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‘Twilight’ rises again with ‘Midnight Sun’

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Everyone has gaps in their pop culture knowledge. There’s just too much content out there. Even someone like myself, a person professionally tasked with maintaining a thorough understanding of the zeitgeist, is bound to miss some things.

And those blank spots can occasionally lead to opportunity.

Take “Twilight,” for instance. Now, I have a general understanding of the overall mythos, as someone who was, you know, conscious during the mid-00s – the whole thing was inescapable – but I never read the books and I actually only saw the final two movies, based on the final book in the series (I was … let’s just say confused). So yes – a basic understanding without much knowledge of the specifics.

This confluence of circumstances means that I get to review Meyer’s return to the “Twilight” universe with eyes of unexpected freshness.

This new offering is titled “Midnight Sun” (Little, Brown and Company, $27.99); it’s a retelling of the events of the first “Twilight” book, only from a different perspective. Instead of the story unfolding from Bella’s point of view, we get to experience Edward’s interpretation of events. And boy oh boy are there some EVENTS.

Now, I can’t speak to the relative merits of this book as opposed to its predecessor – I don’t know how well Meyer has aligned this latest offering with the work that came 15 years before – but I can say that, while I might not have found “Midnight Sun” to be the most literarily brilliant work I’ve read, it certainly didn’t live up (down?) to the less-than-stellar stylistic reputation of the first four books. The writing isn’t spectacular, but neither is it spectacularly bad.

The story being told, well … I don’t know where I come down.

Anyone reading this review likely doesn’t need me to spell out the basics of the “Twilight” plot. I can’t imagine there are more than a handful of folks like myself out there, people who are reading this new book without having read its inspiration. If you looked at the internet at any point from 2005-2010 or so, you know all about Bella Swann and Edward Cullen, the sweet innocent high school girl and the smoldering vampire who loved her. That was basically all I knew about the beginnings of this story.

Turns out, I had the gist, but there were a LOT of details about which I had zero clue.

One of the interesting aspects of “Midnight Sun” is that Edward is a mind-reader. This means that not only do we get his innermost thoughts about the events taking place, we also get a lot of thoughts from others – other students, other townsfolk, other vampires, the whole shebang. In fact, pretty much the only person whose thoughts we DON’T see are those of Bella. Which is fine – I assume people got their fill of that the first time around.

Unfortunately, Edward’s thoughts are kind of … lame?

I’m not here to tell Meyer her business – you don’t become a multi-millionaire because people DON’T like what you do – but man. I was not prepared, for instance, for Edward to spend the first hundred or so pages of the book obsessing over how delicious Bella smells? Like, a deep dive of detail into just how much he wants to eat her. I get that it’s an opportunity to illustrate the origins of his attraction to her or whatever, but maybe pump the brakes on the mouthwatering aroma stuff?

Also – he’s a jerk, right? We get insight into his constant vacillation with her, pulling her toward him and pushing her away with every other sentence. Even inside his head, we get the ever-present wishy-washiness – he wants to be with her, but it's dangerous, but he needs her, but he wants to eat her and on and on and on. Even worse, he has the nerve to get mad when Bella expresses confusion and/or irritation over the mixed messaging.

(I’m not even going to go into why she winds up digging him. She seems like a nice girl and he seems like a prick, but who am I to judge – he’s a sexy rich vampire. Tough to pass on that, even if he is a gaslighting stalker jerk.)

The story itself is fine. We get a little bit of high school drama and a little bit of immortal drama. We get to know the rest of the vampire family’s interior lives, thanks to Edward’s always-active telepathy. They run fast through the woods and kill bears and stuff. At one point, they play baseball. Eventually, other vampires show up and are bad.

Now, I will happily concede that this book is CLEARLY not for me. There’s a fundamental unlikability to Edward that makes it tough to invest in him as our ostensible hero. Some of the plot developments left me scratching my head and Edward’s access to not only his own thoughts but those of others gets used as a storytelling crutch more often than is probably necessary. There’s a lot here that just left me with an unanswered “But why?”

I know I’m being flip here, but the reality is that “Midnight Sun” isn’t that bad. For years, I heard Meyer’s writing condemned as being terrible. Maybe those books are, but this one isn’t. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it isn’t awful. Straightforward and workmanlike, sure, but not some sort of atrocity against the written word.

Again – this book is not aimed at me. And I have zero doubt that those who love the world that Stephenie Meyer has created will embrace this book and dig what it adds to the canon. But as a standalone work, read by someone with relatively little context, “Midnight Sun” never really rises to the occasion.

Last modified on Friday, 07 August 2020 14:57

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