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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
or Stephenie Meyer fans – and oh boy, are there a lot of them – 2008 is shaping up to be a banner year: Not only has she just released her first “adult” novel, “The Host,” but August is slated to bring “Breaking Dawn,” the latest installment in her bestselling “Twilight” series of young-adult vampire books – and there’s a “Twilight” movie scheduled for release on December 12. Now that Harry Potter is no more, every media conglomerate in the world is looking for the next tweener cash cow, and Meyer’s books are probably the safest bet to rake in the lion’s share of all that discretionary income.
Not content to play to the under-18 set, Meyer has branched out with “The Host,” a weighty tome being positioned as “what may be the first love triangle involving only two bodies.” This description, unfortunately, is kinkier than the book’s actual plot; “The Host” is really more like a cross between the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin film “All of Me” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” as written by junk food-lit king Dan Brown. Which is to say, if you expect the emotional impact of the books you purchase to rise in proportion to the number of trees that had to die for their pages, you might as well just keep walking past “The Host” – this sucker weighs over a pound, but in terms of actual heft, it’s no more substantial than your average installment of “Sweet Valley High.”
The plot isn’t anywhere near as breathtakingly original as the jacket or press materials would have you believe, but it’s still pretty nifty: A species of intergalactic symbiotes has overrun the Earth, burrowing into the bases of human skulls as it goes. As icky alien parasites go, these are pretty benign – they don’t mean us any harm, really, it’s just that we’ve proven ourselves poor stewards of our planet. Their presence brings global peace, functional socialism, and cures for all diseases – which would be great, except for the part where the aliens have to erase their hosts’ personalities along the way.
As it turns out, not every human host is so easy to wipe clean – like the hilariously named Melanie Stryder, whose body proves a troublesome vessel for the alien known as Wanderer. After entering Melanie’s body, Wanderer is shocked to discover that Melanie isn’t willing to go away – and that, over time, Melanie’s memories provide a sort of unwilling crash course in what makes human beings so totally awesome. Soon enough, Wanderer and Melanie have forged a sort of alliance, one that finds them trucking it out into the desert to find Melanie’s boyfriend and younger brother, who have joined up with a resistance cell led by her uncle.
You can probably guess the rest – or most of it, anyway.
As tales of interplanetary war go, “The Host” is exceedingly light on action; it’s really more like a particularly silly story arc on “One Life to Live” than, say, “War of the Worlds.” In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing; there’s a reason “One Life” has been on the air for several decades, after all, and judging from Meyer’s few brief forays into action-thriller territory here, she’s far better off sticking with the hearts-and-arrows part of the program. The real problem with “The Host” is Meyer’s writing itself.
To be clear, Stephenie Meyer is not a terrible writer – like Dan Brown, she has a real gift for pacing, and a knack for dividing her stories down into so many easy-to-finish chapters that it’s easy for the reader to keep wolfing them down, like Lay’s potato chips. Unfortunately, they have about as much nutritional content. Meyer’s dialogue is another area where she proves reminiscent of Brown – both writers have a weakness for stilted, unnatural conversations between characters, where every third line is artificially weighted with portentous meaning, and people constantly refer to each other by name. People just don’t talk like this – and it seems safe to assume they wouldn’t even if they were living in underground caverns and waging a war against parasitic aliens.
That being said, Meyer keeps things moving so quickly that unless you’re reading “The Host” with a critical eye, you probably won’t have time to dwell on the book’s deficiencies. Despite its grossly excessive length, it’s perfect airplane or beach reading – and that’s likely how it’ll be consumed, as an easy, briefly absorbing diversion. Which is all well and good, as long as you don’t have expectations for anything else. Like that bag of Lay’s, it’ll satisfy an urge, but you’ll toss it out without a second thought when you’re done.