Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Meyer's New Moan and Groan (and Groan): A Review

"What kind of place was this? Could a world really exist where ancient legends went wandering around the borders of tiny, insignificant towns, facing down mythical monsters? Did this mean every possible fairy tale was grounded somewhere in absolute truth? Was there anything sane or normal at all, or was everything just magic and ghost stories?"

In astronomy, a new moon occurs when the moon is situated directly between the earth and the sun, thus making the it darken and seem to disappear. Stephanie Meyer seizes upon this symbolism in New Moon, her follow-up to Twilight, by placing her melodramatic heroine, Bella Swan, between two young men who really, really, (c'mon) really love her: Edward, her stone-faced (and extremely boring) vampire boyfriend, and Jacob, her emotionally unstable best friend, who also happens to be the most powerful werewolf on the local Indian reservation.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it. If you are like me, you are probably wondering what is up next for poor Bella? A pen pal who happens to be Frankenstein's monster? A swimming date with the Creature from the Black Lagoon? Maybe a crush on Igor?

Fortunately, Meyer knows her books are ridiculous...or, at least, I think she knows. Several passages in New Moon, after all, seem more than a little tongue-in-cheek. Take, for instance, Bella's inner turmoil as she struggles to come to terms with Jacob's lupine state:

"I pulled up to the Black's house with my lips pressed together into a hard line. It was bad enough that my best friend was a werewolf. Did he have to be a monster, too?"

Bad enough, indeed, Bella.

New Moon is full of such passages, and rightly so. For a plot to be taken seriously--at least, the kind of plot like we see in New Moon--it needs to convey a certain amount of pathos, or serious, intense emotion. What Meyer gives us is bathos, or emotion that is so ridiculously over-the-top that it becomes funny. While most bathos in literature today is unintentional, I believe Meyer's is not--at least, I hope it isn't. I have hard time believing that Meyer is not giving me a knowing wink as I wade through the endless barrage of gasps and snarls and moans and groans that is New Moon.

Yeah, she seems to say to me, I know its ridiculous. Keep reading.

New Moon--which could also be titled I Was a Teenage Werewolf (or, more accurately, I Was in Love with a Teenage Werewolf after My Boring Vampire Boyfriend Dumped Me)--begins about a year after the events of Twilight. Life is perfect for Bella until she receives a near-fatal paper cut (I'm not making this up, folks!), which acts as a wake-up call for her vampire boyfriend, who realizes that the only way he can ensure Bella's safety is to dump her and "move" to L. A.

Such is life. At least in vampire fiction.

For the next THREE HUNDRED PAGES, Bella moans and groans (and moans and groans) about losing Edward, decides to live "dangerously", and becomes BFFs (and maybe a little more) with a kid named Jacob, who is two years younger and appeared briefly in Twilight. The plot thickens (not unlike blood) when Bella learns that Jacob is a werewolf, which means he is the sworn enemy of all vampires--including Bella's immortal beloved. As Bella is coping with this new development--and (as always) the absence of her vampire lover--she discovers that a vengeful evil vampire (i.e. one that drinks human blood) is out to get her. How will it end?

Well, the weakness of New Moon is that it never does. Before the showdown between the teenage werewolf and the vengeful vampire can occur, Edward's sister whisks Bella away to Italy in order to prevent Edward from committing vampire suicide. The rest of the novel focuses solely on the vampires, leaving the werewolves with little more to do than wag their tails. Jacob, of course, returns in the novel's epilogue, but the plot Meyer develops for the first 400 pages of the novel does not, which left me feeling a little shortchanged. Meyer spent page after page preparing me for a werewolf fight, but what I got in the end was a melodramatic vampire rescue mission.

This is unfortunate, of course, because Meyer's werewolves are much more interesting than her repressed vampires. In this novel, for example, Edward Cullen is about as dull and lifeless as the stone statues he is so often compared to. The same is also true about the other "vegetarian" vampires in his coven. Why? One reason, perhaps, is the control and restraint that they must exercise in every aspect of life.
In fiction, however, conflict is what generates interest, and "control" and "restraint," which are largely internal conflicts, do not translate well into external, visual conflict. Meyer's werewolves, on the other hand, have almost no control over their emotions and physical abilities, which makes them potentially more interesting. Jacob, in other words, generates more reader-interest than Edward--at least in this novel--because he seems always on the verge of losing his temper and killing Bella--or, at least, ripping her face off.

Ultimately, though, New Moon is not such a bad novel. In many ways, Meyer seems to have put more thought into developing its symbols and themes than she did in Twilight. What is more, she establishes a parallel between her plot and that of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which works fairly well for what it is. My main problems with it are essentially aesthetic. Meyer's use of language, for example, is awkward, while her handling of plot is (to use a Meyerian modifier) glaringly clumsy. Furthermore, her story is too big in scope for a single first-person narrator, which limits the action to what Bella--and only Bella--sees and feels. I can only imagine how much better this novel would be if Meyer gave us access to the minds of her repressed, internally-conflicted vampires.

But I'm taking this novel more seriously than Meyer wants me to. It is, after all, nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek melodrama about a teenage girl, her pet werewolf, and a jerk vampire who used to be her boyfriend.



  1. I LOVE it! I didn't know you were reading them. You do kind of have to look at through a teen girls eyes.
    Can't wait to read the next review. :D

  2. And I bet you can't wait to read the next in the series!

  3. I'm impressed that you made it through the whole book! New Moon is definitely one of the slowest moving books in the series. It's still much better than the last one (I won't spoil that for you- you'll have to read it yourself!)
    Thanks for the offer to let me know how Anna Karenina ends. So far it's pretty predictable so I'm holding out only a slim hope for an interesting ending. My goal is to finish this behemoth one way or another.

  4. Oh Scott - you must read these books as if you were a teenage girl! That being said, New Moon is not my favorite of the series. Move on to the next book. Looking forward to seeing what you have to say about it.

  5. This was my least favorite of the books. I felt her reaction to getting dumped was way over the top. If I was still a teenager I might feel different but I found myself often thinking--Just shut up and get over it.The "stunts" she attempted just so she could hear is voice was an incredibly cheesy and stupid idea. However,only a guy would think Edward is boring. When you are incredibly hot you can get away with a little less personality.
    I look forward to hearing what you think of the third.

  6. like the other people have said, you have to read the books as if you were a teenage girl! :)

    seriously, meyer is not a great writer, even almost... dare i say, awful? the only thing she has going is the story itself. really.

    but, i read into the books too much as well, after going through the AP courses at fairfield. analyzing to the point of ... exhaustion i guess. so, there are plot holes and typos and everything all over the place.

    i, as well as millions of other girls, basically in love with edward. jacob sucks. :)
    i am a little surprised that you are reading these books... but hey, at least finish the series now. new moon, in my opinion is the worst of the books.