I read “Midnight Sun” so you don’t have to

Heleana Backus, A&E Reporter

Popular literature’s favorite clumsy teenager returns alongside her hell-bound boyfriend in Stephanie Meyer’s 672-page “Twilight” companion novel, “Midnight Sun.”

13 years after an early draft was leaked online, the story of the first “Twilight” book from the perspective of Edward Cullen is on the shelves and let it be known, Edward Cullen is tortured and sad. 

Okay — you can stop reading. I think I covered everything. 

In all seriousness, I didn’t have high expectations for this novel, but I am not in the business of tearing down media that is enjoyed largely by young women. 

However, the “Twilight” series has several glaring problems. It’s 2020, and we can reasonably expect that Stephanie Meyer might realize that her audience no longer thinks stalking, emotional abuse and casual racism are acceptable — even if is coming from a sad, sexy, sparkly vampire.

I began reading “Midnight Sun” as a former “Twilight” fan, and I hoped Meyer would rectify some of the problems that dampened my excitement for the series as a burgeoning tween feminist. 

Here’s the thing: Some nostalgic part of me wanted to give Edward a chance to explain why he watches Bella sleep. 

Illustration by Hayden Cooper.

Well, between Edward’s endless self-deprecating internal monologue, he explains that he needs to make sure he’s there to “catch the meteorite before it [can] touch her.” As a 13-year-old, I would have swooned. But now? Edward continues, “I was repulsed by myself as I watched her toss again. How was I better than some sick peeping tom? I wasn’t any better. I was much, much worse.” Now I readily welcome Edward’s low self-esteem — he’s earned it. 

Moments like this remind the reader that one of “Twilight”’s biggest selling points was that it was told from Bella’s perspective. This allowed the reader to feel like an awkward teenager singled out by some hot, otherworldly boy from school. When Meyer switches perspectives, the reader must confront the fact that no matter how much Bella adores Edward in the rest of the series, his experience of their relationship is gross and predatory. It is painfully clear from these lines that Meyer had no intent to make Edward less problematic in “Midnight Sun.”

While this novel does feature Bella at her most complex, it is largely due to Edward’s fixation on Bella’s unimpeded selflessness. Meyer confirms that Bella is “selfless to the point of self-destruction” because she rushes to adulthood to care for her childlike, “harebrained” mother. 

Bella’s interactions with her mother are all the more interesting because of Edward’s ability to read minds, but seeing Edward’s frequent thoughts and curiosity about Bella’s self-sacrifice should give the reader pause. If Meyer wanted to revise some of the emotional abuse in “Twilight,” she might not have mentioned that Edward likes Bella specifically because of her codependent personality.

Edward’s other private thoughts are equally eye-roll-inducing. 

To highlight Bella’s special-ness in Edward’s eyes, Meyer makes almost everyone at Forks High School insufferably shallow. Edward can hear every waking thought in that school, but he’s somehow floored when Bella politely declines boys who ask her out and defends a friend who’s being teased as though he’s never heard a sincere human thought in the last 104 years of his life. 

Nothing beats the moment when Bella lifts her face to the rain, astounding Edward because “normal girls” avoid the rain, because “normal girls wore makeup.” Rest assured, Bella is not like “normal girls.”

As for Edward’s personality, Meyer gives him depth that I wish she hadn’t. 

Edward refers to his combined homicidal and sexual desires in the third person, calling them “the monster.” Yeah. Between Edward’s blatant emotional abuse and his near-constant guilt and shame at “the monster,” he loses his appeal as a narrator, character, romantic interest and even as the villain he believes he is. Most of this novel is constructed from Edward’s repetitive internal monologue stacked between conversations and scenes copied verbatim from “Twilight,” which quickly grows boring.

Because “Midnight Sun” mirrors the strange pacing of “Twilight” (Edward and Bella don’t kiss until page 378, and the villain doesn’t appear until page 500), the story is less of a slow burn and more of a snooze. Edward and Bella are at their least likable; so the novel hinges almost entirely on nostalgia and on grabbing readers’ attention with new content involving Edward’s family. 

Any self-respecting fan will tell you that Alice Cullen has always been the best part of the “Twilight” series, and Meyer creates some delightful internal dialogue between Edward and Alice. Scenes where Edward sees Alice’s changing visions of the future as a choose-your-own-adventure stand out against the novel’s repetition. Esme also gets her due as the quietly supportive mother, just as Rosalie is further reduced to a jealous narcissist. 

However, these small, insightful moments are not enough to save “Midnight Sun.” For former “Twilight” fans like myself, it is a behemoth testament to the fact that the series has passed its heyday. 

In the wake of J.K. Rowling’s attempts to retroactively make the “Harry Potter” series more diverse, Meyer’s novel stands out as a missed opportunity for her to renew her authorial relevance and revise the “Twilight” series for the modern day. Unlike Rowling, who writes tweets that are distinctly outside of canon, Meyer wrote a massive new book. Somehow the “Twilight” series is none the better for it. 

If you’re as masochistic as Edward Cullen, pick up a copy of “Midnight Sun.” Otherwise, you may want to leave “Twilight” in 2005.