Friday, November 12, 2010

The Moral of the Story

One of my recent library finds was a popular paranormal YA novel called Hush Hush. I read it because the jacket copy sounded good, completely unaware of any controversy about the book. It started out fairly well but at some point it seemed like the wheels fell off the wagon, so to speak. Ultimately I decided it was an okay read, but I won't be looking for the sequel.

What was my problem with it? Mainly a strong sense of déjà vu, otherwise known as "hey this is almost exactly like Twilight!" But I will say this: I thought the writing was better overall, and though heroine Nora was just as boring as Bella, in contrast with Edward bad boy Patch was not boring. He was closer to what Edward should have been, but since (in my opinion) Meyer didn't really want to write a "bad boy" character despite making him a vampire, Edward was flat and boring and far too much of a Mary Sue, robbing the story of tension. Hush Hush did not lack for tension, which is probably why I had enough interest in it to finish.

The controversy I discovered after reading the book is not about the resemblance to Twilight exactly, but about how both books seem to glorify the whole "stalker boyfriends are sexy" idea. It's true there is plenty of creepy behavior in both books - Edward sneaking into Bella's room to watch her sleep, Patch trying to kill Nora to break his curse. The fact that these two stories fell flat for me personally has nothing to do with this aspect of the plots. I mean, I love Spike, okay? Spike was the king of Inappropriate Behavior By A Suitor. I think these books should be judged on the strength of the writing and the power of the story, not on whether they conform to a certain morality or political correctness. It is not the job of fiction to teach people the difference between fiction and reality. We all know if a guy breaks into our room to watch us sleep, it's time to call the cops and for the guy to get some therapy. That's what I would teach a daughter who might want to read these books. Fiction is fiction, and reality is reality. Although fiction can be a mirror of reality, it doesn't have to be. The story doesn't always have to have a polite, well-mannered  moral. That is one of the freedoms we can enjoy with escapist fiction.

Having said that, I do think a lot of the critics of this Stalker Boyfriend subgenre are missing a salient point. To me, these are redemption stories. Maybe that distills things too simplistically for people who want to write a dissertation on how Twilight is anti-feminist, or anti-whatever, but I think those people are reading way, WAY too much into these books. My problems with Twilight can be summed up in four words: boring vampires, and Breaking Dawn. Neither of those things has any relation to the vast majority of criticism thrown at the series. I think it would be perfectly fine if an author wrote a book about a teenage girl who falls for the bad boy, realizes he's a creepy obsessive stalker, dumps him, and then starts dating the sweet nerdy guy who's always been a good friend to her. I'd read that book and if it was well-written and engaging, tell everyone about it. If an author wants to write a book about a girl that falls for the guy who frequently crosses the line from Alpha Male to Stalker Boyfriend, and she loves him anyway, well, if it's well-written and engaging, I'll read it and tell people it's a good book. I'll repeat this point: it's not the job of fiction to teach people the difference between fiction and reality. Even Young Adult fiction.

Thoughts? Comments? Disagreements?


Nerine Dorman said...

Twilight was just boooooring. I admit I read the stories quickly but by book four I really squicked at the pregnant Bella deal.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there was really no tension in those books at all. I'd already read Deathly Hallows by the time I got to Breaking Dawn and was appalled at how easy everything was for Bella. She got everything she wanted, at no price and without having to work for it at all, which was not only crappy storytelling, it stood in stark contrast to Harry Potter's ending. I can't think of many examples of a character being put through so much before reaching their happy ending. And I don't mean just the fact that it was seven books.

Don't even get me started about Jacob and the baby - that was so gross I thought the book had mistakenly veered into VC Andrews territory.