On a similar note to the partnering similarities, I was also struck by the sexual tension of closeness in Twilight. Sexual tension in itself is alluring; we often bemoan that moment in our favorite novels and TV shows when that thread between our favorite characters is suddenly and irrevocably loose, after it has been taut for aching ages.
But in Twilight, that taut thread isn’t just a smoldering substory, it’s almost the entire point. (In fact, this cause for Twilight’s success makes me tentative about reading the other stories, because I’ve read spoilers and plots that indicate it’s not such a theme.) This is about physicality, and it’s one for those with strong empathy.
Most of Twilight (as it seemed to me while I listened) took place in that tiny space between barely touching and touching, that breathless gap. In fact, fixating so closely on breath is in itself a good sensory trigger, since any indication of airlessness is immediately felt—you know how when you think about breathing you suddenly feel like you can’t breathe enough? That is Twilight. Consider all the mentions of smell, for instance, or forgetting to breathe. While a lot of the descriptions of smell were clunky, they at least maintain the connection to air, and the reader’s sensory memory of it.
Physical nearness, not quite touching, but close enough to raise hairs, plays a bigger role. A reader is better able to “feel” this than actual touching in a story. Touching is very specific to individuals, and harder to feel through empathy. We may not have been touched in the same way; we may not be able to relate to the touch being experienced, the textures and pressure of it. But if the characters in a story are NOT touching it’s easy to feel because, after all, the reader isn’t being touched either. It’s much easier to imagine almost being touched. It works for the same reason suspense in a horror film does—we are more afraid when the character can’t see the monster yet, because if there is an ax murderer near us, we can’t see him either. It’s the pressure of absence that builds up. I am in the camp that loves the torture of almost-there almost as much—and sometimes more—than the there.
Actually, I think this is part of the reason why the book appeals so much to women in my age group. Not many of us take the time to almost touch anymore with our significant others. We don’t take the time to torture each other with not touching or barely touching, to let our breath be taken away by it for ages. Edward running his nose along Bella’s jawline is particularly evocative to us because we can remember that painfully delicious moment when someone did that to us, and many of us miss it, at least at that extreme, extended level. The idea of women needing more foreplay than men is an old joke, but it is not so much about foreplay here as the enjoyment of the physical responses we get out of torturous nearness. It’s drawing out the “turning on” and making it the focus, making it never stop.
As I listened to the audio book, I found myself shaking my head and chuckling out loud at some of the descriptions (the reasons for which I’ll explain later). Yet I can’t deny I had a physical response to Twilight. I have a very strong empathetic memory, and as I mentioned I’m partial to the torture of touch and almost-touch. In that regard, at least, Twilight worked on me!