Tuesday, August 6, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 14

tldnr
Ana and Kate graduate from college and Ana agrees to sign Christian's sex contract. 

Warnings: I dunno. More of the same. There's some riding crop sex at the beginning, but it turns out (SPOILER ALER) it was all just a dream. So clever!

Chapter 14 is the sort of chapter that I enjoy writing about because it's the kind of chapter where a bunch of characters run around doing a bunch of different things and because they're doing these different things out in the world instead of in Christian Grey's sex-room, EL James' frequent misconceptions about how the world operates are at their most frequent and most jarring. As awkward as the sex-scenes can be, as terrifying as the central romance is, the mundane absurdities are what keep me going.

Ana declaring that she's never had an email address, for instance. Ana expressing amazement about the idea of shaving one's armpits. Ana being absolutely shocked by the idea of oysters. These precious, stupid memories are what make reading this book possible, which means that, in essence, I'm getting weighed down by the sex parts and, in comparison, tolerating the useless filler parts thrown in, I assume, to give the reader some breathing room in between sex parts. Meaning, the only parts that entertain me are the parts that more engaged readers are likely skipping and not even thinking about. Oh well!

But let's dive right in! Time for a sex dream!





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.
  12. Ana sends a "joke" email to Christian, telling him that she doesn't want to see him again, so he sneaks in and forces himself on her. 
  13. Ana and Christian meet for dinner to negotiate their sex contract, and CG largely accepts Ana's rather cosmetic demands. 
We join Ana in dream-land, tied to a bed, while dream-CG does various riding-crop type things to her. "Reaching forward, he trails the tip of the crop from my forehead down the length of my nose, so I can smell the leather, and over my parted, panting lips. He pushes the tip into my mouth so I can taste the smooth, rich leather."

Got that? Good. Two things intrigue me about this terrible pair of sentences. One is simply the lazy way EL uses the word leather back to back like that--"smell the leather" and "taste the smooth, rich leather." Adding the generic description "smooth, rich" does nothing to distract from the fact that EL is mirroring herself. It's a bit like a lazy song lyric that rhymes by just saying the same thing again. Second strange part about this passage is EL's use of the word "so." "So" in this context implies intent, as though CG's intent in performing this action is to acquaint Ana with the smell and taste of leather. Probably he's doing it because he gets off on the implied threat! Not because he's like, "Oh, you know what tastes delicious? Leather. I should really jam some into Ana's mouth in case she is unfamiliar with this tasty taste!" But then, this is all a dream so maybe the regular rules don't apply? whatever.

"Suck," he commands, his voice soft. My mouth closes over the tip as I obey.
"Enough," he snaps.

Make up your mind, jackass! Do you want her to, or not? Geez. Oh and then hits Ana's "sweet spot" and she has an orgasm, so that's fun. 

Then she wakes up! Ugh. Every time Ana does anything, it's the first time that she's ever done it. She literally never did anything ever before meeting CG. And not just weird CG-stuff. Normal stuff too, like sending emails or eating oysters. This time, the first is a sex dream. "I didn't know I could dream sex. Was it something I hate?" I dunno! Probably the oysters! Watch out!

Then up and over to the kitchen where Kate asks a question because, you'll remember, the worst thing a friend can do is express concern and curiosity about her friend. "Ana, are you okay? You look odd. Is that Christian's jacket you're wearing?"

Get that? Ana is wearing CG's mutterblushing jacket. Why? Well, we know she wore it in the first place because CG is a science-denier who thinks that ever-so-slightly cool weather gives you pneumonia or whatever. But we don't know why she didn't give it back to him when the valet guy brought her car to her. Would've been a logical moment to be like, "Oh, thanks! My car is heated, like all cars! So take your jacket back!" But then, if she didn't return it then, a good time to have removed it would have been at any other part of her evening. Their dinner was scheduled for seven. We can pretend that the chapter took a while, but they only had a drink and two courses, so I see little justification for the idea that Ana got home much later than nine, although somehow, we see an email time-stamped 10PM. Fine, so she gets home just after ten. And still falls asleep in his jacket and doesn't find this super awkward to sleep in? Never takes it off?

See--that's the kind of shit I find immensely entertaining. It's like EL started the chapter and realized she never showed Ana taking off the jacket, and was worried that her readers would be like, "Wait, something's fishy here. Last night she was wearing CG's jacket. But then the next morning, after a night's sleep, she's wearing different clothes? I have never heard of anyone changing their clothes prior to sleeping, so where did the jacket go?" So then EL made sure to keep Ana in that dumb jacket again. Crisis averted!

Kate: "How was dinner?" Ana, because she's a terrible friend: "So it begins." Nice of EL to not actually use the phrase Katherine Kavanaugh Inquisition, but it's lurking there in the background. I will never not be annoyed by the way Ana is such a jerk to her only friend, particularly since Kate has actually done a number of things for Ana, and the only thing Ana has done for Kate was to begrudgingly interview CG way back in Chapter 1. It's Chapter 14, Ana! Be nicer!

Ana: "We had oysters. Followed by cod, so I'd say it was fishy." This is, I think, what passes for a joke in Ana's world, so that's cute. 

Ana eats a bagel, which is almost as much as she ate yesterday in total, so that's good, and offers to listen to Kate practice her valedictorian speech since it's graduation day. There's about a page worth of recap, which is all just the same stuff over and over about Ana's conflicted feelings. This novel has all sorts of vestigial description of Ana and CG's relationship, thrown in for fanfic readers unwilling to start at the beginning. So one could easily start with this chapter, instead of Chapter 13, as I suggested last week, and be basically caught up and fine in no time. Whatever. Really a drag to have to read these bits again and again. They could literally be copied-and-pasted in, just like I copy and paste my little summary section each week. At least I'm being honest about it! I'm trying to make this as easy for you as possible. I'm much more understanding than EL. 

Ray shows up to take Ana to graduation. Nice of him. I'm a staunch defender of Ray, because he's a dumb caricature. He's just a real sad-sack, this guy is. Utterly without guile. Super boring. Treated by basically everyone as though he were a toddler. He's basically Coach from Cheers. 

Hey, Annie, I'm pleased to see you, too. You okay, kid?
 Ray: "Should we head over?" Sensible question, Ray! You did come out for Ana's graduation. Probably you should go over to her graduation.

Ana: "Dad, we have half an hour. Would you like some tea? And you can tell me how everyone in Montesano is getting along. How was the drive down?" Oh! A half hour, you say! I can't imagine that you'd want to allow any extra time prior to an event like a university graduation. Can't imagine that you'd want to allow extra time for parking, or that there would be any reason to not just pop in at the absolute last minute. There are so, so many moments in this book when it could be improved purely by cutting something. Not even by changing something. Just cutting most of it out entirely would be a big improvement. Ana and Ray have this conversation of about ten lines, and then we have a scene break, and then they're arriving at graduation. Absolutely no reason for the first scene whatsoever. EL ought to have just started things out at graduation. Oh, and cut Ray's presence entirely. Somehow, EL is trying to use Ray's presence as an excuse to make the stakes seem hire, but the stakes are intolerably low. So, so low, and having Coach around can do nothing at all to raise them. 

Somehow, this university graduation is taking place inside a gym. Whatever. I guess that's possible, though pretty unlikely. Ana is freaking out from the very beginning, but without any particular reason, other than the fact that her boyfriend is a sociopath, and I'm kind of getting sick of worrying about him, you know? I mean, he's been the worst since the beginning, and he's still the worst, but at this point, Ana is obviously sticking with him, and he's obviously going to keep being the worst, so I can't come up with any energy to feel nervous along with Ana. 

CG is spotted wearing his bondage tie. "He's wearing that tie, on purpose no doubt." The alternative being, perhaps, that he wore it on accident? 

Ana hates all women, you'll recall, particularly Kate and strangers she doesn't know at all, like the women assigned seats next to her at graduation who think that CG is hot. You can tell they think he's hot because one of them says, "He's hot." There is no room for subtlety in this novel. 

"Is he single?"
I bristle. "I don't think so," I murmur.
"Oh." Both girls look at me in surprise. 
"I think he's gay," I mutter.
"What a shame," one of the girls groans.

It's a little gross how Ana treats these women as interchangeable annoyances. Worse is her defensive mechanism: "I think he's gay." That would be a shame, right ladies? Since he's so pretty and rich and whatever, right? I do wonder if we're ever going to meet a gay character in this book. Probably not! Every character in this novel is either A) somebody who wants to do sex with Ana or B) an anonymous potential rival for CG's sex-dungeon or C) a flat, boring, guileless support character who exists only to be friendly to Ana. As much as I'd be entertained by a gay character who fit into either A) or B), I'd be pretty shocked. I could imagine Ana having a clichéd "gay best friend" character who exists only to give her relationship advice, but it's a little late for that, since we know Ana only has room in  her friend-life for Kate, whom she hates. Basically that means that there will be no gay characters in this entire trilogy. But I guess the only way to find out is to keep reading! Or I guess I could look it up somewhere, but I'm already uncomfortable with the conclusions the NSA is generating based on my google search  history, thanks to these essays. So, I suppose I'll just read on. 

Christian sees Ana over from his part of the stage, and this thing happens: "Unbidden, I recall my dream from this morning, and the muscles in my belly do the delectable clench thing." I'll just leave that one for you to think about yourself. But once again, I am interested in hearing if anyone thinks this sounds more like arousal than like intestinal distress. My vote remains intestinal distress.

So, at first it seemed like Ana was freaking out about the idea of seeing CG. And now she's freaking out about the idea of not seeing him, so she's difficult to read. Whatever. Kate gives her valediction and everyone thinks she's great. Fine. Next: "She sits, as does the audience, and the chancellor rises and introduces Christian . . . Holy shit, Christian's going to give a speech." Didn't we all already know this? We knew that he was playing some role at this graduation ceremony, and giving speeches is the primary way that non-graduates contribute to graduation ceremonies. Hardly seems worthy of a "Holy shit" but what do I know about feelings or emotions or surprises. Here's what Ana gives us of the chancellor's list of CG's achievements: "CEO of his own extraordinarily successful company, a real self-made man." That is a brief list indeed. Still don't know what his company is supposed to be doing, or whatever, but that's fine. 

CG talks about feeding people in the global south which I guess is supposed to make us like him but it completely doesn't work. I mean, I guess if a real-life person is a huge prick but also donates a bunch of money somewhere, you'd be like, "Oh, well, I guess that person isn't exclusively bad." But since CG is still fictional, I have a very difficult time giving a shit about his fictional philanthropic efforts. This is particularly true of super rich characters. The fictional super rich are always able to donate bazillions and still remain super rich, so who cares? Let me know if he has to like, sell his helicopter or something, and then maybe I'll be interested. 

CG says, "I have known what it's like to be profoundly hungry. This is a very personal journey for me . . . " so we learn that he was poor or something before was adopted. All magical characters were orphans, you know--Harry Potter, James Bond, basically all of them. It's an annoying trick which is designed to makes us think of CG as a rich guy and as a poor kid. Not working on me though. To me, CG will always be a vampire.

His speech is all about doing better farming, which is obnoxious. We all know that the planet makes enough food to turn every country as fat as America, right? Well, it's true. The planet makes enough food to turn every country as fat as America. It's just not profitable to sell food to people who don't have money. Whatever. I'm too uninterested in CG's philanthropy to analyze it in any detail. 

Ana is feeling all warm toward CG but this is short-lived, since he's a real asshole when he hands her diploma to her. "Do you have a problem with your laptop?" Translation: I bought you a fancy computer, so why aren't you using it to do the things I want you to do promptly?

This ends mercifully briefly, but then a couple paragraphs later, Kate arrives to fetch Ana and drag her back to he who must be obeyed. At least this stuns those terrible, anonymous women who had the gall to have names near Ana's in the alphabet! "The two girls who are now standing beside me turn and gape at me." I suppose there's no way to know if these anonymous women are the same anonymous women she was sitting next to, now that I look at it again. But whatever. The important ("important") thing is that Ana made some women jelly. Hurray!

CG is typically creepy: "he takes my elbow and steers me into what looks like a men's locker room. He checks to see if it's empty, and then he locks the door." That's plausible, right? That there would just be this empty locker room with a deadbolt that a person could just walk into and lock? Sure, why not. 

CG is simultaneously freaking out about Ana not emailing him and about how her car is old. "Because you went home in that deathtrap you call a car." For fun, try reading that in some accent other than posh British. I dare you!

Ok, Ana: he's mad about two things. He's such a jealous maniac that I bet if you choose your next words carefully, you can figure out some third thing for him to get mad about: "What? It's not a deathtrap. It's fine. José regularly services it for me." Hurray! She did it! The anger trifecta!

CG wants an answer tomorrow about the sex contract, and he wants to be introduced to Ray. And here's where EL tries to use Ray's presence as a way to raise the stakes. Who cares if Ray meets CG? I don't. 

They part, and Ana returns to Ray, and introduces us to the word "marquee." What the hell does that word mean to you, if not the thing that advertises showtimes at a theater? Nothing, right? Apparently in British it means some kind of tent? It's pretty hard to figure out even in context. I had to look it up. Whatever. So they go to the tent, and there's Kate's brother Ethan. I know, right? Who cares. Then Kate introduces Ray to CG as her boyfriend and Ana freaks out! Ugh. Who cares?She's a college graduate! She can have a boyfriend! (Editor's note: can you guys figure out the point at which Alden starts drinking? Because there's always a point during these things where he starts drinking.)

This starts out slightly awkward but then CG asks Ray about fishing, which is the only thing this poor doofus cares about, other than soccer, so all CG has to do is mention fish and then they're BFF even though I have a pretty difficult time imagining CG fishing. He does like accessories and he probably likes sharp little hooks, so I suppose it kind of works. But still, it's pathetic how easily Ray gets tricked. It's exactly like encountering a little boy and asking him about trucks or dinosaurs. 

Ana yells at Kate for introducing CG and Ray, with this ominous threat: "You haven't heard the last of this, Katherine Kavanagh!" Also, I think I've been spelling Kavanagh incorrectly. Or, I mean, differently from how EL does. Whatever. Sorry Kate. But anyways: this chapter has basically only two threads. 1) Ana freaking out about everything other than her actual problems and 2) CG being a whiney baby. Wah wah wah I'm Christian Grey wah wah wah sign my sex contract already geez wah wah wah. Did you guys like my Christian Grey impression? Pretty good, right? You might not believe this, but that I totally just made up that quotation! He never actually says that at all. 

Oh and then like one second later Ana agrees to the sex contract, just like we all knew she would. Yawn. 

And then it's time to split up for lunch. Ray: "Look after my baby girl." 

Sideshow Bob CG: "Oh, I fully intend to." [Evil laugh implied.]

And of course Ray likes him: "Well, any man who likes and knows his fly-fishing is okay with me." Ana has some wise parental-figures. Between her Mom and Ray, it's simple: "Anybody who can dance and catch fish on a hook is definitely a great boyfriend!" No wonder she has so much trouble, if that's the total of the "wisdom" they offered her. 

Then we get a page of Ray and Ana saying goodbye after lunch. It's exactly the sort of scene that ought to be cut. It establishes nothing other than the fact that, yes, Ana goes home at the end of the day, exactly like we'd expect her to. Whatever. Then she looks at a bunch of phone messages and emails from CG. Here's a doozy of sentence we get before an angry email: "I head into my bedroom and fire up the mean machine." Ugh. Not only does she have to "fire up" her computer, but now it's not even enough to call it a computer. It's the "mean machine." Gross. 

They correspond for a sec and then CG is all like, "Be there in a minute!" And that's the big cliffhanger to end this chapter. You know that guy who Ana was hanging out with earlier in the day? And saw the previous night? Well get this! Turns out, he's going to come over to her house again! OMG right?

I may have accidentally gotten too enthusiastic about this chapter when I began writing. May have made it sound more compelling than it actually is, since in fact, it's super-terrible and I lost patience with it about three pages in. EL tries to make things dramatic by bringing in Ray, but that move doesn't work in the slightest. The small bits of post-graduation tension are so modest that of course they dissipate instantly. The only bit of new information we get is this idea that CG was once poor before he was rich. Yawn. And Ana's decision to sign the contract could be a big revelation, but instead it just comes from nowhere. Would've been better last chapter, because at least they had some entertaining back-and-forth. Instead Ana is just like, "Eh, ok. I'll do it or whatever." And that's that!

And then that sad, sad cliffhanger! What a waste. At least I didn't have to write about any sex-stuff this week, so that's good for me, I suppose. Whatever. They're going to do it again next chapter, and pretty much openly declare that this novel is about CG learning to enjoy sex without ropes and stuff. Fascinating!

1 comment:

Kathleen Shanks Rehder said...

My college graduation was in a gym. Needless to say, it was not some hoity toity Ivy League school. Ahem.