Ballerina, Edward Stewart

Many thanks to Schatzi for the recommendation; I enjoyed it so much.  Ballerina is about these two girls, Christine and Stephanie, who are dancers in the same ballet school; upon graduation, they wind up in separate ballet companies but remain quite close.  Stephanie has a crazy stage mother who ditched ballet For a Man, and Christine, who is rich, has some sort of medical Condition, severe social anxiety, and parents who never come to see her dance.  There are lots of bitchy gay dancers and a slutty Russian guy that Christine and Stephanie get into a big fight over.  Heeheehee, it is fun.

The girls struggle to fit in with their respective ballet companies.  The head of Christine’s company used to know Stephanie’s mother, and he’s always doing these Machiavellian things in order to screw around with Stephanie’s head.  There’s a lawyer with a crush on Christine, but she doesn’t love him back because he doesn’t understand ballet.  All sorts of things happen, y’all.  It is crazy all the things that can happen in a ballet company.

I was in the mood for something ridiculously trashy.  I have been reading lots of Gothic and vampirey and generally dark books lately, and that’s been fun, but it was nice to have a break with the Noel Streatfeild and with Ballerina.  I didn’t understand why Stephanie carried on being friends with Christine.  Christine was awful.  She was all clingy and irresponsible, and even when she wasn’t being clingy, she hardly ever did a nice thing for Stephanie.  I would have moved out years ago, but for some reason Stephanie carries on being friends despite Christine’s insane neediness.

At the end – may I spoil it for you?  I am going to spoil it for you – at the end Christine and Stephanie have this enormous fight because Stephanie had an affair with the Russian man-slut that Christine was in love with and lost her virginity to and then he stopped calling her and had an affair with Stephanie instead.  And Christine’s all, Oh you knew I truly loved him, how could you betray me? and Stephanie’s all, Get over your pathetic crush on him, and then they decide they hate each other forever.  They even have a feud thing going on that reminds me of the walk-off in Zoolander.  But – but, but, but! – shortly thereafter it turns out that Christine has neglected her Medical Condition and now only has a few months to live.  And Stephanie nobly for the sake of their friendship gives up her star part in Sleeping Beauty so that Christine can have this one night of glory before she like, goes off and dies.

I could complain about sloppy characterization and silly plotlines, but what would be the point?  I believe that’s why I decided to read it in the first place.  I love a silly book about ballet.

What are some trashy books you enjoy, when you need a break from serious things?

Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

Spoilers. Many. Nothing but spoilers.

Breaking Dawn is an extravagant symphony of screwed-up sexuality and dysfunction. (Enjoyable because of the funny, loathsome because of all the people who think it’s romantic.) I had to stop about every twenty pages and update my sister, who, lucky duck, was the only one home, and we would have a long moan about how insane this book was, and how dismayed we were that people were all, Oo, she’s the next Harry Potter and – still less forgivable – Oo, she’s the next Buffy. Next Buffy. HA. When people are dysfunctional on Buffy, they know they’re dysfunctional. Even Spike – seriously, even Spike – had the grace to be ashamed of himself when Buffy caught him with the Buffy robot. Whereas Edward’s totally fine offering sick pregnant Bella to Jacob for the purposes of getting her preggers with Jacob’s baby instead, so that she won’t view Killer Vamp Baby as Her Only Chance Baby and will agree to abort it like Edward wants her to. Jacob, who has evidently not read the story of Hagar and Ishmael, is sort of up for it even though he knows it will destroy him emotionally. Again with the healthy relationships: because true love is all about ignoring everything you need and dissolving all your boundaries to make the other person happy. Sure, Bella doesn’t agree to this plan, but she also doesn’t say anything to Edward about how incredibly insulting this offer was to her, him, Jacob, and the baby that’s busy breaking her ribs. On account of how nobody in this book sets any boundaries, ever. Bella can’t even tell Edward that she doesn’t want the baby aborted; they don’t even have the conversation until Rosalie’s there to advocate for her.

Ahem.

I didn’t mean to get into that quite so thoroughly. I was going to start by making fun of how Edward won’t have sex with Bella after the first time because she’s all covered in bruises (teehee) and how she’s just so irresistible that she seduces him with her beautifulness and they break things. From there I was going to segue into how completely irritated I am by Stephenie Meyer’s female characters, who are all impossibly irritating, and how they would offend me if it weren’t for the fact that her male characters are just as bad. I was also going to mock vampire & werewolf science – cause, really? We’re going there with it? Talking about chromosomes? Vampires and werewolves just need chromosomes to tip them into believability?

But the best part of this book, for me, is the bit where Jacob imprints on the baby. Her name’s Renesmee, by the way. It’s far too easy to mock that name, so I’m not going to do it. You can mock it yourself. I can’t even be bothered. I’m too distracted by the fact that Jacob imprints on the infant daughter of the girl he’s in love with. Just in case you haven’t been reading these books, that means that he’s in total love with her forever and will mate with her someday (“her” being the DAY-OLD INFANT). There’s this really creepy scene where Bella wants to see the baby, and Jacob’s all reluctant to let her, and they have to growl at him to make him let Bella see her own baby. I don’t know – I get that it’s all in the context, and Bella’s a newborn vampire and might eat the baby, but I found that scene really disturbing. Jasper and Emmett and Jacob are all lined up in a row to stop Bella from seeing the baby.

But whatever, whatever, whatever, that all pales into insignificance next to the fact that Renesmee (really?) is going to grow up being groomed to marry Jacob and produce his little werewolf spawn. And all through her life as she’s growing up, everyone will be all, Here’s your future husband, little Renesmee (really?) From her infancy. Ick. She’s like those FLDS girls married to guys with like six wives, who won’t meet your eyes and mumble things while they look down, and ever since they were teensy little tots they’ve been raised to marry these guys and produce many, many children.

That’s not even mentioning how alarming it is that Jacob transfers his affections Woody-Allen-like to the daughter of the girl he used to be in love with. This whole imprinting-on-babies thing is so very deeply disturbing and cannot be made okay no matter how nice Jacob and Quil are to baby Renesmee (I feel like the MST3K gang felt about Grignr) and baby Claire. And it’s just made creepier because Jacob used to spend all his time picturing Bella naked but now doesn’t care about her at all because her day-old daughter has replaced Bella in his heart. When I try to explain my unhappiness at this development, I only make little babbling noises of disgust and despair and dismay, so I’ll leave this topic.

And then there’s all this build-up to the Hugest Battle Ever with the Volturi, and the last third of the book is all building up to this mighty battle but then! somehow! fortunately! it gets cancelled because they’re all like, Let’s hug it out, bitches. And also because Bella is Mighty Shield Girl (yes, she finally gets to do something – exciting, eh?) And everyone lives happily ever after, with lots of S.A. all around and many swoony kisses.

Go Fug Yourself, a website I completely adore, had a post about the Twilight movie and how entirely unappealing Cedric Diggory looks as Edward, while Bella looks all heavy-lidded and has an apple. And they (the Fug Girls, not Edward and Bella) said they missed Buffy because Buffy would have made a snide remark about Edward’s chest pubes and then staked his ass instead of fondling produce. I always think of that when I am reading Stephenie Meyer. How happy I would be if Buffy could indeed show up and stake Edward. Buffy could totally take the Cullens. It would be beautiful and she and the Scoobies could call everybody on how ridiculously badly they handle everything all the time and then when they had finished bawling them out for being imbeciles they could stake them and it would be amazing

can’t continue review

lost in joyous reverie

Why I Don’t Like Those Vampire Books by Stephenie Meyer

I’m getting so much anger from Twilight fans I thought I’d go ahead and actually say why I think these books are bad. It’s not because they contain vampires (you’re talking to a girl who owns all seven seasons of Buffy and all but the last one of Angel), and it’s not because the characters contemplate having sex (I’m all for sex – plus, see above with the Buffy and the Angel, cause Buffy at least has people having sex all over the place, and not infrequently sex with vampires), and it’s certainly not anything to do with any belief of mine that teenagers don’t have to make difficult choices about relationship and a zillion other things (cause, you know, I was a teenager lo these many years ago).

I laugh about these books because they’re badly written and very, very silly, but I seriously do have problems with them. To wit:

The main one: The fact that there are dozens and hundreds and thousands of girls who are reading these books and finding Edward sexy and romantic. This creeps me out and gives me concern that they are going to grow up and not notice when their boyfriends are acting weird and stalkery. Stalkers = bad. Cause let’s review. In the first place, he desperately wants to kill her. (Bad.) Plus he’s scary and threatening and says things that suggest he’s up for killing people and is dangerous to her. (Bad.) He also tells her massive lies and treats her like an idiot, all the time, but especially when she suspects he’s lying. (Bad.) But she disregards all of these things because she “feels safe” with him. Balance of power issues much?

He eavesdrops on her conversations with her friends by listening to their minds. She doesn’t seem awfully bothered about how intrusive that is to her, and she’s completely unphased by how intrusive it is to her friends. (Which makes sense since she really doesn’t ever seem to give a crap about them anyway.) The boy is listening to people’s brains to make sure Bella’s safe, and by this means he saves her from four more of the Washington State men who can’t resist her charms. And, you know, that’s nice, that he saves her life, but think about it: If you knew a guy and you kinda liked him and then you discovered he’d, I don’t know, tapped your phone and was listening to all your phone conversations, would you think, That’s sweet, he must be trying to save my life, or would you think, Damn, he’s a stalker. Better watch out for stalker boy there, with all the stalking.

Oh, right, and he comes into her room without her permission or knowledge and watches her sleep. She knows she should be outraged, but instead she’s just flattered. Because he cares enough about her to break into her house and spy on her.

When she’s with Edward, she isolates herself from every other person in her life – friends and family – and spends all her time only with him. Again with the bad, because when the relationship breaks up, she has no one to support her. They’re constantly claiming that they need each other – neediness isn’t romantic, people! – to the extent that when they lose each other in New Moon they sink into deep depressions, can’t do anything normal ever again, and have much contemplating of suicide.

Uh-huh. That’s a functional relationship.

And here’s another thing: Gender roles. Nobody ever strays from theirs. Bella requires lots of rescuing and isn’t so good about the making of decisions. She doesn’t like sports or fishing because these things, they are boring (unless it’s sexy vampires playing sports). Know what she is good at? Cooking! Aaaaaaaaaaand dress-shopping! Her father can’t cook but he can fix cars. So can Jacob. And Edward. Much with the car-fixing among the dudes in these books.

The trashy accusation I stand by pretty firmly. Again not because of vampires and not because of the mad sexual tension (I can deal), but because these characters are never even remotely developed – what does Bella ever do apart from swoon over Edward and fall over her own feet? Edward’s handsome and reads minds, and he loves Bella and he doesn’t want to be a monster – voila, I’ve summed up Edward for you right there. And of course, with cardboard characters, you’re not likely to end up with fascinating relationships, and indeed, there’s no attempt to deal with relationships honestly. People who are in love get very, very worried when their significant other is in danger. And, uh, they tell each other lies to manipulate each other into doing what they want, and they never call each other on this behavior, ever. They’re just like, Oh, ha, ha, ha, you’ve outwitted me this time, you vixen! This peaks in Eclipse but happens, really, throughout the series.

And it is badly written. It’s just cliche after cliche after cliche. And not even any irony about the using of the cliches. Sheesh.

Most of this, honestly, I don’t care about. Nobody’s making me read books I don’t like, and if I don’t like Ms. Meyer’s books I don’t have to carry on reading them. (I may read the last one though – I don’t do that attacking-books-I-haven’t-read thing, as a trend. At least not seriously.) But I am genuinely bothered by the bad messages the book’s sending to its readers. Books are mighty and help many people to normalize. Life reflects art (as my beloved Oscar Wilde says). I have great fear that these books are creating a generation of women who’ll think stalking is sexy and exciting.

It’s not. Stalking = bad. It doesn’t generally lead to the saving of the stalked person’s life, as in Bella’s case. More heads in the direction of heightened emotional and physical abuse. Of which we are not fans.

Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer

Well, I have just finished up Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer’s third trashy vampire book.  In case you were wondering whether all the trashy continues unabated, the answer is a resounded and unqualified YES.

Basically, in this book, Bella and Edward have lots of anxieties for several reasons, including 1) she misses Jacob and wants to play with him; and 2) he (Edward, not Jacob) wants to get married and she doesn’t; and 3) she wants to have sex and he (still Edward, not Jacob) doesn’t; and 4) a vampire they pissed off a while ago is making a massive army of baby vampires to kill Bella.  The angst is ceaseless.

Also, Jacob still loves Bella.  He’s more twenty-five-y than sixteen-y these days, so everyone can stop worrying about whether Bella’s a pedophile.  Because, yes, that’s been bothering me a little bit as she inched closer to nineteen and he was still only sixteen.  I did the equation and figured out she’s still okay until he’s 16 and a half, but nevertheless it was bugging me a bit.  He is also no longer cooler than Edward, because now he’s threatening suicide in order to make Bella slip him some tongue.  Lame.  If there’s one thing I hate even more than your garden variety emotional manipulation, it’s emotionally manipulative suicide threats.

To return to the point, however: My stars, this book was trashy, and for some reason, not as absorbing as the first two.  I’ve been trying to decide why that is, and I think it may be because we’ve got all the characters now and nothing new is really being developed.  In Twilight, there was Edward, and Bella was working out things with Edward; and then in New Moon, there was Jacob and she was working out things with Jacob.  In this one we’ve already got them both and Bella’s just being wishy-washy and working nothing out at all except that she really, really, really doesn’t want to get married right out of high school, because she’s afraid of being trailer trash or something.  She wasn’t doing anything, and neither was anyone, except getting very protective of her.  There were lots of pissing contests between Edward and Jacob – first the nice normal pissing contests and then the more subtle ones where they were both all trying to love Bella the best.  And it got tiresome.  I quit reading it and went to bed.  If the next one isn’t more interesting, well I’ll just be.  You know.  Cross.

Hmm – do you think I’m becoming jaded and growing to hate all books everywhere?  The last several books I’ve read haven’t impressed me.  Maybe my brain is on new book overload.  But no, because I’m enjoying Night Watch a lot.  But maybe, because if I can’t enjoy a trashy vampire novel, WHAT KIND OF SOUL-DEAD CREATURE AM I?

New Moon, Stephenie Meyer

Edward the Sexy Vampire: Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night.  Very dark, but there were stars – points of light and reason.  And then you shot across my sky like a meteor.  Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty.  When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black.  Nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light.  I couldn’t see the stars anymore.  And there was no more reason for anything….There was no distraction from the agony.  My heart hasn’t beat in almost ninety years, but this was different.  It was like my heart was gone – like I was hollow.  Like I’d left everything that was inside me here with you.

Teehee.

Basically my life has been GuiltyPleasuresVille for the past few days.  I’ve been reading The Sweet Far Thing on and off for a few days, and although I have 37 books out from the library that are due in varying degrees of soonness, I had to take a break and read Tamsin which I own and besides – can’t imagine what possessed me – I watched the pilot of Gossip Girl a few days ago, after which of course I had to watch all of Gossip Girl, and then of course there is Guiding Light, my beloved soap opera, which has been getting kind of interesting ever since Jonathan came back, and now Reva has completely messed up everything by – well, I’ll spare you the details.  Point is, I decided that I was going to read New Moon and finish up The Sweet Far Thing and then really, really devote myself to 1) Serious Reading; and 2) schoolwork (not in that order).

(P.S. I would never ever have confessed publicly to watching Gossip Girl if my extremely clever Indie Sister hadn’t told us yesterday that she used to read the books on which the show was based when she took baths.  “I know!” she wailed.  “I should have been reading Kafka!”)

Anyway, New Moon is absurd.  I can’t even review it with a straight face.  Basically, what happens is that Edward freaks out about how he and his family are going to kill Bella, and shortly thereafter he tells her that he doesn’t love her anymore and is leaving; and because Bella has apparently never read a single book with girls-in-jeopardy or seen Moulin Rouge or that episode of Wonderfalls or any of the ten million other things that would have clued her in on this, she buys it immediately and goes into Enormous Crisis Misery mode for several months.  Then she becomes besties with Jacob, this kid in town who turns out (who’s surprised?  I’m not!) to be a werewolf, bless him.  Some stuff happens, and then some more stuff happens, and she jumps off a cliff just for shits and gigs, and then she goes and stops Edward from killing himself because he thinks she’s dead and then he’s all omg I’ll never leave you again and she’s all you totally promised that you would turn me into a vampire so let’s do it after I graduate, kay? and he’s all I hate myself but I have to agree.  And Jacob can’t be friends with her anymore now that Edward’s back because Edward’s a vampire and Jacob’s a werewolf so they automatically hate each other and anyway they’re both madly in love with Bella so they hate each other about that too.

Phew.

I thought Jacob was a big cutie.  Aw, he’s much cuter than Edward.  I know that Bella can’t be without Edward without switching into Enormous Crisis Misery mode, but I would really like it if Edward did something completely unforgivable and Bella decided she hated him forever and then fell in love with Jacob, who’s like a cute little puppy dog.  I vote yes to cute little puppy dogs.  Jacob, incidentally, is also a grave danger to Bella if he gets too emotional, so this scenario would not require a cessation of torture and self-loathing on the part of Bella’s leading man.  Sadly I know that will never happen.

And now I will write my papers.  Or watch The Laramie Project, which is still procrastination, but is also Serious and Improving and therefore feels less like a waste of time.

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

God knows I quote:

“Isabella.”  He pronounced my full name carefully, then playfully ruffled my hair with his free hand [when I think vampires, I think of playful hair-ruffling…you?].  A shock ran through my body at his casual touch.  [Of course it did.]  “Bella, I couldn’t live with myself if I ever hurt you.  You don’t know how it’s tortured me.”  He looked down, ashamed again.  “The thought of you, still, white, cold…to never see you blush scarlet again, to never see that flash of intuition in your eyes when you see through my pretenses [I love that he’s so full of shit that after hanging out with her for maybe three weeks tops he’s already fallen in love with the way she looks when she figures out he’s full of shit]…it would be unendurable.”  He lifted his glorious, agonized eyes to mine.  “You are the most important thing to me now.  The most important thing to me ever.”

But don’t worry.  He talks like that because he’s from the Olden Days.  That’s how they talked back then.

I’ve heard about this book from so many different places I can’t even remember them anymore. I knew it was going to be trashy when I checked it out. I could tell. Vampire books are not necessarily trashy, but they often are, and if fangs weren’t so sexy and if vampires weren’t so elegant, the whole vampire books thing would have ended ages ago because they are mostly so extremely trashy.

(Robin McKinley’s Sunshine being an exception. I loved Sunshine. Her best since Beauty, also not trashy.)

Well, anyway, it is very easy to see why Twilight is so popular. Youngish teenage girls love vampires. Fangs are sexy. Vampire dudes are elegant and dangerous. Stephenie Meyer is tapping into this in a big way. Edward Cullen, the vampire dude, is constantly being all “I love you more than my luggage, Bella dearest darling, but if you slip me any tongue while we’re kissing I will have to kill you and suck your blood”. And, you know, who wouldn’t want that?

(Vampires aren’t a very subtle metaphor for sex = death, are they?)

I’m kind of embarrassed by reading this book. When the sequels come in at the library, I’m going to have to check out several other quite-intellectual-looking books to keep the librarians from judging me, especially this one guy who always makes snide comments about everything I’m checking out but he can’t say anything if I have Twilight and then, like, War and Peace and And the Band Played On (not really, I own it) and What Fresh Hell Is This: A Biography of Dorothy Parker and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and…er, some other stuff that clever people might read.

It’s not awfully well-written, or awfully original. It’s just that people cannot resist that whole Will he kiss her or kill her thing. At all. Ever. Even if the guy is sort of creepy. And girls can’t resist vampires. Sexy. Dangerous. Elegant. (Especially elegant, in my case.) Even when they know as I do that these vampire books are silly and trashy, and Bella is ridiculous for being all, “Oh I love you so much and I’m so sure about it that I want to commit to you for all eternity even though I’m only seventeen and I’ve never had a boyfriend before”, and Edward is ridiculous for being all “If I truly loved you I would leave but I can’t because I’m so violently attracted to you and I’m so sexy that I make you faint merely by kissing you”, even then, people – and by people I mean me – cannot resist checking out both sequels as soon as possible.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good book.

My mum always says this kind of thing – I felt vaguely the same about The Da Vinci Code, which is gripping but not that good a book – begs the question of what a “good book” is. Like, how is it a bad book if it intrigues you so much that you can’t put it down even though you know you want to go to bed early because tomorrow is your only day of the week to sleep late and your roommate is absolutely without question going to wake you up in the morning singing songs and talking on her cell phone? (says my mother) But I don’t think this is right because one only carries on reading out of curiosity about what will happen to the characters, which is the same reason people including her and me get hooked on soap operas, and if there is one thing we can say for sure it is that soap operas are rubbish and not quality television even though they are sometimes addictive.

So.

Edit to add: I just want to be clear here.  I can’t stand these damn books.  When I originally read Twilight, I had no idea of the mad culty Edward-is-perfect business going on across our great nation. The books are enjoyable (for how silly they are!) only insofar as nobody ever takes them seriously or thinks that Edward and Bella have anything approaching a functional relationship.  When people think that Edward and Bella have the perfect relationship, or thinking that Edward is perfect, then I have a problem.  A specific, angry problem with Stephenie Meyer writing a story about an emotionally abusive relationship and portraying it as romantic.  Like girls aren’t receiving that message enough.  He’s not romantic.  He’s a stalker.

Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Heard about in: Die for Love, by Elizabeth Peters

Apparently this book got edited down to one-fifth of its original length, for which I can only say praise God (though it must be thrilling for Forever Amber scholars to get their hands on the original manuscript, if it still exists). I cannot imagine how she could have gotten four times that much again into the silly book. Amber gets married FOUR TIMES over the course of the book and has lots of silly affairs and moans a lot about how her true love Bruce Carlton thinks she’s too trashy for him which is a bit rich I think considering that he’s sleeping around as much as she is and repeatedly shows himself incapable of resisting her trashy charms. However, I would not marry her either because a) I would not want to catch a nasty disease; and b) she is damn annoying and although he keeps assuring her he will never, never, never marry her, she still keeps bursting into tears and smacking him in the face every time the subject comes up.

In case this all sounds like I didn’t enjoy Forever Amber, let me just assure you, that is completely not the case. I read it on Saturday from start to finish, with a short break in between to read Purple Hibiscus (better quality novel but sad) and frequent pauses to update my family on Amber’s latest doings, and it was most absorbing. My family members kept asking me what she was up to if I didn’t let them know with a promptness, and towards the end Indie Sister and I were sitting on one of the couches reading the last few pages over each other’s shoulders (starting with the naked dress, the details of which I was not explaining to Indie Sister with adequate eloquence, and going on until she sails off at the end).

Just to give you an idea of how this book goes, I was explaining to my cousin and my mother how Amber had run away from her tedious rural life with her true love Bruce Carlton and how she had gotten pregnant and married (not to her true love) and dumped in the debtor’s prison and placed under the protection of Black Jack the Highwayman who made her help with his heists and was never very much use at paying off her debts, and my cousin said, “That can’t all have happened! You’re not even a quarter of the way through the book!”

I was, but it did.

Apparently this was written by an American (or Canadian?) lady during World War II, and apparently it got banned in several states and the Catholic Church had some severe things to say about it; and because it is an old and classic and genre-creating historical romance, and because actually it is not badly written (the descriptions of Amber’s clothes are yummy), I feel justified in assuring myself that I am not in fact a trashy-romance-novel-reader, but an Ardent Lover of the Classics.

P.S. My grandmother remembers when this book came out. She didn’t read it because it was too scandalous and she was a good Catholic girl (having embraced the one true faith).