Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
“Did you get contacts?” I blurted out unthinkingly.
He seemed puzzled by my unexpected question. “No.”
“Oh,” I mumbled. “I thought there was something different about your eyes.”
He shrugged, and looked away.
In fact, I was sure there was something different. I vividly remembered the flat black color of his eyes the last time he’d glared at me — the color was striking against the background of his pale skin and his auburn hair. Today, his eyes were a completely different color: a strange ocher, darker than butterscotch, but with the same golden tone. I didn’t understand how that could be, unless he was lying for some reason about the contacts. Or maybe Forks was making me crazy in the literal sense of the word.
I skipped this passage last week because I figured we'd already flogged the kaleidoscope eyes quite a bit, but it's probably worth repeating that Bella seems to be the only person in Forks who is quick-witted enough to notice the many strange things that are "off" about the Cullen clan. As we've worked through this deconstruction, I've been utterly delighted to read the fan theories which are -- for my money -- much better than the "Bella is just super interested in Edward" explanation that Meyer seems to give in-text. So far, I think we have the following theories:
- Modern Horror: The Forksians do realize the Cullens' nature and just don't talk about it for their own personal protection. Bella fails to recognize that her peers are wiser than she.
- Classic Horror: The Forksians realize the Cullens' nature on an instinctive, subconscious level and ignore the signs for their own protection. Bella fails at instinctive self-protection.
- After School Special: The Forksians notice the Cullens' odd behavior but are tolerant of families with food allergies and body experimentation. Bella fails at diversity awareness.
- SciFi: The Forksians don't notice the Cullens' odd behavior because Jasper maintains a constant S.E.P field around the family. Bella isn't immune to Jasper's powers, but she is resistant.
- Comedy: The Forksians realize the Cullens' nature and don't see what the big deal is. I mean, the reservation outside of town has werewolves, so why shouldn't Forks have vampires?
Am I missing any? I feel certain that I am... Moving on.
“It’s too bad about the snow, isn’t it?” Edward asked. I had the feeling that he was forcing himself to make small talk with me. Paranoia swept over me again. It was like he had heard my conversation with Jessica at lunch and was trying to prove me wrong.
“Not really,” I answered honestly, instead of pretending to be normal like everyone else. I was still trying to dislodge the stupid feeling of suspicion, and I couldn’t concentrate.
“You don’t like the cold.” It wasn’t a question.
“Or the wet.”
“Forks must be a difficult place for you to live,” he mused.
“You have no idea,” I muttered darkly.
He looked fascinated by what I said, for some reason I couldn’t imagine. His face was such a distraction that I tried not to look at it any more than courtesy absolutely demanded.
I kind of love how seriously overwrought this passage is. Edward is clearly forcing himself to make small talk with Bella, but I really do not think Bella's first conclusion should be that Edward read Jessica's mind, thereby overhearing Bella's insistence that Edward didn't like her, and is therefore trying to prove her wrong. "Paranoia" is probably not a strong enough word for that when there is a perfectly reasonable alternative explanation: Edward is trying to make small talk because they've finished the Biology lab early, they can't yet leave the classroom, and Mr. Banner gets pissy if the students pull out a book to read while they wait on the other teams to finish. Occam's Razor.
There's also the very minor fact that Edward Cullen is a high school boy who may very well be heterosexual, and Bella is a high school girl sitting next to him in Biology class, unable to leave and with nothing to legitimately distract her from a pickup conversation. I'm not saying Edward is making hay while the sun shines, just that it's interesting that Bella ascribes all male attention from Mike and Eric to hormone-driven urges, but Edward's interest in her is made out to be inexplicably odd. Edward may be the prettiest boy in school, and Bella may think of herself as Sarah, Plain and Tall, but why is Bella assuming that "equivalently attractive" is the only thing that motivates boys to talk to her?
How many high school movies have been made about pursuing-and-winning the "new girl" just because she's new? Has Bella seen none of them? For all her "new girl" paranoia in the past 30 pages to just evaporate the moment Edward walks into the room is strange, and it's particularly odd because if she did acknowledge the possibility that Edward is trying to bed-and-dump her just to be the first in Forks to make the claim, it would go a long way towards explaining and justifying Bella's continual hostility towards him. Being openly hostile to a polite boy who dazzles you makes you look like a petty child who can't maturely deal with being the least attractive person in a relationship; being openly hostile to a polite boy who dazzles you but who you suspect to be a manipulative player is something else entirely.
I feel there's a missed opportunity here, and it would fit with the Meet Cute setup that Meyer is trying to create. "Meet Cute" is a romantic setup common in movies and other mediums where the creator is interested in setting up a new romance quickly and obviously so that the story can carry on without wasting a lot of time establishing the foundation of the relationship. The trope frequently depends on the romantic couple starting out with a strong dislike for each other and then coming around to loving relationship once a misunderstanding has been cleared up or they both realize they're not so different from one another.
Meyer is pushing a Meet Cute relationship with Bella and Edward because it's a pretty standard romantic trope and it helps set the romantic stage quickly (the idea being that the established hostility can turn very quickly into passion) and get to the heavier relationship stuff to explore -- something that Meyer is nothing if not interested in. And she's got half of the setup correct: Edward hates Bella with a good reason; she is an intrinsic and constant temptation to him, and her very scent urges him to murderous impulses which may expose and endanger his whole family. It's not her fault, of course, but it's not a bad reason to be unfairly hostile to someone, all things considered.
Bella, too, seems to have read the script notes and understands that she's supposed to hate Edward, but we never get a good feel as the reader why she dislikes him so. Her dialogue with him is almost constantly hostile, rude, offensive, and impolite, but why? Her hostility could be explained by Edward's initial murderous reaction at their first meeting, but the whole incident is played down in-text, probably because it's a little close to comfort for Meyer -- Edward is, technically, a murderer and that could put a damper on the romance a bit. But if Bella isn't hostile to Edward because he "started it", then why is she rude to him?
Why not have Bella misconstrue Jessica's bitter "That’s Edward. He’s gorgeous, of course, but don’t waste your time. He doesn’t date. Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him." way back on page 19 as a double entendre: the proud Edward doesn't consider any of the girls in Forks good enough to "date", but he doesn't have any qualms about wooing-bedding-and-dumping a girl for sport. Bella could remember 'the type' from Phoenix, and it would fit so nicely with her tendency to pre-judge people, jump to conclusions, and insist that she knows everything about everyone at a glance.
These are the misunderstandings that romantic comedies are made out of, so it utterly baffles me that the opportunity for characterization was missed here. Since Bella regards Edward with correct-but-implausible suspicion (that he must have supernatural hearing or mind-reading) instead of with incorrect-but-plausible suspicion (that he must be chatting up plain ol' her because he wants a new notch on the bedpost) leads me back to the conclusion that Meyer simply cannot or will not write misdirection.
“Why did you come here, then?”
No one had asked me that — not straight out like he did, demanding.
This is actually true: no one has asked Bella why she has moved to a town that she openly hates and which depresses her deeply with its cold, wet weather and crummy library. No matter what you feel about Bella, consider that fact and weep for her that not a single parent, step-parent, school counselor, concerned librarian, or peer (Forksians or Phoenixite) has asked her why she is making this painful relocation and whether or not it will make her happy.
The first person who cares enough about Bella to ask her what motivates her is a complete stranger who wants to murder her. Sad panda.