It’s an age-old story: Girl meets boy. Girl falls for boy. Girl discovers that boy is mysterious mythical creature with deep instincts to suck her blood.
OK, maybe not age-old. But for fans of Stephenie Meyer’s “‘Twilight’ saga,” it’s a tale definitely timeless. Long after reading had become passé, it was hard to imagine that any book series could soar to such notoriety and harvest an equivocal cult following, created by a truly die-hard fan base.
Enter Stephenie Meyer. Who? Exactly. But lacking name recognition didn’t stop her books from exploding onto bestseller lists across the globe. Her third book, “Eclipse,” knocked the seventh J.K. Rowling installment from several spots less than one month after its release in 2007.
And Meyer’s fan base – “Twilighters,” as they’re called – rival Rowling’s followers, creating forums, blogs and merchandise all dedicated to the series and worshiping Meyer herself with a mania previously reserved for dreamy boy-bands.
So it would be an understatement to say that the fourth and final installment, “Breaking Dawn” — released just after midnight last Saturday — had a lot to live up to. And considering the heated debate between deeply-divided camps (more about that in a minute), it was destined to be divisive.
But no one – save the series’ resident psychic vampire, Alice – could have predicted Meyer’s final volume.
Not that that is necessarily a good thing.
Unquestionably, the fourth book is a departure from the first three. For one thing, the plot’s tempo changes significantly, in such a way that it never really finds its rhythm. Meyer is notorious for drawn-out dialogue and redundantly-contemplated emotional dilemmas. And while the latest installment stays true to form in the drama department – hell, these kids make the Degrassi gang look blasé – subplots are developed and resolved at an unprecedented rate.
The two contentious points in the series have long been Bella’s choice between mortality and immortality, and between diametrically opposed loves: a forbidden and dangerous but seemingly clandestine romance with ethereally beautiful vampire Edward Cullen and a more stable and undoubtedly safer but less hypnotic relationship with best-friend-turned-werewolf Jacob Black. The conflict is resolved (relatively speaking) in the first 75 pages and the decision on the former squeaks in neatly before the book hits the halfway point.
And the sex. Good Lord. Perhaps a less epic but — to fans — equally important plotline was when the mortal drama queen was finally gonna – ya know – “do it.” After some 1,700-odd pages of multi-directional, tantalizingly-detailed and indefinitely drawn-out sexual tension, it hardly seemed to matter with whom. So imagine the crushing disappointment when this, too, is resolved, unforgivably unceremoniously, in the first 100 pages. For shame, Meyer, for shame.
Another thing that sets the fourth book apart is its incredible heft. Weighing in at 754 pages, it’s the longest of the series. But with all of this fast-paced development, what, you may ask, could possibly fill the remaining pages? Read on, dear reader, read on.
The answer to that question hinges on the most inexcusable sin Meyer commits: major plot inconsistency. Meyer’s love and emotional involvement with her characters is evident in her attention to detail and elaborate backstories. Which makes her tendency to throw suspiciously convenient and out-of-left-field tidbits in to explain things (case and point: “the age of immortal infants” What?) an omnipresent and strange oversight. But in the most pivotal turning point of “Breaking Dawn,” she does not even pay her faux pas even this rudimentary attention.
Asked to sum up the book in one word, the first thing that comes to mind is … heavy. Dense. Plot-laden. Or strangled, rather. The final installment is less a light page-turner and more an exhausting chore than its predecessors. The book could easily be broken into two separate stories, possibly more. Considering Meyer’s popularity and the incredible length of the book, it’s hard to imagine why this didn’t happen – unless the author was concerned that after the initial round of resolutions, fans wouldn’t bother to read further. But if the second story isn’t good enough to stand on its own, serious consideration should be given as to whether it should have been published at all.
The book isn’t all bad, though. Another departure in the fourth book is a shift in style. Readers get a break from Bella, as Jacob the werewolf, refreshingly, takes over to narrate the middle chunk of the book.
True to form, Meyer’s plot is fun and fanciful. She weaves a satisfyingly intricate tale. (Don’t try this book before you the first three.) The world she has created is magnified in this volume, a delightful blend of comic-book superhero abilities, a behemoth length “Lord of the Rings”-esque cast list (Do I hear “spin-offs,” anyone?) and interesting twists and turns – even if her characters are remarkably slow (though notably quicker than in previous volumes) to realize developments Meyer alludes with unnecessary obtuseness. The book is darker and more sci-fi-oriented Meyer’s early works. But fear not – those who have clung to the “vampire smut” element of the series will not be disappointed.
“Breaking Dawn” leaves a lot of room for criticism. The writing isn’t particularly laureate-worthy (though thank whatever power that bought Meyer a thesaurus and restrained the previously overused phrases “marble lips” and “russet skin” from her vocabulary.) And the ending carries the distinct odor of a cop-out.
But those who rabidly criticize it are missing the point. The books don’t really take themselves seriously — they’re young adult fiction, for God’s sake—and neither should the reader. But judged for what it is, “Breaking Dawn” satiates the lingering thirst of die-hards and casual readers alike — even if it doesn’t quite hit the spot.