By Monica Hesse
Sunday, June 6, 2010; 8:35 PM
THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER
By Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown. 178 pp. $13.99
It has arrived: the benevolent gift to fans, the surprise french fry discovered in the bottom of Stephenie Meyer's vampiric junk-food bag. "The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner" hit stores Saturday, two years after readers thought they'd seen the last of Bella and the Cullen clan. This novella is a companion to "Eclipse," the third volume in Meyer's teen human-vampire love saga, which comes out in movie form later this month.
First, let us answer some burning questions:
How much Edward is there?
Are lots of things "dazzling" or "sparkling"?
Yes. Also, "disco ball" is introduced as a frequent description of the way vampire skin glows in the sun.
Is it good?
Oh, come now. The satisfaction of "Twilight" novels cannot be measured by such terms as "good" and "bad." This goes double for "Bree," which was not originally intended as a stand-alone novel and which all fans will read and all haters will skip regardless of the reviews.
"Bree" takes place during the "Eclipse" time frame, and knowledge of that novel is useful in understanding the plot.
In "Eclipse," Bella applies for colleges, weighs a marriage proposal and worries about a rash of Seattle murders. She balances her star-crossed love for Edward against her moonstruck love for Jacob; she negotiates peace between the warring werewolves and vampires; and she witnesses a standoff between the ruling-class Volturi and an army of newly transformed vampires who have been violating vampire law.
Bree Tanner is one of these newborns.
Her role in "Eclipse" is limited to five pages: She becomes the Volturi's prisoner, she begs for mercy, she is denied it in a very permanent manner. Crunch, rip, tear, alas.
But Meyer took a shine to the 15-year-old runaway-turned-vampire and began exploring her brief life as an independent writing exercise. That experiment eventually grew to book length, and Meyer decided to publish it -- donating one dollar from every book's sale to the American Red Cross and also giving fans free access to the text online from Monday to July 5.
"Bree" begins three months after the title character's vampire transformation. She is living with other newborns in a Seattle flophouse, quenching her thirst for human blood while trying to figure out just what the enigmatic Riley -- a sort of vampire RA -- isn't telling the rest of them. Hint: He's working for Victoria, the evil "Twilight" vampire who wants to kill Bella and destroy Edward Cullen and family.
She remembers little of her human life, other than that it wasn't great, and her vampire life isn't shaping up to be much better. Newborn vampires are a nasty bunch and regularly resort to tearing one another up as entertainment. Her only ally is the humane Diego, who also is conveniently handsome.
The plot yields a few tasty morsels. Fans will discover a new reason to detest Jane, the Volturi's china-doll torturer, and Fred, a vampire whose superpower is to make people vomit, a nice addition to the world of bleak freaks Meyer has created over the course of four novels.
Actually, as far as character development goes, "Bree" bests the rest of "Twilight." Bree and love interest Diego talk and act like real (undead) teens exploring a crush, as opposed to Edward and Bella's pathological obsessi-love that defines the other novels. Meyer's dialogue is more believable here than almost anywhere else in Twi-world.
This, it turns out, is the problem. Fans do not come to Stephenie Meyer for reality. We come to her for passion, for yearning, for adoration mixed with anguish and then shaken to a tizzy. We want her characters to vow, "I would rather die than be separated from you," the way Edward and Bella do every time they meet, rather than, "He's kind of my friend. I mean, not like you're my friend," as Diego tells Bree.
It's disappointing -- but perhaps expected -- that "Bree" feels its fullest and most compelling in the last 30 pages, when the Cullens finally show up as Bree's would-be saviors. Bree fails to notice, even once, how chiseled and godlike Edward is, which feels truly bizarre to fans who have known only Bella's point of view.
We are left staring longingly after our familiar friends, wishing we could go home with them instead. You seem like a lovely girl, Bree, but you're blocking our view of the action we care about. If you could just move to the -- thanks.
Edward, Bella, wait for us.