I’m going to out myself: I have read all four books in the Twilight series, and I have seen all three movies. And I’m not in middle school — I’m a mom, old enough to have spawned sullen teen vampire bait Bella Swan.
But before you jump to conclusions, I am NOT a “Twi-Mom.”
I have not forsaken my responsibilities in pursuit of all things Bella and Edward. I still manage to feed my kids, do laundry, and pay the bills. I do not throw Twilight parties with my middle-aged ladyfriends. I do not wear Team Edward or Jacob T-shirts —I avoid acknowledging any “team” affiliation at all. I do not keep life-size cardboard cut-outs of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner in my bedroom and hold meaningful conversations with them when I’m sad. I have not neglected my marriage or spurned my husband because he won’t wear amber contacts and his alabaster skin doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight.
Nonetheless, I’m a little defensive (can you tell?) and reluctant to come out as an adult who enjoys a good vampire romance. Mostly because vampire-loving ladies have lately become fodder for sensationalist news stories, misogynist Super Bowl commercials, feminist hand-wringing, and snide cultural critiques. These “Twi-hards” are dismissed as sad and pathetic women. They’re borderline sexual deviants, desperate hausfraus in dire need of counseling.
I admit — some of these chicks are a little scary. Consider the 39-year-old mom featured in a recent LA Times piece who’s seen each movie more than 300 times. Yikes! How is that even possible? And, for sure, the sight of grown women salivating over a 17-year-old boy in cut-offs is creepy, but please! Men have gotten away with worse than creepy for millennia. The double standard here is obvious and not even worth getting into.
In light of the media hoopla, I’ve been trying to figure out what led me to pick up Twilight in the first place. I could blame my previous career as a teen-magazine editor — I still like to stay connected with the kids, you know? I could say that I’ve never let a pop-cultural juggernaut pass me by. Or that as the mother of young daughters, I’m simply getting a head start on screening their reading material. But the truth is, when I bought the first book, I was already a fan of the delightfully sordid HBO series True Blood — touted as “Twilight for grown-ups”— and I’d blown through more than half of the Sookie Stackhouse novels on which the show is based. I knew the day was fast approaching when I’d be done with all 10 and I’d have to wait a whole year for author Charlaine Harris to churn out another. Maybe, I thought, the Twilight series will be equally entertaining and I’ll be able to stave off the inevitable a little longer.
Well, the first Twilight book is dreadful, but compellingly so. Like the proverbial train wreck — a mind-numbingly repetitive, talky train wreck — I found it impossible to look away. It wasn’t the same as when I was 14 and read Gone With the Wind: I didn’t stay up all night. But that’s because I’ve got responsibilities and if I’m not asleep by 11, I can’t deal with my kids the next day. I did find myself propping it on the bathroom counter and reading it while I brushed my teeth, which didn’t happen once during my recent months-long slog through The Brothers Karamazov. As for the next three books, what can I say? I scaled mountains of colorless prose — waded through nonsensical Native American legends and turgid vampire backstory — just to see how an abstinence novel, a celebration of spooning, would portray our heroine’s eventual deflowering. (Much violence is visited upon innocent pillows. That’s all I’ll say.)
The consensus among Twi-Moms seems to be that Twilight reminds them — in a good way — of the power and passion of First Love. Though I prefer the livelier, goofier Sookie Stackhouse novels, they have the same visceral appeal. Both books feature heroines who are outsiders, improbably beautiful square pegs. No one “gets” them, or appreciates how unbelievably awesome they are — until they meet up with the right vampire. Or werewolf. Or weretiger. The fantasy that we’re somehow too good for our world is pretty irresistible, no matter your age.
All and all, it’s escapist fun — pleasure that should be experienced without guilt. Unless of course you’re wearing one of those rhinestone Twi-Mom shirts and your baby’s in a Team Jacob onesie. Then you’re just making it harder for the rest of us who are trying to keep a low profile. So do us all a favor and tone it down, OK? •