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'Breaking Dawn' gives readers plenty to chew on

Lilah Lohr
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Well, "Breaking Dawn," the finale of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series, is pretty darned good, but I wish she hadn't felt compelled to pack so much into one volume.

It should have been two books. There was more than enough material, what with resolving 18-year-old Bella Swan's romantic dilemma (boyfriend Edward Cullen is a vampire, best friend Jacob Black is a werewolf, and she loves them both); resolving the conflict between the resident vampires and werewolves in rainy Forks, Wash.; and bringing in the Italian vampire heavies, the Volturi, for a huge showdown. There's also the matter of choices (humanity versus immortality, for example) and their consequences, a major theme of the four-novel series that includes "Twilight," "New Moon" and "Eclipse."

But Meyer winds it all up in one mammoth, 754-page volume. It helps that she breaks the story into parts, shifting the point of view from Bella to Jacob, a device that lets her throw in some cliffhangers and plot hooks to pull the reader through a very long, complicated story.

Changing narrators also showcases her writerly chops in terms of characterization. Jacob Black is a triumph; his dialogue jumps off the page.

Her descriptions of the pros and cons of "pack mentality" - the telepathic link that tunes everyone into everyone else's thoughts - makes her imaginative vision of the La Push, Wash., werewolves a standout.

The characters of Bella and Edward are, at heart, less satisfying. Edward is stunningly handsome, can read minds and is invincibly strong. Meyer is wise enough to also show he has a temper, jumps to conclusions and can be infuriatingly high-handed. She deals with the pesky vampire problem by placing Edward in a "family" that chooses to make do with animal blood and live quietly among humans.

Bella Swan is an ugly duckling, the Everygirl who can't imagine a guy like Edward would stick around for clumsy her. She is headstrong and self-absorbed; good-hearted but infuriating.

Many fans love Meyer's books because of her carefully crafted characters; women of all ages swoon over Edward, identify with Bella and love Jacob. The obvious romantic question - how far will things go between Edward and Bella physically - is settled at the beginning of the series: There's is plenty of yearning and soulful kissing, but Edward (and Meyer) draw the line at premarital sex.

In the cooing over the series as romance, I think Meyer doesn't get enough credit for her mastery of the "what if": She places her clearly delineated characters in the real world and plays out the implications. What would it feel like to be a vampire or a werewolf? What if you were a human who wanted to spend eternity with your soul mate - what would that mean?

For the last question, the implications of leaving humanity behind, Meyer pulls the punch. Though Bella spends the better part of one novel in the series trying to figure out whom she loves and what to do about it, the series finale glosses over a great deal of emotional impact as plot points drop into place and big questions get handy answers.

I think she tried to do too much in "Breaking Dawn," but don't let that put you off. Meyer uses her strong characters to tell an entertaining story.

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