Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
His gaze became appraising. “You put on a good show,” he said slowly. “But I’d be willing to bet that you’re suffering more than you let anyone see.”
I grimaced at him, resisting the impulse to stick out my tongue like a five-year-old, and looked away.
I don't understand this impulse, or rather I should say that I have this impulse all the time, but I don't understand why Bella has it right now.
We've talked in the past about Bella as a reader insert character, and it's possible that this is another one of these moments; for myself, I frequently do or say something silly when casual conversations turn serious all of the sudden. Sticking out a tongue and making a silly face is a common go-to expression of mine in real life -- it has the immediate effect of making yourself look very silly and almost always downgrades the conversation from Serious Stuff to something more casual and jokey.
What's interesting to me as a reader is that this tactic actually is used when someone is trying to "put on a good show" and hide how much they are suffering -- there's nothing quite like a silly face to signal "hey, enough about me and my drama, how about some safer territory now?" I like to believe that this non-verbal communication is fairly common in our culture; at the very least, everyone at my workplace seems to have picked up that occasionally Ana makes faces and it's nothing to be alarmed about.
So I actually fully understand the impulse to stick out my tongue like a 5-year-old, but I'm not sure I understand why Bella has this impulse, because so far in Twilight she doesn't seem to have the necessary sense of humor and self-parody that this sort of action implies. The gesture -- as I use it -- means, Oh, look at Ana and her precious little problems!, but I'm not certain that Bella thinks about her own self and her own problems facetiously enough to laugh at them.
Maybe I'm not giving Bella enough credit. But then again, there's nothing in this passage that indicates that lightening the mood is Bella's goal with this impulse. Is there some other reason to stick out one's tongue at one's conversation partner?
“Am I wrong?”
I tried to ignore him.
“I didn’t think so,” he murmured smugly.
And now I have to wonder: how much of the motivations that Bella ascribes to others in the narrative are we meant to take as fact? It seems odd for Edward to "smugly" confirm that, yes, the person sitting next to him is suffering badly, or rather it seems odd that Bella doesn't find it odd.
For Edward to be smug about his correct guess that Bella is depressed seems quite in character for a 100+ year old sociopathic vampire who sees the humans around himself as less than equals and more as transient blips on his life's radar. It strikes me as apropos that Edward would in this exchange be more interested in error-testing his suddenly-failed powers of telepathy rather than caring about Bella's actual feelings of the moment.
However, in as much as I find Edward's behavior appropriate to his nature, it seems odd that Bella doesn't recognize his smug rejoinder as particularly nasty behavior -- it's not usually considered polite conversation to grill someone about highly personal aspects of their life and end with a triumphant Haha! I KNEW you were hurting! I sort of expect Edward to do a little victory dance on the lab table here, actually, and I wonder why Bella doesn't see his behavior as extremely... well, smug.
Now, I get that S. Meyer wants to do a "Pride and Prejudice" romance between Bella and Edward, and I imagine that if anyone can give Edward a run for his money in the smug department, it would be Mr. Darcy. But as much as I dislike Darcy, I can also admit that his rude behavior is justified within the text as half privilege of birth and half extremely poor social skills and -- more importantly -- his behavior is presented as something undesirable. Yes, Lizzy's escalation of the tension causes problems in the short term, but her response is understandable because Darcy is in fact quite rude to her and the text makes this clear: until Darcy apologizes and mends his behavior, he is not acceptable to Austen, Lizzy, or the reader as a worthwhile suitor. In this case, however, I'm not holding my breath for an apology from Edward any time soon.
I sighed, scowling at the blackboard.
“Am I annoying you?” he asked. He sounded amused.
I glanced at him without thinking . . . and told the truth again. “Not exactly. I’m more annoyed at myself. My face is so easy to read — my mother always calls me her open book.” I frowned.
“On the contrary, I find you very difficult to read.” Despite everything that I’d said and he’d guessed, he sounded like he meant it.
“You must be a good reader then,” I replied.
“Usually.” He smiled widely, flashing a set of perfect, ultrawhite teeth.
Can someone please explain this exchange to me, because I don't understand it. Here's what it looks like to me:
- Bella tells Edward that she is easy to read and that her emotions are obvious to those around her.
- Edward counters that he doesn't find her easy to read at all.
- Bella counters that therefore... he must be a good reader?
Incidentally, after our fun conversation last week about the "harder living" conditions of Edward's childhood, should Edward's teeth be so straight and perfect and white and toothpaste-commercial-worthy? I somewhat suspect -- possibly incorrectly -- that Edward's childhood of 100+ years ago should have resulted in a few chipped, skewed, or stained teeth in that mouth of his. And while I imagine the vampire transformation would leave the victim with a good set of incisors, I can't think of any reason why the transformation would straighten out your overbite or clean up any rotten molars.
Mr. Banner called the class to order then, and I turned with relief to listen. I was in disbelief that I’d just explained my dreary life to this bizarre, beautiful boy who may or may not despise me. He’d seemed engrossed in our conversation, but now I could see, from the corner of my eye, that he was leaning away from me again, his hands gripping the edge of the table with unmistakable tension.
And now Edward is doing the Oh my gosh, I can barely stop myself from killing Bella pose, despite seemingly having no trouble whatsoever controlling himself during their conversation. I find Edward's hunger swings particularly interesting, given that they seem to be triggered at least as much by Mr. Banner's lectures as by Bella's presence. Could it be that Edward just gets the munchies in class?
When the bell finally rang, Edward rushed as swiftly and as gracefully from the room as he had last Monday. And, like last Monday, I stared after him in amazement.
Mike skipped quickly to my side and picked up my books for me. I imagined him with a wagging tail.
We need to talk about the problem with Mike.
Now, I know that Mike has a strong underground following: I remember first going through Mark's deconstruction and Mark was particularly fond of Mike and felt very bad for all the abuse that Bella heaps mentally upon him. And it's true: Bella is rarely anything but cruel to Mike in her thoughts; I'm not going to argue that anyone deserves to have a wagging tail mentally appended to them merely for the crime of being romantically interested in someone.
Having said that, I don't like Mike. I'm sure that he's one of the most well-adjusted characters in this novel, but I don't feel like he's dealing straight here. It's very clear that he's interested in a romantic relationship with Bella, but I feel like he's trying to insinuate into a romantic relationship with her without actually clearing it with her first, if that makes sense. It seems like he's trying to take on a boyfriend role -- by carrying her books, walking her to class, and acting proprietary around her at lunchtimes -- without having to actually do the hard stuff like establish a relationship with Bella first by asking her out or talking to her about anything meaningful. (Since apparently this heart-to-heart with Edward was the first deep conversation she's had in Forks.)
Of course, Bella could and possibly should be more assertive in rebuffing Mike's unwanted attentions -- it is usually possible to take one's books back and clarify that attention is unwanted with a firm No, thank you, I prefer to carry my own books. But it's not a stretch to say that American girls are generally socialized to avoid such direct behavior, and as such I can't blame Bella for not turning and telling Mike to please stop following her to each class, thank you very much.
I want to be clear: Bella is rude, cutting, passive-aggressive, and cruel in her mental narrative. I don't like these aspects of her personality and I don't condone them as appropriate or healthy. However, I find it hard to believe that Open-Book-Bella's disinterest in Mike is so carefully hidden that this cutest-boy-in-school 17-year-old young man simply can't pick up on a single signal that he's not wanted. So as a reader I end up disliking both characters immensely: even though I understand that it can be dangerous for a girl to be clearly disinterested in someone romantically, I still wish Bella would put a little more thought and effort into being honest with Mike; and even though I understand that it can be unfair for a boy to be expected to be an expert at non-verbal communication, I still wish Mike would stop trying to end up as "boyfriend by default" and start paying attention to the fact that he's making Bella profoundly uncomfortable.
A pox on both their houses, I suppose.
“That was awful,” he groaned. “They all looked exactly the same. You’re lucky you had Cullen for a partner.”
“I didn’t have any trouble with it,” I said, stung by his assumption. I regretted the snub instantly. “I’ve done the lab before, though,” I added before he could get his feelings hurt.
While this passage makes me want to half-shake, half-hug Bella and explain to her that she doesn't need to reassure the boys that she's dumb so that they won't get their feelings hurt because it's not her problem if someone can't deal with her being smarter than them, I also find this passage to be oddly endearing. Bella has her feelings hurt; Bella corrects the wrong assumption about her; Bella feels conflicted about the other person's feelings; Bella corrects herself.
This one exchange signifies more thought on Bella's part for someone else's feelings than possibly the entire rest of the book so far -- and it's on behalf of a character she doesn't like. I'd stand up and cheer and offer this as evidence that Bella isn't a complete narcissist except for the tiny fact that the whole thing reads like terrible advice on how to be dumb so that the boys won't dislike you. Argh!
“Cullen seemed friendly enough today,” he commented as we shrugged into our raincoats. He didn’t seem pleased about it.
I tried to sound indifferent. “I wonder what was with him last Monday.”
I couldn’t concentrate on Mike’s chatter as we walked to Gym, and P.E. didn’t do much to hold my attention, either. Mike was on my team today. He chivalrously covered my position as well as his own, so my woolgathering was only interrupted when it was my turn to serve; my team ducked warily out of the way every time I was up.
Does it strike anyone else as odd that Edward's appearances are so carefully confined to the lunchroom and Biology class period? I suppose too much mystery and Bella attraction-slash-revulsion would ruin the suspense that S. Meyer is trying to build, but Fork high school has 358 students total. Assuming that Forks is a four-year school (9th grade through 12th grade) and assuming an equal distribution of students per grade, that's 90 students in Bella's grade. Two of those students are, of course, Bella and Edward.
Ninety students for a grade is really not all that many -- I would have expected the whole class to be lumped together for a single gym class, to be honest. (That's certainly how my small private schools handled gym, anyway.) Do the Cullens have a health exception from gym class? It would seem reasonable, since that seems like the period where blood is most likely to be spilled.
Even if Edward and Bella don't share gym, it seems strange to me that they don't have any other classes. Assuming 8 class slots a day (8 am to 4 pm with an hour for lunch), and 30 students to a class (yielding 3 simultaneous classes at all times to contain the 90 students), and a random distribution of students, what are the odds that Edward and Bella would share only one class in eight? I'm not skilled enough in maths to work out the answer, but it just seems strange to me.
The rain was just a mist as I walked to the parking lot, but I was happier when I was in the dry cab. I got the heater running, for once not caring about the mind-numbing roar of the engine. I unzipped my jacket, put the hood down, and fluffed my damp hair out so the heater could dry it on the way home.
I looked around me to make sure it was clear. That’s when I noticed the still, white figure. Edward Cullen was leaning against the front door of the Volvo, three cars down from me, and staring intently in my direction. I swiftly looked away and threw the truck into reverse, almost hitting a rusty Toyota Corolla in my haste. Lucky for the Toyota, I stomped on the brake in time. It was just the sort of car that my truck would make scrap metal of. I took a deep breath, still looking out the other side of my car, and cautiously pulled out again, with greater success. I stared straight ahead as I passed the Volvo, but from a peripheral peek, I would swear I saw him laughing.
Nice to see that smug Edward isn't toning it down at all.
And oh-my-gosh people, look at that. We just finished Chapter Two. That only took, what? Eight months or so? We're just zipping along. *sticks tongue out*