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The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner - Stephenie Meyer I know, I know. This book had police caution tape all around it warning me not to read. I wasn’t surprised that it was as bad as it is. Actually, I think that this book provides a good example of one of the central weaknesses of Stephenie Meyer’s books. I heard someone say the other day that the purpose of art is to make people feel. I know, doi, but I had never looked that one in the face before. Meyer spends most of her time, in all of her books, trying to cushion the reader from really feeling anything.

It makes sense that she does this, since her writing started from what sounds to me like a sort of limited self-counseling exercise. And, I think this is why her other books worked so spectacularly for me when they did – I already had so many feelings going on about so many different things that I was looking for comfort, not art. I think that’s also why they work for teenagers, whose emotions are an alternative energy source that I’m convinced could power the world. (The fact that they’re left in disuse is obviously some big oil conspiracy.) Her books are a fake, plastic world with fake, simple people. Her plots are driven by basic motivations and superpowers. I love it.

Here, though, it worked out pretty unfortunately. You could feel that Meyer was writing it because her teacher assigned it to her and the due date had passed. In her introduction, she goes to great lengths to warn the reader that she might be forced to feel something at the end of the book; there was just no way for Meyer to get around it. It’s uncomfortable. This is another example of Meyer being unable to handle any of her characters winding up unhappy. I’m not complaining about that, necessarily, because I generally find it pretty funny in a sit-com kind of way. But in this case, I needed her to suck it up.

The rest of this review will contain spoilers, but if you’ve read Eclipse, as Ms. Meyer points out in the introduction, you already know about the timely (or untimely, if you consider how long and drawn out it is) end of Bree. Basically, the story breaks down into three parts:

Act 1: The Cheeseburger of Pain. This is where Meyer is at her best. Two vaguely shallow high school kids with vaguely tragic pasts find each other and fall in love because they’re vaguely speshul. She describes their attraction in a style poignantly reminiscent of LOLcats (see thread* below). Also, they’re vampires. This is what I love in Meyer. It’s something that is both the easiest thing and the most impossible thing to make fun of because it’s already there making fun of itself. It is everything shallow in culture, and so it is absolutely beautiful. It is its own caricature.

Act 2: The Metaphor of the Cave. This is where Meyer is on shaky ground - in consciously or unconsciously referencing other canonical works of writing. The title of the book, for example, is a major problem. Why would you rip off the title of one of the greatest short stories of the English language for a high school vampire romance? That is a problem. I feel genuine emotion when I think of The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, so you can’t just reference it flippantly. The title hurts my feelings a little bit. If she was genuinely and respectfully using the Macomber story, then great, but I can’t figure a way that’s happening here.

Anyway, what she is using (and it appears that she’s using it unconsciously, but maybe not) is Plato's metaphor of the cave:


So, the premise of the story is that there are all these baby campires that an eeeevil campire is turning into a campire army. In the Twilight world, if you didn’t already know, vamps don’t dust if they go into sunlight, but they do get sparkly. BUT, the evil campire told the babes that they will dust if they go into the light. So, they all believe this until they discover it’s not true in a very metaphor-of-the-cave kind of way. It’s funny, but also not, so it left me with an awkward neutral feeling. The cave was sitting right there, waiting to be referenced, but Meyer never explicitly did, and the revelation about sparkling didn’t turn into a metaphor for life. It fell a little flat.

Act 3: Finding Forrester. There are, as I may have already ranted to you, so many reasons to be embarrassed for Gus Van Sant. Not the least of these reasons is the movie Finding Forrester. Because Finding Forrester is a perfectly fine movie, EXCEPT that it is exactly the same as Good Will Hunting, a movie that Gus Van Sant ALREADY made! That is so not okay. I actually think Van Sant has a lot of decent movie-making skills, but these choices he makes are so embarrassing to me. So, that’s what the last third of Bree Tanner is. It’s a recap of the end of Eclipse, but mostly in slo mo. It’s truly boring. It would have made so much sense to end this book after the cave metaphor. The repeat ending wasn’t revelatory, but more like explaining a joke. If we didn’t make the connections, then explaining it isn’t going to help.

Overall, I’d say go see the new Eclipse movie instead. That movie pretty neatly combines what this book has to say with what Eclipse has to say and is totally watchable, imho. It even has some great John Hughes moments, and I felt like it was laughing with me, not crying while I was laughing at it. If you can manage it, go when there are about 100 13-year-old girls in the theater, too. The swooning is a really important part of the Twilight experience.

* The thread that happened before I actually read this book ends at comment 113, fyi. All future comments will be equally loved and appreciated.