Tuesday, May 14, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 3

Kate makes José take pictures of Christian and then Christian saves Ana from a bicycle and Ana thinks this is sexy.

We sort of, kind of, obliquely, a little bit, start talking about sex. Ugh. This book takes forever. 

So, this chapter is pretty terrible. You knew that already. I think I need to quit reading ahead, though, because now I have to go back and remind myself what already happened, so it's kind of like I'm reading this book twice at the same time. My hope, though, is that since so little happens in this chapter,  and it pretty much rehashes a bunch of junk already established, we can get through this relatively painlessly. Relatively.

(Editor's note: This summary ended up being pretty much exactly the same length as the previous two.)

I've been thinking about what it means to hate something so popular. I'm not reading this in a "so bad it's good kind of way."

(Note: if this video looks wonky, it's because Blogger has an extremely clunky method for "quickly" embedding videos that is frustratingly inferior to the way that, for instance, WordPress handles such things. I'd be happy to complain about the problem in great detail to you if you are the world's most bored person. Whatever.)

50 Shades is, indeed, so bad it's gone past good and come around again to bad, and it's worse for the trip. Asked of me on facebook: I continue to be genuinely stunned at how bad the book's writing is. Do you think that people just skip to the sex stuff?"

My reply: "Maybe. But I think that a person that interested in reading about sex would've found a better place to read about sex before this book came along, but maybe I'm underestimating the state of our repressed culture. I think that there must also be people who, like Anastasia, see Christian as romantic, rather than controlling, manipulative, and dangerous." 

There must be lots of people who identify with this relationship. We can't all be reading this thing on a lark. We can't all be reading it to mock it / satisfy a morbid curiosity. 

I'll just throw that out there to make you a little uncomfortable, okay? Remember: Lots of people actually think this is a good book, with like, good writing, and characters, and plot, and all that. The crazy thing about this book, to me, is not that people want to read about Ana getting spanked. It's that people put up with all the book's other problems, and with all of CG's condescension. So Ana finds out she likes getting spanked! Fine! Maybe I'd like it too and just haven't had the opportunity to find out yet! Fine! 

The sex, to me, is far less troubling than all the stuff happening in between spankings: the way CG bullies Ana, patronizes her, and treats her at all times like a toddler. (Editor's note: Ana does kind of act like a toddler, though.)

Where were we?

To recap: Ana meets Christian, the dreamy billionaire, for an awkward interview. She then encounters him a few days later when he buys supplies for his sex dungeon at the hardware store where she works. Ana gets his phone number and decides to help her friend Kate set up a photo shoot with CG because that somehow makes more sense than just seeing if he wants to hang out like a regular person. 

Kate is way smarter than Ana in every possible way and I regret suggesting that she was in the KKK earlier. I've decided that she's my favorite because I've got sort of a reader's version of Stockholm syndrome, and am desperate for someone to love, and so I have chosen Kate as the lesser evil. Kate, like anyone reading the book, doesn't believe that CG just happened to shop at Ana's store. I wish Ana told Kate what he bought, because Kate would probably be smart enough to assume that this is a serial killer's shopping list, and warn Ana accordingly. Here is a demonstration of her smartness and Ana's dumbness: 

"I think that is one huge coincidence, Ana. You don't think he was there to see you?" My heart lurches at the prospect, but it's a short-lived joy. The dull, disappointing reality is that he was here on business. 

Yeah! The business of buying sex-accessories (sexcessories? TM!) from you and gloating to himself about how he's gonna zip-tie you and cover your mouth with masking tape (Editor's note: Alden just now maybe made sense of the masking tape, but doesn't actually know yet. He's just guessing.) and tie you up with rope in case the zip ties aren't enough! Ugh. Ana is so hatable. 

Not just anyone can snap some photos of this dude so they can slap one onto the article. They need a photographer! In real life, the student paper would have a nice camera, and Kate would borrow it herself, and take thirty photos of CG in one minute, and one of them would be good enough, and that would be the end of that. But this is not the real world, so they need a photographer. If only we'd been introduced to a pointless-seeming side character in the last chapter! 

Oh, wait, we were? Yeah, we were. Phew! I was worried that that whole dumb thing about José and his art gallery was going to have absolutely no payoff! Instead, it has a payoff that might as well be zero, but is, in fact, not zero. It's like an asymptotic function whose value approaches zero, but never actually reaches zero.

So it's set: José is going to take the pictures. Kate will stage-manage the whole thing. Ana will swoon because CG makes her feel funny inside. 

Here's some shit I hate:

Okay I need to take some deep breaths before I discuss this next little trick of EL's. After setting things up with Kate, Ana talks to Paul Clayton, scion of the Clayton Hardware empire. Feel free to forget Paul because he's pointless. But I'm not going to let you forget about Ana's subconscious. You must share in my pain. 

Ana decides that Paul is "no literary hero, not by any stretch of the imagination. Is Grey? my subconscious asks me, her eyebrow figuratively raised. I slap her down."

What the hell am I reading here? Oh my god. Okay. I can't remember if this is the first time Ana has brought up her subconscious, but it might be the first time she personified her subconscious to this extent, giving her eyebrows and all that. So how is her subconscious talking to her? How can it really be "sub"? Oh, hell. Is this a BDSM thing? Is this her subconscious as in "submissive?" Is that why she's slapping her poor subconscious? 

Whatever. All I know is that whenever Ana thinks anything sensible, she attributes that thought to her subconscious, and then ignores that sensible thought, or else does figurative violence to her better judgment. We will talk about this in greater depth when we get introduced to Ana's "inner goddess" unless I get lucky and this book puts me into a coma or something. Don't get me started on Ana's inner goddess. I am not going to warn you again. Okay I'm warning you again: Do. Not. Get me started on Ana's inner goddess. 

Moving on:

This sentence makes me hate Kate again so never mind. Everyone sucks: "Listen here, José Rodriquez, if you want our newspaper to cover the opening of your show, you'll do this shoot for us tomorrow, capiche?"

What, is she poor José's mom? Kate's a real jerk to José. Also, no, the fact that he's got some photos in a gallery is not worthy of space in the student paper anyway, so it's not much of a threat. Also, capiche? Really? That's really a thing Kate is going to say? Capiche? Further down the page she says "Sorted" in a particularly British way. I should really let myself not mention every time EL says something decidedly British-sounding, but I can't help myself. I have a problem! This blog is a cry for help!

(Editor's note: He means it. We've tried to steer him toward capable help, but he just keeps staying up too late writing this blog, and we're not really sure what to do. Advice?)

So now it's time for Ana to set up her photo date with CG. EL has a problem with lots of things, but one of them is alliteration. Stop! Just stop! Ana calls CG. "He answers on the second ring. His tone is clipped, calm, and cold." Classy!

Ana freaks out and forgets to breath and blushes because, as we've established, CG makes Ana lose control over her bodily functions. She does manage to set up a meeting for the following morning, at 9:30, the sexiest time of the day. Kate notices that Ana is blushing after Ana finishes her call with CG. "You like him! I've never seen or heard you so . . . so . . . affected by anyone before. You're actually blushing." This proves that Kate is a terrible, terrible friend. Ana blushes on basically every page, so it's bizarre that Kate is surprised. I think it would be fun to mark up the book with a highlighter. Add in pink highlights every time Ana blushes, and then flip through the book real fast. It would maybe look like a cartoon. 

That night, Ana obsesses over CG and finally succumbs to her growing passions. EL gives us a brief, though honestly, kind of hot masturbation sequence in which she imagines what it would be like to be seduced by Christian.

Just kidding! That totally doesn't happen! Did you think I was telling the truth? I bet you did, because the sort of scene I described would totally have made sense. Instead, we get this garbage, that is maybe supposed to be sexy, but is not sexy at all: "I am restless that night, tossing and turning, dreaming of smoky gray eyes, coveralls, long legs, long fingers, and dark, dark unexplored places. I wake twice in the night, my heart pounding."

So, where to start. Did she sleep, or not? She's restless, but having dreams, so who knows. And what're we supposed to think of her dreams? Coveralls? Really? Coveralls are the least sexy garment that there is, right? Tell me if you can think of a garment less sexy, because I can't. Maybe some kind of rain suit, but that's basically the same thing. 

And what am I supposed to do with "dark, dark unexplored places"? Has Ana nicknamed her vagina my dark, dark unexplored place? Is that possible? Of course, it doesn't really make sense that she'd dream about her own body. But then, it doesn't really make sense that she'd dream of CG's fingers, either.  Are they really that remarkable? Is he doing special finger exercises? I can't make any sense of it. Let's just leave it at this: EL saw an opportunity to try to finally put something sexy into this book that's supposed to be filled with sex, and instead just gave us more confusionism. 

The next morning, we join Ana, Kate, José, and Travis at the Heathman Hotel. "But wait," I hear you saying, "who the hell is Travis? Alden, why are you leaving out important characters? How can I hate this book vicariously through you if you aren't going to give me all the details?" Never fear! Travis is only in this one scene, and he never says a word. He's the sort of appendix character that any editor would cut, but a book like this one, with no editor, is happy to provide a home for. When I put it that way, it almost sounds like EL is providing a service--an orphanage for unwanted characters. So generous of her!

The Heathman Hotel is a real place. I suggest never going there. I'm sure it's perfectly pleasant, but thanks to this book, I can only assume it's filled with people who are, um. How can I put this impolitely? Filled with people taking fuck-cations. If you happen to stay there, you'll have to live with the dread that everyone else is only there to play out some weird fantasy re-enactment. 

Kate bosses people around, as though any preparation were necessary for taking a couple of photos of a dude. My favorite part? So glad you asked! Here's Ana's response to Kate's various commands:

Yes, mistress. She is so domineering. I roll my eyes but do as I'm told. 

I'm not sure what to make of this, honestly. Is this just the sort of bland joke that EL mistakes for humor? Or is she suggesting that CG is going to pull in Kate in for a little dominatrix duty? Exciting, right? (Editor's note: this is not a thing that happens. Ana just hates her best friend Kate.) EL is always dropping in this foreshadowing that isn't foreshadowing, like on the first page when Ana is trying to beat her hair into submission, or whatever. Ana never beats anyone into submission, so it's really not foreshadowing so much as it is an incredibly vague allusion to the category of thing that's going to happen in the future, to someone. Which is, again, kind of like a super villain joke. You know those jokes super villains make, where they repeat whatever the hero said, but make it into a threat, but you can't tell what the threat is?

Hero: "Dreadful timing, Villain. You've gone and interrupted my dinner."
Villain: "Oh, I'll be interrupting more than your dinner, Hero. Permanently. Mwahahhahaha."
(Sorry- this is from another project I'm working on. It's an action screenplay called The Interruptor.)

So Kate whips everyone into shape, and CG shows up. We are always hearing about CG's pants: "gray flannel pants that hang from his hips." Pants are always hanging from his hips, and I'm sure that EL wants this to mean something in particular, but I can't figure out what it is that she's saying. I think the fact that his pants are hanging is supposed to be a good thing, and yeah, I get it. CG is hot. Fine. But for all the description, I can never figure out exactly in what manner he's hot, so I just keep swapping in this guy:

Miss Steele, we meet again.

CG calls Kate "tenacious" because EL only knows so many words, so we get an awful lot of recycling.  Also, Ana blushes twice on one page which is some kind of terrible, terrible record. I can't imagine that she had time to un-blush before she blushed again, but somehow she managed. I'm on the lookout for three separate blushings on one page, which I kind of think has to happen at some point, but maybe even EL can't quite pull off that trick.

José takes photos for a half hour (!) and then CG asks Ana to get coffee with him in the most awkward way possible. He excuses himself, and then says, "Will you walk with me, Miss Steele?" We're supposed to believe that this guy is 27? That this fucking guy, who's 27, so born in like, 1984, is going to call Ana "Miss Steele"? This guy who graduated from college in 2006, who probably couldn't even vote until Bush v. Kerry, is going to call a woman who is part of his generation "Miss"? And all this is happening in Seattle, where no one ever calls anyone Miss under any circumstances? Sure! Sounds great!

And he can't just be like, "Oh, hey, I'm gonna get a latte. Anybody wanna join me? Anybody? Like, how about you, Ana? For instance?" Kate would totally have had his back. If, for some reason, Travis decided to actually express interest in joining (he does not, in fact, have any dialogue) I'm confident that Kate would be all like, "No, we're busy with um. Newspaper stuff. C'mere, Travis." And then it'd just be CG and Ana.

But no, he has to separate her from the herd, like a wolf hunting buffalo, in order to say, "I wondered if you would join me for coffee this morning." I probably shouldn't be as mad about this type of thing as I am, but come on. He essentially says, "I would like to go on a date with you." Nobody says that! Do they?

When I was in college I distinctly remember a friend saying that the new date du jour was ice cream. This is probably a thing that happened to her one time, and she decided it was a phenomenon, but it did kind of get at how young people arrange to spend time together. Why ice cream, you ask? Because everyone knew that "lunch" and "coffee" meant sex. And dinner? Forget dinner. You ask someone to dinner--you better have a ring ready, is all I'm saying, because asking someone to dinner is basically a lifetime commitment. So you could be all like, "Hey I could really go for some Ben & Jerry's," and then everyone involved could pretend that they weren't on a date. 

That's not how CG does it, though! He basically says, "And, just so we're clear, this is a date. Not just a casual thing, but totally a date. Yeah, it's at 10AM but this is for real a date."

Ana tries to get out of this date and we get about a page of useless negotiations as we decide who's going to drive whom back home from the hotel. I had an excellent teacher who said this in class one day: "You don't have to account for every sip of coffee and every cigarette." (He maybe attributed the line to someone else, but whatever. Credit where credit is maybe due.) Meaning that there's a lot of bullshit that people end up doing, like deciding who's going to ride in what car, and if you're writing a book, you can go ahead and not include that bullshit. (Editor's note: EL chooses to include every last bit of bullshit.) 

Kate tries to warn Ana before her date: "He's gorgeous, I agree, but I think he's dangerous. Especially for someone like you." Fine, fine. I'll take you back, Kate. Just don't give José such a hard time, okay? You're the only one in this thing who acts like a human being with any regularity. 

So Ana leaves with CG, and has this thought, which is so dumb that it needs italics: "I am going to have coffee with Christian Grey . . . and I hate coffee." Look: everybody should like whatever they like. What do I care if Ana doesn't like coffee? But the thing is that she doesn't like anything. If you dislike one or two popular things, maybe that's a quirk. But if you dislike everything, you're just an unpleasant person, and if you're unpleasant, only a really oddball billionaire is going to want to spank you. I'm just saying. 

When she greets him after ignoring Kate's warning, she's "beet red." And further down on the page, during a needlessly long elevator ride, she's "feeling [her] cheeks turning pink." So what's that mean? She's blushing again, or she's relaxing down from red to pink? Is she dropping the terror alert level from orange to yellow? Whatever. Ana's blushing is one of the things I'll just have to quit complaining about, lest every chapter just be a catalog of times that she embarrasses herself. I hate it not just because it's so repetitive and hence so empty, because it's just another way in which Ana is not in control of her body. It's always doing different stuff, and it's always CG's fault, and not anything to do with her, personally. 

They hold hands and walk to a cafe. I hear you asking, "Alden! Alden! What's the name of the cafe? Where, oh where do they go on their coffee date?"

Portland. Coffee. House. 

They go in for coffee at a place called Portland Coffee House. This book is mutterblushing terrible. Do you like that new swear I came up with, just by combining two words that EL uses way, way too often? Imagine that it's the meanest swear, and that if anyone were to call you a mutterblusher, you would swear a vendetta against three generations of their family, and swear to never cut your hair until you achieved vengeance. That's the kind of swear this is, okay? 

Ana asks for tea. This surprises CG for some reason. I don't know why. He's a British vampire, after all, so surely he's familiar with the drinking of tea. Ana feels the need to defend herself: "I'm not keen on coffee." Ugh. Not keen on it. Ugh. Cheerio, Ana! Pip, pip! Can you Adam and Eve it, gov? She idn't keen on it. 

Ana keeps telling us how sexy CG looks. She blushes some more because why not. And CG is weird and pushy. Here's how he starts a conversation: "Penny for your thoughts?" Ugh. And then when that doesn't work, he says, "Your thoughts?"

Ana can't think of anything to say, and I feel bad for her. When you have no personality, no interests, no aspirations, and only one desire but that desire is so alien that you don't even understand it yet, it's probably pretty hard to keep a conversation going. So, she talks about tea. "I like my tea black and weak," she says, and I'll let you think up your own joke about that one. 

This scene is the reverse of their first meeting. Now, instead of Ana asking CG a bunch of questions that I don't care about, CG asks Ana a bunch of questions that I don't care about. Symmetry! 

Also, CG eats a muffin, but he's so sexy that he can't help but do it in a real sexy way. "His long fingers deftly peel back the paper, and I watch, fascinated." I don't know about you guys, but I'm pretty fascinated too! I'm like, tell me more about this muffin, right? What's the texture like? How many blueberries are we talking? Does the paper come off nicely, or does a lot of muffin stick to the paper? You might think I'm joking here, and I kind of am, but I'm also more interested in this muffin than anything that's happened in the story so far, and I think that the book would be much improved if it gave us way, way more muffin-related detail. 

It gets boring as hell after the muffin. CG keeps quizzing Ana about her family, and even she knows it's boring. "Why does he want to know this. it's so dull." The next several pages are just rehash of the blandest parts of Chapter 2. 

Here's an infuriating moment toward the end of their awkward, terrible date:

"I hear Paris is lovely," I murmur. . . 
"It's beautiful. Have you been?"

Ugh. Oh, is that what you've heard? Have you heard nice things about Paris? My that's unusual! I thought the consensus was that it was a shithole, and that if you really wanted to go somewhere great, you should visit Akron, Ohio. (Editor's note: nothing against Akron! It's just a city more or less chosen at random. But for reals: it's no Paris, right? We can agree on that?)

And then CG makes it worse. Has she been? Of course not! "I hear Paris is lovely. Oh, and also I have been there, and it was lovely, so I guess it was pretty weird of me to say that I'd heard it was lovely." I don't know which one of these people is worse.

Ana breaks things off pretty quickly, and they walk back to Kate's car, because for reasons too pointless for any of us to understand, Kate, José, and Travis left in Ana's shitty car, and Kate left her nice car for Ana. "As for me, I'm desperately trying to gauge how our little coffee morning has gone." Let me gauge it for you: terrible. It was terrible. You should maybe think about not talking to people again until you've taken some kind of class in how to conduct a human conversation. 

CG asks Ana if she always wears jeans, and Ana is all WTF? And it's nice because I'm also all WTF and so for one small moment, Ana and I are thinking the exact same thought at the exact same moment about CG. We're united by the strangeness of this question.

She flips it around by asking him if he has a girlfriend, and he says, "No, Anastasia. I don't do the girlfriend thing." What? WHAT? Dude's a dick. This is, in its way, a nicely written sentence. I'm not sure what EL's purpose behind it was, but it makes me hate him So. Much. More. than if he would've said, "No, Anastasia. I don't have a girlfriend." This kind of categorical declaration is much more of a dick move. Its like, "I know that some other men enjoy like, being in relationships with women, and like, doing stuff besides spanking them? But not me. I'm just in it for the spanking."

And then Ana falls again and almost hits a bicycle but CG catches her because OMG he's such a hero! Yay! Give him a medal! She swoons after tripping, so that's like a double-swoon, and Ana says she wants to be kissed for the first time. 

Really? That's how this chapter ends? With Ana falling down again? And CG catching her? And saving her from a bike? Wow, EL! You really did your research! Every week, dozens of people are murdered by bikes in the greater Portland area. They call bicycle murder "the silent killer" because the bikes are all fixees which makes for a quieter ride, which is more conducive to bicycle murders. 

Thank you for making it this far. If you stick it out for another chapter, you'll see shit really start to get crazy. Oh, you think it's already crazy? It's not. CG hasn't used any Batman-style phone-tracking or kidnapped Ana so that he can better slut-shame her. That, my friends, will have to wait for Chapter 4. 


Unknown said...

I am SO glad I have not read this book so that I can enjoy your reviews in their purest form.

Alden Eagle said...

Oh, totally. This is not a book you want to experience in its purest form. It's like looking directly at the sun. You need some kind of filter in place for your own safety.