Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Life and Death

That sounds like a philosophical title, like I'm just about to go into an exploration of the human condition, the meaning of life and the inevitability of death and all that. But no, it isn't that at all. I'm sure most of you (to whom such a thing would be of any interest) already heard last fall about the tenth anniversary edition of Twilight that Stephenie Meyer released on us all without any forewarning. Instead of just writing a foreword, she explains, she decided to gender swap a couple of chapters of the book and ended up doing the whole thing . . . which is now titled Life and Death and is included together with Twilight (you flip the book over to begin Life and Death at the "back").

If you have been uncertain on whether or not to read this superfluous, silly little thing that I think none of us were sure what to make of when it came out, let me suggest that you do read it (if, that is, you have any curiosity--and if you don't you're probably not still reading, anyway). If nothing else, it is . . . interesting. Now I will go into more details--which you may or may not want to read if you haven't read Life and Death yet.

As the book begins, it's hard to keep track of the characters. I was constantly rearranging them in my head, trying to remember that this character is supposed to be that character and that when it says "he" here it really means "she" in Twilight. Actually quite a mess to keep track of because instead of just reading the story like new, I was trying to fit it in to the images I already had of the characters and the story. I got more used to it as it went along, though. (Every character is gender swapped except for Charlie and Renee and the Volturi--even the cab driver towards the end of the book is a woman instead of a man.)

Most of the lines and content are the same. A few of the phrases are changed, some words here and there. Sometimes I recognized better wording and sometimes I kind of missed the carefree style and tone of Twilight (the writing style, that is: Bella herself isn't, of course, always carefree throughout). Where things are most different are where there are (subtle or greater) changes in the plot--except for the ending (which I'll get to later), these pretty much all have to do with the change in gender.

Bella is switched out for Beau and once you get used to the idea that your narrator is a he instead of a she, the transition is pretty seamless, more so than I'd expected. It's a very fluid change--for the most part. The small changes are sometimes funny, like when Beau finishes all the leftover lasagna so that there isn't any more for Charlie when he gets home (there was with Bella). The saddest change is the whole Port Angeles ordeal: for such a danger to happen to a teenage boy, guns and a bit of a backstory have to be involved. But for Bella, just being a teenage girl on a dark street was enough to put her in danger. Sad but true (pretty much--Beau's threat could've just been people beating him up for his wallet, but it had to be more dire in order to quite match Bella's situation and therefore stir up the same rage in Edythe as it did for Edward).

The fact that Carine (Carlisle) had to work as a nurse instead of a doctor for many years is also a little inevitably disappointing--because of course it has to be that way. I don't get, though, why there is no mention of the Civil War with Jessamine (Jasper): she could have been one of the women who pretended to be a man and enlisted in the army--I'm kind of disappointed that that wasn't in there because I think war was always such a big part of Jasper's life even before he became a vampire. But it's a pretty small thing.

Edward translates pretty easily into Edythe, too. This really helps emphasize, as Stephenie had hoped, the fact that Bella is the human in the face of the supernatural world versus the girl who needs to be helped by a guy. Edythe is stronger than Beau in exactly the same way . . . and gender has nothing to do with it. The only thing is that Edythe and Beau relate to each other just a little bit differently, even when the conversations are the same. Beau takes the lead in certain ways just a little bit more--and not just him feeling like he has to open the door for her. I suppose this could be a remnant of the fact that Edythe is from an era when women were trained to be more subservient to men, so she naturally lets him take the more dominant role (where appropriate--because, of course, she still yells at him and tells him what to do in certain other situations).

But Beau is less, hmm, submissive than Bella. Bella can have quite a stubborn temper, so submissive seems like the wrong word. But I think you know what I mean. Stephenie says that Beau doesn't have the "chip on her shoulder" that Bella has. I kind of wonder why. It makes Bella's quieter, more unsure of herself, hesitant personality seem more of a negative portrayal of a girl because that personality trait doesn't carry over into Beau. There are quiet, unsure boys, too (though, of course, the stereotype is for girls to be this way more than boys). But I think there is another reason. This book ends differently from Twilight. This book sees the end of Beau and Edythe's story, sees it come to resolution the way that Bella and Edward only did at the end of Breaking Dawn. Bella needed the time of four books to learn about herself. Beau, with only one book, has less time to work through his issues. So he kind of has to start off with less issues than Bella had. (Although I still don't know why a boy has to be OCD in order to care about organizing the kitchen, making dinner, and doing laundry--can't he just be neat and responsible like Bella was when she did these same things?)

It's interesting to see how the end of this book plays out with the "what if" of Joss (James) halfway wins and Beau turns into a vampire now instead of later. Strangely, it feels so wrong--not just because it's different from the ending of Twilight. It's wrong because he didn't have time to say goodbye to his other life, time to realize why he wanted a new life, time even to simply fall in love with Edythe in more detail (honestly, they only had a few days to get to know each other). So it's an imperfect ending, and yet that's what's interesting about it. It kind of takes you full circle and makes you realize, after you've been watching these other characters, what it was that worked so well about Twilight. The four books really allowed for the four stages in Bella's personal journey in a way that only one book can't quite cover.

So Life and Death was interesting. It's an interesting look at gender (although the claim is that gender makes no difference, what's interesting are the moments, however small, that have to change because of gender). It's a strange way to revisit a familiar story. And there's no pressure involved: it isn't really a real book, after all. The fact that it's included in the back of Twilight shows that it's just a novelty, just something fun to take a look at. And the "new" ending means that we need have no fear of sequels, either.

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