Twilight Recap: Edward has been ignoring Bella for weeks as she sinks further into depression. Now the dance is coming up and Bella has encouraged Jessica to ask Mike out as her partner. Mike has stopped Bella in Biology class and demanded to know if she intends to ask him to the school dance; Bella has declined.
Twilight, Chapter 4: Invitations
When I got home, I decided to make chicken enchiladas for dinner. It was a long process, and it would keep me busy. While I was simmering the onions and chilies, the phone rang. I was almost afraid to answer it, but it might be Charlie or my mom.
So let's talk a little about distraction mechanisms. Bella will use a couple of different ones over the course of this book. Tonight we have: cooking!
A major problem here is that, in my experience, cooking is actually a pretty crummy distraction mechanism. It occupies the hands, but not so much the brain -- unless it's a really new or complicated recipe, there's really only so much processing power that has to go into watching the onions turn translucent or the ground beef brown up. In the meantime, while you're stirring or chopping or grinding, there's an awful lot of brain power left over to thinking, and that's precisely what you're trying to avoid. Cooking is, I think, a good calming technique, but not so much a good distraction technique. Then again, maybe the cooking is meant to be a calming technique here and all this is so much moot.
Bella doesn't really seem to have a lot of distractions in her life. I'm saddened by the fact that we never see her reach for something light and fluffy to get away from her dark, depressing life. Her world seems almost deliberately small, and while some of this can be chalked up to poverty, still it seems odd that when she wants to distract herself, she'll either turn to the stove, or grab her headphones to listen to meaningful music, or re-read a piece of classic literature. I understand not wanting to date a novel with references to N'Sync or the Sookie Stackhouse books, but it seems to me that Bella never allows herself to enjoy something fleeting. A piece of music that she knows is fluffy but likes the beat anyway; a trashy novel that she can whip through in a few hours as escapism from the concerns of her life. Something disposable and transient seems needed here, something Bella can instantly sink into without having to appreciate the timelessness of classic prose or the depth of a piece of music.
Bella's entertainment choices seem surprisingly austere and limited to me. Despite having internet and television freely available, she never seems to use either, except for the dutiful emails to her mother and the online vampire research. Perhaps this is simply a failure of imagination on my part -- as much as I adored books as a child, I still liked the odd television show and found plenty of entertaining things to do on my computer, but that doesn't mean that Bella can't be different from me. But it seems to speak to the blandness of Bella's character that she has no real interests outside of a few mentions of classic literature and music.
Of course, the problem with defining your character as a blank is that you have to give them something to do to take up all the free time they will otherwise have on their hands, what with their Not-Reading-Books, Not-Watching-Shows, Not-Playing-Games, Not-Listening-To-Music, and largely Not-Needing-To-Study. And thus we're back to cooking, Bella's raison d'etre in the Swan household. When Bella isn't shopping for food, she's preparing it. What she won't do is tell Charlie to fix dinner for once, or even ask him to pick up some food on the way home because she's had a Rough Day. It's hard to criticize this as sexist when at least a part of me thinks that the only reason Bella was allowed to cook was because otherwise she'd have to sit around and stare at the walls anytime Edward isn't in the scene.
Anyway. The phone rings and Bella doesn't want to answer it, but she does anyway because it might be Charlie or Renee. After the day she's had being ambushed by four different guys and forced into emotionally fraught conversations, I sympathize.
It was Jessica, and she was jubilant; Mike had caught her after school to accept her invitation. I celebrated with her briefly while I stirred. She had to go, she wanted to call Angela and Lauren to tell them. I suggested -- with casual innocence -- that maybe Angela, the shy girl who had Biology with me, could ask Eric. And Lauren, a standoffish girl who had always ignored me at the lunch table, could ask Tyler; I'd heard he was still available. Jess thought that was a great idea. Now that she was sure of Mike, she actually sounded sincere when she said she wished I would go to the dance. I gave her my Seattle excuse.
I'm ambivalent about this passage for a few reasons.
Here we see the pawning off of the increasingly large stalker club. I kind of respect Bella's initiative to permanently get rid of her fan club as directly as she dares, by hooking them up with more interested partners. It's a passive way to get what Bella wants, but she is taking action and I can kind of respect that. Maybe this is supposed to be where the feminism is inserted (according to the author) because it shows a woman deliberately working to get what she wants. (Or, rather, to get what she doesn't want taken away.) Sure, it's still working within the confines of a sexist society, but maybe it's one of those journey-of-a-thousand-miles-has-a-single-step things.
And yet... it kind of rubs me up the wrong way that Bella is sort of the Golden Girl of Forks after only a few short weeks at the school, particularly considering that she's been excessively dour and scowly to her "friends". I understand Jessica asking Bella first before she asked Mike out: Mike has been making it pretty clear that he wants Bella and Bella only, so it seems reasonable to get Bella on your side before making a move. But now Bella is hooking up her shy and standoffish friends with the available boys, and it just seems a little forced. Why aren't Angela and Lauren capable of deciding who they want to ask without interference from Bella and Jessica? And isn't it just a bit... convenient that these girls will jump at the opportunity? Bella doesn't seem to have noticed any prior attraction on their part to these boys, so she's something of a crackerjack matchmaker to be 2 for 2 at this point.
For that matter, if you're going to claim you have a feminist novel, it probably isn't a hot idea to create two female characters simply so that your protagonist can use them as relationship decoys for her growing unwanted harem. The reader is left with the unfortunate impression that Angela and Lauren had nothing better to do than pop into existence and fling themselves onto Tyler and Eric while Bella sets her sights on Edward in the end zone. At that point, your novel isn't really cheering for the whole team so much as it is for the quarterback. And now my analogy has completely broken down because in football, when the quarterback wins, the whole team wins, but in Twilight when Bella wins, everyone else loses.
After I hung up, I tried to concentrate on dinner -- dicing the chicken especially; I didn't want to take another trip to the emergency room. But my head was spinning, trying to analyze every word Edward had spoken today. What did he mean, it was better if we weren't friends?
Oh, that's right: Bella is clumsy. I'd almost forgotten.
This is a problem. Why does Bella do all the cooking in her household? She doesn't need to. Charlie has somehow been able to feed himself for the last 15+ years, and it doesn't seem like it would be a gigantic burden to somehow expand his meals to include his newly relocated daughter. If he's cooking, he can cook a little more; if he's buying, he can buy a little more; if his meals are free because he's the Police Chief, then he needs to stop mooching off poor folks in a poor community. I mean, c'mon Charlie, step up to the plate here.
But no, we have Bella Swan who can barely stand straight without falling over chopping vegetables every night in the kitchen. With a very sharp knife, a pot of boiling water, and a burning oven-and-stove setup right there. How has she not seriously injured or burned herself if even the slightest thoughts of Edward cause her to fling herself to the ground in gym class? How are her parents both so callous and cruel that they don't recognize and mitigate this obvious problem by insisting that Bella help out around the house with the less dangerous chores instead? And what, in the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is wrong with Bella? It's not an inner-ear balance problem if a major side effect is slicing oneself open with a paring knife, is it?
My stomach twisted as I realized what he must have meant. He must see how absorbed I was by him; he must not want to lead me on . . . so we couldn't even be friends . . . because he wasn't interested in me at all.
Of course he wasn't interested in me, I thought angrily, my eyes stinging -- a delayed reaction to the onions. I wasn't interesting. And he was. Interesting . . . and brilliant . . . and mysterious . . . and perfect . . . and beautiful . . . and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand.
It's interesting that Bella makes Edward's statement all about her here. I can think of a lot of non-vampire reasons why it might be best if Edward wasn't friends with someone. For one thing, he seems to irrationally oscillate between murderous hostility and aggressive shunning for no apparent reason. I mean, Bella hasn't seen him act overtly hostile to anyone else, but she has seen him and his siblings make a concerted effort to shun, ignore, and avoid every person in the school, so it's not surprising that he wouldn't extend her a special friendship invitation.
Then, too, is my theory that the Cullens have their own miniature cult up in the woods in their expensive home. The children don't eat the food at school, are frequently absent on short notice and for long periods of time, and -- oh yeah -- they are all dating each other. I mean, that's the sort of thing that might cause someone to say "it's better if we're not friends" when what they really mean is "I've been brainwashed into believing that only Carlisle can choose the perfect mate for me". It's not a good reason to not be friends, of course, but it's not an indictment against Bella.
Of course, I'm still holding out the theory that the root of this entire mystery is that the Cullens are allergic to something -- peanuts or high fructose corn syrup, perhaps -- that is present in just about everything. They don't eat the school food because they can't eat anything not prepared in their own kitchen, they are absent from school when incidental exposure makes them sick, and Edward's odd behavior towards Bella is rooted in the uncomfortable hives he gets when she is around. Some days are worse than others, so the problem is probably with her clothes or maybe her shampoo, but really it's better if they aren't friends. It's nothing personal, but Edward just doesn't want to deal with the hassle of pinpointing exactly what in Bella's daily routine causes his allergies to flare up, and it's not like they're going to be staying in Forks that much longer anyway. I mean, he's got college and stuff to go to.
Well, that was fine. I could leave him alone. I would leave him alone. I would get through my self-imposed sentence here in purgatory, and then hopefully some school in the Southwest, or possibly Hawaii, would offer me a scholarship. I focused my thoughts on sunny beaches and palm trees as I finished the enchiladas and put them in the oven.
...there's this. It's interesting that the first and last time we'll hear about college in this book (if I recall correctly) is as a potential alternative to Edward Cullen. Bella is, after all, in her junior year and it's time for her to start getting those test scores together and the applications processed, but college is mentioned as some vague hope that might or might not make everything magically better. Some school in a nice area might "offer [her]" a scholarship, which is possibly the most passive way to phrase the scholarship process, as though a school official in Hawaii will go down a list of Every High School Student In The Country and pencil a circle around Bella's name. What about her? She sounds nice.
Bella must realize that she can't rest on her laurels on this whole college business. Charlie and Renee don't have the ability or interest to fill out paperwork and mail it on her behalf. Her grades simply aren't good enough to coast on numbers alone. She's going to need to start writing one heck of an inquiry letter and she needs to start pulling together some representative samples of her work instead of cribbing off her sophomore year papers to coast through her junior year at Forks. And it probably wouldn't hurt to think about a part-time job to bank some finances.
Of course, not everyone has to go to college. But... I don't understand why Bella isn't serious about wanting to go to college. She knows that the possibility exists and she seems to sort of view it as an obvious route that she will be taking at some point, but she's taking no steps to make it happen. This would make sense if she had, basically, my childhood where Mommy and Daddy did that sort of stuff and you just signed the bottom line, but Bella hasn't had that childhood. Her childhood was that of an adult-child managing the affairs of her incompetent single mother, a childhood where money has to be carefully budgeted, forms have to be thoroughly read, and no one in authority can be relied upon to take care of you.
Maybe Bella is just so ground down that Edward The White Knight is the only way out that she can see, but it would make more sense to me if she was gung-ho to get out of her family life and recognized that education and a good job were the most sure-fire method to that goal.
Charlie seemed suspicious when he came home and smelled the green peppers. I couldn't blame him -- the closest edible Mexican food was probably in southern California. But he was a cop, even if just a small-town cop, so he was brave enough to take the first bite. He seemed to like it. It was fun to watch as he slowly began trusting me in the kitchen.
Fun fact: Charlie has been spending a couple weeks every year for the last couple of years in California because Bella refused to visit him in Forks. (I never get tired of that fact.) So it probably shouldn't come as a huge surprise to him that Bella has seen and can reproduce a flour tortilla wrapped around some meat and vegetables.
However, I'm glad that Bella is having fun watching her father bravely eat food, because if it was me regularly spending all evening cooking dinner for Charlie and he kept wrinkling his nose up at it before taking a bite, I'd tell him he could go back to getting his meals from the ether where they used to come from. There's nothing wrong with not liking a meal, but it's just plain rude to go through this nightly routine of Dubious Look, Tentative Taste, Relieved Acceptance while the cook hovers anxiously in the background waiting for approval.
But wait, I'm confused! If Forks doesn't have edible Mexican food, then why does the local Piggly-Wiggly sell tortillas? Surely Bella didn't make the tortillas for her enchiladas from scratch! Hang on, Google will unravel this impossible conundrum for me...
...ah, here we go. Another fun fact: More than 10% of the Washington population identified as Hispanic or Latino in the 2010 census. So I'm pretty sure there's "edible Mexican food" in the Washington state. Some of it is probably even for sale to non-Hispanic and non-Latino peoples! Still, it's impressive to see a white protagonist disappear 10% of the local population in order to gloat about her diverse cooking repertoire.
"Dad?" I asked when he was almost done.
The frustrating thing about Twilight -- and this ties into the lack of hobbies above -- is that I never get the sense that things are happening behind the narrative. The first time I read this, I genuinely assumed that these were the first words spoken by Bella and Charlie to each other since he arrived home. I'm still not sure that impression isn't right: we've already been told that, meh, Bells and Chuck are just super-quiet and don't do much talking.
I think one of the hardest things about being an author is creating the implication that your characters do things even when the reader isn't looking. It's not an easy thing to write sometimes, and I really feel like Twilight struggles with it. Instead we're given excuses -- Bella doesn't talk to her father, Bella doesn't have much in the way of hobbies, Bella doesn't have friends outside of school -- to justify why nothing ever seems to happen when the reader isn't looking. This is solving the wrong problem.
This problem isn't limited to Bella. If anything, it's worse when the Cullens enter the picture, because what are these immortal, sleepless vampires doing with all their time? They must have been pretty busy in the past -- forging new identities, making millions on the stock market without tipping off the feds that you're psychic, and earning ten or twenty college degrees apiece must have taken a lot of serious time and effort. But they don't seem to be doing much of anything now, or at least if they are, the reader never gets to see it. I'd much prefer to read about Busy Bee Cullens, but it seems that all we ever get are the frolic-and-....um....make love Cullens. It's no wonder the Cullen women go ga-ga at the thought of planning their annual weddings -- it gives them something to do. It's just a shame that we don't get to see them doing other, less stereotypically feminine things along the way.
"Um, I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to Seattle for the day a week from Saturday . . . if that's okay?" I didn't want to ask permission -- it set a bad precedent -- but I felt rude, so I tacked it on at the end.
"Why?" He sounded surprised, as if he were unable to imagine something that Forks couldn't offer.
"Well, I wanted to get few books -- the library here is pretty limited -- and maybe look at some clothes." I had more money than I was used to having, since, thanks to Charlie, I hadn't had to pay for a car.
Here's a list of the reasons why I would be surprised, were I Charlie:
1. Bella has only recently acquired her car and presumably has not been driving for very long. A road-trip to a large city requires solid handling of a vehicle, as well as careful understanding of the route involved. In this case, Bella has never traveled this particular route, and apparently has neither a cell phone nor a GPS device. Furthermore, Bella's vehicle has just been in a major accident and -- related to this -- seems to have magic repairing powers that have not been properly investigated.
2. Bella has only been in Forks for a few weeks at this point in the story. What could she need in such a short time period that (a) isn't available in Forks and (b) wouldn't have brought with her from Arizona? Does Bella not have knowledge of inter-library loans and book ordering through the local retail stores? For that matter...
3. Bella seems to have no hobbies whatsoever outside of classic literature. Doesn't the local library already have the complete works of Jane Austen and the full repertoire of Brooding Victorian Gentlemen courtesy of the Bronte sisters? Does the local Piggly-Wiggly not carry her preferred brand of laundry detergent? Seriously, what is in Seattle that Forks can't offer? And how do the hard-working Forksians get clothes if the only place to shop for clothes is in Seattle?
4. Bella has been so clearly depressed in the weeks following the collision accident that her absentee mother has been able to diagnose her through emails and -- one hopes -- has communicated her concerns to Charlie. Is a day-trip by herself to a big city Bella has never visited before (or has she? Now that I think on it, it seems awfully convenient that she always lands at the Forks airport. Wouldn't it be more natural for her flights to stop at Seattle and Charlie to pick her up there?) really what she needs after a major car collision has left her noticeably depressed?
But those are just the reasons I would be surprised. I encourage you all to come up with other, better reasons in the comments!
"Are you going all by yourself?" he asked, and I couldn't tell if he was suspicious I had a secret boyfriend or just worried about car trouble.
"Seattle is a big city -- you could get lost," he fretted.
"Dad, Phoenix is five times the size of Seattle -- and I can read a map, don't worry about it."
And now we come to the hardest part of writing a deconstruction: trying to figure out if the narrative character knows what they are talking about.
On the one hand, I think it's perfectly reasonable for Charlie to be concerned about this plan. Bella is a young adult, and she should be allowed to stretch her wings, and this trip may be very healthy for her, but at the same time, this isn't a quick lark that she's driven a hundred times and back. This is a rather serious trip for a rather serious girl that should probably be taken with a degree of seriousness. Some basic questions would therefore seem in order and -- as such -- Bella comes off as terribly uncharitable for leaping onto the ZOMG SECRET BOYFRIEND train of logic.
On the other hand, I'm not prepared to definitively say that Charlie isn't giving off the ZOMG SECRET BOYFRIEND vibe. He will, in fact, over the course of this novel get very paranoid about Bella's lady parts and protecting them from marauding Forksian boys, and he will take this concern to a level that will actually make me quite uncomfortable, so it's entirely plausible that Charlie's concern here actually is that Bella is trying to sneak out and visit and secret boyfriend.
If this is the case -- if Charlie is going into ZOMG SECRET BOYFRIEND mode -- then I feel comfortable calling Charlie out as unhealthily paranoid. If I'm reading the text correctly, Bella has never before had a boyfriend, let alone a secret one. Indeed, she still hasn't got one. And the idea that she has a secret boyfriend in Seattle -- a city Bella has apparently never visited before -- is patently ridiculous. But, Ana, you might say, perhaps he's concerned that this Seattle trip is a cover so that she can meet a local boy! To which I would reply that such a cover is fairly unnecessary, given all of Charlie's weekend-long trips fishing on the reservation.
Furthermore, the paranoia that Charlie will exhibit over Bella's lady parts doesn't strike me as totally keeping with his character. Charlie shows little-to-no interest in Bella, from the details of her daily life to the long-term stuff of college and hopes and dreams. I suppose you could say that Charlie's paranoia might stem from his history with Renee, but then again we have no real reason to assume that infidelity or secret boyfriends was a cause of breakup in their marriage.
I feel like Charlie is paranoid about Bella's sexuality because That's What Fathers Do in the Twilight-verse, regardless of whether or not their obsession makes sense in light of their character or even that of their daughter's character. Charlie is interested in Bella's lady parts for the same reason that he can't cook: because he's a Man. Men can't cook, even if they've been living by themselves for the better part of twenty years and are tired of take-out. Men obsess compulsively about the virginity of their female progeny, even if said progeny is almost a stranger to them.
"Do you want me to come with you?"
I tried to be crafty as I hid my horror.
"That's all right, Dad, I'll probably just be in dressing rooms all day -- very boring."
"Oh, okay." The thought of sitting in women's clothing stores for any period of time immediately put him off.
Men don't like helping women shop for clothes.
"Will you be back in time for the dance?"
Grrr. Only in a town this small would a father know when the high school dances were.
Men don't keep track of major school events... unless it's a small town or the school event in question represents a threat to the female progeny's virginity.
The worst part about all this is that with just a few tweaks, Charlie could have been a really awesome dad. Maybe he could be a little over-involved in Bella's life in an attempt to make up for the lost years. Maybe he could be a little over-protective because he was hurt so badly by marrying young and he doesn't want Bella to make the same mistakes.
But that's not the Charlie we get. Our Charlie isn't involved in Bella's life except when it involves pushing her towards the Wrong suitors and away from the Right one. Our Charlie isn't interested in Bella's life or her future beyond how her choices affect the state of her hymen. He doesn't care that she's a seriously depressed girl planning a day-trip to a faraway city in order to seek some kind of salve for the life she doesn't want to be living in Forks -- he cares that she might be meeting a boy.
Or, at least, he conveys his concerns so poorly to Bella that that is what she believes.
And that makes me so sad. I would have liked a sensitive Charlie, who remembered when the school dance was and agreed to go help his daughter shop for clothes and books in Seattle on a father-daughter day trip. I would have liked a caring Charlie who -- if he erred on the side of being over-protective -- he did it because he loved his daughter. And not because that's just what Men do.
"No -- I don't dance, Dad." He, of all people, should understand that -- I didn't get my balance problems from my mother.
He did understand. "Oh, that's right," he realized.
Wait, Bella gets her balance problems from Charlie? Keeps-a-loaded-gun-hanging-up-in-the-house-and-doesn't-give-the-safety-lecture-to-Bella Charlie? How did I miss this?