You’ve got your work cut out for you when you’re Stephenie Meyer. When you dare to write an in-between novella, the same people who criticized your doorstopping tomes of old now complain that you’re holding out on them by penning a 168-page glorified short story. The people who got angry that there was too much of the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle in Eclipse now rant that The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella doesn’t have enough of their lovelorn woes. And everybody assumes it’s all just a marketing ploy to promote the Eclipse movie, which hit theaters yesterday with the largest-ever midnight launch in history. In short, you just can’t win.
I’m sorry to add to the criticisms because I hope that Meyer will continue writing about this fascinating world she has created, and I don’t want to be that vampire whose special superpower is whining. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is okay. But I have to say, I was hoping for more.
Bree Tanner is a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it character in Eclipse, whose story intersects with Bella’s in the final battle scene.
In the novella, we get a little bit more of her back story–how Bree got to that battle, and what made her who she is. Four days’ worth of back story, to be exact. It isn’t enough. We learn how Riley (Victoria’s hapless paramour) lured Bree into vampirism, and how she begins to slowly awaken to the fact that Riley isn’t telling his small army of newborn vampires everything they need to know. We meet a couple of great new characters (don’t get attached; one is toast), including a love interest for Bree who helps her to test the boundaries of what she has been told about a vampire’s limitations.
What we don’t get is the reason that Bree is special. We’re told that for a newborn, she’s wonderfully mature and self-aware. She even has a small amount of self-control over her urge to feed off human blood. What we don’t get is enough of Bree’s pre-vampiric back story to explain why she is special. Meyer resorts to telling, not showing.
What saves the book is its Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-are-vampires play on the reader’s perspective. Here we get some of the scenes that Eclipse doesn’t tell us about, things that occur offstage–like the Volturi’s visit to Victoria. Fans are fascinated by this behind-the-scenes stuff, and Meyer (as ever) is an excellent plotter, balancing these with the Eclipse scenes told wholly from Bella’s limited perspective. The novella’s pacing is brisk and the story interesting, despite the flatness of the main character.
The morning after I’d read the book, my friend Beth Wise emailed me with an interesting observation about spirituality. I have a longer post planned for Monday where I get into the details about religion in Twilight, but Beth pointed out to me how The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner has a subtext about privileging personal spirituality over myth–what you discover for yourself rather than what you have been told about yourself. Beth says:
In the story, Victoria and Riley (the bad vamp and her minion who are making the newborn army, of which Bree is a part) lie to the new vampires. They tell them that the traditional vampire myths are true, and that if vamps go out in the sunlight they’ll burn to a crisp and die. Bree befriends another new vamp who has doubts about that. One night they’re hiding underwater waiting for the sun to go down and he decides to test the theory, with her following. Lo and behold they discover that it’s a lie and that they, in fact, sparkle …. Actually, Stephenie Meyer goes on quite a bit about the effect of the sunlight on their skin, and how the skin reflects and magnifies the light, making it brighter and brighter.
So, one could say that the new vamps are like people who are being kept in the dark by those who would lie to them and deny them their real potential. Most of them believe the lies and buy into the stereotypical image of their natures as presented to them. But those who challenge what the world would tell them and take a leap of faith find themselves able to dwell in the light. Moreover, they enhance the light and shine it brighter on everything around them.
I like that very much, and I hope that Stephenie Meyer will listen to it as well. She is a much better writer and observer of human nature than people keep telling her she is. And she’s better than The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner would lead us to believe. I hope that there will be many other Twilight spinoffs, but that in those, Meyer will take the time to deeply develop her new characters.