What is it about airports that makes me crave trashy eating and trashy reading?
My husband, once through security, will head towards an airport bar to catch some sports and swallow a Jack and Coke before take off, but me, I'm bee-lining towards the Hudson News to stock up for a banal sensory experience (If an airport has an Auntie Anne's, that's stop number one; most of the time, though, I make due with Chex Mix chased by Sour Patch Kids).
I was flying solo for my latest trip, meeting my husband in Austin. With a two hour flight, an hour layover, and then another two hours in the air, I had plenty of time to indulge. The best of intentions paving my way, The Happiness Project, my journal, and my laptop were all in my carry-on, but as I walked past the Hudson Booksellers, Chex Mix in hand, the sale table stopped me. Here was a plethora of books I would never buy, all $10 or less!
The creepy eye on the cover of The Host by Stephanie Meyers caught my attention. What else could the author of Twilight have to offer, I wondered, now that her vampire-human-wolf trifecta was over? I picked it up, put it down, and then as I was wheeling my luggage away, the eye winked at me.
Come on, it seemed to say, read me. I'm like reality TV after a really long day. You rushed here straight from work. You deserve some mind mush. Read me; you know you want to and I'm only $7.99, not even eight whole dollars!
And so I did.
And it wasn't that bad.
It's a post-apocalyptic world where humans have succumbed to a parasitic race of Souls or "worms" (think centipedes that move kind of like mercury, but also glow and are really beautiful) that take over the minds of their hosts and live in their bodies, until old age causes the hosts to die.
Wanderer, the main parasite, is put into the body of Melanie, the main host, after she is discovered as still human and possibly harboring information of an insurgency. Wanderer's job is to search Melanie's memories and report the location of the remaining humans. However, Melanie is a fighter and doesn't allow Wanderer access to all her memories. As the two battle for control of the body, Wanderer forms a romantic attachment to Melanie's boyfriend, Jared, due to the vivid memories Melanie does share with her (for some reason). Eventually, the two become allies and fight to save Jared and Mel's brother from the other worms. Along the way, they must decide how to share one body and one love.
Similar to the Twilight series, there is ubiquitous love triangle, but it is developed into a more complex shape. Jared loves Melanie and Melanie loves Jared, but Wanderer loves Jared and Jared is sometimes drawn to her because she is in Melanie's body and Melanie doesn't have control of it. Then, Ian comes into the picture. He loves Wanderer, but Melanie doesn't love Ian and, as noted, she can't escape, so what to do?
Aside from all the drama - that still read a little young for my taste despite the supposedly adult audience - the story did have me pondering, as my plane rolled into Austin-Burgstrom what it means to be human, prejudices, the value of life, and all that. It wasn't as bad or trite as I thought it would be.
However, there is still one element that bothers me.
It would be too strong to say that Meyer's promotes violence against women in her novels, but it might not be an overstatement to declare that her female protagonists (Bella in the Twilight series and Meredith/Wanderer here) still swoon over men who mistreat them emotionally and physically, often to the point of risking their own well-being to be nearer these men.
At one point in The Host, Wanderer steps in between Jared and Melanie's brother, Jamie, when they are fighting over whether or not Jared should kill her. Meyer writes: "He snatched my wrists in one hand and used this leverage to hurl me away from him, into the wall. The impact...knocked the breath out of me. I rebounded off the stone wall to the floor, landing in the boxes again...The pulse thudded in my head...and for a moment, I saw strange lights pass in front of my eyes".
The next time she encounters him she thinks, "No one was holding me back now, and though his voice was cold and angry, Jared was calling to me. Melanie was even more eager than I was...". This brings to mind the second novel in the Twilight series, New Moon, when Bella walks towards dangerous men on the street hoping to feel Edward's presence.
When he promises not to kill her (and her protector, Ian tells him that he will make him pay if he hurts her), she chooses to be alone to talk to him, wanting to sit nearer to him, wanting to touch him. As he is talking to her, she and Melanie are having an internal debate: "He still makes me feel safe, Melanie realized, feeling the warmth where his arm was just half an inch from mine. Though he doesn't know I'm here. I didn't feel safe. Loving Jared made me feel less safe than anything else I could think of." Yet, she is just as drawn to him as Melanie is.
Wanderer mulls over Melanie's feelings and whether Melanie would love the cruel Jared now if she didn't have earlier happy memories of him and Melanie asserts "Of course...I would love Jared in any form. Even like this, he belongs with me."
These types of passages are throughout the whole novel. What most rankles me is this last line. Even if Jared had been an angry, abusive man in the beginning of the story, Melanie says she still would have loved him. This takes away my ability to see that his anger is hardened grief and, therefore, more forgivable (although still not acceptable).
Some of Wanderer's charm is supposed to stem from the total non-violent, self-sacrificing traits of her species (in another passage, she risks her life to save a man who is only in danger of dying because he was trying to drown her in a boiling hot pool), but what about Melanie? This character's charm is her resourcefulness and her bravery.
The novel, overall, served its purpose and kept me from mind-numbing boredom, but just once when I crack open my airport literature I want a guilty pleasure that I'm not ashamed to be seen reading (yes, I took the book jacket off as soon as I purchased it) and a heroine that I'm not ashamed to be rooting for. More heroines like Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, would make me feel like the $7.99 (plus Chex Mix) was worth the indulgence.