Monday, August 2, 2010

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

The Host by Stephenie Meyer, 2008

There are a lot of things that Stephenie Meyer does not do well. Her characters are thin. Her plots are shallow and entirely without momentum. She rarely exhibits much real writing talent.

She is, however, a fine storyteller who can make you care about characters that are not realistic, or situations that bear no resemblance to actual life. Her massively successful Twilight series is a lot of fun and The Host, too, is an extremely entertaining read despite its glaring faults.

The story takes place in a future when Earth has been taken over by parasitic "souls' who have made the planet into a peaceful, human-free paradise. A very few rogue humans remain in hiding.

A soul named Wanderer is implanted in a human named Melanie Stryder. Unlike most human hosts, Melanie refuses to leave her mind. Instead, she manipulates Wanderer into setting off in search of the man she loves and the colony of free humans he lives with.

The premise is reasonably creative; the execution is pedestrian. Meyer never goes into too much detail about the souls or the other alien worlds in the universe; like in her Twilight books, the supernatural is not really what the story is about.

What the story is is a passable, entertaining romance with a central love quadrangle involving four people and three bodies. Since Wanderer (called Wanda by the humans) shares Melanie's memories, she lusts unreservedly after Jared, while a hunky human named Ian gets a crush on Wanda herself.

Frankly, the romantic segments of the novel feel like Twilight with a fresh coat of paint. There's not a dime's worth of difference between Wanda and Bella, and Jared and Ian bear more than a passing resemblance to Jacob and Edward.

Like Bella, Wanda spends an inordinate amount of time cowering, being selfless, or nursing injuries incurred by the bigger and stronger, as well as being carried, cuddled or kissed by either Ian or Jared. There's nothing really wrong with it (it goes with Meyer's genre of female fantasy), but it is sometimes annoying that Wanda doesn't rely on herself a little more.

Once Wanda/Melanie reach the human colony, the plot mostly peters out. True to form, Meyer can't really handle villains or plot twists, so things mostly move along slowly and without a very clear sense of direction.

That's not to say that Wanda's slow acceptance into the colony isn't interesting or fairly well written. It's actually pretty intriguing and there are some clever touches; I especially like how easy it is for the humans to steal supplies from the mild-mannered alien parasites.

Meyer has some moments of clear-eyed, if on-the-nose prose. Take this passage, about two-thirds of the way through the novel:

What was it that made this human love so much more desirable to me than the love of my own kind? Was it because it was exclusive and capricious? The souls offered love and acceptance to all. Did I crave a greater challenge? This love was tricky; it had no hard-and-fast rules-- it might be given for free, as with Jamie, or earned through time and hard work, as with Ian, or completely and heartbreakingly unattainable, as with Jared.

Or was it simply better somehow? Because these humans could hate with so much fury, was the other end of the spectrum that they could love with more heart and zeal and fire?

I didn't know why I yearned after it so desperately. All I knew was that, now that I had it, it was worth every ounce of risk and agony it had cost. It was better than I'd imagined.

It was everything.
(page 472)

It ain't Shakespeare, but it gets the point across well, and it's an interesting perspective. Most of Meyer's prose is workmanlike and uninspired. Some of her dialogue is okay, although anyone rough or violent generally ends up sounding like a Saturday-morning cartoon.

Another of Meyer's characteristics as a writer is her inability to kill or make permanently miserable any of her main characters. The novel's end is a classic example: everyone ends up with more or less exactly what they want.

Sometimes that's okay. The Host is pretty much the definition of feel-good, escapist literature. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, honestly. I like Wanda and Melanie and Jeb and Ian and Jared and even lunk-headed but ultimately redeemable Kyle. The novel doesn't say anything especially new or creative. It's about a hundred and fifty pages too long. It isn't even very well written. But it's an entertaining escape to a world where everybody finds a soul mate and, even though many millions of humans are effectively dead, everybody we care about ends up okay.

NEXT UP: I'll be reading Out of the Deep I Cry, a mystery novel from Julia Spencer-Fleming, a relatively little-known author who writes excellent mysteries. New review coming soon!

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