Tuesday, October 8, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 22

Ana flies to Georgia and then Christian flies to Georgia.

Christian does the stalker-type stuff that he always does.

I declared in the beginning of 2013 that I was going to spend too much money on stereo equipment and write a book. I have, effectively, accomplished both of these goals (Editor's note: "predictions" might be more fair here.) although not quite in the manner I expected. You see, I have basically written an entire book about Fifty Shades of Grey.

In total, I've written about 125,000 words about this dumb book. Has anyone written more about it, by volume? I don't know. I mean, probably, but I only say that because I just seem an unlikely person to have written the most criticism about 50 Shades. I have no evidence. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who've written a million words or more of 50 Shades fanfic, and I see from a quick check of Amazon that there are a number of digital-only parody versions and a surprising number of tangentially related cookbooks. But I don't see anything like a readers' guide, which I guess I'm kind of working on in my own bitter way.

Now all I have to do is convince some risk-taking publisher that the inevitable movie-backlash is going to make my brand of snark a lucrative investment. This thing is probably worth hundreds of dozens of dollars, right? I'm assuming that the price of the paperback version of this book (Editor's note: the only print version.) will be ten dollars, and that it will sell more than 200 copies.

I'll also clean it up a bit, make it a little less bloggy, and not mention as often how much I'm drinking while doing this. Or maybe that's what people want? Even more cocktail recipes? Not sure! But in any case, that's what I'll be up to in a couple weeks when our heroes have concluded the first third of their adventures: trying to get in on some of that sweet, sweet, 50 Shades cheddar.

But first! A trip to Georgia!

Our story thus far:

  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 detailed than, say, a prenuptial agreement, 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. Ana and Christian drive back to Ana's house. 
  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 demands for cosmetic adjustments. 
  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. 
  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.
  19. Ana joins Christian for dinner at his parents' house, along with Kate, Elliot, (who is Kate's boyfriend and Christian's brother) and Mia, Christian's sister. Christian gets mad because Ana says she wants to visit her mother in Georgia so he drags her off to the family boathouse for punishment and sex.
  20. Ana and Christian have boathouse sex and then go home for mild spanking and bed sex and then we are unsurprised when we learn that Christian's mom did drugs when he was a toddler. 
  21. Ana has an interview for an internship with a publishing company and then she goes to the airport.

Ana drinks champagne and gets a manicure and a massage in the first class lounge and I expect that this is another of EL's flights of fancy, but then again, I've never been in a first class lounge, so what do I know? At one point, EL was making literally $1 million a week so I can't say whether she had much insider-knowledge about first class lounges, but I'm confident she's familiar at this point.

Ana sends a couple of emails to Christian, and somehow manages to do so without calling it her "mean machine." I should thank EL for dropping this particularly obnoxious phrase, but I can't. You see, I've developed a sort of Pavlovian response to the presence of Ana's computer, so I hear the phrase "mean machine" whether or not it actually appears in the book. So I shall not be extending my thanks. EL James has altered the very workings of my brain with her terrible prose. I hope this condition isn't permanent.

Ana purposefully encourages CG's jealousy by talking up her lounge-massage. This is almost cute, but not. You may recall how Ana confronted Kate previously when Kate brought up José for the sole purpose of encouraging CG's rage. So, I gather it's fun when Ana does it and terrible when Kate does it. Whatever. Also Ana is sure to let us know that she thinks her masseur was gay, lest any of us worry. I think I probably said earlier that I didn't expect to see any gay characters in this book. But I guess you showed me, EL! An anonymous airport masseur, who appears exclusively off-stage, was maybe gay, according to Ana, so I guess I should give EL some credit for her commitment to diversity.

Also Ana calls up her step-dad even though it's midnight. Who calls her step-dad at midnight just to say hi? Ana, I guess. But I doubt anyone else does. Whatever. Ana mostly only does things that literally no one else would ever do, so it fits.

The seat next to Ana is empty, so she makes herself nervous, worrying that CG will show up at the last minute and occupy it. FORESHADOWING! Even though no, he doesn't.

Even though Ana lives on the opposite side of the country from her mother, somehow she's never flown on an airplane before? Here's the evidence:

I glance anxiously at my watch, and then the disembodied voice from the flight deck announces, "Cabin crew, doors to automatic and cross check."

What does that mean? Are they closing the doors?

That's what it seems like, right? That Ana has never been on an airplane and doesn't get how it works? Whatever. I should know better than to be surprised by Ana's lack of familiarity with the modern world at this point.

Ana takes a look at her Blackberry, and gets the following in an email from CG:

Next time you'll be in the cargo hold, bound and gagged in a crate. Believe me when I say that attending to you in that state will give me so much more pleasure than upgrading your ticket. 

I look forward to your return.

Let me just clean my eyeglasses because I'm sure I didn't read that thing I just think I read! Looking again. Oh, snap! Nope, there it is. Bound, gagged, etc. What the hell is he even saying? He's going to attend to her in the cargo hold? Is CG threatening to rent out the cargo hold of a commercial flight and then put Ana in a crate? And then hang out in the cargo hold with her? What? 

Ana: "Holy crap. That's the problem with Christian's humor--I can never be sure if he's joking of if he's serious." Here's the thing: people are sometimes not sure if I'm serious or not. Usually, here's what happens: I'll say something like, "Yeah, I'm really having a nice day." And then somebody will be all, "Really? Seems like maybe you're joking?" Because sometimes I make terrible jokes like that, where I just say I'm having a nice day when actually I'm miserable. Funny, right? No but seriously--it's because I'm kind of monotone sometimes, and people aren't sure. 

But when people aren't sure if I'm joking or not, it's about some pointless shit! Fellas: (Editor's note: Ladies, you can skip until the next paragraph if you're in a hurry.) If your girlfriend can't tell whether or not you're joking when you suggest that you'll perpetrate some complicated, expensive act of violence on her person, you should check yourself into a facility because you are a danger to others. See, the thing is that you are perceived as a terrifying, dangerous person, and you should really get that looked at. 

Now that we're all back together, I can let you know that CG responds, and his next email has the subject line "Joking" so we know he was joking, but also he threatens to spank Ana in the same email so you'll forgive me if I don't feel particularly relieved.

Next we get the sort of inefficient storytelling that EL is so famous for. A few paragraphs about Ana waking up as her flight lands in ATL. A few more paragraphs about her layover there. A long email that Ana sends to CG, which contains no revelations--just more of her (completely logical) qualms about their terrible relationship. Then she gets on a plan to Savannah. Then she lands in Savannah. PLEASE TELL ME MORE ABOUT THESE FLIGHTS IM SO INTERESTED. 

Ana cries a bunch when she sees her mom and her husband Bob because Christian is making her feel so many feelings and also because she's a woman. Just so it's clear--this is EL's fault, not mine. I'm just interpreting what EL is writing here! And the subtext of pretty much everything that EL writes about Ana is that she is feeling lots of lady feelings and can't keep them under control! She's buffeted between the twin influences of subconscious and inner goddess! It's a miracle that she can even get out of bed! Of course she cries a bunch when she sees her mom and one of her stepdads!

A pointless hint about Ana's backstory: "I miss the dry heat of Las Vegas sometimes, where I lived with Mom and Bob when I was seventeen, but, this wet heat, even at 8:30 in the morning, takes some getting used to." Why? Is my question. What does this detail serve, exactly? To me, it just makes Ana's life more pointlessly complicated. Do these people just move around all the time? Is someone in the army? What's the deal here, exactly? And is anything going to be explained? Probably not.

Ana sends this text to some people: "Arrived safely in Savannah. A :)" You see, Ana has one of those phones that don't tell you who texts are from, so it's important that she sign al texts so that no one is confused.

Ana goes to the beach and then her mom asks her about her new boyf because mom's have special psychic intuitions about their daughters and are experts in love or whatever. (Editor's note: we're just passing along what the book says! Remember that! Don't blame us!) Mom suggests that Ana take CG literally, which she decides is good advice, and immediately recalls all the nice things that CG has ever said to her. This takes four lines. Ana fails to include any of his terrifying threats in her list of things to take literally. Just the compliments. It's a curious choice.

I gaze at my mom. She is on her fourth marriage. Maybe she does know something about men after all. 

Literally no idea if I'm supposed to read this as a joke or not, so I'll let you decide for yourself. 

More pointless Ana backstory: 

Her eyes soften, and sadden whenever she thinks of my dad. My real dad, this mythical man I never knew, snatched so cruelly from us in a combat training accident when he as a marine.

Is this some kind of Twilight thing? Is that what this is about? Or is EL trying to tell us that Ana has "daddy issues"? Ick. That feels so gross even to type. I'm just trying to interpret this mess!

Soon Ana is reading another email from CG. This is because Ana literally doesn't know what to do with herself when CG isn't around to tell her what to do. Or, rather, EL has given Ana no motivation outside of their relationship, so as soon as she pushes the young lovers apart, she has to keep them emailing each other. Because otherwise, there's nothing to do. Ana is like the proverbial tree in the forest. If Ana falls down and CG isn't there to lecture her for not eating enough, did she really fall down? That's one for the philosophers!

The email is just the same shit again. (Editor's note: Alden types this at least once in each essay, but we usually delete it because we want you to keep reading.)

First thing of note is that CG worries about Ana's self-esteem and says "I have half a mind to make an appointment for you with Dr. Flynn." That's completely inappropriate, of course. Make your girlfriend go to your own therapist? I would hope that Dr. Flynn would have the good sense to refuse her as a patient, but I guess we'll find out later!

The next part is a real head-scratcher, so I'll quote it at length:

I apologize for frightening you. I find the thought of instilling fear in you abhorrent. Do you really think I'd let you travel in the hold? I offered you my private jet, for heaven's sake. Yes, it was a joke, a poor one obviously. However, the fact is the thought of you bound and gagged turns me on (this is not a joke--it's true). I can lose the crate--crates do nothing for me. I know you have issues with gagging--we've talked about that--and if/when I do gag you, we'll discuss it. What I think you fail to realize is that in Dom/sub relationships it is the sub who has all the power. That's you. I'll repeat this--you are the one with all the power. 

I wonder if anyone has ever explained to CG that just saying a thing is true does not make it true. If they did tell him, he ignored it. You have all the power, Ana! Do you feel like you have all the power?

Ana: "I have the power! Jeez, I'm going to have to think about that." 

I thought about it for you, Ana! I crunched some numbers. Did the math. Turns out you don't! That was just a dumb thing CG said that isn't true, so you should go ahead and ignore it. 

They exchange like, four more pages of emails while Ana is supposed to be getting ready to join her mom and Bob for dinner and it's kind of the worst. Also, Mom is incapable of talking to Ana about anything other than Christian, whom she has never met and knows basically nothing about. In Ana's world, even her own mother thinks of her as an incomplete human--one who can only be considered "complete" when considered alongside a man. Gross. 

About to leave for dinner, we get this exchange between Ana and Mom:

"You look lovely, dear."
"Oh, this is Kate's dress. You like it?"
Her frown deepens.
"Why are you wearing Kate's dress.
Oh . . . no. 
"Well, I like this one and she doesn't," I improvise quickly. 
She regards me shrewdly, while Bob oozes impatience with his hangdog, hungry look.
"I'll take you shopping tomorrow," she says. 
"Oh, Mom, you don't need to do that. I have plenty of clothes."
"Can't I do something for my own daughter?"

I don't get it. How is this anything but an absolutely no-stakes situation? I understand Ana's desire to keep CG from buying her a bunch of stuff. We've all been there! Those of us who, you know, maybe cohabitate with doctors while blogging from a couch can relate to feeling inadequate. But c'mon, Ana! It is a literal fact that you lack clothes! You are incapable of attending any function without bumming clothes off your roommate! This is not a workable situation! Let your mom buy you a dress! Everyone will be happier!

After this dress conversation, we skip over dinner so that we can go back to CG emails. Groan. Ana is a continent away from CG but they're chattier than ever. They exchange a ton of short little emails that are completely pointless. Also, this book takes place in an alternate universe where sending emails is the only way to exchange short little text messages. Oh wait. Ana sent a text earlier in the chapter. There's no excuse for them not to be texting now. Whatever.

CG says he's having dinner with an old friend and then Ana gets super jealous, and we get to see the phrase "mean machine" again. Ana stews for a moment about this "old friend" line, and then we get this: "I struggle out of bed and fire the mean machine up again." She was literally reading an email from Christian two paragraphs earlier. There wasn't even any indication that she'd put the thing away, but there she is, firing it up again. And why is it so hard to get out of bed? Why is it a struggle, exactly? No idea.

Ana spends a page moping and looking at photos of CG on the internet. She finds one from her own graduation--the two of them together. "Holy cow! I'm on Google!"

That's a thing in the book! It happens on page 413! It's not a thing that I made up! Holy cow! I'm on Google! Hey not to brag, but um, I'm on google too. I'm not even kidding! I know it sounds like some shit I'm making up right now, because I know you're gonna be like, "What? Shuddup Alden. Google is a website for celebrities. We're talking about your Miley Cyruses. Your Gerard Butlers. Your President Barack Obamas. Google is not a website that is accepting your ordinary, Joe Lunchpail types. There is no possible way that you slipped passed the gatekeepers outside of Club Google and sneaked in despite definitely not being on the guest list. No way! Won't believe it!"

But srsly guys. This is the kind of moment where I'm like, "Huh. Ana is too stupid to function, right?" Can't handle it! She already saw that photo in a newspaper. It's 2011. Is Ana unaware that newspaper content is also on the internet? I guess newspapers have only been a big presence on the internet for literally Ana's entire stupid life so how should she be expected to know that?

I don't have any idea what that googling was about. Ana sends another email to CG, this time asking him if the "old friend" is "Mrs. Robinson," the woman who introduced him to BDSM when he was 15. Then she climbs back into bed and is sad.

"And my period has started, so I must remember to take my pill in the morning." This is another one of those public service announcements that EL includes periodically. A lot of women have some weird ideas about their birth control prescriptions. As a matter of fact, as Ana alludes to here, women only need to take a pill while menstruating. The rest of the time it's impossible to get pregnant. Menstruation is just the body preparing some blood because of course a new baby is gonna need some blood, right? Right. Thank you for that reminder, EL.

The next day we fast-forward to Ana and her mom talking about CG again, this time at a bar. We've talked about the Bechdel test, right? I'm sure we have but let's again: named after Allison Bechdel who posed it in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, the test is simple: in a work of fiction, do two women ever have a conversation about something other than a man? This might seem like an easy threshold to cross but in practice, almost every piece of entertainment fails! At least contemporary stuff. Almost every contemporary movie, tv show, book, or whatever, has a disproportionate number of dudes. You know, just like regular life, where there only about a fifth of humans are women. Such a strange evolutionary quirk!

No but seriously. It's an (obvious) fact that women are wildly underrepresented in entertainment. I always found this particularly obnoxious when working in theater. If you've worked in theater, you'll be familiar with this scenario: so you hold open auditions. You've got a play. It's got ten parts. Chances are that the script probably calls for seven men and three women. And then you hold the auditions, and you have ten men audition for those seven parts and thirty women audition for those three parts, and like, of those ten men? Only three can act anyway, so you don't really know what to do, other than produce a different plan, but it's kind of the same story, script after script. So you end up moving to Seattle and writing a blog instead of having anything to do with plays. (Editor's note: Alden has taken some liberties here so far as the relationships between events are concerned, but his initial point remains valid.)

So basically, all the Bechdel test is really asking is this: are the women in a piece of fiction real characters, or are they basically accessories for men? It's an imperfect system, but try it! You'll be super depressed! And it's not to say that like, you couldn't have a real sexist movie where two women hang out in a kitchen and talk about how much they enjoy making sandwiches in one scene. A piece of fiction can still "pass" the test and be super regressive. But still! It's a good way to think about things.

And I'm thinking about it now because all Ana and her mom talk about is Christian. But what else could they talk about? Ana isn't interested in anything else except for Thomas Hardy novels. Oh and I guess she kind of likes cooking sometimes? Whatever.

In the middle of their discussion about Christian, (Editor's note: Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer) Ana's mom excuses herself to the restroom, which gives Ana an excellent opportunity to check her Blackberry and send some emails to Christian. She's still angry that he's hanging around with "Mrs. Robinson" and I daresay I don't blame her. Considering that Ana is "sub" to CG's "Dom" and CG was once sub to Mrs. Robinson's Dom, Ana has every reason to fear that Mrs. Robinson has some power over him, despite any bullshit CG might claim about Ana somehow being the powerful one in their relationship.

Ana is stressed out by the exchange and orders more drinks. Then gets another message from CG:

This is not something I wish to discuss via e-mail.

How many Cosmopolitans are you going to drink?

And then her response: "Holy fuck, he's here."

Yes, that's right. Remember how a few thousand words back we saw Ana nervously eying the seat next to her on the airplane, wondering if CG were going to swoop in and grab it at the last minute? And I was all, FORESHADOWING in caps like that? Uppercase letters? So that you just knew shit was going to get real? Shit got real! Christian stalked Ana all the way to Savannah and now he's in the bar with her! OMG!

So, yeah. That's outrageous. I also hate how CG constantly shames Ana whenever she drinks, partially just because I know I need to drink to get through this, so I feel quite sympathetic anytime Ana has a drink. I'm like, "I know! Tell me about it!" And then I have one too. But right- the far more outrageous part is how he chased Ana cross-country, after she told him quite explicitly that she wanted some time apart. This revelation--that CG is there, spying on her from within the bar--takes place on June 1, which I know because of all these goddamn email timestamps. That means that CG and Ana have been apart for something like 36 hours. I don't want to do the math because math. But Ana spent a morning with CG, and then got on a plane that night. Flew over night. Then spent that day in Georgia. Had one night in Georgia. Spent a second day in Georgia. And now there's ol' 50 Shades, stalking her at a hotel bar, shortly after his email about how Ana was the one in charge.

And the way this chapter ends--Holy fuck, he's here. It's not ambiguous! She's terrified! And should be!

My first in-depth experience with the "plot" of this book was via reading other blogs not unlike this one. (Editor's note: we don't know of another blog that goes into quite this much detail, though, so we've got that going for us, which is nice.) And so I knew CG was going to pull this shit, and I was prepared to think it was the worst.

But when it happens? I kind of shrug my shoulders. It just feels inevitable. Not just because CG is such a possessive stalker, but more because EL just is not a good enough writer. I feel like CG's arrival in Georgia is driven less by his impulsive, possessive nature, and more a result of the fact that EL just does not have any idea what to do with Ana when Christian isn't around. Ana simply has no substance outside of this relationship. She's like this fish, flopping around on the beach, sure to die if she doesn't get back into the ocean fast enough.

You can feel it, just in the way this chapter is paced. It feels as though the gaps between their various email exchanges just get shorter and shorter until the whole thing is basically only emails. And then once the chapter is only emails, what's left but to bring CG over in person?

So I'm not going to excuse CG for how threatening a move this is. It's especially fun coming so close after CG declared that he hated the idea of scaring Ana. Here he is, pulling this scary shit. But I really can't pretend that this feels surprising. The entire chapter is dominated by their emails, so we never get a chance to feel CG's absence in any meaningful way. He's right there the whole time, sending his dumb, scary messages.

Plus, this move is an annoying repeat of Chapter 4, in which CG zipped over to find Ana at a bar in Portland. Or Vancouver. Doesn't matter, or at least not enough for me to check. The point is that Christian has been doing this shit all book, so I just kind of shrug.

Here's my real question, though:
How does EL James want me to feel when I read the end of this chapter? "Holy fuck, he's here," is not only an obnoxious comma splice. It's also the concluding line of the chapter. So, this whole thing has the feel of some real horror movie shit, right? This is a real "It's coming from inside the house!" moment, isn't it? That's how it feels certainly, though I understand I'm biased heavily against Christian. But I just don't see any other way to interpret it: Holy fuck, he's here. 

So, what's the point of this book? That's what I'm asking, I suppose. Are we supposed to be glad he's flown out? Terrified that he's arrived? I kind of just don't know! And that's a real problem. It's one of the hardest things to do, as a writer--control tone. It's one of the areas where EL fails most consistently. She wants us to think of CG as sexy-dangerous-mysterious, I think, but she just overdoes the dangerous every time.

That leaves us with a chapter like this one. This is, ostensively, a romance novel. Right on the back of the book it says "A GoodReads Choice Award Finalist for Best Romance" which I think is wonderful because it's an honor that's so specifically third-rate. But also, it reminds us that this is supposed to be a romance! The whole idea in a romance is that some romance happens between some people! And we want it to happen! But here we are, 5th chapter from the end, and one of the romance-partners shows up, and the chapter ends, and we're like, "Holy shit Ana! Get out of there! Your boyfriend is too close to you! Throw yourself out a window! Do whatever it takes! Get away! Go go go!"

Right? Pretty much?

The more of this book I read, the less I understand its appeal. The inexplicably popular novel is a stranger beast than the inexplicably popular pop song. Because a shitty pop song only lasts three minutes, and if it's repetitive and simple, that can work in its favor, since then it can do a better job cramming itself into your brain. But the shitty book, you actually have to read. You can't hear it on the radio or in a tv commercial for a Vin Diesel movie. You have to actually read through the thing. And the closer I get to the end of this, the more obvious it is that this is just a book about nothing at all--a book that's been treading water since Christian gave Ana the sex contract to look at.

At least we're almost done!

Chapters: 4
Pages: 96


HaroldTGoldfish said...

Id love to see you do some oprah book club style discussion questions when you're done ... Or go full lit crit : Compare the device of A awakening to Dante's swooning in the Inferno ... Which hell is worse: D's hell or James' prose? ... Is A's inarticulateness an example of lacunae or does a character with both a subconscious and an inner goddess simply have nothing to say? Contrast assorted bad boys of canonical lit (Mr Rochester, Beast from Beauty &, Heathcliff, etc.) with CG. So much room for amusement.

Alden Eagle said...

Well, now you've got me imagining 50 Shades showing up in some undergraduate literature survey course, which in turn is just making me feel terrified. Nicely done!