Thursday, July 28, 2016

#28 [2016/CBR8] "The Host" by Stephenie Meyer

Yeah, I'm not ashamed to admit that I've read all four Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer. I was curious what all the fuss was about--both positive and negative--and they were easy to read. The Host (2008), on the other hand, was a selection by my book club. It wasn't something I would have chosen to read on my own, but I was also curious to see Meyer's take on science fiction. ***Beware of spoilers ahead. I believe that anyone who was actually interested in this book must have read it ages ago.***

The human bodies on Earth have been overcome by alien parasites. They call themselves "souls" as they infiltrate their hosts' brains and bodies. The souls take on the life and habits of their hosts, and the only sign that the humans are not humans anymore is a silvery shine in their eyes when in direct light. Souls are much more cooperative than individualist humans, and once they've taken over, there is no violence, poverty, or hunger. Everyone works for the good of the community and everyone has a place. Defected bodies and minds are either fixed (with unrealistic--even by alien standards--technology) or discarded.

Melanie Stryder is one of the few real humans left on Earth. She and her little brother, Jamie, were on their own before they ran into Jared while breaking into a house for supplies. Jared is, of course, Melanie's true love, even though he is in his twenties and she is seventeen (if I'm remembering correctly). Things are going relatively great for the trio until Melanie sees her cousin on television and decides she has to travel across the country in order to try to find her. What!?! I allowed the coincidence of Jared and Melanie happening to break into the same house at the same time in order for their meet cute, which is ridiculous if you think about it for more than one second. But Melanie is a fugitive, living out in the woods and scavenging for food. How often is she hanging out watching television? And her cousin is hiding on the other side of the country. What is she doing running around in front of news cameras?

However unrealistic, Meyer needed a reason for Melanie to leave Jamie and Jared, so that she can be captured by the souls. But when the aliens insert a new "soul" into Melanie, Melanie is strong and knowledgeable enough to not lose herself entirely. Wanderer, a soul whose lived in a number of drastically different bodies and worlds, without finding a place where she wants to stay, is the new soul in Melanie. And although Wanderer controls Melanie's body, she quickly discovers that Melanie is not gone from her mind. Melanie is able to convince Wanderer through her memories and force of will to look for an enclave of humans out in the desert, where she knows Jamie and Jared were heading.

So, Melanie/Wanderer make it out there, but the humans, not understanding that a part of Melanie has survived are not particularly friendly. Some of them want to kill her and some want to experiment on her. And some are just really angry and beat her up. Eventually, Ian, one of the gang who tried to kill her at first, decides that he likes her. And so begins one of the weirdest love triangles/squares in literature. Melanie loves Jared. Wanderer loves Jared because of Melanie's memories. Melanie cannot stand Jared and Wanderer getting close. Jared is kind of attracted to Wanderer because she's nice and looks like his old girlfriend. Ian begins to love Wanderer. Wanderer cannot fully love Ian because of Melanie's memories, but she does like him. Melanie does not like Ian.

There were a couple of things I liked about this book. First, it was an interesting idea to do an invasion of the body snatcher story from the point of view of the body snatcher. Meyer brought up the idea that two souls would have a human child and love it so much that they would keep it human. I also appreciated how the "souls" justified their occupation and murder of an entire species through their cooperative and enlightened living. In many ways, humans and the Earth were better off with the souls, but you can't ignore what it cost to get them there.

On the other hand, there were many things that irritated me while reading this book:

-When Jared first runs into Melanie at the house he kisses her, a stranger, with no warning. It was a little creepy for a hero.

-Speaking of creepy, Meyer seems to have a thing for sticking her heroines with older guys. So, Jared is a little older than Melanie, which probably isn't that big of a deal in the scheme of things when you're the only two humans left on Earth and you're trying to survive. But Meyer emphasizes the age difference, and Jared makes sure he waits until Melanie is eighteen before they have sex. Then, when Wanderer comes back (spoiler), she is sixteen and the first thing she thinks is that she'll have to lie to Ian about her age, so they can have sex right away. Ewww. Why can't Meyer just make her heroines a little older? What made this even squickier is that Meyer's descriptions always focus on how small Wanderer is, like she's describing a child--how Wanderer's hand disappears inside of Ian's.

-Wanderer is an incredibly frustrating character whose primary/only traits are fear and selflessness. She spends a large portion of the book cowering and being attacked. She never does anything to defend herself and only acts heroically when she is protecting Jared or Jamie. A number of male characters in the book beat her, and she immediately forgives them and/or tries to protect them. Even in the end, her final decision is that she should just die. It's the humans who create the happy ending for her. She never goes after anything for herself.

-The male characters in this book have an amazing urge and capacity for running along dark tunnels carrying women in their arms. (I'm very glad they did not try to replicate these scenes in the movie).

Okay, that's all I can come up with right now. I did read this book quickly, wanting to figure out how this narrative could possibly resolve itself, and there were those couple of things I found interesting. On the whole, however, (and I'm not sure if it's just because I read it so long ago) I think I prefer Twilight.

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