Thursday, November 8, 2007

Eclipse

Eclipse
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Release Date: August 7, 2007

Series: the Twilight series
Position in Series: Book 3 of 3 to date
Main Characters: Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, Jacob Black
Sequel Bait: Children of the Cullen family: Rosalie, Alice, Emmett, Jasper
Bad Guys: newborn vampires and their mistress, Victoria

You know how you feel when you look forward to something so much you know the exact number of days before it’s going to happen? And how you feel all giddy inside as you settle in for what you expect to be a wonderful experience? And how angry you get when you find out you’ve been roundly duped?

Well, that’s pretty much the story of my experience with Eclipse, the third title in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. I adored Twilight. Adored it. I enjoyed New Moon, even if I didn’t love it as much as Twilight. I gave it a pass because, really, how could anything be as good as Twilight? But with this installment, my goodwill has run out.

First, the story. Bella Swan, high school senior, is facing a monumental life change. Not only is she about to graduate, she has grand plans to join her one true love Edward in eternal life as a vampire. For Edward’s part, to say he is conflicted is an understatement. He loves Bella and can’t imagine life without her – so much so that he was ready to kill himself when he believed her dead – but he doesn’t want to be responsible for damning her eternal soul by turning her into one of the undead.

Bella is also struggling with her friendship with Jacob Black, the local Native American-slash-werewolf who became Bella’s lifeline when she sank into a pit of depression after Edward had abandoned her in New Moon. Jacob and Edward hate each other on principle (one being a bloodsucker and the other a mangy animal) and both believes that he is the right guy for Bella. Now that he’s back in town, Edward wants Bella to have nothing to do with Jacob, a fact that he makes loud and clear by some dominating behavior that crosses dangerously over into father-figure territory. Jacob also goes to extremes in trying to convince Bella that she belongs with him.

And because her life isn’t weird enough, Bella is also being stalked by a crazy vampire-ess who’s bent on revenge. Since Edward was responsible for her mate’s death, Victoria has determined that an eye for an eye – or a mate for a mate – is in order and has been working hard on spawning an army of newborn vampires to carry out her orders. Thing is, these newborns don’t really care who they kill, so a lot of innocent bystanders are being killed as Victoria gets closer and closer to Forks, WA. Desperate to save Bella, Edward and Jacob manage to put aside their differences long enough to form a vampire/werewolf coalition.

I had so many problems with this book, I can’t even decide where to begin.
Let’s start with characterization. Or rather, character assassination. Honestly, I kept flipping to the cover of this book to reassure myself that the same author who’d written the amazing Twilight with a heroine I loved and a hero I worshipped had also written Eclipse. Because Bella Swan as I had come to know her was nowhere in sight. In her place was a whiny, self-centered brat. For 640 pages, the only person Bella seemed to care about was…well, Bella.

Bella didn’t want anyone to give her graduation presents and pouted when they did. Bella sulked when Alice Cullen planned a graduation party for her. Bella snuck around behind Edward’s back when she wanted to see Jacob and Edward asked her not to. Bella held Jacob’s hand and broke her boyfriend’s heart just so she could see him, then smacked him and derided him when he got the wrong idea and thought she might be interested in him romantically. Basically, Bella did absolutely nothing heroine-worthy in this entire book. I almost rooted for Victoria’s army of newborns to find Bella all alone in the woods and put an end to my misery.

And where or where did my beautiful Edward go? Apparently, he never really came back from Italy at the end of New Moon and sent his evil twin to Forks. Edward started off as an overprotective, overbearing tyrant when he forbid Bella to have any contact with Jacob. Little did I know that this Edward was actually the more appealing of the two Edwards who appeared in Eclipse. The second Edward was little more than a doormat, stepping aside with a smile as Jacob and Bella explored their “friendship” in ways I don’t imagine many boyfriends would appreciate. He not only forgave Bella far too easily for some serious boyfriend/girlfriend infractions, he downright encouraged her to treat him like crap. What happened to my Edward? The one who was so full of confidence and uber-coolness that I wanted to cry when Twilight came to an end? Edward Cullen has become something worse than an overprotective, over-perfect vampire-without-a-fault. He's become a prudish overprotective, over-perfect vampire-without-a-fault.

I liked Jacob well enough when he was being the shoulder for Bella to cry on in New Moon. Heck, I even felt really sorry for the guy when it became clear he had romantic feelings for Bella, feelings that she would never return given her complete and total love for Edward. But Jacob turned the corner from sweet infatuation to scary stalker. He pushed Bella even after she told him no (although, to his defense, many of Bella’s actions belied her objections, so I can understand some level of confusion on his part). When he used the threat of suicide to manipulate her into kissing him, I lost any remaining respect I had for the guy. He’s a creep.

So, none of the characters I’d come to love in Twilight showed up for Eclipse. Which was just as well, because the story itself was pretty pitiful. In addition to becoming a pouter, Bella has also become a Victim in the purest Damsel In Distress sense. For some reason, everyone wants to kill Bella Swan. The Volturi, vampire royalty, want Bella either dead or vampire-ized because humans aren't supposed to know about their dark world. The newborn vampire army all lust after Bella's particular blood because...well, I never did figure out why on that one. I keep waiting for Meyer to reveal that Bella is something pretty spectacular as far as humans go that make her worthy of such persecution.

And the whole premise of Victoria wanting to kill Bella as revenge on Edward for killing Victoria's mate is a bit to round-about for me. Why wouldn’t she just want to kill Edward? I know, I know. If she kills Bella, Edward would suffer an eternity of torment having lost his true love. Believe me, I think Victoria would have been doing Edward a favor.

Even worse than the Bella-in-peril plot was the love triangle between Edward and Bella and Jacob, which is forced to the point of silliness. We are to believe that Edward and Bella have a love of all time. So introducing Jacob Black as a potential rival for Bella's affections does nothing more than weaken our belief in this Great Love, thus diminishing the story of Twilight a thousandfold. I think Meyer realized this, because never for one minute did Bella mentally waiver in her claims that she loved and wanted Edward most of all. She resented Jacob's attentions, and was quite vocal in her refusals (although I cry foul at Bella and Jacob's hand-holding and clandestine meetings behind Edward's back), yet I always felt that we were supposed to harbor angsty doubt over who Bella might end up with. Not only did this insult me as a reader, it made me think of Jacob as more than a little obtuse when he continued to claim that Bella loved him deep down where she herself didn't even realize it.

What is really sad is that there is plenty of conflict inherent in the situation that Meyers has created that we don't need any of the false melodrama that we get in Eclipse. One of Twilight's most intriguing premises - the fact that Bella's particular blood tempts Edward like no other - offered Meyer an almost unlimited supply of Unresolved Sexual Tension between the couple. The almost perfect Forbidden Fruit. I wanted to watch as Edward continued to struggle with his overwhelming desire to drink Bella's blood while battling his growing physical desires for her as well. They want to, but they just can't because if Edward would lose control...my heart should just ache for these two unfortunate souls. It's Buffy and Angel revisited.

Instead, we get a Bella who is more than ready to jump the Final Intimacy Barrier only to be thwarted not by Edward's fear that he might lose control and drain her dry, but instead by his newly developed Victorian repression. He doesn't only worry that he might hurt her, he fears her immortal soul might be damned if she has The Sex before The Marriage. Too, Edward has developed some kind of Zen-master ability to ignore something so huge in the first book. In fact, Edward's barely controlled lust for Bella's blood has pretty much disappeared.

As for non-Bella-centric stuff, we learn Jasper and Rosalie Cullens' backstories. Why? I'm not sure. Interesting? Moderately.

Eye muscle strain must be a common complaint at the Fork Optometry Clinic because characters are forever engaged in eye-rolling. It's a nitpick, I know, but it's up there with characters constantly calling each other by name in dialogue in that it pulls me out of the story faster than the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven.

What I dismissed off-hand in Twilight because I was so consumed with the initial love story I couldn't ignore in this book. Vampires in Meyer's universe are granite-hard and ice cold. Fair enough for a vampire, until it comes time for some serious physical contact. Time and again Bella describes Edward's cold touch and his literally rock-hard body. She goes so far as to imagine that snuggling with Edward must be a lot like snuggling with Michelangelo's David. Um, okay. Not very appealing, actually. Sure, I can appreciate a cut physique with rock hard muscles. But I need warmth and give in my man. Cuddling up with a slab of frozen granite just sounds uncomfortable, not sexy.

I think one final, fundamental problem sums up my frustration with Eclipse: Bella wants to commit her life for all eternity to Edward by becoming a vampire. But – get this – she doesn’t want to marry him. Her rationale: marrying Edward would make her one of those lame girls who gets married right out high school and has no life. Excuse me? She’s about to become immortal, and she cares what people who will be dead in seven or eight decades think about her? This attitude sums up Bella’s immaturity throughout this book. She’s really all about Bella.

I suspect that Meyer's decision to maintain Bella as the Point of View character for the entire series really locked her in to the detriment of the story. Not only did Bella lose her appeal as a character by the end of New Moon, Meyer had to stoop to some pretty iffy techniques to infodump both backstory and various character emotions. At one point, Meyer handles an intense conversation between romantic rivals Edward and Jacob by having a half-sleeping Bella "dream" their conversation. She doesn't participate or even react for several pages of dialog entirely about her, yet she's lucid enough that we get to hear every word. Perhaps Eclipse would have benefited from a fresh perspective.

After all of this ranting, I do have to give Meyer her proper due in that despite my complete frustration with Eclipse, I did finish the book. I did want to know what happened next. And some sick part of me does want to read the next book. I equate it with rubbernecking past a horrible car crash. You know you should look the other way, but you just can’t help sneaking a peek. Mostly I’m disappointed that the stink that is Eclipse will linger so strongly as to ruin Twilight for me forever, and I resent the hell out of that.

Eclipse serves as a perfect example of what happens when a writer falls in love with her characters and doesn't want to say good-bye to them. Unfortunately, loving them doesn't justify their continued existence. I can see no reason whatsoever for this book to exist. It moved Bella and Edward's story ahead only minimally. They ended up only millimeters from where they began. Because of this, the entire work comes off as self-indulgent.

Yes, I loved the characters of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan from the book Twilight. And yes, I looked forward to spending more time with them as their love story played out. I wanted to find out how they overcame his vampire-ness and her human-ness. I wanted to watch Edward struggle with his temptations. I wanted to take that train ride to Happily Ever After with them. But I didn't want to spend 600 plus pages of what amounted to navel gazing and high melodrama. This book actually damaged my initial love for these characters because they've become annoying.

I get the feeling that Meyer and her publisher figured if three books would be good, four would be even better, but there simply isn’t story enough to fill more than two. So we get New Moon and, sadly, Eclipse. I can only hope that Breaking Dawn washes the bitter taste from my mouth.

Rating: struggled to finish
Status of Series: Critical condition. Worse, if the final book doesn’t offer some major redemption, the other titles will have been irrevocably tainted.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Okay. I think that Eclipse was a GREAT book and bella might be a bit whiney. and Edawrd might become a door mat near the end, but still. And in case you didnt know, Stephenie Meyer is re-wrighting Twilight from Edward's point of view. Sooo theres you little gust of fresh air.

Anonymous said...

I also LOVE Eclipse but of course I love all three. So what if Bella, Edward and Jacob was a little different in Eclipse? Stephenie Meyer's books are still so... I can't even describe them. I just know that I LOVE HER TWILIGHT SERIES SOOOOO MUCH!!!

Latoya said...

I can't really agree with you on this one. I thought that Stephenie did an excellent job with this one. Bella's heart was broken by her soulmate and there really isn't a "right way" to deal with that (even if it was extremely annoying). As for Edward I'm sure he felt totally guilty about leaving her and didn't feel like it was his place to just tell her to act like nothing had happened. He left and she found comfort in someone else, that was his fault and he had to deal with the consequences. I think that he wanted her to make the choice, not force her into one. I thought it was quite honorable of him.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think that you are reading too much into this, but that's what you do. Eventhough Twilight was better, Eclipse was a WONDERFUL book. I could NOT put it down.
The only reason why Bella was like that was because Edward left her; she thought he didn't want her anymore. Then when he came back, she felt like he would leave her again (not to dis Edward of course). I think she kept in touch with Jacob because he would always be there to stitch her back up. Sounds like a doormat... but she eventually fell in love with him.
You wait and see. Breaking Dawn will be AWESOME!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. There are still some sane self-respecting people left in the world. Oh and I didn't even get the apple thing in Twilight. I think I was too ticked that it didn't have a plot at all to notice.