• Fri, Dec 31 2010

An Open Letter to Stephenie Meyer About ‘The Host’

So I just got finished reading your 2008 novel The Host. Which, according to the promo copy, is your first book aimed at adults. So was I expecting it to be leaps and bounds better than the drivel that was the Twilight Saga? No. Was it? No. But I can say this, Stephenie Meyer: you are not, as many in the literary world would like to believe, a wholly shitty writer. You’re really not. You have some good ideas and, obviously, some incredibly marketable ones. Your plots are so compelling that otherwise self-respecting readers like me will plow through four ridiculously long books full of middle-school-level language just to find out what happens between Bella and Edward and Jacob.

The Host is not vampire-themed, and thank you for that. It’s straight-ahead sci-fi, and it’s a pretty decent setup: alien species colonizes Earth, body-snatchers style, by taking over “host” humans. But one stubborn young woman puts up a fight and won’t completely die out, leaving her and her alien occupant – a formidable personality herself, it turns out – to co-exist in one bod. Honestly, I found this book a lot more readable than The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin’s purported feminist sci-fi classic, and it raised a bunch of interesting questions about gender and painted a lot of interesting alien world scenarios just like that one did.

Here’s the thing, though. Do you have an editor? Or, if so, has he or she been instructed to just let you write whatever the hell you want because it’ll make gazillions no matter what? As far as I can see, you have three favorite verbs, and they are: “wince,” “cringe,” and “flinch.” When in doubt, your protagonist will do one of these three almost identical things. I have two opposing theories about this. One, you yourself suffer from a mild form of Tourette’s and have a bunch of wince-like tics and want to think of them as more commonplace than they really are. Two, you don’t really know what any of those words mean. The third possibility is that you actually think it’s OK for a young woman to react this way to nearly anything anyone says to her, ever. You know who else did a lot of that? Bella Swan, that’s who. Stephenie, I know you’re a good God-fearin’ Mormon. But give these ladies a little more respect. If Bella is strong enough to become a freaking vampire, and if Melanie, this new girl, can fight off an alien invader in her own body, I don’t think either of them are exactly the flinching type. Nor do I think it’s a terrific message to be sending your throngs of impressionable teen readers, this idea that you should always behave as if someone might be about to punch you in the face.

Nearly as annoying: multiple male characters are always picking Melanie up in their arms and running with her. You know who else did a lot of this? Edward and Jacob. Out here in the real world, ladies can actually run just as well as dudes. And dudes (human ones, anyway) don’t actually run all that effectively when carrying a 90-plus-pound weight in front of them. This isn’t Gone with the Wind. Come to think of it, even Scarlett would have told Rhett to cut that shit out – remember how un-thrilled she was that one time he carried her up the staircase?

Relatedly, can we get a sex scene? If you’re going to be writing for grownups, Stephenie, we can take it. Fine if you want to preach celibacy until immortality in the vampire books, but here you’ve got two potentially hot couples (in three bodies – kudos for making it that weird and complicated) and you don’t let any of them get beyond first base. Weak.

My last bone to pick with The Host, as well as your previous work, is the cartoonish selflessness exhibited by the female protagonist. She’s been starving for a week, but she doesn’t want to put anyone out by accepting a bowl of soup. She’s been stabbed in the arm, but she doesn’t want anyone wasting their valuable time putting a bandage on it. This is not heroic, it’s idiotic, and it makes us like your characters less, not more. The reason Twilight the movie is better than Twilight the book is because Kristen Stewart toned that shit down a bunch, making Bella a lot poutier and, frankly, a lot more real.

My suggestion? Take a cue from J.K. Rowling. Her first book was absolute crap, but she learned from her mistakes and The Deathly Hallows was actually a really good read. If you haven’t read any of the reviews of The Host maybe do yourself a favor and check them out now, especially the harsh ones. Lean harder on your editor to point out where you could be better. Your excellent characters are clearly dying to escape into some better prose.

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  • Kat

    She uses CRINGE in every other word in Twilight! Ugh! But saying the first Harry Potter book was bad is blasphemy! It was a thousand times better that Twilight.

  • Amy

    She’s also fond of chagrin, if you haven’t noticed.
    I’m actually willing to admit I loved the story and characters in The Host. They could have been dealt with better, but it is a good concept.

  • bellasmom

    i loved all her books and yes, i have a daughter named Bella Rose. Stephenie Meyer is an inspirational author so anyone who thinks otherwise can go blow themselves.

  • Jazz

    I loved the host,I thought the story was brilliant! I’m so happy that it is being turned into a movie,I think it will be amazing….I hope ypu choose the right cast and that we don’t have to wait too long for the movie to hit the big screen,good luck