Monday, March 24, 2008

Monsters and Love Triangles and Why I Can't Breathe Life Into a Real Woman

I finally broke down and read the third Stephenie Meyer book. Now, don't go looking all smug on me. I've known that I would, I was just waiting for someone to loan me a copy and a day to read it.

Well, the stars were all in alignment today and so I read it. I guess you can call that one sitting if you subtract out time to provide nourishment to the children, clean up throw up, do two loads of laundry, wipe several poopy bums and generally (if abstractedly) offer encouragment to my wonderfully patient children.

I was pleased to see Bella use a few "hells." We are after all, dealing with very tense situations and Bella is not, herself, a Mormon. Bella still loves to say "crap" more often than most people I've ever met, but if Meyer LOVES her editors, than who am I to argue? (And while I'm not arguing, I won't bring up her dialogue that goes on for ages and doesn't always move the plot, and how you sometimes lose the thread of the conversation because every expression, nuance, and utterance is painstakingly recorded. But I digress again.)

Once again, Meyer has written a highly entertaining, even engrossing, story based on a very clever plot. Her symbols rooted in sappy and dark romance novels are apt, as her descriptions are thorough. Her love triangle story is truly wrenching and, yes, it must be admitted, VERY sexy.

(Note here on the last word: I wouldn't let my teenage daughter near this stuff without careful screening first. There is plenty of bald attraction tied up in Meyer's brand of love with Bella herself twisting the need for sex to be stronger than marriage. I know that this book would have ruined STM age 16 from any REAL relationship for a long time.)

But the more I read, the more I think Bella is a real . . . .

I won't say it. I won't. This blog is G, or maybe PG rated, but I wasn't going to fill in sweetheart after the ellipse. More like the exact opposite. To her credit, she realizes, too late (a whole book too late for you Jacob fans out there), what a monster she is and even owns it up to both men she loves. Who, of course, are willing to forgive her for every twisted situation she thrusts these two into. Is Bella weak? Or is she so strong that she wreaks havoc on every life that becomes even remotely connected to hers? Hmm. . .

Maybe that is the point. I've realized lately, as I've been looking through some of my old writing material and formulating ideas for new, that I have a much easier time writing a believable male character than a female one. I finish my stories and find myself really liking my men for their humanity. Their struggles and imperfections make them, well. . . perfect.

On the other hand, my female characters are all very together. Oh, sure, bad things happen to them, but they bear it with amazing fortitude and strength. Their faults are not really faults: more like quirks that just make them more lovable. You know, the "acceptable" imperfections--shyness, stubborness, powerful independence, not-quite-beautiful, lonely, girls-that-don't-cook, that kind of thing. No big, overpowering character flaws. The bad things, really bad things, that happen to them are hardly ever the consequences of their own choices.

Why is this?

I'm not sure, though I've given it a lot of thought lately. First of all, most of the women I'm really close to, admire, want to be friends with, etc., are AMAZING. And while they are not all alike, they are each strong, incredibly strong, in their own way. When I write a novel, it is engrossing. My thoughts are consumed by characters, situations, events. Some of which, I must admit, I feel I have very little control over. If I am going to spend, literally, hundreds of hours at my computer to produce a work of (probably mediocre) fiction, I want to feel like I'm among friends.
Also, my favorite books have always been peppered with incredible girls and women. When I read stories of undeveloped or weak women I am unimpressed, bored and ruthless in my critique. This is not merely a development of my adult life. In the 9th grade, we read a book called "Izzy Willy-Nilly" by Paula Danzinger (I think). The story was of a girl who was really awful--petty, popular, mean--who lost a leg (or both legs?) in a car accident. Afterward she went through this big life change, but she pretty much cried all the time and she still wasn't great to people. I hated this book for some reason and I thought Izzy was not tough. At. All. Didn't Nem post a few months back about the dying-of-terminal-cancer novels we all loved as teenagers? I think this was in the same vein. Anyway, I hated my English teacher and I really challenged the idea of Izzy's bravery, out loud, in class in front of my more indifferent and acquiesing peers. I remember that teacher's mean, little eyes burrowing right into mine, daring me to have a different opinion. And I did.

How ridiculous! Do I really think I'd be tough or brave for two minutes if I lost my legs? No, of course not. Because I'm HUMAN. Just like the other women I know. Maybe that is real strength--carrying on in the face of our humanity. Our limitations.

Some years back I had a friend going through a very difficult situation. A situation I didn't learn about until after the fact and from somebody else. I spoke with my mother about the incident and was in disbelief that I had never seen this difficulty coming, and that she had hidden it so carefully from me, a good friend. My mother said a couple of things that revealed much to me about myself. She said that I was an intensely loyal friend, and that this loyalty sometimes made me blind to a person's real character. She said that I was sometimes better at seeing people as I wanted them to be than how they really were. On the other hand, my good opinion was really important to my friends and they would do anything to maintain that image in my eyes. Her words confused me. The upshot was basically that I translate my high self-expectations into high expectations for those around me. And while, this often makes people want to be better, it also makes them feel like they can never really be themselves around me. They are too afraid of my criticism.

I was a little bit speechless by her forthright assessment of my character, but in the years since I've come to see just how much she hit the nail on the head. I'm not sure that even getting that our there in the open has changed me much. I'm painfully aware now of the way I unwittingly alienate people, but I don't always rein in my personality to make more friends and be more inclusive, either.

I'm embarking on a new writing project. I'm creating a female character who has many faults. Real ones. Deep and hard to expose or expunge. But she too will be strong. I just can't help it. Women ARE strong. But I'm going to try to make her vulnerable, too. And maybe, just maybe, I'll finally have created a character that I don't just look up to, but one that I identify with. Wish me luck.


Yankee Girl said...

You are right. I love your latest review. Stupid teenagers! Ha Ha.

Also, am looking forward to hearing of/reading some of your writing. Good luck

Doreen said...

Well, now I want to read YOUR novel! Good luck with your next project, too. :o)

Christie said...

How about a strong, smart woman whose weakness is wanting recognition or attention. And she's a stay-at-home mom. Oh, and because she's got social saavy she realizes that it's not okay to always go fishing for compliments. So maybe she turns to poor health as a means to get attention. Not that I know anyone like that.

(Note: When your health is constantly up and down, it's easy to wonder if you're psychologically unbalanced. Maybe I am.)

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Christie, you probably are, but that is what makes you so funny!

Girly Momma said...

i would read your book. and i still like jacob, even if bella doesn't pick him. and i wouldn't want my daughters reading the books until they were older, either. said...

hmmmm. The thing about people is that none of them are perfect, it is kind of what makes them interesting. Some people make mistakes we consider really big. I sometimes catch myself thinking "I would never do that;" I have learned the hard way that none of us know what we would ever do if we walked a mile in some one else's shoes. I really think it is the mistakes we make and the struggles we go through that make or break us... there is a lot of beauty in some one coming through something (in my opinion.)