign me to the fact that Meyer has no idea what she’s doing. (Bold is mine.)
His straight gold hair was wound into a bun on the back of his head, but there was nothing feminine about it— somehow it made him look even more like a man.
I fumbled for my wallet.
“Um, let me— you didn’t even get anything—”
“My treat, Beau.” “But—”
“Try not to get caught up in antiquated gender roles.”
She turned toward the cafeteria, swinging her bag into place.
“Hey, let me get that for you,” I offered.
She looked up at me with doe eyes. “Does it look too heavy for me?”
“Well, I mean…”
“Sure,” she said. She slid the bag down her arm and then held it out to me, very deliberately using just the tip of her pinkie finger.
It was like Meyer was shouting me, “DO I IMPRESS YOU?!” And I kept going:
In the hands of a more skilled writer, this might have been pulled off flawlessly. I found the changes she made with Beau’s narration interesting. Meyer mentioned in the Forward that Bella is more flowery with her words, where Beau is not. This is a complete understatement. The one thing Twilight actually had going for it, was the occasionally pretty quote. I say occasional, because the novel contains too many short, simple sentences than I usually like in my books. In Life and Death‘s case, the writing has been watered down so much that it feels on par with See Spot Run. And I don’t necessarily think this is a gender thing. Just because a character is a boy, doesn’t mean he can’t be articulate or well-versed.
“Bonnie, there’s something you didn’t know about me.… I used to smell really good to vampires.”
Corny. So very corny.
It’s not uncommon to discover popular YA authors’ inability to write convincing male POVs. *cough*Veronica Roth*cough* And I learned from Midnight Sun, that it’s not exactly Meyer’s forte either, but c’mon! This was really bad, even for her.
The there’s Beau’s obsession with Edythe’s unhealthy** body. Oh, god, I’m so disgusted with this part, and I don’t really understand why it was included.
“Her pale arms, her slim shoulders, the fragile-looking twigs of her collarbones, the vulnerable hollows above them, the swanlike column of her neck, the gentle swell of her breasts— don’t stare, don’t stare— and the ribs I could nearly count under the thin cotton. She was too perfect, I realized with a crushing wave of despair. There was no way this goddess could ever belong with me.”
Is this supposed to show Beau’s unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies? That only vampires can achieve this level of “perfection” that society constantly forces on us? Because there is no other explanation that works well here and I’m really trying to give Meyer the benefit of the doubt and throw her a bone. The issue with this theory is, there’s no indication in the book that this is an unrealistic view. Actually quite the opposite happens later in that same scene:
I had a new definition of beauty.
Sigh. I don’t think I need to go into why this is problematic, so I’ll just leave that there for your critique.
**Unhealthy, as in for majority of women, this is an unattainable beauty standard. Apologies if that came off as body shaming women/girls where that is their healthy. I’m speaking specifically about society’s constant pressure on women and girls to be as thin as possible, many times to the detriment of their physical and emotional health. When Beau describes Edythe, he focuses so heavily on the sharp angles of her bones and it perpetuates the idea that these characteristics make her more beautiful than others. I find these descriptions irresponsible and feel there could have been a better way to describe her.
So let’s talk about the ending. This part will have spoilers beyond this point. This is your one and only warning.
Yes, it’s re-written — horribly, if I’m being honest. During the scene with the ballet studio (which, BTW, Beau didn’t take ballet as a kid because HE’S A BOY. *eyeroll*), everything is pretty much similar expect for the fact that Edythe can’t suck out all the venom out of Beau’s body, leaving him only one possible future: becoming a vampire super early and living happily ever after with his BAE, Edythe.
I wouldn’t have had an issue with the change if it had actually been written without the massive amounts of info-dumping. It reads like Meyer decided last minute that she wanted to only do 2 chapters of the gender swap (which she mentions in the Forward), realized she spent all of her deadline time on re-writing the entire book, and quickly wrote an ending hours before she emailed it to her editor.
She crams the werewolf history, volturi history, rules of being a vampire, and Beau’s human funeral altogether and it’s just so goddamn messy. It also makes the insta-love look even worse because at least Bella had 3 other books and a pining Jacob to consider leaving Edward. It was just an overall hot ass mess that seemed so out of place. This is why I said they just let Meyer do whatever the hell she wants; half that stuff would have never flown with a debut novel or any novel that desired to actually be, you know, good.
Would I recommend this and should you read it? Hard to say. My first response is, “Oh, god, no. Don’t waste your money.” $12.99 is an unacceptable price for an ebook (thank goodness for Kindle returns!). It doesn’t really offer anything vital to the Twilight fandom/universe and is generally a horrible piece of writing that I want to fling stones at. But then the other half of me enjoys the suffering of my fellow book lovers and is considering purchasing this as a gag joke to both of my lovely co-bloggers. Because that’s really all this trite, wish-fulfilling, wankfest of a re-imaginging is good for, and I really, really need to stop being so damn curious about everything. But anyway, I’m rambling when all I really want to say is… the ball’s in your court now, E.L. James. I eagerly await your newest,
fan fiction original book.