Twilight: They Don't Need To Breathe

[Twilight Content Note: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Winning At Patriarchy.
Extra Content Note: Rape, Self-Harm]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 16, Bella gets even more backstory. *yawn*

Twilight, Chapter 16: Carlisle


Pretty much nothing at all. Yeah.

Who was it who pointed out last time (or was it two times ago?) that we've gone through 15 chapters and it feels like hardly anything has happened? We're on Chapter 16 in a book that has 24 chapters, and it still feels like we're sitting on our hands. And this week is more Carlisle backstory and I've already said I couldn't care less about Carlisle's backstory even if you paid me to care less about it, so today may suck a little. Maybe once we get into it, there will be something good.

   HE LED ME BACK TO THE ROOM THAT HE’D POINTED OUT as Carlisle’s office. He paused outside the door for an instant.
   “Come in,” Carlisle’s voice invited.
   Edward opened the door to a high-ceilinged room with tall, west-facing windows. The walls were paneled again, in a darker wood — where they were visible. Most of the wall space was taken up by towering bookshelves that reached high above my head and held more books than I’d ever seen outside a library.
   Carlisle sat behind a huge mahogany desk in a leather chair. He was just placing a bookmark in the pages of the thick volume he held. The room was how I’d always imagined a college dean’s would look — only Carlisle looked too young to fit the part.
   “What can I do for you?” he asked us pleasantly, rising from his seat.
   “I wanted to show Bella some of our history,” Edward said. “Well, your history, actually.”
   “We didn’t mean to disturb you,” I apologized.

I... what the hell kind of family is this?

I'm seriously asking. Nothing about this feels right to me; everything feels very off, like someone is wearing a cardboard mask and hoping Bella won't notice. Is this seriously how today was supposed to go down? Edward asked Bella to come spend the day to meet his family. They surely must have known he was coming; even if Alice didn't spend her time predicting the future, we also know that he went home last night to change. It seems entirely clear that everyone knew Bella was coming such that Carlisle and Esme could take their welcoming positions by the door and Rosalie had time to go off and sulk.

And then... what? At the first possible chance (Bella noticing the piano, in this case) everyone darted off to give them some "privacy". And now that Edward and Bella are ready to be around people again, we find that everyone went off to their own individual corners? And despite the fact that Carlisle has literally an eternity to read, he's reading in his study rather than hanging out with Esme and Alice and Jasper in the kitchen or something, waiting for Bella to come spend time with them? This is weird to me, like all the Cullens are dolls in their designated dollhouse rooms, or like animatronic robots at the wax museum. Is Esme glued to the floor in the kitchen waiting to tell tourists about cooking techniques of the early 1900s? Is Alice standing by in the garage to demonstrate how to hand-dip candles?

We also see a glimpse of... something, with the bookshelves. Bella seems impressed by the shelves, and I'm not entirely sure how authentic this characterization is with the other details we know about her. Supposedly she knows her way around a library, so it seems to me that she might be less impressed than some others by the floor-to-ceiling arrangement, as she'd be aware that it's not the number of books that counts so much as what's in them and whether the residents actually read them. (Since books-by-the-box for decoration are definitely a thing.) Then again, I realize that some bookphiles genuinely just love to be around any kind of book, so maybe Bella is in that category.

Still, there's a definitely class atmosphere going on here, as usual with the Cullens: they've got money, Bella most definitely does not (nor is she used to hanging with those who do), and she is properly awed rather than resentful or suspicious (especially considering that most vampire mythos have their wealth coming from their victims, not the stock market). 

Anyway, then there's a lot of random stuff about pictures on the wall--"some in vibrant colors, others dull monochromes"--which are supposed to be "London in the sixteen-fifties" (according to Edward) and "The London of my youth" (according to Carlisle). I guess these "pictures" are supposed to be paintings, because while Wikipedia assures me that cameras have been around since 1000AD and probably also way before then, the images viewed by the camera weren't practically preservable until photography became a thing in 1685 and even then it took about 150 years to really be applicable. So probably not photographs and I guess the "dull monochrome" pictures were a phase for one of the artists. ("Yes, as you can see, I'm going through my Fuck Your Capitalist Colors phase, which I think is going quite well.")

Whether these "pictures" are supposed to be the work of contemporary-to-the-period artists and whether they are supposed to be the original copies (because stock market magic!) or whether these are paintings made by vampires or even by Carlisle himself, I have no fucking clue and I just remembered I don't care. I do like that Bella can't figure out what the pictures have in common--"I searched for some logic, some binding motif the collection had in common, but I found nothing in my hasty examination."--I guess because "pictures of a specific city in a specific time period" is super hard to tell at a glance. I think the pictures are blurry and unfocused, like Esme's clothes that matched the featureless white walls and textureless white carpet.

Although, no. Wait. Wait. I think I just now figured it out: each picture is a piece of Carlisle's story, or each one is a piece of each Cullens' personal story, and this is supposed to be like flannel-graph in Sunday School. Or something? Does that mean that Bella will have to make her own flannel-graph when she joins the club? Is it like an arts and crafts thing? I look forward to hearing about how Carlisle so loved the world that he gave his only begotten sheep or whatever. Also, sorry for that taking so long to figure out, but in my defense this chapter is very poorly written. Bella's perma-confusion has lead me to feel strongly that she should not be narrating this portion of the story.


   “Will you tell the story?” Edward asked. I twisted a little to see Carlisle’s reaction.   He met my glance and smiled. “I would,” he replied. “But I’m actually running a bit late. The hospital called this morning — Dr. Snow is taking a sick day. Besides, you know the stories as well as I do,” he added, grinning at Edward now.
   It was a strange combination to absorb — the everyday concerns of the town doctor stuck in the middle of a discussion of his early days in seventeenth-century London.
   It was also unsettling to know that he spoke aloud only for my benefit.

What. See, like, this. Does this mean that Edward literally cannot turn off the telepathic power (which he has previously likened to white noise, which led us to maybe-believe that he can sort of ignore the noise and let it wash over him) or does it mean that he can't turn it off here with his family (because of isolation or familiarity) or does it mean that Edward is just all fuck boundaries and probes his family members' minds all the time because why wouldn't you really.

And why is this unsettling for Bella now all of the sudden? We've had several minutes worth of conversation with the Cullens before this. For that matter, why is she suddenly hit with a case of the weirdness over Carlisle being both a modern doctor and a several hundred years old vampire? She's had no issue with it when it was Edward interacting with her. Is 90-year-old Edward nothing special but 350-year-old Carlisle, now that is weird. Really? 

Anyway, there's some world-building on how self-harm is hard for vampires: 

   “He jumped from great heights,” Edward told me, his voice impassive. “He tried to drown himself in the ocean . . . but he was young to the new life, and very strong. It is amazing that he was able to resist . . . feeding . . . while he was still so new. The instinct is more powerful then, it takes over everything. But he was so repelled by himself that he had the strength to try to kill himself with starvation.”
   “Is that possible?” My voice was faint.
   “No, there are very few ways we can be killed.”
   [...] “So he grew very hungry, and eventually weak. He strayed as far as he could from the human populace, recognizing that his willpower was weakening, too. For months he wandered by night, seeking the loneliest places, loathing himself.
    “One night, a herd of deer passed his hiding place. He was so wild with thirst that he attacked without a thought. His strength returned and he realized there was an alternative to being the vile monster he feared. Had he not eaten venison in his former life? Over the next months his new philosophy was born. He could exist without being a demon. He found himself again.

It's weird that "he tried to set himself on fire" isn't one of the things Carlisle tried, especially given that burning vampires (or rather accused "vampires") was, like, his actual job prior to this. Kinda feeling like his head wasn't in the game at this point.

Also? Are baby vampires issued some kind of book when they're turned? 101 Ways To Serve Man? Because I kinda feel like it shouldn't take some brink-of-death starvation-driven epiphany for someone to think that maybe, just maybe, animals might be edible. It remains seriously fucking weird for everyone in this book to refuse to consider for a moment that animals might be something edible, and instead for everyone to immediately assume that people are the best eats around.

Like, the book is even mocking us: "Had he not eaten venison in his former life?" UM, YEAH, HE HAD. Kinda strange how that works. I dunno, maybe if we all lived in the Twilight 'verse we'd constantly be thinking how awesome it would be to eat people. Maybe this is a world-building detail like all those folks in Left Behind who are all "meh, wev" when God saves Israel from every nuclear warhead ever by coughing at them.

   “He began to make better use of his time. He’d always been intelligent, eager to learn. Now he had unlimited time before him. He studied by night, planned by day. He swam to France and —”
   “He swam to France?”
   “People swim the Channel all the time, Bella,” he reminded me patiently.
   “That’s true, I guess. It just sounded funny in that context. Go on.”

Probably because it was a total non-sequitur. I also feel like Edward can take his "patient"(remember what I said about genuine patience not sounding like "patience"? Yeah.) "all the time" reminder and shove it, but I'm a big meanie like that.

   [...] He chuckled darkly, and finished his sentence. “Because, technically, we don’t need to breathe.”
   [...] “You don’t have to breathe?” I demanded.
   “No, it’s not necessary. Just a habit.” He shrugged.
   “How long can you go . . . without breathing?”
   “Indefinitely, I suppose; I don’t know. It gets a bit uncomfortable — being without a sense of smell.”
   “A bit uncomfortable,” I echoed.

WHAT. No. NO. This is impossible. This makes the entire book make no sense at all. Edward fled the state and ran off to Alaska and agonized for days over not being able to live with his family for months or even years until Bella moved out of Forks because Bella's smell drove him wild and if he couldn't impose super-human willpower on himself, he would murder her in a scent-fueled blood-frenzy and expose them all. YET ALL HE HAD TO DO TO TURN OFF HIS SENSE OF SMELL WAS STOP BREATHING.

And now every time, every time, one of the Cullens (Edward or otherwise) threatens to lose control and hurt Bella, we can all know without a shadow of a doubt that the only reason she is in danger is because they didn't want to hold their breath in order to shut out her scent. Whut. 

What Grapes by Natalie Dee and Sister Fruit to Erika's and Will's Whatnapple

I just... I don't... what. The only way, the only way, for this series to make sense is for us to all pretend that this chapter never happened. That is the only way. Otherwise, literally nothing makes sense except that the Cullens want to walk the line of control around Bella as some kind of weird sadistic game and if she gets killed in the process then, well, those were the stakes of the game and sometimes you lose. And I really do not think S. Meyer intended us to interpret this book that way.

   I wasn’t paying attention to my own expression, but something in it made him grow somber. His hand dropped to his side and he stood very still, his eyes intent on my face. The silence lengthened. His features were immobile as stone.
   “What is it?” I whispered, touching his frozen face.
   His face softened under my hand, and he sighed. “I keep waiting for it to happen.”
   “For what to happen?”
   “I know that at some point, something I tell you or something you see is going to be too much. And then you’ll run away from me, screaming as you go.” He smiled half a smile, but his eyes were serious. “I won’t stop you. I want this to happen, because I want you to be safe. And yet, I want to be with you. The two desires are impossible to reconcile. . . .” He trailed off, staring at my face. Waiting.

Okay? This is creepy. When a person who is infinitely more powerful than you stops talking and loses all expression and stares at you and is just standing there waiting and then tells you that they're waiting for you to run (he's a hunter, he hunts wild animals, if he waiting for me to run so that he can give chase, will the sudden movement set him off) and that he won't stop you really except that, you know, he really wants to stop you--THAT IS CREEPY. That is not romantic to me, that is very threatening behavior.

   [...] “So, go on — Carlisle was swimming to France.” 
   “Carlisle swam to France, and continued on through Europe, to the universities there. By night he studied music, science, medicine — and found his calling, his penance, in that, in saving human lives.” His expression became awed, almost reverent. “I can’t adequately describe the struggle; it took Carlisle two centuries of torturous effort to perfect his self-control. Now he is all but immune to the scent of human blood, and he is able to do the work he loves without agony. He finds a great deal of peace there, at the hospital. . . .”

First thing: I don't know, nor do I care, what year we're in now because everything has been deliberately vague, but it sounds like Carlisle ended up in France during the reign of Louis XIV, who (according to Wikipedia) participated in three major wars and couple of smaller ones. There were also apparently some civil war shenanigans happening in France as well. I'm unclear how much music and science and medicine was going on for Carlisle to study, but I guess he managed.

Second thing: I don't know why it took two centuries for Carlisle to become "immune to the scent of human blood" when all he he had to do was hold his breath NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE. It's not even like they need to "breath" to look human, they could mimic the rise and fall of a chest without using any air at all because they're so damn perfect at every minute movement. That little detail breaks everything. WHY IS IT EVEN THERE, you don't need perfect breath-holding powers to cross the Channel, you need, like, strength and stamina and endurance. ARGH.

   Edward stared off into space for a long moment. Suddenly he seemed to recall his purpose. He tapped his finger against the huge painting in front of us.“He was studying in Italy when he discovered the others there. They were much more civilized and educated than the wraiths of the London sewers.”
   He touched a comparatively sedate quartet of figures painted on the highest balcony, looking down calmly on the mayhem below them. I examined the grouping carefully and realized, with a startled laugh, that I recognized the golden-haired man.
   “Solimena was greatly inspired by Carlisle’s friends. He often painted them as gods,” Edward chuckled. “Aro, Marcus, Caius,” he said, indicating the other three, two black-haired, one snowy-white. “Nighttime patrons of the arts.”

What. So the Volturi kill any human who knows about them, unless the human is a famous painter whose paintings were widely known during his time period and who had bunches of pupils working under his tutelage and also this painter was painting the vampires and disseminating those pictures to anyone who would buy them. Whut.

And also Bella is a connoisseur of Italian painters from the Baroque era. What.


   “What happened to them?” I wondered aloud, my fingertip hovering a centimeter from the figures on the canvas.
   “They’re still there.” He shrugged. “As they have been for who knows how many millennia. Carlisle stayed with them only for a short time, just a few decades. He greatly admired their civility, their refinement, but they persisted in trying to cure his aversion to ‘his natural food source,’ as they called it. They tried to persuade him, and he tried to persuade them, to no avail. At that point, Carlisle decided to try the New World. He dreamed of finding others like himself. He was very lonely, you see.
   “He didn’t find anyone for a long time. But, as monsters became the stuff of fairy tales, he found he could interact with unsuspecting humans as if he were one of them. He began practicing medicine. But the companionship he craved evaded him; he couldn’t risk familiarity.

What?? So Carlisle could only study medicine in 17th century Europe, but was able to practice medicine in 18th century America because... people stopped knowing about vampires? How the hell was he studying medicine in the first place if he couldn't practice it or "interact with unsuspecting humans as if he were one of them" prior to The Great Mythology Forgetting Of 1689 or whenever?

Also, why would the Italian Volturi give a shit about the visiting English guy not nomming on their local hunting grounds? Like, it seems like that's a win-win: fewer dead bodies to dispose and the guest keeps the local rat population down. Having Carlisle visit would be like those mother-in-laws who do the dishes and turn down their own bed without making you feel like a slob. (I love my MIL so much, ya'll don't even know.)

Although apparently Carlisle was proselytizing to them, so I guess he was making them feel like slobs, also I guess it's world-canon that Carly has never tasted human blood at all so maybe the Volturi were like "don't knock it 'til you try it" and then they were at an impasse. Who the fuck knows. 

   “When the influenza epidemic hit, he was working nights in a hospital in Chicago. He’d been turning over an idea in his mind for several years, and he had almost decided to act — since he couldn’t find a companion, he would create one. He wasn’t absolutely sure how his own transformation had occurred, so he was hesitant. And he was loath to steal anyone’s life the way his had been stolen. It was in that frame of mind that he found me. There was no hope for me; I was left in a ward with the dying. He had nursed my parents, and knew I was alone. He decided to try . . .”

Ye gods. I mean, we already knew it because Rosalie, but Carlisle is the most selfish asshole ever. Did he even ask? Who knows!

Oh my god, this chapter is so long. Executive summary: Edward went off on his own to kill humans ten years after he was turned. Quick shot of Bella being all wellwhatcanyoudo about her boyfriend being a serial killer: 

   “That doesn’t repulse you?”
   “Why not?”
   “I guess . . . it sounds reasonable.”

Sure, everyone deserves a chance to be a serial killer at least once to see if it works for them. (Just don't have sex with your fiance before marriage, because that's the sort of thing you need to work out after the vows have been said.) Then Edward talks about his career as a serial killer purely in terms of what Carlisle and Esme wanted rather than in terms of the lives he is taking, which underscores yet again that the convenience of the Cullens is the most important thing here.

   “From the time of my new birth,” he murmured, “I had the advantage of knowing what everyone around me was thinking, both human and non-human alike. That’s why it took me ten years to defy Carlisle — I could read his perfect sincerity, understand exactly why he lived the way he did.   “It took me only a few years to return to Carlisle and recommit to his vision. I thought I would be exempt from the . . . depression . . . that accompanies a conscience. Because I knew the thoughts of my prey, I could pass over the innocent and pursue only the evil. If I followed a murderer down a dark alley where he stalked a young girl — if I saved her, then surely I wasn’t so terrible.”
   I shivered, imagining only too clearly what he described — the alley at night, the frightened girl, the dark man behind her. And Edward, Edward as he hunted, terrible and glorious as a young god, unstoppable. Would she have been grateful, that girl, or more frightened than before?

Oh my god, are you seriously. Bella, would you like me to answer that for you? I kind of think she'd be freaked the fuck out because (a) stranger rape of the kind being described here is very rare and so it's far more likely that if Edward were hunting rapists, he was hunting brothers and fathers and boyfriends who maybe had never even hurt her yet, and (b) one of the many, many problems with a judge-jury-executioner vigilante vampire is that a hungry vampire is not motivated by accuracy (and we've already seen that Edward is not an accurate mind-reader, see Charlie Swan), (c) nor is he motivated by fairness and as bad as rape is (and it is plenty bad) not every anti-rape activist wants it to carry a death penalty exacted by a hungry vampire who is just as likely to lose control and kill the girl he is "saving" and/or sentence her to death for whatever petty excuse will satisfy his own conscience.

And, honestly, you semi-auditing that girl and implying she's a big narking bitch if she isn't grateful for this horrifying, traumatizing experience that also might get her Volturi'd and/or committed and/or arrested is really so much victim-blaming bullshit that is also hella gross. I'm sure things would have gone real well for you if you'd blacked out in Port Angeles and woke up in the middle of a pile of messy corpses with no alibi for the past hour.

Blah blah blah, Edward is a tortured soul who feels super sad about being a serial killer, but not in any actionable sense that requires him to pay restitution to the families of his victims (the dead would-be rapists and the surviving women who had to see him kill them) nor in any sense that requires him to actually do something constructive about anti-rape activism in a way that would indicate rape and rape victims ever meant anything more to him than a free meal ticket.

Repeat: Rape victims are nothing more than a free meal ticket to Edward. 

   “My room,” he informed me, opening it and pulling me through.   His room faced south, with a wall-sized window like the great room below. The whole back side of the house must be glass. His view looked down on the winding Sol Duc River, across the untouched forest to the Olympic Mountain range. The mountains were much closer than I would have believed.
   The western wall was completely covered with shelf after shelf of CDs. His room was better stocked than a music store. In the corner was a sophisticated-looking sound system, the kind I was afraid to touch because I’d be sure to break something. There was no bed, only a wide and inviting black leather sofa. The floor was covered with a thick golden carpet, and the walls were hung with heavy fabric in a slightly darker shade.
   “Good acoustics?” I guessed.

That's almost a direct segue: Edward wraps up talking about the rape victims he doesn't give a shit about anymore (and never did) and then we get to hear how his bedroom is so well-stocked that it has Kenny G and Lady Gaga (or whatever you kids were listening to in the early 2000s, Britney Spears, I guess), and the entire Star Wars soundtrack collection and really all it's missing is a register and then we're open for business. Because "better stocked than a music store" is definitely how people pick and choose their music.

   “How do you have these organized?” I asked, unable to find any rhyme or reason to the titles.   He wasn’t paying attention.
   “Ummm, by year, and then by personal preference within that frame,” he said absently.

I think Bella has officially shown more interest in Edward's bitchin' music collection than in the whole serial killer who traumatizes rape victims thing. Because of course. I don't have anything left, so go read this wonderful article about organizing your books by color. (And then, if you're me, be simultaneously tempted-to-do-this-thing and yet reduced-to-shaking-and-whimpering at the idea of not being able to tell your books apart ever again and splitting all your multi-colored series.)

Then, I dunno, there's a bunch of filler about how Edward is finally happy (now that Bella is in his space and knows all his secrets) and Bella tells him that he's not as scary as he thinks he is and so Edward "playfully" growls at her and bares his teeth and tenses to pounce, and then leaps on her and crashes her into the sofa because we are now officially in a Narnia novel and Bella is Trumpkin. Then Alice interrupts their wrestling to bounce in, and Edward is all fuck your boundaries and demands that Bella be shown in the intimate pose that he is comfortable with, with no regard for her comfort:

   “Can we come in?” a soft voice sounded from the hall. 
   I struggled to free myself, but Edward merely readjusted me so that I was somewhat more conventionally seated on his lap. I could see it was Alice, then, and Jasper behind her in the doorway. My cheeks burned, but Edward seemed at ease.
   “Go ahead.” Edward was still chuckling quietly.

Then Alice makes a joke about killing Bella, because this chapter is determined to run rough-shod over any attempt at consistent characterization. Because, I mean, seriously, Bella can joke about getting a papercut and Edward will EXPLODE WITH RAGE because YOUR PRECIOUS FINGER and HOW DARE she be cavalier about HER SAFETY when he worships every skin cell on her body, but then HAHA what if we ate Bella FOR LUNCH psych! I don't even know. Sure! It makes sense for everyone in the world to behave randomly! Books are easier to write when consistency isn't a thing! It all makes sense now!

   “It sounded like you were having Bella for lunch, and we came to see if you would share,” Alice announced.
    I stiffened for an instant, until I realized Edward was grinning — whether at her comment or my response, I couldn’t tell.
   “Sorry, I don’t believe I have enough to spare,” he replied, his arms holding me recklessly close.

Then Jasper announces what these 16 chapters have been steadily building up to: Vampire Baseball.

   “Actually,” Jasper said, smiling despite himself as he walked into the room, “Alice says there’s going to be a real storm tonight, and Emmett wants to play ball. Are you game?”
   [...] Edward’s eyes lit up, but he hesitated.
    “Of course you should bring Bella,” Alice chirped. I thought I saw Jasper throw a quick glance at her.
   “Do you want to go?” Edward asked me, excited, his expression vivid.
   “Sure.” I couldn’t disappoint such a face. “Um, where are we going?”
   “We have to wait for thunder to play ball — you’ll see why,” he promised.
   “Will I need an umbrella?”
   They all three laughed aloud.

WHY. WHY IS THAT FUNNY? I DON'T UNDERSTAND. They already know that Bella can't play with them, and even they can't be so graceful that rain doesn't get them wet, so WHY IS THAT FUNNY?? Is this something self-evident that I'm missing??

   “Will she?” Jasper asked Alice.
   “No.” She was positive. “The storm will hit over town. It should be dry enough in the clearing.”
   [...]“What will we be playing?” I demanded.
   “You will be watching,” Edward clarified. “We will be playing baseball.”
   I rolled my eyes. “Vampires like baseball?”
   “It’s the American pastime,” he said with mock solemnity.

Come meet my family for the day. It'll be fun! We'll play games. You don't get to play, though--you have to watch. Definitely a very healthy relationship you've got there, Edward and Bella. (And, again, screw consistent characterization, because this could have been, yet wasn't, a spot for Bella to point out that she can't walk in a straight line without falling over and how she'd love to watch but doesn't want to play, and Edward could have been all that's fine I just like to be near you and then that would have been a healthy navigation of disability, but we can't have that I guess. I guess?)


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