Tuesday, September 10, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 18

Ana has an appointment with a gynecologist at Christian's house. She's prescribed birth control, and then Ana and Christian have sex-dungeon sex.

May contain sex-dungeon sex. 

We're getting close to the end, you know. I typed that, and then I looked down at my book and saw that Chapter 18 opens on page 314, meaning that we have 200 pages left, meaning that we're at about the 60% mark, meaning that we're not close enough to the end. I wish we were closer.

This project is some sort of awkward middle ground between writing and not writing. I basically haven't written anything besides this in 2013. Barely read anything besides this terrible book, either. I tell myself that there is an ebb and flow to this work but it's been all ebb for a long time. My problem is that I really only have the patience for writing jokes, I'm pretty sure. So what do you do if all you want to do is write jokes? Hang out on twitter? I guess. Hang out on twitter or make easy jokes about a terrible book. Hooray!

As a bit of a warm-up for this week's chapter, let's see if we can figure out how to cut the first 17 chapters into something more manageable. Let's think like an editor!

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. Christian gives Ana a car. Ana and Christian talk about "soft limits" and then have sex. 
  16. Christian spanks Ana and then they have sex. Christian leaves and Ana sends him sad emails so he comes back and sleeps. 
  17. Christian gives Ana a Blackberry. Ana and Kate move to Seattle. Ana goes to Christian's apartment. 
First, let's skip Chapter 1. Ana and Christian can just meet at the hardware store. And lets' move the whole dumb thing to Seattle, shall we? Great. Ana is now a UW student, and everything is simpler. We'll keep the hardware store because that way, Ana can get intrigued and suspicious about his weird purchases. So we'll do Chapter 2, then Chapter 3, in which CG kind of sort of pushes Ana away. Then you know what? Let's skip forward to graduation! Ana is still thinking about Christian, but she's also like, "Oh well! He's a crazy billionaire! Wouldn't have worked out anyway!" But then, Kate pushes them together after graduation, and it's back on! Soon they're having sex at Ana's house! And Ana is getting spanked! Oh, and then, Ana is all, "Hey what's the deal with spanking me?" And Christian is all, "Oh, yeah, that's kind of a thing I'm into. If you want this to go any further, you should come check out my sex dungeon, because I literally have a sex dungeon." 

So basically, I'm cutting almost everything. I'm keeping, but modifying chapters 2, 3, 4, 14, 15, and 16. I'm saying you could easily cut 11 chapters from the first 17 and get every bit that you need. And the reason it works is because so very little is happening. Look at what happened last chapter! Look at my little note! "Christian gives Ana a Blackberry." In what novel but this one could that possibly constitute a plot point? No other novel, I'm pretty sure. The smart thing to do would've been to just give her an Iphone in the beginning, like a regular person, and then save us all a bunch of hassle. But, no. When you stretch six chapters of plot into 17 chapters, you gotta turn some molehills into mountains. No other way around it!

Where were we? Oh, right. We're just getting ready for Ana's first appointment with her new gyno, selected by her new boyfriend, at her new boyfriend's house, on a Sunday. Nothing weird so far, gang! But I'll be sure to mention if anything weird happens.

Fact: Ana hates all women. On the rare occasion when a female character is introduced, Ana hates said character immediately. Here's what she says about the doc: "She's like an identikit model--another Stepford blonde." How creative! This description is like an identikit model of the last time Ana told us about another woman. Fun. Now, in this case, I feel like Ana is a bit justified in hating on Dr. Greene. After all, this whole arrangement is super weird. If I'm Ana, I'm assuming that literally everything that has anything to do with Christian is a weird sex thing. So I'm judging the doc right away, both because it's insane for your boyfriend to pick your gynecologist, and because knowing CG, there's some weird angle. Some weird, weird angle. 

But, EL is so terrible at characterization, that she immediately flips around and makes Ana like Dr. Greene. "We shake hands, and I know she's one of those women who doesn't tolerate fools gladly. Like Kate. I like her immediately." Really? Immediately? I guess after you got finished hating her, then you liked her after that? Is that what you're suggesting? Whatever.

In typical EL fashion, though, this thing is over and done with in a page and a half. We had a bunch of buildup at the end of 17, and then the Doctor is with us about 1.5 pages and we're moving on to some other dumb nonsense. 

It's a very Hardy Boys setup. Have I used this anecdote before? Even at the time I remember being annoyed by this one Hardy Boys false cliffhanger. The boy detectives are stuck in the desert with their dumb friend Chet, who's always getting in trouble and, I think, fat? Probably. If you're going to go for lazy comic relief, why not use a fat guy? Anyway. They're stuck in the desert and some Mexican mystic or whatever tells them all about how to get water out of a cactus. And then they're cutting up cacti and getting their drink on. But then the mystic looks at Chet and says, "Chet!" And here I'm paraphrasing from memory: "You fat doofus! You ate a poison cactus!" And I'm like, "Oh, snap! Better stay up a little later and read the next chapter to see how Chet's gonna get out of this mess!" And then I read the next chapter and it starts like this: "Oh, never mind, Chet. I got that cactus confused with a different one that is poison. Stay thirsty!" 

It's a dumb tease, is what it is--dangling the threat of problem and then resolving it so instantly that it's almost like nothing happened in the first place. That's pretty much what we get here. I'm so desperate for something to happen in this book that I'm like, "Ooh! Sunday house call! This could get weird! Maybe the doc is like, a jealous ex-girlfriend or something! Maybe this is some weird sex thing!" But, no, it's over with in a page and a half and then Ana has a shiny new pill prescription and we're stuck at CG's house with Ana again. Groan.

The doc is very thorough! "I love her no-nonsense attitude--she has lectured me until she's as blue as her dress about taking it at the same time every day." Here's that fun EL James trick again! "Blue in the face" is a dumb cliché that doesn't actually refer to anyone's face actually turning blue. Except Dr. Green's face does, somehow? Ironic! Since her name is Greene, you'd expect her just to be a white person. This is Seattle, after all. But no! She's a Smurf. Weird. Moving on. 

Hey can I tell you how much I hate it when Ana talks about music? Music is tough to write about. Anything involving the senses is hard to write about. EL is super bad at it though. She does the absolute worst thing, which is to just dump in a lot of words that all just mean "good" which means that you've just spent several lines that all boil down to "the music sounds good" and if you're not saying anything more complicated than "the music sounds good" you should just say "the music sounds good" and quit wasting my time because I've got a lot more pages of this bullshit to read. Here's my example: "A breathtaking aria is playing on the music system, swirling around him, cocooning him, filling the room with a sweet, soulful song." Any idea how this thing sounds? Of course you don't! Here's what EL should have said: "Christian is listening to opera, because that's what rich jagoffs with no taste listen to so that people think that they have taste." 

Here's what Doc Greene says to Grey: (Editor's note; Enough with these color names, ok? What is this? Reservoir Dogs or something?) "Look after her; she's a beautiful, bright young woman." 

Ick, right? First of all, no, she isn't. Maybe she's beautiful. Don't know. Don't care. Not bright though. And also? Gross. This is like Don Draper calling up his wife's psychiatrist. Shut up, Doc Greene. 

Next it's lunch time and they talk and it's boring and then they decide to have sex because of course they do. Here's a fun part:

"Are you going to hit me?"
"Yes, but it won't be to hurt you. I don't want to punish you right now. If you'd caught me yesterday evening, well, that would have been a different story."
Holy cow. He wants to hurt me. . . how do I deal with this? I can't hide the horror on my face.
. . . "One of the reasons people like me do this is because we either like to give or receive pain. It's very simple. You don't, so I spent a great deal of time thinking about that."
. . . "Did you reach any conclusions?" I whisper.
"No, and right now, I just want to tie you up and fuck you senseless. Are you ready for that?"

So, yes, I've argued, and will continue to argue, that CG just creates this unsafe space in which Ana feels compelled to go along with him. But, to his credit, he can be awfully honest, even when being honest makes him sound like a huge asshole. And despite his honesty, Ana keeps being surprised, even when she's being told things that just aren't surprising in the slightest. "He wants to hurt me. . . how do I deal with this?" 

Ugh. Well, the first way you deal with it is by thinking about it ten chapters ago! Because that's where it became clear that he wanted to hurt you. A person who presents another person as detailed a set of expectations as CG offered Ana is pretty obviously a person who wants to hurt other people! Unappealing to me, but hey. It's a big world, so maybe there's somebody out there for him, maybe. What I'm saying is that, yeah, CG is terrible, but they're kind of like the monk who keeps saving the scorpion even though it stings him. The monk knows that the scorpion will keep stinging him, but he keeps saving it anyway, because it's in his nature to save scorpions and it's in the scorpion's nature to sting. What I'm saying is that the only way out for the monk and the scorpion, or Ana and Christian, is to maybe stay away from each other because none of you guys are gonna change at all!

I adore the weird little details that Ana notices:
"He takes my hand and, leaving all the dirty dishes on the breakfast bar, we head upstairs." OMG! They're going to have sex before doing the dishes! Man, this thing Must be for real, you know? CG is a billionaire with around-the-clock staff, so I'm pretty sure in his world, leaving the kitchen a little untidy is no biggie. 

These sex scenes would be more bearable if they weren't so, so repetitive. Not only is this basically a repeat of previous scenes, there are plenty of bits repeated within this scene. Early line: "adrenaline mixed with lust and longing. It's a heady, potent cocktail." Two. Pages. Later. "I do as I'm bid, my breathing shallow, fear and longing mixed together. It's an intoxicating mix." Two. Pages. Later. "He smells of body wash and Christian, an inebriating mix." Ugh. Also: Ana, you just said Christian smelled like Christian. Remember, the point of an analogy is to clarify, not to obfuscate! 

This scene is fine, I guess. My main problem with it, really, is that it just takes so long. It's just an endless slog of CG giving little orders and Ana being all "OMG what's next?" and me being all "who cares?" 

Example: CG spends a half page getting Ana to kneel just the way he wants her to. Yawn. And then he leaves. Wow what's going to happen when get gets back?! Tension rising! Oh here he is! What's going to happen now??? "I can see his feet. He's changed his jeans. These are older, ripped, soft, and over-washed. Holy cow. These jeans are hot." 

That's it? He comes back in in different jeans? And don't you like how EL is taking all her hotness cues from the 90s? His jeans really don't sound contemporary but whatever.

And then they do sex and it's basically the sex you were expecting from the beginning. There are chains, and a riding crop. And I dunno--maybe this book has just worn me down, or something? But I'm neither bothered nor particularly interested. I can't say I'm envious of either Christian or Ana's position in this undertaking, but this seems like kind of "vanilla kink" if that makes sense. 

In between rounds (you get me) CG throws a silent tantrum when Ana gets close to touching him. A clue! To the mystery that no one cares about solving! ". . . for the first time, I notice he has a few random and faint small, round scars dotted around his chest. Chicken pox? Measles? I think absently."

What are the chances that CG has chicken pox scars? It's such an obvious red herring that it isn't even worth mentioning. Further evidence that CG is kinky because he was abused as a child, since that's how that works, according to EL. 

I want to draw special attention to the phrase "I think absently" because it's awfully dumb. What does that even mean? "I think but not particularly strenuously." And of course the other thing is that this is a first-person novel, so literally everything we read is expressed to us through Ana's thoughts. Redundant!

Next, CG binds Ana's wrists with a hardware store zip-tie because he has to, right? I mean, we had a whole chapter of him buying sex equipment, so it kind of has to make a return, doesn't it? I guess not, actually. EL's writing is so mediocre that I guess she's probably capable of forgetting about an obvious setup from a previous chapter, so maybe I should be impressed? Sure, yeah. I'm impressed! I guess. 

I'll give you one bit from the zip-tie sex because it's a sentence that's on any list of "worst lines in 50 Shades" that you  might find floating around the internet and I don't want to deny you anything truly awful. That's my whole purpose! 

Anyway, Ana is worrying that she's going to let go of the bedpost, because CG allowed as how we would spank her if she let go of said post while being penetrated from behind. So here you go!

My arms are aching, my legs feel uncertain, my scalp is getting sore from his tugging my hair . . . and I can feel a gathering deep inside me. Oh no . . . and for the first time, I fear my orgasm . . . if I come . . . I'll collapse.

Look. I can't read a phrase like "I fear my orgasm" and not share it with you. I just can't! So there you go! You're welcome. 

Oh and then Ana goes to sleep, because it's what, 3PM or something at this point. One-thirty doc appointment, then lunch, then sex. Ok, maybe it's 4, but who cares. Christian is so good at sex he makes Ana pass out! Wow! Yay! 

And what do we have to look forward to? You know--what's going on with the "plot" such as it is? Good question! I guess that we're going to meet CG's family for dinner. But that's not plot, EL! That's an appointment. Still no plot!

Hope that doesn't keep you from reading again next week. It shouldn't! Nobody reads this thing for the plot. Neither the actual book, nor this blog about the book. Read literally anything else for plot, if that's your thing. 

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