Blue is a Darkness Weakened by Light by Sarah McCarry

Stephenie Meyer has a new book out. I still haven’t written one. She probably has four cars. I’m wondering if someday owning a small house with enough space for one cat to be happy is too lofty a life goal for a freelance editor. I’m glad I chose this career but I obviously didn’t do it for the money.

blue-is-a-darkness

Artwork by Jasu Hu

I’m thinking about this not because I’m feeling sorry for myself (well, not much) but because the day before I found out Meyer had churned out another manuscript I read what will probably be one of my favourite pieces of fiction this year: “Blue is a Darkness Weakened by Light” by Sarah McCarry, published on Tor.com. It’s a sardonic take on paranormal YA and a haunting depiction of loneliness and neglected ambition. The main character, as she no doubt knows, is a cliché who moved to a big, cold city with her “pockets full of dreams” only to find that “the people-clotted streets are lonelier than anywhere I’ve known”. She works as an assistant to a literary agent and spends all her time not writing her own novel. At the moment, she’s critiquing a draft of the fourth book in a YA paranormal romance series. It’s junk but it makes a ton of cash. In this latest installment, the hot new boy at school turns out to be a vampire.

The narrator knows an actual vampire (or at least that’s how she thinks of him), who buys her drinks every night after work and is helping her critique the manuscript. He’s a debonair, unthreatening kind of a monster and he’s not trying to kill her, turn her or even sleep with her. He really does seem to be just a friend, and you get the sense that the narrator wishes he was more of a romantic cliché, because then he could save her from poverty, obscurity and death. Like in Twilight, which the story often alludes to.

It disdains the cheap tropes of paranormal YA romance, and that, of course, is a big part of why I love it. I’ve found the genre too boring and sexist to ever be even a guilty pleasure. McCarry’s story also dips into the tedious aspects of editing – “Consider deleting second and third use of ‘lion,’ I write in the margins. To avoid repetition.” I don’t know how many times I’ve had to make notes about avoiding repetition since I started editing books.

On the other hand, I also admire McCarry’s story because of the way it explores the desire that could lurk behind the scorn we have for romance, and the pitiful appeal of cliché. Erica Jong sums it up in Fear of Flying: “all the romantic nonsense you yearned for with half your heart and mocked bitterly with the other half”.

The narrator obviously doesn’t think much of paranormal YA or the book she’s critiquing, but the author has four cars and seems happy and friendly. The narrator, however, is “penniless and unhappy and not in the least a pleasant person, so perhaps Rosamunde and her authoress have made better choices after all”. Rosamunde is the protagonist of the series and she embodies the (apparently profitable) silliness of other female paranormal YA protagonists:

Rosamunde has proven a magnet for supernatural entities of all kinds. Two werewolf brothers, several half-demons, and one fallen angel have told her she is beautiful, but she doesn’t believe them. Rosamunde is certain she is only average. Her skin is soft and smells of roses. She enjoys bubble baths, the Brontës, and Frappuccinos.

The narrator, in contrast to a life of hot scented baths and overpriced drinks, spends her weekends in the library because “[t]he building has heat and you do not have to pay anything in order to sit all afternoon and cry like a teenager into your open notebook”. The self-deprecating misery is just the right pitch of wry exaggeration, while the poverty is quietly, keenly on point, running throughout the story and driving it forward with increasing force.

I share an apartment with four other girls in a part of the city that will not be cheap for much longer. Once a month a black family moves out of my building and a white couple moves in. My roommates, like me, all came here to do things other than the things they are now doing.

 

—Have you ever had foie gras? the vampire asks. —No? What about escargot? He is amused by how little I know about the world. I am bemused by how little rich people know about lack.

It’s this lack – of money, love, recognition – that lies at the core of all her desperate longings, that make her want to be Rosamunde even though she knows Rosamunde is absurd. She can pick apart the shortcomings of paranormal romance with academic precision, and yet that narrative still appeals to her because it’s so much better than the life she’s living. Notably, none of the characters have names, except for Rosamunde and the high-school vampire, Marcus.

McCarry tells the story with skilfully executed minimalism: it’s sparse and straightforward, stripped of quotation marks and sentiment. I enjoy the way this sort of style leaves an open space into which your own thoughts and feelings pour, should the story move you, and “Blue is a Darkness” certainly does. The effect is evocative and leaves a lingering sense of subtle, satisfying melancholy. I get drawn back in and find that the story has more to offer. I want to read it again and again.

 

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Twilight (Twilight, #1)Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The absolute worst book I have ever read. A huge pile of atrociously written, misogynist, utterly ridiculous, boring crap.

Bella is the most annoying, whiny narrator I’ve ever come across, and Meyer’s pathetic, dead writing makes this even more unbearable. Bella is also a complete dismissive bitch to those who care about her and try to be kind to her, including her father. The only person she cares about is the unbelievably arrogant and emotionally immature vampire Edward. Meyer/Bella tells us he’s supernaturally beautiful and attractive (on almost every page) but I never felt it. I don’t think I could stand to spend 5 minutes with such an egotistical, anti-social person, nevermind share a bed with a body that’s ice-cold, hard as stone and has the skin tone of a corpse.

Bella and Edward’s relationship is based entirely on physical attraction (he’s beautiful, she smells good), so it made me gag everytime Bella/Meyer tries to forcefeed you the idea that it’s the greatest, most loving romance of all time. Even worse is the fact that Edward’s creepy, intrusive behaviour – such as breaking into Bella’s home, watching her sleep without her knowledge, dragging her by the collar into his car, constantly “commanding” her, and eavesdropping on her private conversations – is either interpreted as a sign of his great love or dismissed. Which sounds a lot like the excuses made for or by domestic abusers – he’s just overprotective, he did it because he loves me. And Bella seems happy to waive her right to privacy and choice as long as it means this man will always be in her life. Nor does she seem to mind that Edward lays the blame on her for any physical damage he might cause to her – it’s her fault for being so beautiful, for smelling so good, for being irresistable. He even says it’s her fault that a dangerous vampire becomes attracted to her and decides to track and kill her. Another line from the domestic abusers – she provoked me.

The (very poor) counter-argument from fans tends to be that this novel is just meant to be fun, you shouldn’t take it so seriously. Well if Twilight were just badly written, and all I had to ignore were the gaping plot holes (what happens when Bella gets her period?) or the long list of ridiculous plot devices (like sparkling or century-old adults going to high school over and over again), then maybe I could have just enjoyed the romance. But if I read a story that celebrated a rapist and his belief that women deserved it, or a story that vindicated a racist and his ideas about the inferiority of blacks, I couldn’t say ‘oh, it’s not meant to be great literature, it’s not meant to be taken seriously, just enjoy it’. I’d be disgusted, as I am disgusted with Twilight, and there is absolutely nothing in it to redeem its flaws. I remain shocked and saddened at its popularity, and what it implies about the sexist, antiquated views women and men still have about gender and their relationships with each other.