Why, oh why, did my wife and I resolve to try and be responsible parents? If I could be one of those irresponsible lumps that is the norm for modern North American Parenthood, I would never get myself into these messes.
What mess? you ask. Why the mess that comes when Puff and I decided to start vetting the books our eldest daughter reads. The one my wife posted about a while back comes with a series. I got stuck with number two.
I got stuck vetting another series back in the late '90's or early 2000's. My wife, who at the time worked at a daycare centre came home with a book. She explained that the day care centre was considering putting this title into their library, but were concerned because a number of places, mostly in the States, were banning it. They asked her to read it because she had an English degree. She asked me to read it because I had almost three English degrees.
It was a dark period in my life. I had come to the realization that I was not going to get my Ph.D, that I was more or less stuck where I was. After being forced during the course of my degrees to read books about books about books, or books that tried to structure a hypothetical/theoretical position from which one may begin to have a discussion about how to approach a work of literary art, I had pretty much given up on reading. So my reaction was bleak. "It has come to this," I said to myself. "I, Bear, B.A. M.A., all but dissertation on my Ph.D, am now a reader of children's books for day care centres. Lord, end my suffering, please."
The Lord did not end my suffering, and I sighed and sat down and began reading the first of the Harry Potter novels. I expected a long slow drag, but instead I found that time flew, and before I knew it, I was at the end, and wondering what happened next. The book wasn't great, but it was good, and it had a lot of quirky humour in it. I went out and got my own copy of the book, and then began to get the rest of the series.
I feel I owe Rowling a debt of gratitude, for it was through her that I remembered my long suppressed love of good stories. It rekindled my fondness for children's writing. All too often the so-called adult writing relies on the visceral thrills of sex and violence to cover over the lack of style and story. Children's writing, without these crutches, has to resort to good storytelling. I began reading again, and although I did find a few clunkers, I remembered Pliny Major's dictum: "I never saw a book so bad I did not get some good from it."
Well that's out the window. Pliny never read the Twilight series, or he would have qualified that statement. The books are terrible. The writing is horrible. The 'story', so-called, is told from the point of view of a late teen girl, who is in love with vampire. They love as no two have ever loved before, nor ever shall again, blah blah blah. Every word this girl puts on the page is a reiteration and restatement of two facts:
1. My life sucks; and
2. That pale guy is cute.
I used to observe the teen girls around me when I was a teenager. There was a certain coterie of them that I believed were the most vapid, shallow and stupid creatures put upon the earth. They were the ones who thought they were the most mature and sophisticated people there ever were.
Now, I know most of you ladies out there probably believe that girls mature faster than boys. In all honesty, I never saw it. It really came down to the individuals. I thought, and still do, that if you were to take one hundred boys and one hundred girls, pair them off at random, and administer some kind of objective maturity test, maybe 51 girls would be more mature than the boys, and only 48 of the boys more so than the girls, with one tie. Now, I know boys have their signature immaturities- usually gross, involving bodily fluids and/or sex jokes, and potentially fatal habits. Girls, however, have their own signature immaturity, and believing they are more mature than they are is it. This is Bella, the main character of the novel.
She is seventeen going on eighteen. Her boyfriend, Edward, is forever seventeen. She wants to be with him forever. He is also slightly the bad boy, but also polite and self controlled, not like those other boys. He is also more mature than the other boys, as he should be since he is really over one hundred years old. (Question: aren't there laws against this sort of thing?) He's also a hunk. a hunk like no other, yadda yadda yadda. Really, take away the vampire stuff and you got the same drivel I heard from a dozen girls who fell in love with the quarterback/rebel/drug addict who just needed someone to understand him. The girls then got pregnant, dumped, and now flip burgers at McD's, while going home to look after their grandchildren.
Somehow this stuff plays for the teen girls. For me, I find myself debating whether to turn the page, or gouge out my eyeballs.
It all takes place in a small town, naturally- dark forces always swirl about the small towns. Nothing bad ever happens in the big city. The characters are dumb. I can't even relate to the male characters. Take her father, the town Sheriff. Edward breaks Bella's heart. For four months Bella mopes around the house in the throes of the deepest (yawn) depression. I have long since decided that if any boy causes either of my daughters to shed a single tear of sorrow I will hunt them to the ends of the earth and rend them to pieces with my bare hands. I will carry their bloody head back to my home and mount it on a stake outside as a warning to all others who would dare harm my daughters. If anyone should consider this action to be 'criminal' and charge me with something or other, I will simply stack the jury with fathers who have daughters, and I will walk away a free man. And possibly father of the year.
So what does Bella's father do? He decides to send her to her mother to see if the mother can make her feel better. This is a modern man? The guy's the town Sheriff, for cryin' out loud. Not only is he packing heat, he would investigate the boy's disappearance. Think of the possibilities:
Deputy to Sheriff: "The boy who dated your daughter has been found dead in a shallow grave outside of town with five bullets in his head."
Sheriff: "Sounds like natural causes to me."
Deputy, writing on his pad: "Natural causes it is. By the way, my daughter's going out on a date this Friday...."
Sheriff, nodding: "Natural causes?"
Deputy: "I was thinking more along the lines of 'Act of God'...."
Moving on. In this stupid book, as far as I've gotten, the vampires have left, and now some werewolves have shown up. How utterly unpredictable. Things sure do get bad in these small towns. How many shark's chewed their way through Amity? And if you change the name slightly to Amityville, then you got Satan showing up. Who ever could have predicted that Werewolves would show up in a vampire novel? This is unheard of.
Second, why werewolves? Why can't we have some other kind of creature, just to shake things up a bit? A werebear, or a weresnake, or even better, a werecockroach! Imagine the possibilities of a such a virtually indestructible creature:
Werecockroach: "Your nuclear weapons don't scare me, you puny insignificant humans. Now hand over all your manure before things get really ugly."
Something, anything, to shake things up a bit. Any good author will write within the confines of a genre, but they will play with the rules, bend them here and there to make the story their own. This book, I see nothing. It's all: "My life sucks, Edward come back to me, my life has no meaning without you.... " And teenage girls identify with this?
I have theory as to why. It feeds into the lies and self-deception girls that age perform upon themselves. It is a story in which the lies so many girls believe to their sorrow are actually true. Their parent's don't understand them (Bella's father is completely out to lunch). They are more mature for their age. They should have relations with older men, even if the man is infinitely older. Her maturity will make them equals. The bad boy really is a good guy, if only he met the right girl. Someone like... me. This story turns on all these points, and shows them to be true in Bella's case. If there is something dangerous within this book, this is it.
I may let Elder continue reading, but I have given her a condition. She is to treat the book like a scarecrow. Before she starts trying to read this novel, she must first intone the following: "Bella is an idiot. Bella is a moron. I am not like Bella. By the Grace of God, I pray I may never be like Bella.
Now I just got find a away to skip out of vetting novels 3, 4 and any other number that comes along, before Egyptian Mummies start showing up. I only wish these novels were written on soft absorbent 3-ply paper. Then I could get some use out of it. I remember a Russian author's response to a bad review of one of his books (not exactly Catholic alert):
I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. Your article is in front of me. Soon it will be behind me.