Twilight Recap: Bella is sitting in the car with Edward while Edward calms down.
Twilight, Chapter 8: Port Angeles
And now, a confession.
I'm not as familiar with Romance as a genre as I am with, say, almost anything else. (Except maybe Thrillers and Cozy Mysteries.) I tend to hew to the Fantasy / Science Fiction / Literature / Historical Fiction side of the bookstore. Oh, there's still lots of romance in the books I read, since nearly all of them have someone falling in love with someone else, but that's usually more of a by-product to a larger plot, and half the times doesn't even make good sense in the wait-how-is-this-going-to-work-long-term sense.
So while I recognize that Romance as a genre is Complicated and Complex and I'm hoping to avoid cheap-shots about it being "formulaic" (which seem especially cheap when directed at a genre that is overwhelmingly produced by-women, for-women and gods know that, say, Fantasy is never formulaic or derivative, nosiree), I do still recognize some recurring themes, what with me being tropey and all. And I *feel* like it's about time for some patterns in Twilight to be called out at this point, but I could use the help.
For the last seven chapters, we've had Edward and Bella meet and react to one another with shock (she because he's so sexy; he because she's so scentsy and un-mind-readable). They had a brief moment of romantic opportunity before he was forced to save her life while tipping his hand on the whole superpowers gig. Then there were several weeks of poorly defined longing and distancing and heartache, all of which was forgotten in the moment that Edward beckoned in the lunchroom. After which he disappeared for several days so that Bella could anticipate and think and Google.
And while I'm not going to say these things are standard (because I honestly don't know), I do recognize them. Initial Attraction, check. Deepening Attraction, check. Now we've had Saved From Rape, in all its problematic glory, so that Bella can be assured that Edward is a Good Person (because basic decency deserves cookies) and so that Edward and Bella can cast aside social norms and their own petty concerns and prides and just sit and listen to each other over a Romantic Dinner.
They're not quite coupled yet, but they're close. So it seems like now is about time for Other Women to fling themselves at Edward for the dual purpose of making Bella self-conscious and jealous and so that Edward can (by failing to react to the Other Women) reassure Bella that she is so very desirable and has no reason to be jealous because he's not like all those other womanizing vampires. He treats a lady with respect and doesn't cheat on her to her face by flirting with the wait staff.
And if you can't tell, I have a pretty high level of disdain for this scene because (a) while I appreciate (if only because I'm one of them) that some people desire a mate who isn't deeply flirtatious with other people, that really is no measure whatsoever of their steadfastedness in a relationship and it additionally strikes me as being in poor taste to deploy as a literary trope after a rape scene, but also because (b) I've worked in restaurants for years (and would sometimes enjoy going back and doing it again, were it not for my health issues) and I would like to emphasize that people whose livelihoods depend on you liking them pretty much have to be charming and gregarious and flirtatious if they want to earn enough to live on. That doesn't mean that you, Customer, should take all that banter seriously and assume that the waitress wants to have a fling with you or is trying to Steal Your Man.
So to calm myself down for a moment from the heated and frustrated memories of single men trying to take liberties because obviously the waitress is so into them and coupled women trying to stiff on the tip because obviously the waitress is so trying to steal-their-man when jesus-christ-on-a-stick-people-I'm-wearing-a-wedding-ring-and-just-trying-to-be-friendly-so-don't-push-your-issues-on-me-thank-you, I will share with you all this awesome Romance Plot Generator I found while I was looking for Jealousy Tropes, and it's fascinating. I have two favorites:
In this story, a weary witch-hunter becomes infatuated with a princess who is heir to a kingdom but doesn't know it - all thanks to a keepsake.
This story starts in a ghost town in an infamous fiefdom. In it, a withdrawn dungeon delver becomes infatuated with a peaceful occultist.
Isn't that awesome? Please tell me it's not just me. They have just a regular Story Generator, but the Romance Generator is better in my opinion.
*sigh* Okay. Enough procrastinating. Into the world of Twilight.
"Jessica and Angela will be worried," I murmured. "I was supposed to meet them."
He started the engine without another word, turning around smoothly and speeding back toward town. We were under the streetlights in no time at all, still going too fast, weaving with ease through the cars slowly cruising the boardwalk. [...] I looked out the window to see the lights of La Bella Italia, and Jess and Angela just leaving, pacing anxiously away from us.
"How did you know where . . . ?" I began, but then I just shook my head. I heard the door open and turned to see him getting out.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm taking you to dinner." He smiled slightly, but his eyes were hard. He stepped out of the car and slammed the door. I fumbled with my seat belt, and then hurried to get out of the car as well. He was waiting for me on the sidewalk.
He spoke before I could. "Go stop Jessica and Angela before I have to track them down, too. I don't think I could restrain myself if I ran into your other friends again."
I shivered at the threat in his voice.
A few pages later, Bella will note that she feels safe with Edward, which is frankly pretty convenient for the text because he creeps me out. After saving her from gang rape, he drove far out of town, pulled over and stopped the car in a dark and secluded area, panted himself up into a rage, and ordered Bella to entertain him before he did something terrible to her would-be rapists. That's not super scary at all! So now Bella is murmuring that her friends will be worried, and probably the murmur is supposed to convey her reluctance to break Edward's reverie because LOVE, but I can only see it as a reluctance to disturb Edward's rage-fest because FEAR. And then we have Edward driving too fast which is probably supposed to be Skilled and Masterful, but I can only see it as Jerkish and Frightening because that is how I would feel in Bella's place and because (as someone told me this week) "[you] feminists hate everything". (I still don't know if he was joking.)
Real fast: the Italian restaurant has Bella's name in it. LOL. And Edward continues to be telepathic.
Then Edward leaps out of the car and orders Bella what to do (again), with the understanding that if she does not do what he says, he'll murder someone. This really, really is not romantic to me. At all. Because as much as I hate roving bands of gang-rapists, I hate vigilante murder perpetrated by barely-in-control vampires who think so little of human life that they could turn on an innocent at any time. And I know Edward has the mind reading, but how does that make it any better as a safeguard? Can he tell the difference between men who fantasize about rape and men who actually commit it? Can he pick out men who commit rape but convince themselves that they don't? I'm just not at all comfortable with Edward Cullen, Judge-Jury-and-Executioner.
"I got lost," I admitted sheepishly [to Jessica]. "And then I ran into Edward." I gestured toward him.
"Would it be all right if I joined you?" he asked in his silken, irresistible voice. I could see from their staggered expressions that he had never unleashed his talents on them before.
"Er . . . sure," Jessica breathed.
"Um, actually, Bella, we already ate while we were waiting -- sorry," Angela confessed.
"That's fine -- I'm not hungry." I shrugged.
"I think you should eat something." Edward's voice was low, but full of authority. He looked up at Jessica and spoke slightly louder. "Do you mind if I drive Bella home tonight? That way you won't have to wait while she eats."
"Honestly, I'm not hungry," I insisted, looking up to scrutinize his face. His expression was unreadable.
He walked to the door of the restaurant and held it open with an obstinate expression. Obviously, there would be no further discussion. I walked past him into the restaurant with a resigned sigh.
Edward forcing Bella to have dinner with him serves two purposes, both of them frustrating to me.
One, it serves to reinforce that Edward is the parent and Bella is the child. Once Bella settles in and does as she's told -- drinks her soda, eats her meal -- she realizes that she is hungry and thirsty, and she only thought she wasn't. Edward, as it turns out, knew best, and so his obstinance is born out by the narrative: Bella shouldn't be allowed to make these decisions for herself, because she's going to be invariably wrong.
A little of this, when used with discretion, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although I am very, very, very strongly in favor of treating people like sensible adults who understand their own limitations, there is some wiggle-room for communication. Bella, for instance has just been nearly gang-raped, so she's probably in at least a mild form of shock and could probably use some fluids. But what irks me about this scene is that there is no discussion. Edward doesn't gently say, "Bella, my father is a doctor and I know you've been sweating and flooded with adrenaline and I really think you need some fluids and maybe some solid food. Can you please try that for me?" Something like that would encompass an information exchange and would underline that it's still Bella's choice whether or not to listen to him. She could still say she doesn't want to eat; she could still say she doesn't want to eat with him. (Note! Being saved from rape by a guy doesn't make him automatically safe! I'm just saying!)
And I think this override of choice is a feature for the series, not a bug. Edward literally making Bella do what is "best" -- whether it be food or chastity or whatever else -- is a means of retaining Good Girl status without having to actually suffer real deprivation. We've already seen Bella's issues in the narrative with food: when food is brought up, it's more to underscore that she's not eating it because of some trauma. Now she's once again refusing food, and it's a feature that Edward is forcing her to eat -- she gets all the yummy goodness of a dinner out without being so 'selfish' as to voice her needs. (Nor does she have to worry that she thought of the need and Edward read her mind; she's shielded!)
But if this sort of thing is taken out of the fantasy context, it can become a serious problem. Many people simply cannot handle the burden of having to guess at all times what the person in front of them needs and whether their yes really means yes and their no really means no. And I don't mean that in a sexual setting (though it can be applied there as well), so much as I mean it in the context of why Good Girlism hurts everyone.
My mother was raised -- and she subsequently raised me, too -- to take on every challenge as a means to make her stronger. She rarely voiced her wants or needs because God-Father-Husband (whichever one as applicable) would see and provide as they felt best. The result was this deep bottling up of emotion that occasionally erupted: one of my earlier memories is of her struggling to bring in groceries from the car while I obliviously watched TV. Finally she broke into tears and demanded to know why I wasn't helping her. Didn't I love her? Didn't I care? Rather startled, I asked her why she hadn't just told me she wanted help. She angrily snapped back that she shouldn't have to say anything. Chagrined, I tried to anticipate her needs more often, but rarely were they so obviously carried in grocery bags.
When my father was diagnosed with cancer and his treatment was set to run over the time allotted for my surgery, we were forced to make a difficult decision: should we delay my surgery (which would entail significant effort to do so) or should we press ahead? For myself, I wanted to press ahead, but I was most worried about the effect on my mother: could she handle taking care of both dad and me? I wouldn't need much, but for the first week or so after the surgery, I would need someone to come over at lunch and make me a sandwich. I told her that I was worried about the strain on her, but that I trusted her as an adult to tell me what she could and couldn't handle. She told me that she was fine, to not worry about her, and that God wouldn't have given her all this if she couldn't handle it. Hearing this over the phone, I flinched -- I didn't, and still don't, want this to be a burden that she shoulders unnecessarily. At the same time, I do want to treat her like the wise, capable adult I know her to be.
I don't know that the decision we're making is the best one; I certainly don't know if it's the best one for her. We've talked in depth about the pros and cons, and we've made a decision as a family that I hope we can carry out without suffering. Husband is going to pitch in a little more; I'm going to assure everyone that I don't need as much help around the house as everyone else seems to think I do. A little privation, chosen by me to help others, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Good Girlism started out with its baby toe dipped in logic and love, I'm sure.
But this, all this -- this careful discussion of wants and needs and burdens and responsibilities -- has taken place over time and through several discussions in a family so tightly knitted that we finish each others' sentences. That recognition of the tension between Chosen Privation and Real Needs is not what happens here with Edward and Bella. Edward simply strips Bella of all choice and ushers her in to take her medicine which she will, once administered, enjoy and recognize as the right thing to do. It's a fantasy that I understand, but not one that I condone being pushed on young women as the Right Way To Live.
Two, this passage marks the continued trend of Edward pushing his issues onto Bella but framing them as For Her Own Good. Edward is worried about getting food into Bella, but he's also taking her to dinner as a means of distraction from his murderous rage -- he wants to be tied down to a dining booth for a little while so he doesn't start stalking the streets. And that's creative and all, but now we're back to him only telling Bella that after she's capitulated to his will. Would it really have hurt so much for him to say, "please, this is for me"? There's this frustrating parallel to Good Girlism: a Good Girl doesn't voice needs at all, and a Good Boy pushes his needs onto her, and in a Good Relationship those needs are coincidentally one and the same. I do not like this.
The restaurant wasn't crowded -- it was the off-season in Port Angeles. The host was female, and I understood the look in her eyes as she assessed Edward. She welcomed him a little more warmly than necessary. I was surprised by how much that bothered me. She was several inches taller than I was, and unnaturally blond.
"A table for two?" His voice was alluring, whether he was aiming for that or not. I saw her eyes flicker to me and then away, satisfied by my obvious ordinariness, and by the cautious, no-contact space Edward kept between us. She led us to a table big enough for four in the center of the most crowded area of the dining floor.
I was about to sit, but Edward shook his head at me.
"Perhaps something more private?" he insisted quietly to the host. I wasn't sure, but it looked like he smoothly handed her a tip. I'd never seen anyone refuse a table except in old movies.
"Sure." She sounded as surprised as I was. She turned and led us around a partition to a small ring of booths -- all of them empty. "How's this?"
"Perfect." He flashed his gleaming smile, dazing her momentarily.
"Um" -- she shook her head, blinking -- "your server will be right out." She walked away unsteadily.
"You really shouldn't do that to people," I criticized. "It's hardly fair."
Ahhhhhhh. I am in my happy place with my plot generator. This story takes place on a desert world of magic in a star-spanning magical empire. In it, a silly peasant falls in love with a demonologist who has several nervous habits - all thanks to a holiday celebration. Ahhhh. Alright, things I don't like about this scene.
First. Hostesses in an uncrowded restaurant in the tourist off-season do not welcome guests "more warmly than necessary" because that's pretty much impossible. Hostesses are not, it's true, traditionally paid in tips, but they do sometimes share a tip pool from the servers (along with the bus staff), and (more to the point) if the restaurant collapses from lack of customers in the off-season, they're out of a job. COME ON IN, OH THANK YOU VAMPIRE-JESUS, A CUSTOMER! is not a wholly inappropriate welcome during the off-season. I realize that you, Bella, do not know this because, despite your pretensions to poverty, you never so much as consider taking a job during these books, but you can take my word on this and you can leave off assuming that the hostess is trying to Steal Your Man.
Also, "unnaturally blond"? That's a really classy observation on your part, Bella. Next you'll tell us that her makeup and nail polish are garish.
Moving on, the hostess flicked her eyes over your body language not because she wants to Steal Your Man but because customers tip better if they're placed in situations that make them feel happy and comfortable. If you're acting like you both aren't happy to be there with each other, you're going to get put in the common room so that the bright lights and happy customers will give you something to distract you and hopefully cheer you up enough to leave a decent tip. If you're hanging on one another like newlyweds, off to the more private rooms you go, assuming that there are enough wait staff to cover the floor. And if you have body language that does not stereotypically conform to your emotions and thoughts (as in this -- and many -- cases), you will still be given a choice in the matter of where to sit.
Incidentally, people with disabilities also refuse tables and ask for softer booths (in contrast to hard chairs) and/or quieter tables all the time. This is yet another why the hostess always asks "Is this okay?" before she leaves you to settle into the table she's guided you to. She's surprised here not because Edward refused the table, but because he wants to act like he has to slip her a tip in order to get his way. She is probably now going to go give the waitress a heads-up that there's a flirty guy with money to burn who enjoys throwing his money around as an excuse to touch hands with the wait staff.
And then our server arrived, her face expectant. The hostess had definitely dished behind the scenes, and this new girl didn't look disappointed. She flipped a strand of short black hair behind one ear and smiled with unnecessary warmth.
"Hello. My name is Amber, and I'll be your server tonight. What can I get you to drink?" I didn't miss that she was speaking only to him.
He looked at me.
"I'll have a Coke." It sounded like a question.
"Two Cokes," he said.
"I'll be right back with that," she assured him with another unnecessary smile. But he didn't see it. He was watching me.
There's that "unnecessary warmth" again and "unnecessary smile". (That's three (un)necessaries on one page!) Probably the whole restaurant is in heat, just trying to Steal Your Man, Bella. Or, just possibly, you do not know what constitutes "unnecessary" in the volatile and difficult world that is minimum wage dependence. Despite, again, the amusing insistence that you are totes poor despite all those plane trips to Seattle and week long vacations in California. Also, see above, re: necessary levels of warmth during the restaurant off-season. Your table may be the only table your waitress gets tonight.
"Are you ready to order?" she asked Edward.
"Bella?" he asked. She turned unwillingly toward me.
I picked the first thing I saw on the menu. "Um . . . I'll have the mushroom ravioli."
"And you?" She turned back to him with a smile.
"Nothing for me," he said. Of course not.
"Let me know if you change your mind." The coy smile was still in place, but he wasn't looking at her, and she left dissatisfied.
"Drink," he ordered.
I sipped at my soda obediently, and then drank more deeply, surprised by how thirsty I was. I realized I had finished the whole thing when he pushed his glass toward me.
"Thanks," I muttered, still thirsty. The cold from the icy soda was radiating through my chest, and I shivered.
"Are you cold?"
"It's just the Coke," I explained, shivering again.
"Don't you have a jacket?" His voice was disapproving.
"Yes." I looked at the empty bench next to me. "Oh -- I left it in Jessica's car," I realized.
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Bella, she is "dissatisfied" because so far tonight the hostess -- who is not a tipped employee -- has received more financial remuneration from your boyfriend than she has, and Edward is both studiously ignoring her and (by refusing to buy a meal for himself) decreasing the overall cost of the ticket and therefore the expected tip. He's also additionally being kind of rude by gazing steadfastly in your eyes and pretending like she's a servant to be not-seen and only barely-heard. I'm not saying she's right to let this show on her face, but I am saying that I understand where she's coming from more than you apparently do, who are all up in mental arms about her trying to Steal Your Man. She does not want Your Man! She wants to eat tonight, something you have apparently never had to worry about in your bizarrely charmed life where your school-teacher mother and police chief father have apparently always had money overflowing in the FOOD JAR such that you can serve fresh meat every night without thinking twice.
Moving on, Edward continues to stay classy by being disapproving about Bella not having a jacket with her. Despite the weather being warm. And her having been shopping all day and possibly not wanting to lug around a jacket the whole time. And restaurants being traditionally colder than the deepest circle of hell. And her having just nearly been gang-raped. Cripes, imagine if Bella had dropped her purse hoping that was all her attackers wanted? I'm sure Edward would deeply disapprove of that. DON'T YOU CARRY A WALLET, BELLA?
He pushed the bread basket toward me.
"Really, I'm not going into shock," I protested.
"You should be -- a normal person would be. You don't even look shaken." He seemed unsettled. He stared into my eyes, and I saw how light his eyes were, lighter than I'd ever seen them, golden butterscotch.
"I feel very safe with you," I confessed, mesmerized into telling the truth again.
That displeased him; his alabaster brow furrowed. He shook his head, frowning.
"This is more complicated than I'd planned," he murmured to himself.
I picked up a breadstick and began nibbling on the end, measuring his expression. I wondered when it would be okay to start questioning him.
Annnnnnnnd, I'm out of outrage for the day. No matter how much I am annoyed that Edward routinely strips all choice from Bella as though he's one of those only-in-fantasy-Doms who immediately and perfectly intuits all her needs and wants, he's going to keep doing it. No matter how much I am outraged that Bella is using her insecurities about her looks (despite being the most sought after girl in school, she has landed a man -- in this World Of Objective Beauty -- who far outranks her) in order to think nasty thoughts at all the women who are trying to Steal Her Man, a man who is obviously employing vampire glamour in cases where he doesn't need to just for shiz and giggles, and women who are forced by wage dependence to play along to his ego, she's going to keep doing it.
No matter how annoyed I am that Edward keeps telling Bella how she "should" feel and how "normal" people are, with the clear implication that she is not "normal" and with none of the love or admiration that could soften the observation, he's not going to stop. No matter how may times the narrative insists that Bella feels "safe" with Edward and that her wondering about when it would be "okay" to question him again is based merely on respect for his feelings and not her own fear of a guy who is remarkably chill about vigilante murder, I'm going to feel differently.
So instead of one of my pithy-summing-ups that I put here and which are usually not pithy at all, I'm just going to say this:
This story starts in a coachhouse. In it, a scatterbrained prince has a chance meeting with a farmer who fears people think he/she is a fraud. What starts as mutual respect quickly becomes obsessive love - all thanks to a performance. What role will a thief play in their relationship?