When I found out Stephenie Meyer had written a new book, I turned to Tom and told him I had to read it.
“Why would you do that to yourself?” he asked.
“Because the worst case scenario is I have something to rant about on my blog.”
He then agreed that I needed to read the book.
Unfortunately, I’m writing this because the worst case scenario has indeed transpired.
I feel the need to add a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not a complete Stephenie hater. Her writing is pleasant and unobjectionable, and she does know how to tell an interesting story. I enjoyed several of the Twilight books for what they were, and I quite liked The Host. Obviously the Twilight series has some serious problems, but my main beef with Stephenie has always been the contemptuous way she treats her fans (don’t get me started on Life and Death, alrighty?). So when I heard she had written an actual book again, especially one with a title like The Chemist (in case you didn’t know, I used to be one of them chemistry types), I couldn’t resist giving her another chance.
Now, having read the thing, I’m just glad I found it at the library and didn’t actually spend any money on it.
(Fair warning: there are major spoilers in this post. In addition, this is probably the grumpiest thing I’ve written since my Hobbit posts. Also, I’mma go all pearl-clutching, Molly Mormon Utah girl on you, so if that’s not your thing, you probably oughtta skip this one. Please feel free to check out some of my other posts, like my last book review!)
The basic idea is that “Alex” (not her real name, but the one she goes by most consistently in the book) used to work for a shady government agency using shady chemical compounds to interrogate shady individuals. It’s all very shady. At some point her shady boss decided she knew too much but she survived the murder attempt and has been on the run ever since. After several more attempts to kill Alex, the shady organization asks her to complete one last assignment for for them, and the chance to live a normal life again is too tempting to pass up. But (shady voice) all is not as it seems
The really frustrating thing is that The Chemist wasn’t a completely terrible book. The plot was interesting, the writing style was fine (although you can tell Meyer is out of her element writing in third person), and Alex showed promise as an interesting narrator. There was potential for Meyer to fall back into bad habits and include yet another really awkward love triangle (identical twins, guys!), but she spared us. There wasn’t even any actual science in this book for me to cringe at (which kind of defeated the purpose of my reading it in the first place). I wanted to like this book, and I did—for the first third or so. But things went downhill fast when the romantic stuff took off.
The whole relationship is riddled with problems, starting with this gem from the main male character (Daniel…I hate that she used that name):
I see a woman who is more…real than any other woman I’ve ever met. You make every other person I’ve known seem insubstantial, somehow incomplete. Like shadows and illusions. I loved my wife, or rather–as you so insightfully pointed out while I was high–I loved my idea of who she was. I truly did. But she was never as there to me as you are. I’ve never been drawn to someone the way I am to you, and I have been from the very first moment I met you. It’s like the difference between…between reading about gravity and then falling for the first time.”
Let’s pass over the “while I was high” comment for now, but we’ll come back to it in a moment.
Girls, take note: men do not talk like this outside of really terrible romance novels. And the kind of men who do talk like this are probably not the ones you want to be dating. Edward Cullen, for example, also uses this kind of nauseatingly romantic language. I’m starting to worry that Meyer’s love language is “words of affirmation” and her husband has no idea, so she’s constantly fantasizing about attractive men telling her how luminous and intoxicating and real she is. This is not a healthy way to live your life, and it’s not a healthy way to write fiction.
What’s worse is that this conversation takes place shortly after Alex kidnaps and drugs Daniel with “a chemical compound with manifestations similar to ecstasy,” tortures him for information he doesn’t have, and essentially takes him so far out of his comfort zone that the poor guy is desperate for any sort of reassurance. Not only does Meyer create the sort of unhealthy, unequal relationship power dynamic we’re all familiar with, but it’s obvious that Daniel’s attraction to Alex is 100% adrenaline and drugs. This is just the extreme version of my high school psychology teacher’s awful advice to the boys in our class: take the girl you like to a roller coaster park or horror movie so she’ll mistake the adrenaline rush for attraction to you.
Boys, don’t do this. Just don’t.
This is even addressed several times in the book, but Daniel blows it off quickly. No, it’s okay! I asked for your number before you drugged me, remember? We had that awkward two minutes of small talk on the train! Our love is reeeeaaaaallll!
More accurately, Daniel’s physical attraction to Alex is real. I guess that’s a better foundation for a relationship than, “Your blood smells so good I want to kill you.”
The final nail in the coffin for me is that just after a particularly gory near-death experience, Alex and Daniel engage in some poorly-concealed “adult” activities. (Actually, “poorly-concealed” isn’t accurate–she didn’t even try.) There’s nothing explicit, of course, although the scenes leading up to the act are pretty racy. This is disturbing for several reasons, not least of which is the adrenaline/attraction thing we just discussed.
(Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that the purpose of this blog post is not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.)
Stephenie Meyer is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So am I. As Mormons, we believe that certain practices are not only contrary to the commandments of God, but are also bad for individuals and detrimental to society, and extramarital sex is one of these practices. It’s well known that Stephenie is a Mormon, and so whether she likes it or not, when she publishes her work, she is acting as an unofficial representative of the Church. It’s one thing for a Mormon author to acknowledge the fact that people in “the world” engage in these types of behaviors for the sake of realism (I personally don’t feel like you have to include sexual content to tell a good story, but what do I know?). It’s quite another to present this event as the single best decision a character has ever made in her entire life, and dwell on the life-changing “joy” she feels to the exclusion of all other consequences.
When it comes down to it, when you hear that a book was written by a Mormon author, you generally expect that book to be reasonably clean and PG-rated, which made the whole experience really unpleasant. I think Breaking Dawn straddles the line between appropriate and inappropriate (especially in a YA novel), but at least Bella and Edward are married. In The Chemist, it feels like Stephenie is prancing over the line, declaring to the world that she doesn’t have to follow the rules anymore.
Well, Stephenie can do what she wants, and her fans have proven that they’re going to financially support her no matter how she treats them. She’s certainly not going to read or care about my opinion. But on the off chance that she does, here’s my message for her: Stephenie, you’re a Mormon. And with all the sisters-in-Zion love in my heart, I’m asking you to please act like it.
I speed-read the rest of the book, skimming more often than was probably necessary, but it was pretty hard to enjoy it after that. The ending was rushed and underwhelming, and if I’d been at all invested in the story, I would have felt disappointed. Overall, The Chemist gets one star from me.
And now I’m going to go scrub my brain by reading something decent.