[Twilight Content Note: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Winning At Patriarchy.]
Twilight Summary: In Chapter 17, we play baseball.
Twilight, Chapter 17: The Game
OK! We're past all the billion sudden plot points (and mess of terrible) that got dumped on us when we arrived at Chapter 17, and now it's time for vampire baseball. Except I probably shouldn't have been hyping it up all this time, because literally nothing I could say about it would be amusing at this point. But let's dive in!
He smiled wistfully and released all of me but one hand. He led me a few feet through the tall, wet ferns and draping moss, around a massive hemlock tree, and we were there, on the edge of an enormous open field in the lap of the Olympic peaks. It was twice the size of any baseball stadium.
I could see the others all there; Esme, Emmett, and Rosalie, sitting on a bare outcropping of rock, were the closest to us, maybe a hundred yards away. Much farther out I could see Jasper and Alice, at least a quarter of a mile apart, appearing to throw something back and forth, but I never saw any ball. It looked like Carlisle was marking bases, but could they really be that far apart?
This chapter continues more of the same Bigger and Better themes of the book: vampire baseball isn't really about a tighter focus on nuance or skill, but is rather really more about super-sizing the existing game. The bases are farther apart. Every not-hit is a strike. Every hit is a home run. Every home run has the outfielders running to Canada and back (or wherever).
We've already pointed out the principle problems with this scene. For one, it makes the vampires seem... kinda boring to me. They're not using their powers to explore newer sports, ones humans could never play but which are infinitely more suited for vampire skills--instead they're derivatively taking existing sports and doing them "bigger". (See also playing pianos instead of inventing, I dunno, the next theremin. Or something else fiendishly complicated.)
For two, this is something of a mess in a series that is supposed to have an overarching theme of secrecy and subterfuge. We had to invent a whole other character because Edward loathes himself so much that he can't say the word "vampire", and much of the driving plot of the series after this book will revolve around the fact that the Vampire Mafia will slaughter as many people as it takes to cover up all the slaughtering they've been doing, and while a lot of it wouldn't make sense anyway, it's especially muddled when these particular vampires are out in the relative open doing relatively open vampire things. I mean, yes, it's a remote mountain clearing in the middle of a thunderstorm, but that's still hardly a measure of privacy on level with, you know, putting up a tarp.
All I keep thinking is how the satellite controllers in Houston or whatever are watching this shit while cracking up and eating popcorn or something. (And, okay, yeah, cloud cover, but point remains.)
When we came into view, the three on the rocks rose. Esme started toward us. Emmett followed after a long look at Rosalie’s back; Rosalie had risen gracefully and strode off toward the field without a glance in our direction. My stomach quivered uneasily in response.
Rosalie is still giving Bella the cold shoulder; Emmett is still trying to be the Good Guy and play both sides. I know this is because Rosalie is supposed to be Objectively Wrong, but considering the context it does come off like Emmett is being terribly insensitive. I mean, yes, he has a right to make his own decisions on the Bella Situation, but it just makes me super sad that no one is being more supportive of the fact that Rosalie isn't cool with murdering a young woman just because she has pantsfeels for Edward.
“Let’s go.” Alice reached for Emmett’s hand and they darted toward the oversized field; she ran like a gazelle. He was nearly as graceful and just as fast — yet Emmett could never be compared to a gazelle.“Are you ready for some ball?” Edward asked, his eyes eager, bright.
I tried to sound appropriately enthusiastic. “Go team!”
He snickered and, after mussing my hair, bounded off after the other two. His run was more aggressive, a cheetah rather than a gazelle, and he quickly overtook them. The grace and power took my breath away.
NARRATOR: Do you see yonder vampire that’s almost in shape of a gazelle?
BELLA: By th' mass, and ’tis like a gazelle indeed.
NARRATOR: Methinks Emmett is not like a gazelle.
BELLA: It is not backed like a gazelle, no.
NARRATOR: Edward is like a cheetah.
BELLA: Very like a cheetah.
Yeah, I got nothing. Either the constant so-pretty, so-inhuman, so-graceful, so-amazing superlative superlativeness works for you here or it won't. Since Bella is not being insulted too much (minus Edward's suspicious snicker), I'm willing to give it all a pass.
Then Bella and Esme get some bonding time and it's not entirely awful:
“Shall we go down?” Esme asked in her soft, melodic voice, and I realized I was staring openmouthed after him. I quickly reassembled my expression and nodded. Esme kept a few feet between us, and I wondered if she was still being careful not to frighten me. She matched her stride to mine without seeming impatient at the pace.
[...] “You sound like my mom,” I laughed, surprised.
She laughed, too. “Well, I do think of them as my children in most ways.
Or, well, it maybe wouldn't be entirely awful in another context where all these "kids" aren't fifty to one hundred years old.
And I have to be careful here, because you absolutely can do "dorm mom" characters (or "mama bear" or "papa wolf" or what have you) in ensemble casts and you can do them well. This is an actual thing that actual people do--some people, regardless of gender, really like taking on nurturing parental roles in groups.
But this being Twilight, Esme's role seems less like being a Mama Bear / Dorm Mom and more like being a Patriarchy Mom to underscore how Edward's shiny newer better more expensive family is better in all the ways from Bella's raggedy old family. She doesn't just want to "mother" the other members of the group; she wants to be their actual mother. Despite the fact that these people aren't children, despite "appearances" (and even their appearances aren't childish). The high school thing is an act.
I don't know if it's just Twilight or just me or just me right now today (all valid options), but there's just something that really bugs me about Esme. Unlike a lot of Mama Bear / Dorm Mom characters in literature that I do love, Esme doesn't seem to really have a personality or a hobby or interests outside of her role in the family. It seems unfair to single her out for that when that statement is true of absolutely bloody everyone else, but there's somehow a difference in my mind between "I'll Wait Over Here In The Corner Until You Need Mood-Lighting" Jasper and "I'll Wait Over Here In The Corner Until You Need Laundry Done" Esme.
And, I mean, obviously part of that difference is the culture of patriarchy that I'm reading these books in. We, as a society, don't usually require men to stand in the corner until they're needed for mood-altering stuff, but we do frequently require women to stand in the corner until there's a laundry emergency. But there's also a sense in these books--at least so far--that Esme is the least needed character, the first one who would be thrown to the editorial wolves if the cast needed paring down. Alice is the Friend and Seer, Edward is the Love Interest, Rosalie is the Rival, Carlisle is the Father and Protector and Plot Expositioner, Emmett is the Muscle, Jasper is the Wiry Muscle and Convenient Mood Fixer for when the author can't be arsed to make people cooperate.
Esme is, what? The Mother. A role which isn't really, strictly speaking, needed here--the vampires are self-sufficient in almost every sense, and they don't even seem to need that much emotional support (which in itself is kind of weird, because they easily could need emotional support. But that would, presumably, make them less perfect). And her super power is basically Heart. In a setting that doesn't really need Heart. With a main character who probably could use some Heart-to-heart talks (see what I did there?) but for the most part won't because that would take away from her busy schedule of counting Edward's pores.
So it's just a big disappointment to me in a novel that already hasn't been great on lady-characters. (I was going to point out that lady!Charlie is an awesome lady-character before I realized that she doesn't actually exist outside of Chris the Cynic's fanfic.)
Oh, but Esme is here to provide approval:
“You don’t mind, then?” I asked, hesitant again. “That I’m . . . all wrong for him?”
“No.” She was thoughtful. “You’re what he wants. It will work out, somehow,” she said, though her forehead creased with worry.
So, okay, she's like one of those token mothers in Hardy Boys books (or wev): she does the laundry and bakes cookies and basically keeps things running and provides nurturing when it's needed, but she isn't allowed to interfere with the children because then the book would be less of a fantasy wish fulfillment. Because honestly I can think of much better ways for Esme to express approval and keep Bella safe than her Cross My Fingers And Hope plan here. (You just know Esme is the kind of parent who doesn't want Edward learning about condoms because her baby won't give into temptation or whatever.)
Anyway. Then there is baseball. And it's not... horrible? I mean, I can see why people felt like it was corny when it first came out, and you know, it is corny. But it's also kinda cooperative and familyish and I still can't get over the fact that no one is insulting Bella in all this and that's frankly a welcome relief. I'm kinda sad that she's not really allowed to participate--and now I'm thinking that maybe they made her the referee in the movies? Instead of Esme? Does anyone remember that? I'm not going to get up to check--but still this is a nice family thing that lets her watch her boyfriend interacting with others. I'm sorta okay with that.
But here's some cheesy corn for you, if you want it:
The ball shot like a meteor above the field, flying deep into the surrounding forest. “Home run,” I murmured.
“Wait,” Esme cautioned, listening intently, one hand raised. Emmett was a blur around the bases, Carlisle shadowing him. I realized Edward was missing.
“Out!” Esme cried in a clear voice. I stared in disbelief as Edward sprang from the fringe of the trees, ball in his upraised hand, his wide grin visible even to me.
“Emmett hits the hardest,” Esme explained, “but Edward runs the fastest.”
I have my doubts that this game is environmentally-friendly. Just throwing that out there. Ha.
Anyway, there's a lot of baseball--and I am not familiar enough with the sport to pick apart how plausible it all is, but it feels sorta off, so hopefully someone will pick it apart for us in the comments?--and then we get (finally!) to the start of the conflict that we were promised way back on page 1: Bella, in danger!
Carlisle was up to bat, Edward catching, when Alice suddenly gasped. My eyes were on Edward, as usual, and I saw his head snap up to look at her. Their eyes met and something flowed between them in an instant. He was at my side before the others could ask Alice what was wrong.“Alice?” Esme’s voice was tense.
“I didn’t see — I couldn’t tell,” she whispered.
All the others were gathered by this time.
“What is it, Alice?” Carlisle asked with the calm voice of authority.
“They were traveling much quicker than I thought. I can see I had the perspective wrong before,” she murmured.
Hey, remember those vampires who were coming to visit the Cullens because they had heard about them through the grapevine and were curious? And remember how the Cullens took absolutely no steps to go out and meet the vampires away from the town where the Cullens are staying? And remember how Edward was like "I'm not letting you out of my sight until they're gone!" or wev even though that made zero sense for keeping Bella safe?
Well, shockingly, going out into the open and playing a loud game that screams Here There Be Vampires has changed the timeline. And, uh, somehow chess-master Alice failed to realize that.
Seven pairs of quick eyes flashed to my face and away. “How soon?” Carlisle said, turning toward Edward.
A look of intense concentration crossed his face.
“Less than five minutes. They’re running — they want to play.” He scowled.
“Can you make it?” Carlisle asked him, his eyes flicking toward me again.
“No, not carrying —” He cut short. “Besides, the last thing we need is for them to catch the scent and start hunting.”
Hey, you know what might could work? If Edward high-tailed it out of there with Bella and the other vampires intercepted their new friends. Throwing that out there. Because really? It's apparently not a big secret that Alice can read the future and see visitors coming. But I guess if they just ran out there to stall their new friends with questions and answers and offers of tea, we wouldn't have this whole plot thing.
“How many?” Emmett asked Alice.
“Three,” she answered tersely.
“Three!” he scoffed. “Let them come.” The steel bands of muscle flexed along his massive arms.
For a split second that seemed much longer than it really was, Carlisle deliberated. Only Emmett seemed unperturbed; the rest stared at Carlisle’s face with anxious eyes.
“Let’s just continue the game,” Carlisle finally decided. His voice was cool and level. “Alice said they were simply curious.”
Let the record show that it was Carlisle--he of the super-human compassion who supposedly loves and protects every human he meets--who decided to gamble Bella's life on the assumption that three passing non-vegetarian vampires probably wouldn't insist on killing a human who knows about vampires in a world-setting where it's practically a crime against the Vampire Mafia to not kill humans who know about vampires.
The others returned to the field, warily sweeping the dark forest with their sharp eyes. Alice and Esme seemed to orient themselves around where I stood.
[...] I stated the obvious. “The others are coming now.”
“Yes, stay very still, keep quiet, and don’t move from my side, please.” He hid the stress in his voice well, but I could hear it. He pulled my long hair forward, around my face.
“That won’t help,” Alice said softly. “I could smell her across the field.”
“I know.” A hint of frustration colored his tone.
And, I just, I mean... why is this!! WHY. Why are they going back to playing the game casually like the teacher is about to walk back in to study hall and everyone needs to be pretending to do their assignment? This whole series is about vampires having amazing powers; there's literally no reason why there wouldn't be a Cullen in the family with, let's say, telepathy or future-sight or emotion sensing. Or super-hearing or any number of other ways to explain why the Cullens stopped playing the game and went out to see them.
I mean.... okay? This is probably just bad writing. We needed to get from point A (here) to point B (chased by mean ol' vampire) and this seemed like the way to go. The Cullens' failure to be creative here is almost certainly in order to serve a preordained plot that needed to happen.
But. But. But. All of this still adds up to the Cullens being deeply dangerous, disinterested, privileged fuck-heads. They refused to go out and meet the vampires, even though doing so would have protected the town and Bella and (presumably) their masquerade. (As I have no idea why it would be meaningfully different / less suspicious for a stranger vampire to nom a local than for a Cullen vampire to nom one.) And even now they're refusing to go out and meet the vampires, even though doing so would give Edward a chance to get Bella to safety.
Their plan in both cases has been to just hope that the visitors are nice. Which, incidentally, would seem to mean that Alice sucks as a seer, since the next two books (iiuc) deal with these same vampires trying to murder the shit out of Bella and the Cullens. And now we're back to the frustrating fact that the Cullens and their powers are flawed -- Alice gets details (like, When Will They Arrive) wrong; Edward can't read Charlie well but just assumed that Charlie wasn't a big thinker, etc. -- but they never really acknowledge that in ways that would cause them to reevaluate their reliance on those powers in order to wreck lives.
They just don't care. Carlisle the Ultra-Compassionate doesn't care. Edward the bestest love interest in all history doesn't care; he doesn't care about his victims (and whether he read them correctly), he doesn't care about the locals, and if he cares about Bella, he has a very poor way of showing it. And all this not-caring makes it really hard for me to care about them.