Various threads and comments have made me reflect on Meyer’s as a writer, particularly regarding The Host (although similar comments could be made about the Twilight series).
While the individual threads of story make a pretty good book, Meyer’s takes the warp and weft of story and character and weaves together a very good book. There are writers who craft each word, each sentence and painstakingly build the whole. Typically they write short stories or poems; Saki (H. H. Munro) comes to mind. For novels, the best recent examples are Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This is really hard to do for a decent sized novel.
There are those whose words are the stuff of daily dialog, very conversational writing but they are woven together to paint a poignant and crystalline picture. Markus Zusak epitomizes this writing. Within the context of his stories, his phrasing is spot on. Some examples from I Am the Messenger are:
- “An expression of surprise falls from her face, though she’s trying to keep it. It breaks off and she seems to catch it and fidget with it in her hands.” Or
- “I think she ate a salad and some soup. And loneliness. She ate that, too. ”
- “She soon says, “You’re my best friend, Ed.” You can kill a man with those words. No gun. No bullets. Just words and a girl.”
There is nothing remarkable in the words but in their context, they weave a picture that is stark, crisp and fully colored. The moment, the feeling or the thought is captured and communicated to the reader.
Stephanie Meyers is a different writer. One of her best quotes is: “It’s not the face, but the expressions on it. It’s not the voice, but what you say. It’s not how you look in that body, but the thing you do with it. You are beautiful.” I know, it’s a pretty tepid, wordy line. It’s better than much of her writing. When I look at her individual “brush strokes” of writing, it’s a bit underwhelming. Yet when I read The Host, I have a clear sense not only of this alien “caterpillar” race that are “naturally” caring yet easily wipe out whole planets, but I come to know Wanda. I know their culture, how they respond to each other and the humans. I see the connections between character and action. She conveys the psyche and motive of her characters better than some who craft better sentences. Perhaps for her writing, like an Impressionist painting, we shouldn’t look too closely at the dots but appreciate the canvas. I follow along the narrative like canoer rolling along a river and enjoying the ride. (Perhaps this is why my only “reading” of Meyer is via audiobook; it’s a great journey, but the detail doesn’t warrant slogging through all the words.)
So, while some may dish Meyer (Mr. King), I’ll look forward to and read her next book with glee. While I would love to see the delightful turn of phrase, I am content with the wonderful story.
It is rare that the one who can invent worlds, cultures and languages while taking time to turn combinations of words into jewel-like phrases that dazzle us with their beauty. It’s also rare for those who mine language for such jewels to be master storytellers. It’s even rarer for that magical combination to produce content of interest (why horror Stephen King? Oh well, there will always be The Gunslinger). If I want to limit my reading to three books this year, then I’ll only read those authors who nail perfectly character, narrative, world building and phrasing.
So let us celebrate these worlds of words in their varying manifestations. Let us hope for those stories of fine crafted phrases, complex and complete characters and gorgeously rich descriptions of new worlds. In the meantime, let us enjoy what real, talented writers produce and if I had to choose great narrative over clever words, so be it. It’s a bit like saying skip Whedon’s The Avengers because it’s not as brilliant as Scorsese’s Hugo. Yes I loved Hugo, but I really had fun with The Avengers (even though Ironman has all the great lines).
Stephen King distinguishes between Ms. Meyer and Ms. Rowling putting Rowling into the rarer camp of great phrase turner and world creator “…(both authors were “speaking directly to young people”. ‘The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.’” Now, I grant you, Ms. Rowling can turn a phrase. Some of my favorite examples are:
- “Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
- “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”
- “He can run faster than Severus Snape confronted with shampoo.”
- “Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak.”
- “Books are like mirrors: if a fool looks in, you cannot expect a genius to look out.”
However, within her massive volumes, there are some bland phrasing as well. Don’t get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoy the Potter series, I just don’t see as stark a contrast as Mr. King. More importantly, one senses from Mr. King that Meyer’s isn’t worth reading. Au contraire; her worlds enlighten, her stories delight and her imagination does indeed take flight towards adventure.
I suspect most authors come to the moment where they say, along with Markus Zusak, “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” Sometimes they are made right in the book but not so much on the page.