Tuesday, May 28, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 5

Ana wakes up at Christian's hotel, and she doesn't understand how completely unreasonable this is, so they make plans for a helicopter ride and kiss in an elevator. 

Warning: this is essentially a chapter about Ana getting kidnapped while drunk. 

Of all my complaints about this book, here's my most complainy: it lacks any plot. Things "happen" in this book, in the sense that it isn't just Ana and CG lolling around in his fabulous bedroom for three hundred pages, but having things happen is not the same as having a plot.

A plot is an organizing principle that keeps a story from feeling like a cutting from a diary. Our lives don't have plots. They're just a collection of a bunch of things that happened to us, which is why biopics are almost always boring. (Exception: still trying to think of an exception.) A plot takes a bunch of things that happen to some characters and organizes them into the form of a question and an answer.

That's an oversimplification, but all novels worth reading don't just reveal some stuff that happened, but reveal information deliberately, so as to create intrigue and expectations about which information will be revealed next. 50 Shades never inspires in me any curiosity about Ana and CG because they're boring, and also because it tips its hand so early. As you've already read, Ana wakes up in Christian's hotel room. Is there any chance that they're not going to have sex, and soon? And once they do, why keep reading? What is left to be revealed? Anything? Is there any chance that they won't end up together and be so happy? Or, at least, claim to be so happy?

There's tension in the sense of "awkwardness" but never any tension in the sense of "what's going to happen next?" Maybe people are mostly just skimming through the parts that make me angry so they can get to the sex? Possible! I can't imagine reading this for the story, or for the characters, or for the prose. So the sex is kind of all that's left. Oh! Unless you're just interested in learning more about the Pacific Northwest. You could maybe use the book as kind of a fun travel guide! Good plan.

So where were we?

  1. Ana meets Christian, the dreamy billionaire, for an awkward interview. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Ana's admirer José joins Ana and Kate to photograph Christian, after which Christian takes Ana to a cafe, where they both act awkward. Christian starts to push Ana away, for reasons she does not understand. Then, Ana is nearly hit by a bike, but Christian yanks her out of harm's way.
  4. Christian tells Ana that they're incompatible and she gets sad. Ana drunk-dials Christian and he freaks out and traces her phone Batman-style, just in time to chase off José, who's acting rape-y. Ana passes out at the bar.
Last chapter was awfully dense with events. I've left out some stuff in this little recap that got a great deal of attention in my Chapter 4 post, like CG's creepy expensive gift and his brother Elliott showing up to instantly romance Kate. The only really important thing is that sociopathic CG shows up at the bar to "rescue" Ana, after which she wakes up in his hotel.

It's moments like these that Ana's limited emotional range and general lack of thought make me furious: "I don't remember coming here. I'm wearing my T-shirt, bra, and panties. No socks. No jeans. Holy shit." It's not just that I hate the sentence "Holy shit" because it's dumb and crude and empty. I also hate it because it sits exactly where a good writer would go to work. This is a dramatic turn of events, and in real life, a person in Ana's situation would feel a range of emotions, and in real life, a writer would try to express that range with something more sophisticated.

But, instead, it's just, "Holy shit." I'm offended by how bad this chapter is. What's the point of having Ana narrate if she isn't going to narrate anything? All she ever talks about is how CG's goddamn hotel room looks. I am so, so, uninterested in how this hotel room looks. Oh, is the billionaire staying in a fancy hotel? How fascinating! Groan. 

The first thing Ana thinks about her kidnapper is to note that he's a "control freak" for having left her Advil next to her bed. You know what I'm thinking if I'm Ana and I've just been kidnapped, and I see Advil on my bedside table? At least he didn't leave me fucking Plan-B, I guess! Maybe that's a good sign! I'm completely shocked by how quickly Ana adjusts to all this, and how unterrified she is, because this seems totally terrifying to me. 

CG shows up all sweaty and dreamy-looking after working out. Here's a sentence in this book: "I peck up at him." I can't comment on it because I don't know what it means. She isn't kissing him. That's clear in context. But I don't know what she is doing. Here's another sentence from this book: "I have no idea what he's thinking." Thank you for reminding us that humans are unable to read the minds of others. You know, though, Ana--you could tell us what the hell you're thinking. I bet if you tried, you could read your own mind. Or, maybe "Holy shit" is all she ever thinks. 

Here's why this asshole kidnapped Ana, according to this asshole: "After you passed out, I didn't want to risk the leather upholstery in my car taking you all the way to your apartment. So I brought you here." Seems legit!

"Did you undress me?" I whisper.
"Yes." He quirks an eyebrow at me as I blush furiously. 

There's something particularly obnoxious about a book with such a limited vocabulary sending me to the dictionary. "Quirks" is the one that got me. I guess it's what Spock does. In context, I have no idea what it's supposed to tell me about CG's thinking. 

I also don't know how EL intends me to read "furiously." Is it furiously, as in, she's furious? Which she ought to be! Or is it just another way of telling us just how deeply she's blushing, with all the blushing that she does? 

Ana eventually gets around to asking the question we want her to ask. And probably she's been thinking about it too, only she's so inarticulate that she's only expressed this question previously as "holy shit" even though that is totally not a question. "We didn't--?"

CG: '"Anastasia, you were comatose. Necrophilia is not my thing. I like my women sentient and receptive,' he says dryly." 
  1. Have we discussed, yet, the fact that someone is saying something "dryly" on basically every single page? I don't have the energy for this one (Editor's note: sometimes you've got to pick your battles.) so just take it as granted that people are always saying things "dryly" and it's way annoying. If you removed all the sentences that had the words "dryly" or "blush" or "flush" or "murmurs" or "mutters" the whole book would just be Ana thinking "holy crap" and describing what different rooms look like. This would be a great improvement, lest anyone be confused. I would rather read that version. 
  2. Ew. Necrophilia. Also, since he's a vampire, how does that work? Isn't that kind of a pot calling the kettle undead sort of situation?
  3. And most important: isn't this guy an asshole? He's basically saying, "I didn't rape you because it wouldn't have been fun for me." How reassured Ana must feel!
Ana then says, "Good fucking thing. Call me a cab and lose my phone number." Just kidding! She apologizes. I'm not sure for what. Being drunk is not as bad a thing to do as kidnapping somebody, I'm pretty sure. 

(Editor's note: I think Alden is trapped in that loop he gets into sometimes, where the book makes him so angry that he has to talk about every sentence.)

She does manage to get a little angry, but it's short-lived. 

"You didn't have to track me down with whatever James Bond gadgetry you're developing for the highest bidder," I snap. He stares at me, surprised and, if I'm not mistaken, a little wounded.

"First, the technology to track cell phones is available over the Internet. Second, my company does not invest or manufacture any kind of surveillance devices. And third, if I hadn't come to get you, you'd probably be waking up in the photographer's bed, and from what I can remember, you weren't overly enthused about him pressing his suit," he says acidly.

(Editor's note: "he says acidly" is a great example of a speaker tag that the author could go ahead and remove. There is no other character in all of literature, let alone this book, who could possibly speak these lines other than CG. I promise we won't be confused.)

It seems like Ana means "Fuck you for stalking me," which would be a fair point, but her delivery is pretty cumbersome. I don't know what CG means. Is he saying that you can use the internet to track cell phones? Or that you can buy a thing over the internet that will track cell phones? The first one I expect is untrue, unless you and your friend both have iPhones. Or if you start a new family plan.

If a thing exists, of course you can buy it over the internet. Whatever. Skip that. What's much worse is how CG ends his little speech: Your choice was being kidnapped and stripped by me, or raped by someone else, so deal. I hate this guy so, so much. 

Ana's witty reply: "Which medieval chronicle did you escape from? You sound like a courtly knight." This is a fun line because you can see a logical response buried in here, which would be something like this: "Oh, well aren't you Sir Fucking Gallant, then, huh?" That's a cool line. She should've said something mean and sarcastic like that. What makes it worse is that she gets hung up on CG's use of the dumb phrase "pressing his suit" in such a way as to make it ambiguous whether she's mocking his word choice, or mocking his attempt to paint himself as the white knight. 

CG doesn't help make things any clearer: "Anastasia, I don't think so. Dark knight, maybe." This seems like what he would say if he thought Ana were literally calling him a white knight, so now I don't really know how she meant her comment, nor do I know how CG interpreted it. Whatever. It's also just funny because he just called himself Batman, only I'm not sure EL knows that. 

CG then starts in on what will be one of his go-to dick moves: "Did you eat last night?" "You need to eat." CG is obsessed with what Ana eats, and it's gross. We could go off on a whole separate tirade about food and body issues and eating disorders, but I'm going to stick to my pet way of understanding Ana's portrayal:

She can't walk without CG carrying her. She can't breathe without CG reminding her. And now, he has to tell her to eat, too, because there is no aspect of Ana's life that she is capable of managing without his help. 

We'll be talking about this a lot in future chapters. (Editor's note: Sorry.) It's particularly obnoxious here, though, because it's such an unsupported assumption. So Ana got drunk and puked. CG has absolutely no reason to assume that she didn't eat dinner. You can eat plenty of food and still get drunk and puke! (Source: I attended college.)

And then CG explicitly threatens violence, and Ana likes it: "Well, if you were mine, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday." Gross. 

And, a few pages later, this: "I flush at the waywardness of my subconscious--she's doing her happy dance in a bright red hula skirt at the thought of being his." I don't think that this sentence needs any commentary from me, does it? We're on the same page here, right? I can just move on, right? 

Right. Here's a sentence that is actually in this book, and not a crazy thing I'm making up right now: "My heartbeat has picked up, and my medulla oblongata has neglected to fire any synapses to make me breathe." It's okay, though! CG tells her to breathe, so she does. She makes a mental note that she's not breathing, but doesn't go ahead and breathe again until CG tells her to. 

Here's a fun sentence, related to my unified balance-breath-food theory: "He's the only man who has ever set the blood racing through my body." On, snap! It's like this is the first time that Ana has successfully accomplished respiration, and it's all thanks to CG! This probably has something to do with how CG started out as a Twilight vampire, though, since Edward literally gives Bella a new "life" as an undead bloodsucker. This whole "I was never alive before this!" nonsense may well be related to EL's Twilight plagiarism, though whatever its origin, it's pretty gross. I'm not familiar with a character in literature who's as utterly objectified as Ana, but please. Tell me if there's someone I'm forgetting. Ana is like Sleeping Beauty, but like, an alternate version of Sleeping Beauty where Sleeping Beauty starts the story in a coma and literally has no non-coma life experiences prior to getting kissed. 

Oh, and then Ana decides, once and for all, that she does think CG is a white knight, and also I hate her: ". . . I have spent the night in his hotel suite, and I feel safe. Protected. He cares enough to come and rescue me from some mistakenly perceived danger. He's not a dark knight at all but a white knight in shining, dazzling armor--a classic romantic hero--Sir Gawain or Sir Lancelot." Ick. 

Just so we're on the same page, here's the sexiest thing that's happened so far in this sexy book: And I quote, from page 69, (heehee) "I reach for the body wash and it smells of him. It's a delicious smell. I rub it all over myself, fantasizing that it's him--him rubbing this heavenly scented soap into my body, across my breasts, over my stomach, between my thighs with his long-fingered hands." 

If you're like me, you mostly just got hung up on "it smells of him." Does the soap smell like Christian, or does Christian smell like the soap, Ana? But, whatever. I just want it to be clear to you how very much nonsense a person has to plow through to get to any sex in this book. Also, note that the language is on the vague side--"between my thighs" is ambiguous. EL vacillates between vague, and, during actual sex scenes, weirdly explicit. As in, parts feel almost clinical in their specificity, which is pretty unsexy. Whatever. 

Ana puked all over herself, according to CG, so he sent his manservant Taylor to get her new clothes. "Not only has Taylor brought me jeans and new Converse, but also a pale blue shirt, socks, and underwear. Oh my. A clean bra and panties--actually, to describe them in such a mundane, utilitarian way does not do them justice. They are exquisitely designed fancy European lingerie. All pale blue lace and finery." 

What I like "like" about this is how Ana fakes us out. It sounds like she's going to actually describe the underwear, but then she's super vague again. European, you say! Well la dee dah! This would actually be a cool way to reveal something about CG. As in, some actual detail about the underwear he paid for could tell Ana a lot about his expectations about the future of their relationship, but mainly I guess we're supposed to think that he's rich (we know) and thoughtful (even though he isn't). 

(Editor's note: Alden realizes that the more he writes about this book, the more he's going to accidentally reveal about himself. See the paragraph above, where he openly calls for more detailed description of Ana's underwear. You have been warned.)

Ana leaves the shower to go eat room-service breakfast, and spends more time describing CG's fancy-ass hotel room. Yawn. She does note that CG has a "latest-generation iMac" which is completely dumb, both because it's weird to bring a desktop computer to a hotel, and also because, what? Is she a Mac expert who can recognize different generations of iMacs at a glance? I guess I hope so, actually. That'd be neat if she were interested in something. What if she were a computer hacker, too! That'd be neat! Like in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Hey should we all just read that again instead? Probably.

"Christian is sitting at a dining table on the other side of the room reading a newspaper. It's the size of a tennis court or something, not that I play tennis, though I have watched Kate a few times. Kate!" Ha! A hotel table, which is probably the size of a table, makes Ana think of tennis, which makes her think of watching Kate play tennis, which reminds her that Kate probably thinks she was murdered to death. I find this sequence hilarious, because EL is basically trying to convince us that we're getting Ana's thoughts in real-time. Nobody thinks about medulla oblongatas, EL. 

CG is all, It's cool. I texted my brother. And then "commands" that she sit and eat breakfast. 

"Your hair's very damp," he scolds.
"I couldn't find the hair dryer," I mutter, embarrassed. Not that I looked.

I hate hate hate hate hate this guy. She took a shower. Her hair is wet. That's what happens in the shower. It's this thing where water comes out of a pipe thing, and it gets you wet. It's like a sink for your head. It's like a sprinkler, but for your body, instead of your lawn. Oh! It's like a little rain storm, only it's in your bathroom, not outside. Do you get it, CG? Are you familiar with the whole shower concept, and how it gets you very damp? Wet, even? And why is Ana embarrassed? She should shake her wet hair like wet dog, and say, "Now what?" 

This chapter is pretty much them talking to each other, and that's why it's so goddamn unbearable. Everything he says makes me want to do murders to him. Like, more than one. He just treats her like a preschooler at every opportunity. Look at this exchange:

"Thank you for the clothes."
"It's a pleasure, Anastasia. The color suits you."
I blush and stare down at my fingers.
"You know, your really should learn to take a compliment." His tone is castigating.

Here's a funny thing that Ana could say to him next: "You know, you really should learn to kiss my ass." And then she should peace out! That really was not much of a compliment, and I hate Christian Grey because he's a huge, huge asshole. 

They have a whole back and forth about the clothes and it's boring, and then we get this from CG:
"'Anastasia, I'm not a hearts and flowers kind of man . . . I don't do romance. My tastes are very singular. You should steer clear of me.' He closes his eyes as if in defeat. 'There's something about you, though, and I'm finding it impossible to stay away. But I think you've figured that our already.'" 

Actually, I think the whole thing where you're stalking Ana and kidnapping her and patronizing her and maybe still planning on doing some serial killer shit to her says more about you, CG. 

"My appetite vanishes. He can't stay away!"

Wait, what? Well, you know he can't stay away, or at least that he literally isn't staying away, which is an important distinction, but you ought not be surprised by his phrasing, Ana. And what's the deal with the appetite thing? There's a whole internet school of thought that claims that there's this complicated eating disorder metaphor operating throughout the book. On the one hand, EL does not seem clever enough to do anything complicated. But on the other hand, if you search tumblr for "Ana" tumblr gives you this message: 

If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, self harm issues, or suicidal thoughts, please visit our Counseling & Prevention Resources page for a list of services that may be able to help.

So, whether this is an accident, or EL is encouraging anorexia, I can't say. But, there is some pretty messed up food stuff throughout the novel, and this chapter is where it really gets going. 

Ana reveals that she's moving to Seattle, to the "Pike Market District." This is not really a neighborhood designation that anyone uses, and also, it's incredibly unlikely. It's only slightly more plausible than if Ana were to say she and Kate were moving into the Space Needle. 

Although CG seemed like he was giving Ana big warning, about how they shouldn't be together, said warning was transparently self-serving, and not something that any of us were meant to take seriously. The happy couple are immediately making plans together. 

Here's where we start to talk about paperwork. The rest of the book is, basically, the story of Ana deciding whether or not she's going to sign CG's sex contract. "Because I'm not going to touch you, Anastasia--not until I have your written consent to do so."

A frustrating thing about this book is that, on the one hand, great. Great that you take consent so seriously, CG. But also, he's a shameless manipulator, so it's always a CYA gesture on his part. Nothing to do with any respect for Ana.

This novel is now basically a negotiation. We've got some boring conversation where they decide when to hang out next, and learn that CG has a helicopter, because rich guy, and that he's going to take her to Seattle and "acquaint [her] with the facts then." 

They make the arrangement, and then we get some more bullshit about how Ana should eat more food. "Anastasia, I have an issue with wasted food . . . eat." This guy has a lot of issues. Ana pokes at her food, and CG is exactly like a toddler's shitty parent. "'Good girl,' he says. 'I'll take you home when you've dried your hair. I don't want you getting ill.'"

I keep starting sentences responding to this shitty passage and then deleting them. Nothing I can say is quite getting at how angry this makes me. Good girl. Good girl! This is one step below CG filling a fork with pancake and telling Ana that it's an airplane coming in for a landing. And the wet hair thing? Come on! Why not tell her that her humors are out of balance? Or notice that she might be suffering from womb fury? But seriously isn't he so romantic???

Ana goes to dry her hair like a good girl. Then, this: "I want to brush my teeth. I eye Christian's toothbrush. It would be like having him in my mouth. . . I squirt toothpaste on it and brush my teeth in double time. I feel so naughty. It's such a thrill."

Does anyone want to explain this to me? First, this is a hotel. Hotels have extra toothbrushes. And when you kidnap someone, the least you can do is call down to the lobby and get an extra toothbrush for her. Show some courtesy, Christian! But using CG's toothbrush--how is this sexy? "It would be like having him in my mouth." It's hard not to read about Ana brushing her teeth and not assume that she's connecting using CG's toothbrush with giving him a beej. I'm not the only one thinking that, right? That's what I'm supposed to think here, right? Help me out here, guys!

But also, that makes no sense, is the thing. I can only assume that Ana has some confused ideas about oral hygiene, oral sex, or maybe both. 

We get a taste of CG's fake business dealings, and it's just the dumbest and the worst: "They want two? . . . How much will that cost? . . . Okay, and what safety measures do we have in place? . . . And they'll go via Suez? . . . How safe is Ben Sudan? . . . And when do they arrive in Darfur? . . . Okay, let's do it. Keep me abreast of progress." His business is just some fake thing that EL never decided to think about. But here, she hints that CG is doing some complicated humanitarian shit in the Sudan, and it's just pathetic. It's a dodge to make us like CG more, since he's an asshole, but now he's an asshole who's some kind of humanitarian, I guess. I'm just going to assume that he's having a fake conversation for Ana's benefit, considering how fake the conversation sounds."

They end up in an elevator and make out. CG says growls "Oh, fuck the paperwork," which is the worst. There are a million shitty movies and TV shows where characters are all, "Oh, I can't go out tonight. I'm bogged down by all this paperwork." "Paperwork" is one of those dumb, placeholder words that are the mark of bad writing. Wait, we need a reason for the hero to stay late at the office. Let' say paperwork. No, that's dumb. Well, whatever. Put it in and we'll change it later. Moving on. I can't read the word "paperwork" without thinking of a dumb show about a loose-canon cop who may have unorthodox methods, but gets results, dammit. 

This connection may make more sense in my mind than in yours, but whatever. This paperwork thing is dumb as hell, but, again, whether or not Ana signs said paperwork is the thing that we're now supposed to care about. It's essentially a BDSM-themed stand-in for "are they going to get married?" 

(Editor's note: The paperwork itself is way crazy! You should really be looking forward to reading CG's sex contract! Hint: It's gross.)

And then, the elevator kiss:

He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator. Before I know it, he's got both of my hands in one of his in a viselike grip above my head, and he's pinning me to the wall using his hips. Holy shit. His other hand grasps my hair and yanks down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine. It's only just not painful. I moan into his mouth, giving his tongue an opening. He takes full advantage, his tongue expertly exploring my mouth. I have never been kissed like this. My tongue tentatively strokes his and joins his in a slow, erotic dance that's all about touch and sensation, all bump and grind. He brings his hand up to grasp my chin and holds me in place. I'm helpless, my hands pinned, my face held, and his hips restraining me. His erection is against my belly. Oh my . . . He wants me. Christian grey, Greek god, wants me, and I want him, here . . . now, in the elevator. 

If you think that's hot, that's cool. I cringe when I read "only just not painful." And all the ellipses are, I think, dumb. Also: what could kissing possibly be about if not "touch and sensation"? That is why people do it, right? 

But sure, for the sake of argument, let's say it's kind of hot. Let's say, that 78 pages in, EL actually let something happen in her sex book that a person might find sexy. I do think it's a little troubling that, even though Ana has been all "Kiss me! Kiss me!" the entire chapter, CG still manages to operate basically the same way that he would if she were totally unwilling. I'm not even saying that that Ana doesn't want to be kissed like this, but I am saying that CG doesn't have any reason to think that she might want her hair yanked, for instance, and that he's a bad person and that I hate him. 

Also, this: "'You. Are. So. Sweet,' he murmurs, each word a staccato." Dear EL, Do you know what the words "murmur" or "staccato" mean? Hint: both are somewhat onomatopoetic. Sincerely, Alden. 

The elevator opens and some business guys come in and Ana is all like, "OMG I'm having lady feelings!" and CG is all like, "Whatever. NBD." 

And then they get out of the elevator, and we are told that this is elevator three, so if you do happen to find yourself at the Heathman Hotel in Portland, for shit's sake stay out of elevator three. I'm absolutely confident that just the worst Fifty-Shades-First-Kiss re-enactors are just going to town on each other in that elevator twenty-four seven. Like, probably a pair in each goddam corner of the elevator. Actually, just take the stairs. Just don't bother with any of the elevators at that poor hotel. Just be like, "Hey, I actually really need a room on this floor, because of the first kiss re-enactors." At this point, some long-suffering hotel employee will give you a resigned, understanding sigh, and then recode your keycard so that you don't have to go into any elevators ever. Leave a generous tip, because working at the Heathman Hotel in Portland has got to be the hospitality-industry equivalent of working at an adult bookstore. 

Next week: A helicopter ride, a non-disclosure agreement, and a sex dungeon. But no sex. 

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