Stephenie Meyer is a hot property in the publishing world. You may not have heard of her if you are an adult, but if you are a teen girl you are probably aware of her "Twlight" series of novels that feature a love affair between a girl and a vampire. This series made a big splash- not quite a harry potter size splash, but darn close. Meyer, a young mother living in Utah, is now trying to break into the adult fiction market in a big way with her just-published novel "The Host".
"The Host" is sort of a science fiction romance. It involves a young woman named Melanie who becomes the very unwilling host of an alien organism that calls itself "Wanderer". In this plot scenario, the human race has basically been taken over by these alien parasites (they refer to themselves as "souls") with a few survivors hiding out. Melanie/Wanderer experiences a great deal of internal discord, and Wanderer discovers that the strength of Melanie's will, fed by her love for certain other humans including her little brother and a certain man named Jared, makes it impossible to destroy her "mind". Are Jared and Jamie alive? If so, are they unassimilated? These questions torment and energize Melanie. Wanderer begins to feel a sort of guilt at the absorption of the human race, because it is so clear that we crave freedom. This is a big problem- because, if the fact is discovered, Wanderer will be evicted from Melanie's body, which will then be destroyed, by the other "Souls". Melanie/Wanderer is forced to take it on the lam- in danger both from aliens and from surviving humans. Obviously, if you are a human and Melanie/Wanderer shows up, you figure that she is a "Judas Horse" trying to lead the aliens to you so that they can assimilate you.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was up to 3:00 p.m. last night reading the first half of this novel. It is a compelling, darn hard to put down book. But it is also a weird mix of different genres that will sort of drive you nuts at times. It's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" meets "Pride and Prejudice". Meyer does a pretty good job of imagining all this. The drawback to any romance is that the tension depends on misunderstanding. There is plenty of room for suspicion and hatred of course when you are worried that an alien is going to be installed in your brain stem- but it can be said that Meyer tends to prolong things to milk all the tension out of them. Jane Austen did too, but spent fewer pages doing it.
So the big question is: can Meyer post big numbers for adult readers the way she did for teens? Judging from a couple of 40 something ladies in my book group, the answer is yes. They were hooked on Meyer back with the "Twilight" books. Hey nothing wrong with that- I think it is good for adults to read young adult or even children's books. If you are not willing to do that, how are you going to introduce your own kids and grandkids to the wonders of reading?
The bottom line is that I think Meyer's writing is different and different is good. I give her a vote of confidence as a producer of offbeat genre fiction with certain elements of literary merit. Her plot premise does allow her to explore what it means to be human, to some extent. I want to know if she can grow as a writer- but I think time will tell on that. She will face the same pressures faced by all who write highly commercially successful fiction to accept typecasting. "Write another Twilight"- that is what the publisher will inevitably say.
I will tack a note onto this review when I finish reading "The Host". I should be done in a couple days.