Slate ran a fascinating article on Thursday, provocatively titled “Mother Suckers”:

Vampires are having their moment in, well, if not the sun, then certainly the Twilight. Author Stephenie Meyer’s series of books about the romantic yearnings of an undead teen are the, uh, lifeblood of the book business these days. According to USA Today, one in every seven books sold in the United States in the first quarter of an otherwise dismal 2009 was one of the four Twilight stories. On Amazon.com, half of the top 10 is made up of Twilight. (Each of the four books holds a spot, and the collected series takes up another one.)

Readers can’t get enough of the forbidden love affair between a human girl named Bella and her bloodsucking but good-hearted beau, Edward. He’s emo! He’s chivalrous! And glittery! (Meyer takes some liberty with horror-movie convention; instead of burning and shriveling up when sunlight hits them, vampires literally sparkle.) What more could an adolescent girl want in a fictional boyfriend?

The real-life plot twist here, though, is that it’s not ‘tween and teen girls who make up Twilight’s ardent—and profitable—fan base. It’s their mothers.

I wish the article had explored this discovery more deeply (i.e. the middle-aged-mothers’-secret-yearning-for-16-year-old-high-school-boyfriends angle), in the way Camille Paglia might have, for example. And of course, for those of us who remember The Graduate, this is not entirely unfamiliar territory. (Or, on the flip side, Lolita.)

The key line in the piece from my perspective is:

“Amazon’s customer discussion forums tackle the question of whether it’s appropriate for grown women to crush on an undead, underage hunk. The answer: a resounding yes.”

The most crucial thing happening, in other words, is not the need itself but the desperate desire for the need to be “ok.” These women are locked in a fantasy which threatens them, especially given their soon-to-be teenage sons and their friends. They feel the terrifying and absolutely righteous “long arm of the Law” smiting and accusing them — “You WICKED woman. How dare you?”

And so, bereft of the Gospel (unconditional forgiveness extended from the Cross to bound sinners), they turn to casuistry. It’s OK because: it’s fiction not reality, it’s just thoughts not actions, the hunk-in-question only LOOKS 16 but he’s really 93, and so on.