Tuesday, July 23, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 12

Ana sends Christian an email saying she doesn't want to see him anymore so he comes to her apartment and forces himself on her.

Warning: this is another sex chapter, and Ana's consent seems coerced at best. 

This is getting more difficult to do, and I'm getting more and more confused about this book's popularity. In Chapter 11, nothing at all happened. In Chapter 12, Ana and Christian are just going to have sex again and then exchange a few emails and there's nothing really to distinguish this sex from their previous sex or these emails from their previous emails. If anything, the sex and emails are worse in this chapter than previous sex and emails, because Chapter 12 forces the reader to reach the rather chilling conclusion that CG simply will not take "no" for an answer. (Editor's note: most readers will have already realized this; any holdouts will now realize it.) Someone should write an essay about how CG is a metaphor for US foreign policy, because he's always negotiating and bringing in paperwork and making things seem terribly official but then ultimately he just does whatever he wants anyway and makes you wonder why you had to jump through all those hoops. (Editor's theory: maybe at some point, we will learn that CG's real fetish is for meaningless paperwork?)

I'm too angry at the previous chapter for being so pointless and too depressed about how borderline terrifying this sex chapter is to introduce this week's remarks with any grand theories or fun writing advice, so I suppose I have no choice but to jump right on in.

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.
  5. Ana awakes in Christian's hotel room. Christian explains that he brought her there because he didn't want her to puke in his car. He says that they can't take things further until he's explained his secrets, so they arrange a helicopter ride together to Seattle and make out in an elevator.
  6. Ana and Christian fly to Seattle in a helicopter. Ana signs a non-disclosure agreement and then opens up the door to the sex dungeon.
  7. Ana and Christian tour the sex dungeon and we see some of his much-discussed paperwork, which is an agreement far more all-encompassing than, say, a typical marriage, even though they met less than two weeks ago. CG gets super angry when he learns that Ana is a virgin. 
  8. Ana and Christian have sex and later, when Ana wakes up, CG is playing a piano because he has a case of the feels.
  9. The next morning Ana cooks breakfast and then they have sex in the bath and then in the bed and then Christian hears his mom talking to his manservant, Taylor. 
  10. Mom leaves right away, so Ana and Christian drive from Seattle to Vancouver and also they stop at a restaurant and CG reveals that he played the role of submissive to an older woman when he was a teenager. 
  11. Ana reads the sex contract and gets a new computer from Christian and they exchange some emails and Ana reads about BDSM on wikipedia. 
Every time I paste something into blogger I break the formatting and end up with these silly, multi-style, multi-font posts. I am sorry, but in the spirit of EL James, I'm keeping the editing down to a minimum here. (Editor's note: we actually edit quite carefully, or at least more carefully than EL; we're just bad at formatting.)

EL starts chapters one of two ways. Sometimes, she builds in a "cliffhanger" at the end of a chapter and then more or less continues the next chapter without any sort of break. This is precisely what kept me reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in my youth. Apologies to Nancy and the boys--those books  are altogether more carefully plotted than this mess, so the comparison is really unfair.

The other thing that EL tends to do is start chapters with a bunch of pointless garbage. This is a classic amateur mistake. Often, when writing, we will thrash around in a few different directions before realizing, "Oh, right! Now I see what needs to happen." Good writers edit, and see where they were thrashing around and cut that shit out without giving it a second thought. For some (myself, certainly) the thrashing is a necessary part of getting settled, like a dog circling before lying down. There's nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't belong in your book. You cut it out so we don't waste your poor reader's time with a lot of pages of Ana thinking thoughts. 

EL is not a good writer, though, so she includes all the time-wasting. That's all that happens before CG shows up and ties Ana to her own bed--time-wasting. First, Ana goes for a jog, which is a perfectly normal thing for a person to do, only this is Ana we're talking about, so since exercise suggests a certain level of self-reflection, competency, and athleticism, she has to make it clear that this is not something she would do normally. I am intrigued, though, that her sneakers are somehow simultaneously "nasty" and "never-used." Maybe "nasty" doesn't mean dirty or worn out. Maybe it means surly? She just has rude sneakers?

The first line in the chapter is this: "For the first time in my life, I voluntarily go for a run." Why? "I can't sit in front of that marvel of technology and look at or read any more disturbing material. I need to expend some of this excess, enervating energy." 

Great. So, she wants to clear her head or whatever. Fine. You might note that "enervating" basically means "diminishing energy" so that is a pretty strange word to use to modify "energy." Whatever. 

What's more interesting to me is that CG's contract insists on regular exercise as one of the various ways in which he wants to police Ana's body. So is her jog truly voluntary? Or is she just preparing herself for CG's demands? Is CG already affecting her psychologically? We'll never know! I presume, though, that EL wasn't suggesting anything quite so sophisticated, and just had Ana run around for a bit as a way to kickstart the chapter while she decided what the chapter would be about. 

On her jog, Ana answers one of my lingering questions: "My research has told me that legally [the sex contract]'s unenforceable. He must know that." That's what I assumed. Nice to be right, I suppose. Whatever. Ana vows to tell CG exactly what she doesn't like about his contract. Such a free spirit!

Back at the apartment, Kate makes Ana comment on her newly-purchased bikinis and sarongs. "She will look fabulous in all of them, yet she still makes me sit and comment while she tries on each and every one." There is some actual sex coming up about one page later, but the only parts of this book I'm enjoying are the little hints that Ana and Kate have a fare more complicated relationship than Ana ever admits. I want to say that this is an example of how less can be more, but really, it's an example of me being bored and grasping at straws. 

After Kate forces Ana to participate in her exhibitionist fantasies, Ana goes and does her favorite thing, which is sending the sort of terse email which regular people would send as a text message. "Okay, I've seen enough. It was nice knowing you." I count 48 characters. 

Shocking, right? That's the end of Christian. Really surprising twist, but the novel gets surprisingly good once he's out of the picture. 

Just kidding! This email is not a dear John letter. It's Ana's idea of a joke. "I press 'send,' hugging myself, laughing at my little joke. Will he find it as funny? Oh, shit--probably not. Christian Grey is not famed for his sense of humor." 

So what is the joke, exactly? And how does Ana expect CG to understand that this is, indeed, a joke, rather than an honest assertion that she is not interested in his lifestyle? I mean, yes, perhaps a more polite move on Ana's part would be a phone call, and maybe an offer to return CG the fancy-schmancy computer. But there's absolutely no reason that CG should think of her email as anything but honest. No, he's not famed for his sense of humor, but that doesn't matter, since Ana offers no hint of joke in this joke. 

She starts to have second thoughts: "anxiety blooms in my belly" because that is the place that she feels all emotions. 

A few lines later and CG sneaks into Ana's bedroom. Creepy! But also, the setup is an exact copy of Chapter 9. In both instances, Ana is distracted by her Ipod and doesn't notice CG being all stalkery. Of course, in Chapter 9, he was in his own home, so that was much less weird. Now, he's in Ana's bedroom, not saying a word, an hour after being dumped by email. 

Here's a sentence that happens: "Vaguely, I'm aware that I'm still in my sweats, unshowered, yucky, and he's just gloriously yummy, his pants doing that hanging from the hips thing, and what's more, he's here in my bedroom." I won't say that this is the worst sentence in the book, because I think the actual worst sentence in the book is that one where CG invites Ana to get acquainted with his penis. But it is a terrible, terrible sentence. It doesn't make any sense for Ana to tell us the things of which she is vaguely aware, does it? If she's able to put them into words, she's aware. There's nothing vague about it. Much worse is the fact that she uses the words "yucky" and "yummy" in the same sentence, which would maybe be acceptable if this were some form of entertainment aimed at children not yet ready for the sophistication of Sesame Street. And then, of course, the pants. I still have no idea how CG wears his pants. I expect EL is just trying to tell us that he's super cut and Ana can tell that he has great abs even when he's wearing a shirt. Whatever. Let's not forget what's most important: CG has sneaked in silently and Ana should probably be concerned that he's going to murder her, because you know who sneaks in all quiet like that without saying anything? Murderers, is who!

"May I sit?" he asks, his eyes now dancing with humor--thank heavens--maybe he'll see the funny side?

I can only guess as to the reasoning behind the italics. Also, I have no idea what CG's eyes are supposed to look like in this moment, doing their humor dance and all. 

I think that I would be less prone to suggest that CG seems like a murderer if Ana didn't act so scared of him all the time. 

I glance around [the bedroom], plotting an escape route. No--there's still only the door or window. My room is functional but cozy--sparse white wicker furniture and a white iron double bed with a patchwork quilt, made by by mother when she was in her folks Amiercana quilting phase. It's all pale blue and cream.

1. See? Plotting an escape route is the kind of thing you do when you're concerned that someone might be a murderer. 
2. "No--there's still only the door or window." Well what the hell else does she expect? Some new type of architectural opening that's not a door or a window? A sun roof? A fire escape? Facepalm. 
3. EL couldn't resist doing that thing again where she interrupts an important moment to tell us some bullshit about how a room looks. Ana is contemplating throwing herself out a window because she thinks CG might have showed up to murder her, but she's all, "Oh hey, did I tell you about the quilt my mom made me?" 

Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose. I breathe. 

Has any novel ever written managed to include the phrase "medulla oblongata" as much as this one? No? Didn't think so. I only quote this bit because I hate it and because it seems like ages ago since Ana forgot to breathe. (Editor's note: probably it only seems like that to Alden because he hasn't been writing about this dumb book as much lately. Ana practically always forgets to breathe.) 

So they're talking a little and it's all slightly terrifying. CG undoes Ana's pigtails. Then this: "His fingers  circle my ear, and very softly, rhythmically, he tugs my earlobe. It's so sexual." Do you think Ana knows what the word "sexual" means? Maybe not, right? Please: try out the ol' ear tug and let me know if this move spices things up for you! (Editor's note: Please. Don't actually do that.)

Ana changes her mind and decides she wants to do sex with him after all.

Desire--acute, liquid, and smoldering--combusts deep in my belly. I take preemptive action and launch myself at him. Somehow he moves, I have no idea how, and in the blink of an eye I'm on the bed, pinned beneath him, my arms stretched out and held above my head, his free hand clutching my face, and his mouth finding mine.

So, this is kind of gross. We know that Ana wants CG. She says so in the dumbest way possible. See, smoldering is a kind of combustion, so that's silly and repetitive. Also I'm not sure how something liquid can smolder, but whatever. She wants him. We get it.

What I don't get is the action that follows. So she launches herself at him, and then ends up underneath him. What's uncomfortable about all this is that CG believes he has just been dumped. His previous dialogue is totally menacing: "Well, I thought I should come and remind you how nice it was knowing me." "What do you say to that, Miss Steele?" So he's being all gross. And Ana never says that she didn't really mean what she said in her email. She never says that she wants him. We just get this totally ambiguous word "launch," which CG accepts as an invitation to pin Ana to the bed.

And maybe it was! Maybe CG read everything just as Ana intended. But this is another one of those moments in which EL's terrible writing just makes everything seem super sinister. Obviously, this post-breakup email meeting could move from super tense to sexy, but I have a hard time getting past Ana's terror. More important, it kind of just seems like CG comes over fully intending to rape Ana, but then she gets kinda interested in sexing him, so he's like, oh that's fine too then. 

"Trust me?" he breathes.

And she nods so, hurray! Consent! Fellas: the time for consent actually comes sometime before you've immobilized your prey lover by pinning her down on her bed. But also, most of Ana's reactions in this chapter make it pretty clear that she does not, in fact, trust him. She was literally wishing for some kind of escape route besides the door and the window. Wishing for a better escape route is not the thing you do when you are with someone you trust.

CG has his bondage tie with him because of course he does. Once again: not wearing it. He's got it crammed into a pants pocket which is ridiculous. Is he wearing enormous cargo pants? Because enormous cargo pants are the only pants with pockets that a person could fit an entire necktie into without absolutely smooshing the poor tie all to hell. I'm concerned that CG isn't taking wardrobe maintenance very seriously and should probably discuss the proper care of neck-ware with a professional. 

He moves so quickly, sitting astride me as he fastens my wrists together, but this time, he ties the other end of the tie to one of the spokes of my white iron headboard.

Huh. Ok, well, this is one special necktie! Seriously though, this just sounds like it wouldn't work. I just don't feel like a tie would be long enough to manage this number of knots, but then again, who cares. I have a lot of complaints about this chapter, and they all rank somewhere above "doesn't seem like a tie would be long enough for all these knots" so I guess we'll move on to some more foot stuff. 

But first, this sentence: "I'm tied, literally, to my bed, and I'm so aroused." Is anyone ever tied figuratively to one's bed? If this were happening at an office, instead, Ana could say, I'm tied, literally, do my desk" and that would kind of make sense since I think that's a thing people say, right? Like when they have a lot of work to do? 

Anyway, soon CG is taking Ana's socks off and Ana is rightly worried that he's going to stuff to her dirty feet because that's what happens in pretty much all of their sex scenes. Ana has this thought, as CG removes Ana's sweatpants: "Oh--what panties am I wearing?" Well I don't know, Ana! This is the sort of sentence I just find hilarious. She has this thought once her sweatpants are already off, suggesting that she could just look and remind herself. And she never tells the poor reader about her panties, and I never thought to care, but now that she's worried, I'm worried too! Does she own some kind of weird panties? Is her concern that she might be wearing that one pair of like, super-weird panties? Now I'm so curious! 

But we simply move on. Soon CG is chastising Ana once again: "You're biting that lip, Anastasia. You know the effect it has on me." Previously, CG has always suggested that Ana's lip-biting would result in forced sex, which seems to be already happening, lip-biting or no, so this is not a very good threat. Watch out, Ana, or I'll do the thing I'm already doing!

Then CG takes off some clothes, blindfolds Ana with her own shirt, and announces that he's going to leave to get a drink. I'm pretty sure I read in Savage Love one time that tying somebody up and then leaving the room was a breach of tying-people-up-etiquette but I'm not going to research that because this dumb book has already caused me to look up all sorts of things that are probably now in my NSA file forever and ever. 

But yeah, he leaves and comes back and spits wine into Ana's mouth and I can't even pretend that if this were written in a different way I could find it sexy. You know what kind of animals spit into other animal's mouths? Birds who need to feed baby birds. That's who. 

Also, Ana is still kind of worried about getting murdered: "'Is this nice?' he asks, but I hear the edge in his voice." I mean, she into it. Don't get me wrong. Even the wine part. But yeah. Knows this might be the end. No big deal. 

Also there are some references to ice, which means that we're supposed to believe that CG is drinking white wine with ice like a caveman. I'm not buying it. I don't even really believe that CG would trust any wine that he found at Ana's house. Makes me think of this scene from Shopgirl that I can't figure out how to embed so watch it in a new window if you want. It's basically just rich-guy Steve Martin being grossed out by exactly the sort of wine that Ana and Kate likely have in their fridge. 

Anyway soon Ana has a navel full of wine and this is somehow very important. (Editor's note: EL doesn't understand that skinny people don't have the sort of navels that can hold wine.) CG does that thing where he keeps threatening her about arbitrary stuff like dribbling the wine that he poured on her. I don't find it very interesting. This is the sort of scene that, I suppose, could be kind of hot in the hands of someone more talented, but it feels kind of like torture. Ana keeps claiming that she's enjoying herself, though, so I guess it would be silly of me not to believe her.

I long to touch him.
"I want to touch you," I breathe. 

Ha! Thanks, Ana! I misunderstood you the first time, so thank you for immediately repeating yourself. 

Soon CG is finger-blasting Ana, which I only mention because it gives me an excuse to use the phrase "finger-blasting" and I am so rarely able to do so. "His other hand scoops my hair off my head and holds my head in place." I love this sentence! It suggests 1) that Ana's hair is like a pile of spaghetti resting on her head but not attached to it and 2) that her head is not connected to her neck and needs to be kept still until medical professionals can sew her back together. 

Here's a thing CG says that baffles me: "Shall I fuck you this way, or this way, or this way? There's an endless choice." No idea what the three ways are. Or, maybe there's just the one way, and he's making a joke? But I don't know what the one way is, either, so I guess we'll just move on.

He puts a condom on and Ana tries to explain her terrible non-joke-joke and she seems to be simultaneously begging him to go away and begging him to have sex with her. Or maybe I'm begging him to go away and just wishing that Ana would do so as well. And CG says, "Are you laughing now?" and that's a pretty gross thing to say, because once again it comes across as a threat. 

Let me make you read this whole part where the actual sexing happens:

He pushes both my knees up the bed so my behind is in the air, and he slaps me hard. Before I can react, he plunges inside me. I cry out--from the slap and from his sudden assault, and I come instantly again and again, falling part beneath him as he continues to slam deliciously into me. 

  1. Ana says "my behind" which is weird and hilarious to me.
  2. She actually uses the word "assault" to describe CG penetrating her. That is the literal word that she chooses. 
  3. It's hard to read about her multiple, instantaneous orgasms without wondering if the author is altogether familiar with orgasms. 
CG spends the whole chapter obsessing over the word "nice" which I actually kind of enjoy. I don't know what EL had in mind, obviously, even though I'm spending so long trying to figure it out. But the way he keeps repeating it -- "How nice is this?" "How nice was that?" -- makes it seem like he's simply determined to be thought of as a real badass. He's like a little boy who just got kissed by his mom in front of his friends and is desperate to figure out how to look tough again. 

Here's some pillow talk:

"So, that e-mail was your idea of a joke."
I smile apologetically at him and shrug.
"I see. So you are still considering my proposition?"

Again, this is right after he arrived unannounced, sneaked in, and tied Ana to her bed. After all that they discuss the fact that Ana doesn't understand how jokes work. So during this scene, CG thought he'd just been dumped. This is how he treats an ex-girlfriend.

And then, again, he asks if Ana is going to sign the contract, and again, I ask, "why?" because he has just proved himself willing to do whatever he wants to Ana all the time regardless of what documents she has signed or hasn't signed.

Ana says she has some issues with the contract:

"I was going to e-mail [my issues] to you, but you kind of interrupted me."
"Coitus interruptus."

And that, there, is CG's version of a joke! You know how you're supposed to laugh at somebody's jokes if you're trying to flirt? It's really hard for Ana and CG to flirt because they hardly make any jokes and when they do make jokes they're the worst jokes that anyone has ever made ever. 

CG, on humor: "Only certain things are funny, Anastasia. I thought you were saying no, no discussion at all." Silent implication: "So that's why I decided to come over here and rape you." 

Then they talk about CG's first lover, whom Ana calls "Mrs. Robinson," who is still pals with CG, and this is something that CG thinks is super reasonable. He offers to introduce Ana to some of his former submissives, which Ana rejects as ludicrous and it's one of the very few moments she reacts in a way that makes sense to me. 

And then CG says this: "God, I'd like to give you a good hiding. You'd feel a lot better, and so would I.""Hiding" is another one of those strange EL words that is hard to judge because no one in America would use it in a million years, at least not in this context. But, it means "beating" or "flogging" or "thrashing" and so when CG says that they'd both feel better, I'm certain he's at least half right and also I hate him and this book more than I can adequately express. 

She gets dressed again. She's worried about Kate. "My hair is a mess, and I know I'll have to face the Katherine Kavanaugh Inquisition." Oh! That's right! I also hate Ana, for saying the same shit over and over again. The phrase "Katherine Kavanaugh Inquisition" gets used basically every time Kate appears in the book, and it just feels like a variation on, "Ugh! Women! Nag, nag, nag! Am I right, fellas?" Don't be so horrible to Kate, Ana! Maybe she just cares about you. I don't know why she would, but maybe she does! Ever think of that? 

Then, Ana tells this silly lie: "For the first time, I'm wishing he was normal--wanting a normal relationship that doesn't need a ten-page agreement, a flogger, and carabiners in his playroom ceiling." That is obviously not true; this is not the first time Ana has wished this. 

She feels used, quite appropriately: "But now I feel like a receptacle--an empty vessel to be filled at his whim." And this is a pretty gross sentence, but yeah! He's a gross guy, so it works. 

CG leaves and Kate is indeed worried about Ana because she's all crying and stuff, but also laughing even though nothing funny happens. "In spite of my poignant sadness, I laugh." Why don't you let us judge whether or not anything poignant happens, okay Ana? 

Ana then explains to Kate that she isn't crying because her boyfriend is somewhere on the continuum between "bully" and "rapist" but instead because, "I just don't think our relationship is going anywhere." A person more dedicated than I could probably make a convincing case that this book is actually an accurate portrayal of the psychological effects of an abusive relationship. It's stunning how quickly Ana transforms CG's problem (his abuse) into their problem. Something that they should work on, not something CG needs to fix about himself. 

Ana and Kate discuss for a bit longer, and, thankfully, Ana at least doesn't whine about Kate's friendship like usual. Ana does offer this gem: "He uses sex as a weapon." True! So you realize this, Ana, but your response is not to never ever see him again? Unfortunate. 

Kate tells Ana that her dad (who's actually her stepdad) called and that her mom won't be attending graduation because mom's boyfriend Bob got injured and I don't know which is less believable--that it is Ana's stepdad who passes on this information rather than her mom, or that this conversation happens over Ana and Kate's landline. Why doesn't Ana's stepdad call her cellphone like a regular person? Whatever. All the characters in this book have relationships to technology that are at least fifteen  years out of date.

Next, Ana sends CG a quite lengthy list of concerns about the contract. Rather than discussing them as though he were an adult and she were an adult, CG yells at Ana for staying up too late. Because we have the timestamps for each of their emails, we know that this exchange happens shortly after midnight.

Groan. Adults, particularly young adults, particularly young adults without any responsibilities, often stay up well past midnight, EL! It happens! Perhaps you should have had a quick conversation with someone in her twenties before finalizing this terrible, terrible book. Also, though, CG is such an asshole. After invading Ana's home, he was all demanding that she tell him what she thought about his sex contract. So when she does do exactly that, he dodges it. It seems precisely as though he expected her to just say, "Sure! Sounds great!" and was surprised that she actually wanted to discuss the thing in depth. And taken by surprise, his solution is to dodge the question, and patronize Ana by telling her she's up too late, exactly like he might chastise a small child for staying up too late. 

The next chapter is Chapter 13. That will mark the halfway point in this project. I'm honestly not sure if I can complete it. It's so, so terrible. There's no plot. Just unpleasant sex and contract negotiations whose outcomes we already know. So, I guess share this blog with a friend if you enjoy it. If people keep reading I'll try to keep writing, but it's really bad. This thing is truly, truly bad, and anyone who disagrees probably has never read anything good and is simply wowed by complete sentences. 

I don't know what happens in the next chapter. Pretty sure I haven't read it yet. Probably some emails get sent and Ana makes some jokes that aren't funny and Christian acts like a real prick. You know. Like every mutterblushing chapter in this book. So we all have that chapter to look forward to, next week!

I'll bounce back from this, I hope. But it's late right now. I usually write this in advance and then have time to do a couple rounds of edits before finally posting. But I've burnt through all the material I wrote in advance so I'm finishing this just a couple hours before posting it, and this book is so terrible that right now, I feel exactly like I'm working on the last paper for a shitty class that I could barely stand to attend, because that's how terrible this book is. I guess I just hope that someday, someone contemplating reading this shitty book will read one of these essays and say, "You know what? Maybe I'll just watch tv instead." And that simple gesture will make this whole thing worth it. If I can just touch one life, by preventing that life from wasting any time on this, the most terrible book ever written, I will believe my time well spent. 

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