Let There Be Twilight: “The Harvard Lampoon” Takes on Stephanie Meyer

Feb. 4, 2010, 9:30 p.m.

Let There Be Twilight: "The Harvard Lampoon" Takes on Stephanie MeyerYour intrepid reviewer first encountered the novel “Nightlight” in the discount section at the Stanford Bookstore. In fact, she walked past the display thinking, “I can’t believe they’d sell that drivel at Stanford – oh, look, at least they acknowledge it’s cheap romance – wait, that’s not “Twilight,” ha!” Intrigued, she picked up a copy and sat down to read. Two hours later, she had maneuvered off the couch, past the cash register, into her bed – and finished the book. It was an easy read and it was entertaining.

The narrator, Belle Goose, moves from Phoenix to the town of Switchblade, Ore. to live with her divorced, window-cleaner father. Her first day at school, she meets Edwart (no, that’s not a typo) Mullen, a pale, antisocial hypochondriac interested in only three things: computers, economics club and storm-chasing. She concludes, of course, that he must be a vampire and that he would make the perfect boyfriend – Edwart’s aversion to the opposite sex (or people in general) not withstanding. So begins the quest of one Belle Goose to win the heart of the blissfully oblivious Edwart Mullen, dork extraordinaire.

Along the way, she encounters an epileptic and prophetic classmate, a biology teacher, who uses labs as a cover for extorting blood transfusions for his ailing nephew and Edwart’s doting but otherwise normal parents. They have a chapter all to themselves; the Mullens live in a glass house with a grand piano that nobody plays (Edwart plays the triangle, very loudly) and a large wooden cross displayed prominently above the stairs, apparently for ironic value (the Mullens are – drumroll – non-practicing Jews). The book is replete with such scenes; cover-to-cover, “Nightlight” is a barrel of laughs.

And that is precisely its problem. The writers don’t seem to realize that there is more to good parody than a string of jokes, however funny they might be. The best parody is a tasteful combination of stand-up and pastiche, preferably with a bit more than a mere scaffolding of plotline. Admittedly, Meyer doesn’t have a distinctive enough voice to warrant pastiche (“annoying” doesn’t quite cut it), but great humorists never let that stop them. Look at how much material Terry Pratchett managed to extract from “Dragonriders of Pern,” for example. The unnamed Harvard Lampoonists come close, but ultimately, no cigar.

The verdict: “Nightlight” is a borrow, not a buy. Unless, of course, it’s 50 percent off at the bookstore.

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