As I write this, I just came back from a sushi restaurant that was advertising an All-You-Can-Eat tuna sashimi special. It was the first time I ever ate so much at an all-you-can-eat that the staff started displaying open animosity towards us.
Chapter 23: Confessed
In the last chapter, there is a monster under Wanderer’s bed!
There was a low shuffling sound – it was inside the room with me. My eyes popped open, and I could see a shadow between the moonlit ceiling and me.
And then we totally feared for Wanderer’s safety as the chapter ended in suspense, waiting for the next chapter to explain:
“Shh, it’s just me,” Jamie whispered.
Oh. Well, that was rational. WHAT A SURPRISE.
Jamie explains that he usually shares a room with Jared, but with their room loaned to Wanderer, he’s supposed to share a room with Jeb, but Jeb snores really loudly. Wanderer knows that Jared won’t be happy with her taking his room, and Wanderer and Jamie decide after a few paragraphs of deliberation that the best way to handle this is to not tell him. The interpersonal politics in this book are gripping.
Remember the last time you had a roommate – maybe in college or at a sleepover or something – and you have those awkward “when do we stop talking and go to sleep?” moments where no one really knows where to stop talking? At least yours didn’t involve the other person asking you if their sister’s consciousness is still alive within you, so this is way more awkward.
“If I asked you something, would you tell me the truth?”
It was my turn to hesitate. “I don’t know everything,” I hedged.
“You would know this. […] Uncle Jeb thinks that Melanie might still be alive. Inside there with you, I mean.”
My Jamie. Melanie sighed.
I said nothing to either of them.
Wait, we’ve seen before that all of Wanderer’s narration is overheard by Melanie, so wouldn’t Melanie hear Wanderer actively choosing to ignore her? Oh, wait, this book has no continuity for body-possession rules. Nevermind.
This is followed by a very awkward, very short scene in which Jamie keeps asking Wanderer this question, breaking and crying more and more each time, and Wanderer’s approach is this:
Until eventually she gives up and says that Melanie loves him, subtly confirming she does still exist. Dude, it took Jared a longer time to eat a bag of Cheetos. Jamie has more questions, because he is the only person in this book who actually asks the alien who took over a human body what happens when an alien takes over a human body.
“Is everybody like that?” Jamie whispered long after I thought he’d fallen asleep. “Does everybody stay?”
“No,” I told him sadly. “No. Melanie is special.”
“She’s strong and brave.”
Remember that according to Stephenie Meyer, a strong and brave woman is one whose every line of dialogue and motivation concerns her undying love for a man.
Wanderer explains that Melanie’s love for Jamie passed on to her. Jamie asks if that means she loves Jared too.
I gritted my teeth for a second, chagrined that he had made the connection so easily.
Maybe he’s read Stephenie Meyer’s writing before.
“Does Melanie hate you?”
I thought for a minute. “Not as much as she used to.”
No. I don’t hate you at all. Not anymore.
“She says she doesn’t hate me at all anymore”
You want to know why this book is awful? These four lines. Even when there is conflict, there is no actual conflict. Meyer is trying so hard to create moral ambiguity, but all she’s accomplished is apathy.
Jeb wakes them up in the morning, tells Jamie he’s late for school (no, really), and tells Wanderer there’s work to be done.
“I think all this baby sitting nonsense has gone on long enough.”
Is that a line of Uncle Jeb’s dialogue that Meyer wrote, or a comment that her editor wrote that made it into the final book?
“I’m a busy man. Everyone is busy here – too busy to sit around playin’ guard.”
They’re all hiding in a cave. What work could they possibly have to do?
“So today you’re going to have to come along with me while I get my chores done.”
We go on another goddamn tour of the cave (we should make t-shirts, given how often I’ve had to say that), and then spend the rest of the chapter getting incredibly detailed descriptions of chores being performed by Wanderer, Jeb, and Ian who is required to be there to provide ambiguous romantic tension:
Ian was just a step behind me – I could hear him breathing.
Chapter 24: Tolerated
The more of this book I read – the more slow-paced descriptions of scenery and physical activity taking up pages and pages of text – the more I think Stephenie Meyer is trying to channel John Steinbeck, but like a supernatural John Steinbeck. Because that was what was really missing from The Grapes of Wrath: aliens.
It was true that I did not smell good. […] So much salt had dried into my cotton shirt that it was creased into rigid accordion wrinkles. It used to be pale yellow; now it was a splotchy, diseased-looking print in the same dark purple color as the cave floor.
Purple? Dude, Wanderer, how the fuck are you sweating?!
Wanderer takes a bath, an epic saga which Stephenie Meyer takes seven paragraphs to tell. WE GET IT. EVERYTHING HAS LOTS OF DETAIL. I’m not even reading the description anymore, Meyer!
Wanderer takes us through the rest of her day relatively quickly: chores planting crops in the field, eating food in the kitchen, talking to Jeb about the other planets she went to before bed – all with awkward silent treatment from the other humans.
I wondered how long things could last like this.
The answer was exactly four days.
But then she takes us back and goes through those four days of chores planting crops in the field, eating food in the kitchen, talking to Jeb about the other planets she went to before bed – all with awkward silent treatment from the other humans.
Then we finally get to what happens on the fourth day when THINGS CHANGE. Wanderer is doing chores in the kitchen, kneading bread with three other women, when Jeb leaves for a moment. But he’s gone for a long time. And nothing happens. And he comes back.
No Jeb, no gun, my hands trapped in the gluey dough – nothing to stop them.
But the women kept on kneading and shaping, not seeming to realize this glaring truth. After a long breathless moment, I started kneading again, too. […]
Jeb was gone for an eternity. […]
“Took you long enough,” the salt-and-pepper braid woman said when he got back, so I knew it wasn’t just my imagination.
And that’s it. Later he stops carrying his gun around. That’s it. People aren’t trying to kill Wanderer anymore. Of course, the idea is that Jeb is trying to integrate Wanderer into human society (although why is still somewhat ambiguous), but Wanderer is strangely paranoid for a species that won’t shut up about how it is superior to humanity because it innately trusts others.
I began to wonder if leaving the gun behind today, and leaving me alone yesterday, and all this effort of forcing me into human company was his way of getting me killed without doing the job himself. Was the friendship all in my head? Another lie?
Then a little later she goes into the kitchen and conversation continues, which is great, because now the other characters in the book don’t care about Wanderer as much as I do.
Ian lounged next to me, casually turning to the girl on his other side. (Yeah, playing hard to get, aren’t you, Ian?) It was the young blonde – he called her Paige.
“How are things going? How are you holding up with Andy gone?” he asked her.
“I’d be fine if I weren’t so worried,” she told him, biting her lip.
Man, Meyer hasn’t had to write casual human conversation in so long that she’s forgotten how to make it sound natural. You’d be fine if you weren’t so worried? Well, yeah, naturally. You’re not one thing because you’re another thing. That’s like saying you’d be a dinosaur if you weren’t a human. First thing kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it?
Wanderer asks Jeb why he’s trying to kill her, and he laughs it off and explains that he’s not with some fantastic metaphor about frogs and boiling water. Ariel wrote about it yesterday, go read it, it’s great. Wanderer asks Ian why he’s not trying to kill her later. Because that’s really all any of these characters have to talk about.
“I can’t see how killing you would make anything right. It would be like executing a private for a general’s war crimes.”
Unfortunately, Ian’s answer isn’t “because I love you with the passion of thousands of blazing suns,” so, OH WELL. GONNA HAVE TO WAIT FOR THAT ONE.