Monday, June 29, 2009
The Host by Stephanie Meyer
I knew it would begin with the end, and the end would look like death to these eyes. I had been warned. Not these eyes. My eyes. Mine. This was me now. The language I found myself using was odd, but it made sense. Choppy, boxy, blind, and linear. Impossibly crippled in comparison to many I'd used, yet still it managed to find fluidity and expression. Sometimes beauty. My language now. My native tongue. With the truest instinct of my kind, I'd bound myself securely into the body's center of thought, twined myself inescapably into its every breath and reflex until it was no longer a separate entity. It was me. Not the body, my body.
And so begins Stephanie Meyer's first book for adults. Slow to start, and no great work of literature (though better written than the Twilight books, which I loved but which were clearly written at an eighth-grade level) but an arresting story nevertheless. Imagine that aliens invaded Earth, mostly good and kind but paternalistic in that they think they can run things a lot better than slow, violent humans. So they invade our bodies, tiny centipede creatures called "souls" that burrow into human brains and mostly eradicate the human mind that was there. This is the world that Melanie Stryder, her partner Jared and her brother Jamie live in. They are constantly on the run until the day Melanie is caught and a soul named Wanderer is put in her body.
Melanie, however, refuses to fade away, coexisting with Wanderer and eventually leading her to abandon her fellow alien souls and set off to find Jared and Jamie. They are living in an underground cell with other human rebels, and are not very welcoming to the alien life form that wanders into their protected home. While Wanderer/Melanie manages to convince a few, Jared and Jamie included, that Melanie is still around and Wanderer is on their side, on the whole the splinter cell of human survivors does not welcome the alien in their midst. Soon enough, she wears them down into grudging acceptance and proceeds to make life much easier for all - assisting with raids on the aliens' hospitals and stores - due to her eyes, which give her away as a body inhabited by an alien soul. Eventually, the inevitable happens (inevitable if you read Stephanie Meyer books) - interspecies romance. Of course one of the humans, Ian, falls for the soul Wanderer, while at the same time Melanie, and her body, love Jared. At the book's end, Wanderer finds that she loves Melanie too much to continue to control her body and arranges to give her the body back and die. Ian's love for the soul is too great, and the fondness of the rest of the colony for her too admiring, to let that happen. Instead Wanderer is separated from Melanie and put into another body, one who's human was eradicated by a previous soul - just a body. Ian and Wanderer and Melanie and Jared can all love and hang out and coexist. Yay!
The Host was definitely an interesting book. Though it started off slow, by the middle I had a hard time putting it down. A strange love story to be sure, but with the kind of universal themes - undying love, what makes us human, self-sacrifice, acceptance - that allow you to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the story. I can't imagine what it would be like to be Wanderer, in love with Ian, but who's body, Melanie's, only responds to Jared. Pretty freaky stuff. Meyer released this book in the middle of the Twilight series, intending it to be an adult book. However, I didn't really see much to suggest that it was written for any different audience than Twilight. Still no sex scenes, no language, as could probably be suspected from a conservative (and I think Mormon?) author like Meyer (the entire Twilight series could be loosely read as an extended petition for abstinence until marriage). It really isn't written on a higher or more "literary" level. But it was an enjoyable summer read, and it certainly grabbed me in the same way the Twilight books had done. Oh and one thing that bothered me: Wanderer's name was shortened and humanized to Wanda, which I hated. It just did not seem to fit the character described in the book, and it grated on me every time I read the word- which was a lot.