Teenage girls and like-minded women have turned a series of vampire novels into the biggest thing in publishing since Harry Potter, said Carol Memmott in USA Today. At midnight last Friday, 1,500 bookstores around the country hosted parties to celebrate the release of Stephenie Meyer’s 754-page Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book in the “Twilight” vampire romance series that the 34-year-old mother of three quietly launched three years ago. First-day sales of the new book didn’t quite approach Potter numbers: The seventh book about the boy wizard sold a U.S. record 8.3 million copies in 24 hours last summer. But Breaking Dawn reportedly moved an impressive 1.3 million copies on Aug. 2 alone—and the first movie based on the series isn’t due until late this year.
The series has an undeserved reputation for being unusually tame, said Lev Grossman in Time. Its protagonist is Bella Swann, a shy high school newcomer who falls hard for Edward, a “ridiculously good-looking” classmate who happens to be a vampire. Meyer’s twist on the old vampire myth is that Edward and his family “have renounced human blood on moral grounds.” So while Edward yearns for Bella, he insists on not taking their romance beyond kissing and hand-holding. The series thus becomes a study in “the erotics of abstinence,” its considerable tension arising “from prolonged, superhuman acts of self-restraint.” Under the squeaky-clean surface of the romance burns a sexual ardor that’s “absolutely, deliciously filthy.” And good-girl teenagers can’t seem to get enough of it.
Young readers aren’t the only ones turned on by the heat between Bella and Edward, said Laura Miller in Salon.com. Some of the series’ fiercest devotees are “grown women, many with families of their own.” There are apparently countless moms out there who have never gotten over the hierarchies of high school, or the “shy girl’s dream” that some gorgeous boy from the cool clique will find her average-ness irresistible. It’s a fantasy that’s as “nonsensical as its masculine counterpart, pornography, and every bit as habit-forming.” The Twilight phenomenon just proves that a wooden stake to the heart may be needed if it’s ever going to be put to rest.