Sunday, August 16, 2020

MIDNIGHT SUN by Stephenie Meyer: An Afterglow Review


Le Blurb:

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella's side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward's version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward's eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward's past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

Le Afterglow:

(This review contains spoilers for the Twilight series as a whole.)

My Experience

I had serious trouble putting this book down. Just as with Stephenie Meyer's other writing, the writing in Midnight Sun is intimate, compelling, and artful. 

Many reviews I read prior to finishing the book stated that Stephenie Meyer has grown as a writer and that the writing is so much better in this later book. Naturally, writers do grow and I'm sure there's truth in this. However, the surprise some people have at how good she is, I believe, rather stems from the caricature of her work and the fact it has been the butt of many jokes and parodies over the years. After I closed the book on the last page, my husband and I re-watched Twilight on Amazon Prime, and he commented that it wasn't as ridiculous as he'd remembered. Thank you, Honest Trailers, and others who parodied the content to make it feel more ridiculous than it was! Of course I have my own issues with the films, mostly in how they diverge from the much better books. But seriously, it is so easy to take on the opinions of others when they are the loudest ones proclaimed. The same thing happened when the backlash against Harry Potter and The Hunger Games began at the height of their popularity, and people who had loved the books began to feel ashamed for loving them.

I am one of those Twihards who never stopped seeing Stephenie Meyer's work with my own eyes as beautifully and masterfully woven. When she took a break from Midnight Sun after the leak, I grieved with her for whatever sense of betrayal and frustration she must have been feeling over having her work leaked publicly before it was ready. Yet she handled it with class and patience. Vowing not to finish the work clearly came from a place of personal hurt, not a desire for vengeance. I totally got it.

So imagine my surprise when someone close to me mentioned that Midnight Sun had been completed! I thought they had been hearing rumors. I quickly ran a search on Amazon for the book and was impressed by the classic Twilight-style cover, black with the striking red image of the juicy pomegranate. Instantly I was a curious about the choice and knew I would find the reason in the book's pages, so I pre-ordered it. The release was just days away, and within the week I had this gorgeous book in my hands.

I would have read it in two days, but I am a mother of six now and this week it was my husband's 38th birthday. I wanted to be present for my family and to help my husband mark his life with celebration and indulgence, as is our custom. It ended up taking me all week, with a few late nights thrown in, to finish. I enjoyed every minute, which is why I'm here writing an Afterglow Review.

My Insights

You all know I love a book written from another character's perspective, as I did the same thing with my own villain, Rupert, in Bombs Away!

Though Edward Cullen isn't technically the villain of the Twilight series, he certainly sees himself as the villain, and therein lies the source of all of his anguished behavior. If you didn't pick up on this by reading Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn from Bella's perspective, then you really, really need to read Midnight Sun. It clarifies every strange response he ever gave to Bella, and helps you to understand what was going on in the background. While eventually Edward chooses to be honest with Bella about many things--including his internal struggle, his family's initial debate about whether or not to let her live, and why Rosalie hates her--there are many things Edward keeps to himself, details that he doesn't think are important to share with her but which are interesting to the reader in the way they develop other characters and relationships. For instance, seeing Laurent from Edward's perspective is a whole different experience from reading the summary version he gives to Bella that James and Victoria are the true coven and Laurent a newcomer. Likewise, his relationship with Rosalie and thus Rosalie's relationship with Bella, make so much more sense with the added scene between the vampire brother and sister. I do think it's the only thing that makes Rosalie a sympathetic character.

The simplification of Edward and Bella's relationship into teen infatuation, or even unhealthy obsession, is a popular caricature of this series. For years I have heard people describe Edward as abusive or narcissistic and Bella as a doormat with no real personality. Both characterizations are unfair, in my opinion. Of course Bella, being self-deprecating, describes herself as nondescript and boring. She's surprised when she attracts the attention of every boy at Forks High School. She sees herself very differently from how others do, clearly. But the way Edward sees her is next level. As a telepathic immortal with eighty years behind him, he has heard it all in terms of human thought. He thinks he has seen it all in terms of human behavior. He is nearly omniscient, in his own mind. Bella intrigues him because she seems to act the opposite of human nature. This is a foreshadowing, I think, for Breaking Dawn, when it becomes clear that Bella is inherently designed for this paranormal afterlife experience. 

In Midnight Sun we understand much better what kind of strong female protagonist we are getting in Bella. Edward is constantly impressed with her goodness, bravery, intelligence, and selflessness. It's her that comes up with the plan to evade James the hunter, and it's her that knows exactly what to say and has the courage to say it to Charlie to prevent him from following her into danger. Bella is truly extraordinary, and through Edward's eyes we get to see what Bella never clearly sees of herself. 

What people fail to see when they oversimplify this relationship is how carefully Stephenie Meyer crafted these two to be a perfect fit, cosmically suited to each other, despite his having to die and be resurrected as a vampire in order to live long enough to meet her. It's telling that Bella references Somewhere in Time as one of her favorite movies, as it also features a romance outside of the constraints of linear time. You get a much richer experience from all of the Twilight books if you have already read and watched the referenced media. There are many classics referenced, from the Bible to Shakespeare to Jane Austen, as well as Greek mythology and more modern film references like Carrie. If you don't know what these things are on a deep level, then their inclusion will be of no meaning to you and you're more likely to read Twilight and Midnight Sun in a shallow way.

However, I believe that Midnight Sun makes it nearly impossible to reach these shallow conclusions about the characters. In many ways, it is superior to Bella's point of view. Edward has a whole different context for his experience. He is an adult in almost every sense, except for the fact that his emotional maturity has been somewhat stunted at the age of his changing: seventeen. He has never had the rite of passage of falling in love, and that makes his relationship with Bella begin with the dramatic infatuation stage of first love. Even though this part is all new to him, and does change him, he consistently falls back on his decades of life experience to process it. He is not an ordinary teen boy. It's clear that Stephenie Meyer never set out to write a YA book (for teens). She just wrote a story and it happened to have a seventeen-year-old girl as its protagonist. 

From Edward's perspective, the novel feels much more adult. Twilight has always been more for adults, in my opinion. Read as a nostalgic backward glance at the intensity of first love, it makes so much more sense. I'm uniquely able to appreciate this market-literature collision because I had the same market problem when I wrote Drats, Foiled Again! from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old heroic villain, even though the tone of the book and its true market is middle grade. Orson Scott Card, also one of Stephenie Meyer's author heroes, said that he didn't write stories about someone of a certain age. He wasn't writing books about kids (Ender's Game). He was writing about people, and people start as kids. Likewise, Stephenie Meyer writes about people, and while their stories of development start at a certain place, that doesn't define the work or its audience. This is why criticisms of middle-aged women, or men for that matter, who love her work are misguided. Stephenie Meyer was in her thirties when she wrote the books, and of course they are going to appeal to her peers who understand her cultural references. What's wonderful is that they also appeal to a younger audience who are then introduced to these cultural references and will hopefully read Shakespeare, the Bible, Jane Austen, Greek mythology, etc., to understand better one of their favorite YA books.

Aside from the artful writing of two romantic protagonists who are perfectly suited to each other, the other romantic pairings throughout the series are also carefully constructed. We see like-attracts-like, and opposites-attract in every pairing. James the hunter is paired with Victoria the masterful escape artist. The tortured war general Jasper is paired with the tortured visionary Alice. The childlike but strong Emmett is paired with the child-craving and beautiful Rosalie. The kind and self-sacrificing Carlisle is paired with the kind and self-sacrificing Esme. The human pairings are likewise artful. Stephenie Meyer has earned her rightful place as one of the great romantic writers of the age. There is truly nothing vapid or shallow in her writing style or her main characters.

My Hopes

I hope that Midnight Sun will inspire a whole new generation of readers to appreciate Stephenie Meyer for what she has brought to the literature world. These books deserve to continue to be discussed and debated and devoured.

Enjoy reading this latest book and bask in the recent revelation, reported by KSL three days ago, that Stephenie Meyer plans to write at least two more books in this artfully created universe! Twihards everywhere are celebrating! 

If you've read it, let's discuss in the comments. Who else is hoping for a complete redo of the films?