Twilight Recap: Bella has woken up to find the ground completely iced over. She drives carefully to school, mulling over her situation with Edward.
Twilight, Chapter 3: Phenomenon
My truck seemed to have no problem with the black ice that covered the roads. I drove very slowly, though, not wanting to carve a path of destruction through Main Street.
When I got out of my truck at school, I saw why I'd had so little trouble. Something silver caught my eye, and I walked to the back of the truck -- carefully holding the side for support -- to examine my tires. There were thin chains crisscrossed in diamond shapes around them. Charlie had gotten up who knows how early to put snow chains on my truck. My throat suddenly felt tight. I wasn't used to being taken care of, and Charlie's unspoken concern caught me by surprise.
I've been very negative about Twilight so far, so I'd like to take today to praise a few things in the writing. Some of our Washington readers informed us last time just how wrong this passage is: apparently most schools will close after an ice storm, and tire chains do not magically allow an inexperienced driver to comfortably zone out in icy conditions, but I think we can chalk this up to a justifiable research fail of the type that someone spending most of their life in the southern United States might make. So with that out of the way, I have to say that there is a certain sweetness to Charlie waking up early and slapping tire chains on Bella's car for her, and there's an additional niceness in Bella recognizing this gesture as one of love and experiencing gratitude for it -- it's nice to see Bella have something unadulteratedly nice to say about someone.
Of course, the nitpicky part of my brain wants to point out that the form this gesture takes meshes with the problems in the series: the lack of communication, the assumptions that Bella cannot take care of herself, the insistence that the male authority figures in her life know best what she needs, and the taking care of her without her approval or even over her objections. But, no, I'm going to be positive today, come hell or high water and say that this is a sweet scene that demonstrates how Charlie and Bella can love each other despite seemingly having very little interaction: they're joined in a silent relationship of mutual nurturing. Bella cooks the food, Charlie chains the tires. Of course, food has to be cooked nightly and tires have to be chained once a year, so we could discuss how "women's work" has traditionally fewer rest breaks than "men's work", but that particular problem isn't S.Meyer's fault, nor can I necessarily blame Charlie and Bella for falling into that established pattern.
I was standing by the back corner of the truck, struggling to fight back the sudden wave of emotion the snow chains had brought on, when I heard an odd sound.
It was a high-pitched screech, and it was fast becoming painfully loud. I looked up, startled.
I saw several things simultaneously.
I also like that Bella has to take a moment here to stop herself choking up over the tire chains. It's overwrought, but it's overwrought in a realistic way -- here she's been lonely and sad for the whole novel and trying to take care of herself all alone for much of her whole life, so it seems reasonable to me that a little thing like this should catch her emotionally off-guard. Then also, something like this confirms in a very tangible way that Charlie loves her and is glad she came to live with him, which is something that I think a girl in Bella's position would reasonably worry about.
Back to the action, Bella hears a sound and looks up to see that she's in immediate danger. A car is sliding across the icy parking lot and is careening rapidly toward her. The impact is going to smash her to a pulp, but everything is happening so quickly that all Bella can do is watch her impending doom. This isn't a bad setup. I've been in several car collisions and I know that feeling of seeing what is about to happen and unable to react. In one case, I was a passenger and if I could have warned the driver the accident would have been avoided, but all I could do was suck in air -- my lungs seemed stuck in an intake-only position.
So it's a good setup overall that Bella will be helplessly crushed to death in the school parking lot, once we accept that the Forks school was unwilling to cancel school to prevent this kind of thing and once we accept that the parking lot is big enough or uncrowded enough to allow the necessary momentum and uninterrupted path to Bella that this situation requires. Sure, it might seem a little contrived, but it's the kind of contrivance that literature often hinges on, so I'll give it a pass.
Edward Cullen was standing four cars down from me, staring at me in horror. His face stood out from a sea of faces, all frozen in the same mask of shock. But of more immediate importance was the dark blue van that was skidding, tires locked and squealing against the brakes, spinning wildly across the ice of the parking lot. It was going to hit the back corner of my truck, and I was standing between them. I didn't even have time to close my eyes.
Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around the truck bed, something hit me, hard, but not from the direction I was expecting. My head cracked against the icy blacktop, and I felt something solid and cold pinning me to the ground.
The text can't make it clear yet (because Bella doesn't know yet that Edward is a vampire), and it won't make it as clear as I'd like later, but Edward is starting in horror not because he's a decent person who doesn't want to see someone die and not because he loves Bella with all his sparkly might, but rather because he knows that if Bella starts bleeding out on the ground, he'll lose control right then and there and then the Cullens' cover will be blown. This kind of realistic-but-selfish evaluation of the situation has the side-effect of making Edward seem like a bit of a sociopath for not caring if a fellow student dies, but I like the characterization because it fits nicely with the messed-up morality that you might expect immortal beings to have. Bella is going to die soon anyway, on an immortal timeline, so what's 60 or 70 years difference going to make?
But then again, Edward isn't a thousand year old fae or a Tolkien elf who has watched humanity wither and fade over the centuries -- he's barely over 100 and that's a fairly short time in which to start utterly devaluing human life. Maybe it would fit better if the Cullens were shown devaluing human life as just so much prey, but that doesn't seem to fit the characterization we're given.
And yet, on the other other hand, it does make sense in a realistic kind of way that Edward might focus on the immediate threat of discovery over the less tangible and more conceptual threat of an innocent human life about to end. And additionally, it's rather admirable that his immediate inclination is to save Bella (which carries its own risk of discovery since he's going to have to zip across a crowded parking lot at light speed) rather than high-tail it in the opposite direction to clear the blast radius, as it were. So that's nice.
A part of me can't help but feel, though, that there's a missed opportunity here. I know that Twilight tells the story of Bella and Edward and not the story of the Amazing Cullens, and I realize it's not fair of me to keep expecting otherwise, but it seems like such a shame to introduce all these powers and never use them in crucial moments. Why doesn't Alice foresee this problem and have the Cullens park in a more opportune spot? Why no mention of Jasper manipulating the crowd to keep them from seeing Edward as he races to save Bella? Why not have Edward be more prepared for the accident because he heard the driver mentally panicking before the squealing started? One wonders if the Cullens' powers aren't well-equipped for emergencies and spontaneous actions.
A low oath made me aware that someone was with me, and the voice was impossible not to recognize. Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van's body. [...]
It was absolutely silent for one long second before the screaming began. In the abrupt bedlam, I could hear more than one person shouting my name. But more clearly than all the yelling, I could hear Edward Cullen's low, frantic voice in my ear.
"Bella? Are you all right?" [...]
"I'm fine." My voice sounded strange. I tried to sit up, and realized he was holding me against the side of his body in an iron grasp. [...]
"Be careful,” he warned as I struggled. "I think you hit your head pretty hard." [...]
"How in the . . ." I trailed off, trying to clear my head, get my bearings. "How did you get over here so fast?"
"I was standing right next to you, Bella," he said, his tone serious again. [...]
"You were over there," I suddenly remembered, and his chuckle stopped short. "You were by your car."
His expression turned hard. "No, I wasn't."
"I saw you." All around us was chaos. I could hear the gruffer voices of adults arriving on the scene. But I obstinately held on to our argument; I was right, and he was going to admit it.
"Bella, I was standing with you, and I pulled you out of the way." He unleashed the full, devastating power of his eyes on me, as if trying to communicate something crucial.
"No." I set my jaw.
I'm quite sorry to see that we don't get to know what Edward's oath was. I'm not up on American profanity from the early 1900s, but I imagine it would be something touchingly old fashioned and out of place, like Kit's suggested hypothetical nickname of "Ned" for Edward.
But I actually like this scene in itself: Bella is realistically confused and disoriented, and Edward is by various turns tender and obstinate. The contrast between the tender moments and the icy ones is clear and serves to underline Bella's insistence that, no, Edward was not right next to her. It signals to us, the reader, that Something Is Not Right Here.
And yet, something about this scene doesn't read right to me. I think it's because I can't think of any other time when Edward is tender with Bella - usually when she escapes danger, he comes across as angry and frustrated. Edward as a character strikes me as easily frustrated, easily angered, and frequently condescending. Thus his actions here -- tenderness alternating with cold denial -- strike me as somehow off. I like this scene, but it seems like it belongs in a different book somehow; I would expect our Edward to be angry at our Bella for, I dunno, endangering herself and him because she was selfish enough to spend time inspecting her tires. Or something. Maybe I'm not reading Edward right because I haven't read the entire series yet?
Another thing I like about this scene is how Bella doesn't let the incident go -- she knows what she saw, and she isn't going to be talked out of it. And yet, there is that hint of childishness again, as Bella pursues the issue not because she wants an explanation for the impossible, but because she's "right". Part of me gets this, and I even imagine I might feel similarly, but the language here seems showcased to put Bella in a childish light: she's obstinate, she's right, she sets her jaw. I can't decide sometimes how S.Meyer sees Bella and how she wants her to be seen by others: is she supposed to be a normal, quirky teenager or are we supposed to see her as a very stubborn overgrown child? If it's the former, I feel she's doing a very poor job; if it's the latter, the job is quite a good one, but with uncomfortable consequences for me.
There's nothing wrong with a main character being child-like or childish, of course, but in my mind there is something wrong with a childish main character making multiple life changing decisions -- marriage, procreation, undeath -- while in a childish mindset and this being presented as a happy ending. If Bella is mature beyond her years, then the ending of the series is all well and good, if possibly not the best template for everyone to follow, but if Bella is an overgrown child, then that implies there will be a point in the future at which she won't be a child anymore. And then what? Will she regret the life-altering decisions that she made when she was immature? It's hard to just assume that she won't when so many of us do; it's almost worrying that there's not a series epilogue to assure us canonically that, yes, everything works out fine forever. I would have been more comfortable with a more mature Bella and I frankly don't understand why we weren't given one, and...
...Crap. I really promised I'd be nicer today. Well, I'll try again next week?