Edward Cullen has "a face any male model in the world would trade his soul for." He is an eternally 17-year-old vampire who lives in the eternally cloudy town of Forks, Washington. He doesn't have fangs, he doesn't kill humans, and he's continually described as the most beautiful man on earth. Sunlight won't burn him into a black powder; it only makes him prettier. "Edward in the sunlight was shocking," his creator writes. "His skin... literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare."
It is, then, no surprise that on the night of Friday, August 1, about a hundred girls and women ranging in age from 8 to "mind your own business"—but largely teenagers—showed up at the University Book Store for the release of Breaking Dawn, the fourth vampire romance novel in the Twilight series, from author Stephenie Meyer. They were joined by hundreds of avid fans at Third Place Books and Secret Garden Bookshop and Borders and Barnes & Noble. They, in turn, were joined by hundreds of thousands of like-minded fans across the country.
Back to Edward. He is in love with a human teenager named Isabella ("Bella") Swan, the books' narrator. They are in love with each other as only teenagers can be. Their hearts leap from their chests and fornicate rudely on the ground on almost every page. The catch is that Bella is torn. A werewolf boy named Jacob loves her, too; and, unlike Edward, he could give Bella babies and a more normal life. Werewolves and vampires are, of course, mortal enemies, and Edward and Jacob are continually at odds with each other for the hand of Bella. The Twilight movie is coming out this fall, and fans can buy T-shirts and CDs to supplement the books. In the third book in the series, Eclipse, Edward gives Bella an engagement ring and Jacob gives her a charm bracelet. Fans can buy exact replicas online.
There's not one beautiful sentence in the entire first three books of the Twilight series. Bella and Edward fall in love immediately and desperately, for no reason except that they have to in order to get the damn book started. There's a big vampire fight at the climax of the first book, but because Bella is unconscious during it, all the action is relayed afterward, in flashback. Oh, and none of the books have any real plot. It is difficult to relay here how enraging it is that characters either murmur or mutter—or both!—on nearly every page. Without those two words, the books would be noticeably shorter.
But the truth of megapublishing is that mega-authors must only do one thing really well: Stephen King writes a disturbing scene more effectively than any other author; Dan Brown moves a plot forward with such velocity that readers don't have time to realize that nothing makes sense. What Meyer does, maybe better than anyone else in popular fiction right now, is capture that sensation of new teenage love, when one's genitals have just come alive and the desire to copulate is so powerful and all-consuming that the teenage brain, still reeling from the recent passage from childhood, has to interpret it as powerful, undying love—the kind of love that nobody on earth has ever or will ever experience again.
Meyer is a practicing Mormon, and the characters are completely abstinent. It's all horny foreplay; sexual tension is all the first three books have to offer. Due to Edward's blood lust, he can't even really make out with Bella for fear of his darker impulses taking over. Instead, they talk (a lot) about how much they want each other. Refreshingly for young-adult fiction, Bella objectifies Edward ceaselessly, and she's the one who wants to initiate sex. Edward, being over 100, is the more old-fashioned of the two. But feminists will spend a generation fighting the influence of these books anyway. Bella faints and constantly needs saving. She's forever passive, waiting for the men to act. Without Edward, she admits, she has no purpose in life.
It's a cliché, but their love has to be discussed in clichés, because the nuance of intelligent language can't convey these power-chord emotions:
"Do you really have any idea how important you are to me? Any concept at all of how much I love you?" He pulled me tighter against his hard chest, tucking my head under his chin.
I pressed my lips against his snow-cold neck. "I know how much I love you," I answered.
"You compare one small tree to the entire forest."
I rolled my eyes, but he couldn't see. "Impossible."
He kissed the top of my head and sighed.
At the University Book Store, scavenger hunts are played in the stacks and trivia questions are answered for prizes. These prizes include trips to Forks (it's on the Olympic Peninsula) to go on the brand-new Twilight tour, and tickets to Meyer's sold-out rock-star appearance at Benaroya Hall on August 12. The youngest girls come earliest, then the older teens arrive, towing sarcastic boyfriends who linger at the booth where bookstore employees powder and bloody people's faces to "vampirize" them.
About an hour before the sales begin, women in their mid-40s arrive, one wearing a long black veil, and they stand off to the side looking mildly embarrassed for being the oldest people in the room. At midnight, there is a countdown, followed by cheering, and then the ladies get in line to receive their books. Women in their 20s wander in, dressed in nightclubbing clothes and slurring a little from time spent in nearby bars. As the groups mingle, some of the older ones try to be ironic about it even as other, more serious fans—the ones who call themselves "Twi-hards" online—impatiently wait their turn. Within 15 minutes, everyone has headed home to begin a long night of reading, leaving wearied and fake-bloodied booksellers to pick up their considerable mess.
The next morning, Hachette Book Group announces the sales: 1.3 million copies sold at midnight.