Tuesday, August 20, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 15.2

Ana and Christian have sex. 

See above. 

Remember when the last Harry Potter got split into two movies, and then I only saw the first one? Or maybe neither? Because I can't remember? And then Twilight did the same thing? And now The Hobbit is three movies? Wouldn't it be terrible if I started doing that? I mean, I'm already writing chapter "summaries" that are, at times, longer than the actual chapters as originally written. So what if I stretched it out even more and turned this same dumb chapter about nothing into several weeks of mean-spirited jokes and repetitive screeds?

I'm sorry about 15.1. I said a bunch of things that I've already said a bunch of times. In my defense, the chapter was basically a bunch of stuff that's already happened in the book. It's hard to not sound repetitive when you're riffing on something that is itself so repetitive.

So here we are. Let's make this one a quickie, ok? (Editor's note: Yeah, that's a dumb sex joke. Think of it as a transition, because we're about to talk about some dumb sex.) 

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. 
  14. Christian speaks at Ana's graduation and also her stepdad is there and Ana agrees to CG's contract.
  15. Ana and Christian talk about "soft limits" and then have sex. 
We're on the second part of 15, but I went ahead and included a line for Chapter 15 because you already know where this is headed. That's right! Put on whatever your favorite your favorite sex-music is and let's get ca-razy!

Ready? No? Too bad! It's happening! When we left our young lovers, they were working through the fine print on their sex contract. It was a lot of Ana saying, "Ick! No thanks!" and CG saying, "We can mark that as a 'maybe.'" Then, negotiations finished, CG was getting ready to get all Christian Grey on Ana Steele. But then he pulled a fakeout! And said this:

Outside of the time you're my sub, perhaps we could try. I don't know if it will work. I don't know about separating everything. It may not work. But I'm willing to try. Maybe one night a week. I don't know.

Oh, yay! CG is going to maybe pick one night a week, and then on that night, he's going to not micromanage Ana's life. He might not even remind her to breathe! (Editor's note: it's been a few chapters since CG told Ana to breathe, so let's pretend that that's a sign that EL is improving maybe?) I hope there's no catch!

I have one condition.

Oh, snap! There is a catch? And what is it? 

"Come," he murmurs and rises, dragging me up. Taking his jacket off, he drapes it over my shoulders and heads for the door.

1) I hope that CG is careful with his use of the word "come" because avid readers will remember that Ana pretty much has an orgasm every time CG says "come" and that could lead to some awkward situations! (Editor's note: I kind of regret this joke, but yet, it does have actual merit. See every sex chapter for further background detail.) 2) It's an evening in late May. Ana is at her own house, and if she still hasn't packed her tea cups (!) I am pretty confident that she could locate a goddamn sweater if she wished to wear a goddamn sweater. So keep your jacket on, CG. What is this about? Is this supposed to be "chivalrous" or whatever? This is the physical version of addressing a woman as "M'lady" like you're a featured extra in a basic cable remake of Robin Hood. What I'm saying is that it's gross and I hate it, and I hate that somehow CG still believes that the ever-so-slight difference between room temperature and the temperature outside on a spring evening is what causes pneumonia or the vapors or whatever. 

Outside is a brand new car! The condition is that Ana accept said-car. The "condition" kind of negates the premise of the deal, though, right? If the deal is that CG is going to occasionally act like Ana's equal and not her lord and master, burdening her with a super expensive gift is going to make that pretty tough, right? Oh well!

Now, I'm going to hit the "add video" button, and you are going to see whatever appears first on youtube when I search for the phrase "a brand new car." 

"Well, Drew, I don't understand this game, but I'm going to have to go with Less. Definitely Less."

It's an Audi, because EL has a thing for Audis, I guess? Whatever. 

"I mentioned it to your stepfather. He was all for it," he murmurs. 

Translation: "I conferred with the man who owns you up until the point at which I take over, and he agrees." Reassuring! At least Ana has the good sense to be grossed out by CG talking to Ray about this. 

Ana is fine with it like, four lines later, though. She rationalizes the expense by considering it a "loan" which is hilarious because c'mon. How does that change anything? From a strictly legal standpoint, yeah, CG's own name is certainly on the title. I'm pretty sure you have to sign a thing to own a car, at least in the eyes of the gummint, and Ana has not signed a thing. But what's important here is not who owns the car. What's important is the gross, ostentatious display of wealth. Every time CG buys something expensive, what he's saying is, "And I own you, as well, Ana." Ick.

He grabs me suddenly and yanks me up against him, one hand at my back holding me to him and the other fisting in my hair.

"You are one challenging woman, Ana Steele." He kisses me passionately, forcing my lips apart with his tongue, taking no prisoners. 

Let's pay careful attention to the way these two garbagey sentences end. My favorite part will not surprise you, gentle reader: "the other fisting in my hair." (Editor's note: emphasis added by the critic for the sake of grossness.) I mean, awkward word choice aside, what does that even mean? Changing "making a fist" to "fisting" just doesn't work! Let's try this trip with some other words, shall we? "Making a sandwich" would become "sandwiching." 

Moving on: once again, no prisoners are taken. This violates the Geneva Convention, I'm pretty sure, which makes CG a war criminal or something, right? I forget. But seriously. EL has a unique way of taking a cliché and dumping it into a new context such that it makes absolutely no literal sense. This is far, far annoying than simply using a cliché as a lazy but logical shortcut. 

Lest you think I was exaggerating earlier when I suggested that expensive purchases were meant to demonstrate CG's "ownership" of Ana, he makes it quite explicit himself:

"It's taking all my self-control not to fuck you on the hood of this car right now, just to show you that you are mine, and if I want to buy you a fucking car, I'll buy you a fucking car," he growls. "Now let's get you inside and naked." 

The positioning of "growls" there at the end is awkward. If you're going to use a word other than "says" (and please don't!) you need to put the modifier closer to the beginning. Otherwise it's like EL is saying, "Oh, hey. About that last part--I forgot to mention that he was growling. He was, by the way." It feels like a weird interjection by the author, and I find it unnatural. (Editor's note: Oh, this he finds unnatural? Has he found anything natural in this book so far? Can't believe this guy.)

Then, of course, we have his actual words. When we have a character being all pushy, like CG is basically all the time, we really depend on Ana's reaction in order to know how we feel about CG. If Ana's next move is shove CG's jacket at him, and say, "About fucking time!" well, that would certainly color how we feel about CG's bossiness. 

But here's what actually follows that passage we just read:

Boy, he's angry. He grabs my hand and leads me back into the apartment and straight into my bedroom . . . no passing go. My subconscious is behind the sofa again, head hidden under her hands. He switches on the sidelight and halts, staring at me.

"Please don't be angry with me," I whisper. 

His gaze is impassive; his eyes cold shards of smoky glass.

"I'm sorry about the car and the books . . . " I trail off. He remains silent and brooding. "You scare me when you're angry," I breathe, staring at him. 

You're probably curious about what sent CG into this particular nonsense-rage. Skipping back a little, let's look at the last line of dialogue from Ana before "Please don't be angry with me."

"Thank you for the car, sir." That's what she said! She thanked him for the car and even said "sir" because maybe that's what she's supposed to do in their arrangement. And that made Christian super angry! I thought maybe he was just sexy-angry, if that's a thing, but no. Ana is legit terrified. Her subconscious is adopting its "hiding from domestic violence in my house" pose, and Ana literally states that she is scared of CG. Fun times!

Let's look at some of EL's famous prose, though, while we're here! "No passing go." No passing go! It's possible that some of my readers will be unfamiliar with the game "Monopoly" because it is terrible and not fun so nobody plays it anymore. Passing "Go" is a thing that happens in Monopoly, and now that you are armed with that background detail, you still won't know what the hell to make of the phrase "no passing go" as used here by EL. What would it mean if CG did "pass go"? I guess he'd collected $200 from the bank? (Editor's note: that's what happens in Monopoly when you pass go. It's dumb! We know! But sometimes when you wrestle with terrible prose, you end up sounding pretty terrible yourself.)

Also, a note for all writers: Cut the ellipsis. They are literally a waste of space. And, if you ignore that solid piece of advice, and do insert an ellipsis as a way of signaling that a character's speech trails off, please, please, please don't then say "I trail off" because we get it. Ana trails off! She's so scared of CG that she can't finish sentences properly! Hot, right? 

It's fine though. CG calms down again and it's business time. Here you go!

Obediently, I turn, and my heart is thumping, desire instantly replacing unease, coursing through my blood and settling dark and yearning, low, low in my belly. He scoops my hair off my back so it hangs down my right side, curling at my breast. He places his index finger at the nape of my neck and achingly slowly drags it down my spine, his fingernail grazing my skin. 

First, I'm intrigued by "low, low in my belly." What is the meaning of the extra "low"? We know from past experience that "low in my belly" means "in my pussy" and I feel like a bad person for writing that, but there can be no question but that that's what Ana means. I'm just expressing what you have known, in your heart, to be true all this time! Ever since the first time Ana had low feelings!

So then, what to make of the extra "low." Is it for emphasis? As in, "Listen up guys. I know I'm saying in my belly, but I'm really talking about my swimsuit area. I just want to make it absolutely clear that I'm not talking about my actual belly, because even in my own head, while I'm perceiving my own feelings, I feel gross about perceiving anything below my waist so I attribute any below-the-waste feelings to my belly." 

I guess, right? Whatever. I also love that CG "scoops" Ana's hair off her back like it was a goddamn pile of spaghetti. 

Also, think for a moment about this whole finger-spine situation, and tell me the truth: that would just be annoying as hell, right? The sex moves in this book fall into two categories so far: 1) Real, real obvious stuff. Like, the most basic stuff. The moves that are so basic, that if you aren't doing them, you literally aren't having sex. 2) Stuff that you haven't tried, but that you know would be crazy annoying to whomever was unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. Like this fingernail thing! What the hell is that? The theory of sex in this book seems to be as follows: "Drag it out as long as you can. Your partner will be super bored, which is a huge turn-on!" "All night long" is usually a euphemism; in the case of Christian Grey, he literally might need several hours to get anywhere, what with being so "achingly slow" all the time. 

Leaning down, he inhales my hair.

Posted without comment for your consideration.

Skipping ahead. I'm passing over a page or so of CG undressing Ana while I get bored. Then, this gem:

His hands reach around and cup my breasts, and my nipples pucker at his touch.

Um. Is that good? Is that. Um. What the hell is that? Is it like her nipples at something sour? No answer? Fine. Let's move on.

My fingers weave into his hair, and very gently I tug his soft, sexy hair. I roll my head to one side to give him easier access to my neck.

I see no reason to present the early moments of this sex scene in a way that will make much sense from a narrative standpoint. I'm just going to highlight the dumbest parts. Look at that first sentence and how terrible it is. It has various shortcomings, but the really bad part about it is the repetition of the word "hair," and, in particular, the way that it ends each clause. It sounds even worse when you cut the adjectives: "My fingers weave into his hair, and I tug his hair." There is no way that EL read this sentence after writing it. There are simply too many easy fixes.

Also, Ana offers CG her neck because he's a vampire. There can be no other explanation. 

Next, Ana says that CG "starts to extend my nipples with his longer fingers, mirroring my hands in his hair." There's nothing gross about any of the things happening in this scene so far. It's just that everything is getting described in the grossest, eye-rolliest possible way. So what is CG doing to Ana's nipples? Ok, well, here's the best way to put it: imagine how you would pull somebody's hair, right? Ok. He's doing that, only to her nipples. Get it? 

Great. So then there's about a half-page of CG's boring sex-taunts. "You like this, don't you, Miss Steele?" "I don't think you're ready to come yet." "Oh yes. My sweet girl is ready." OMG SO HOT. 

In the world of 50 Shades sex is never a collaboration. CG drops this bombshell: "I want to be inside you. Take my jeans off. You're in charge." 

PLOT TWIST! I love assuming that this is how EL thinks that sex works. "Well, basically, one person just lies there like a corpse, and I guess if you want, you can take turns being the corpse." Because that's what happens here. CG says, basically, "Yo, I'll be the corpse this time." 

There's only one part that's cool at all, which is when Ana mocks CG, saying, "You'll have to learn to keep still," which is fun, but by no means makes up for how much it irks me every time CG says that to Ana. Ana saying it back to him once just isn't helping enough. 

Ana is just an unpleasant narrator. All these obvious things are so new, but shouldn't be: "and now I'm faced with the problem of removing his pants . . . hmm." OH NOES! 

Ana literally gives you the impression that she does not understand pants, and that is why it's such a problem for her to remove CG's while he's lying on her bed. Don't worry though! With just a little help from CG, the pants are ultimately removed, because pants are not actually all that complicated, so it all works out. Her bafflement repeats a few lines later when CG hands her a condom.

Holy crap. How? I trip the packet open, and the rubbery condom is all tacky in my fingers.

"Pinch the top and then roll it down. You don't want any air in the end of that sucker." 

Holy crap indeed! I will never not hate it when Ana's internal monologue is just "holy crap." It's especially irritating in a sex scene. It's the least-sexy exclamation imaginable. Well, ok. I just thought up a few that would be worse, but only barely: By gosh and by golly! Well I'll be a monkey's uncle! By the power of Grayskull! (Editor's note: actually, that last one would be pretty dope.) 

Next, CG gives us a helpful tutorial on how to use condoms. Maybe Ana should've tried putting one on a banana first? I guess this is for grownups or whatever, but it's hard to read that kind of description and not feel like EL isn't writing the grossest-ever YA novel. The best part, though, is the end, where CG calls the condom "that sucker" because he sounds exactly like somebody's grandpa talking about a fish he caught. "Look at the size of that sucker!"

Condom in place, sexing commences, and this really makes Ana's belly feel great, because that's how sex works for her. "He flexes and swivels his hips in the same motion, and I groan . . . oh my--the sensation radiates throughout my belly . . . everywhere. Fuck!" I'm having a hard time not amusing myself by clicking over to any random porn video, pressing play, and mentally swapping the word "belly" into each sentence anyone grunts. Try it yourself! It's super fun! I'll wait while you do that.

Back? Great. I'll just give you the last paragraph of the chapter verbatim:

I am fucking him. I am in charge. He's mine, and I'm his. The thought pushes me, weighted with concrete, over the edge, and I climax around him . . . shouting incoherently. He grabs my hips, and closing his eyes, tipping his head back, his jaw strained, he comes quietly. I collapse on to his chest, overwhelmed, somewhere between fantasy and reality, a place where there are no hard or soft limits. 

So here, at the end of Chapter 15, Ana and CG transcend their dom/sub relationship. They have sex with her on top, and Ana's sexiness cures CG of kinkiness which, according to this book, is am impulse born out of prior abuse, so I guess CG also overcomes the turmoil of his earlier relationship with Mrs. Robinson and his mysterious pre-adoption years, too, and everyone lives happily ever after.

But seriously, though--the book could just end here. True, we're only about 55% in, page-wise, but there are no remaining plot threads. Once upon a time, José was around as a (distant) second, but we haven't heard from him in ages. For the first few chapters, the question was "when are they going to do it?" Then they did it, and the question became, "Will Ana sign the thing?" With a little bit of a side-question: "Will Ana be able to 'cure' CG by being boring at sex?" And in this chapter, Ana both agrees to terms with CG, and "cures" him by being on top while they have sex. 

EL has made a classic mistake. She forgot to include a real plot in her book. As a result, she's accidentally resolved all the existing tension before remembering that some stuff should actually happen in a book in order for it to be a book.

Somehow, there are still 250 pages left in this thing. And after those 250 pages, there are two more complete books. I have not read any farther, though I'm familiar with some stuff that happens later on thanks to the work of other bloggers. I don't exactly know how this is going to end. But the only thing going on in these books is this obnoxious central relationship, and I feel pretty confident that it peaks here at the end of Chapter 15. Which means I'm pretty sure that EL is going to spend 2.5 books contriving a way to get these two right back to where they are at this moment. Kind of a waste, right? 

Oh well! Maybe some new stuff will happen next week? Maybe Ana will move and we'll meet Mia? This could get interesting! But only if the moving part takes up exactly one sentence and Mia and CG have some kind of weird, inappropriate relationship. (Editor's note: Alden spent like ten minutes trying to fine fanfiction along these lines but was thwarted but also didn't care enough to try very hard.) 

One exciting thing, though! I glanced over to the next page, and it kind of / sort of / not really though / explains this terrible book's nonsense title! So we'll have that to talk about! Please, guys? Pretty please?

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