Tuesday, December 31, 2013

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 1, part 1


Even though they're totally not dating anymore, Christian flies Ana in his helicopter to Portland so that she can attend José's photography exhibit. Ana and Christian are both sad. Ana has forgotten to eat food.  

Let us end 2013 the way we started it: absorbing the worst of pop culture, complaining about it, and then finding even worse stuff to complain about. 

I don't really know why I am drawn to such terrible things. Maybe I have some weird self-esteem thing? Do I think that I'm not good enough for good books? Maybe!

I do think that there's something intriguing about the simultaneously terrible and popular, though. When I read an excellent book, I feel a little bit like I know the author. Even a well-written piece of fiction can feel deeply revealing about its creator. But a book like Shadier? Doesn't tell me much about EL James. Tells me that she's bad at writing, doesn't think very highly of women, and is probably a foot fetishist. (Editor's note: see every sex scene in Fifty Shades of Grey for the foot thing. Or, better yet, don't, and just believe us.) Mostly, reading these books lets me know about the gaps in EL's knowledge. But I don't feel like I really know anything about her. 

But mustn't it say something about us that these books are so popular? I'm using the word "us" broadly. But c'mon! Lotta people bought these things! And read them! What this says about us I'm not sure. But maybe if I get to the end I'll figure it out? (Editor's note: that's what he said when he started the last book, but no such luck.) 

But let's catch up with Anastasia Steele, shall we?

We join Ana at her new job doing something with a publishing company, three days after the end of the previous novel. I'm not sure what Ana does at this job, but I guess some dude named Jack Hyde is her boss. He made a brief, forgettable appearance in the previous book.  We learn early on that Jack has blue eyes which is good because any book that spends a lot of time telling you what color eyes people have is a bad book and I'm glad EL is providing so many reminders early on that this is, in fact, a bad book.

In typical EL James fashion, the reader is placed in-scene with Ana at her workplace only to be immediately moved. A few pointless lines with Jack at Seattle Independent Publishers and Ana goes home. Here's another line that's just so EL James:

Out in the evening air of Seattle, I take a deep breath. It doesn't begin to fill the void in my chest, a void that's been present since Saturday morning, a painful hollow reminder of my loss.

That second sentence is ugly in its mechanics, but the whole thing is a mess. Breathing does, literally, make one's lungs expand. That's science! It fills the void in your lungs with air! But EL is doing that thing she does where she's jamming the literal and metaphorical together in this complicated, silly way. Of course Ana can't fix her emotional ailments by breathing! Did she really think she could? Let's think of fun variants on this theme: "I take a deep breath. It doesn't begin to make me feel less thirsty, because you can't drink air." I missed our time together, EL. Janine really didn't do a very good job editing this for you, though. (Editor's note: EL's acknowledgements page claims that she has an editor named Janine. I find this hard to believe. I have not run into Janine at any of the editors' meetings that I go to all the time in my capacity as editor. But either way, we think it only fair that Janine share in the blame with EL.)

Ana gets back to her apartment, which is empty because Kate is on vacation with her boyf, Elliott, who is Christian's brother. Yes, it's weird that brothers are dating roommates, but no one ever mentions how weird it is, so it's almost like it's not weird. (Ediot'rs note: It's still weird.) Ana is immediately delivered some flowers which are, of course, from Christian. EL wastes absolutely no time getting CG back into the book, which is sad because it was so fun to see him get dumped by Ana so very recently. Oh well! Here he is again, in the form of a note accompanying some roses. 

He congratulates Ana on starting her new job and then thanks her for giving him a model glider. I guess that's a thing she did in the previous book. Whatever. CG has this dumb rich-guy hobby where he flies around in gliders and he and Ana did it together at one point and that was probably the least-interesting chapter of the entirety of 50 Shades. Here's what CG says about the model, which is ludicrous: 

It has pride of place on my desk.

Wait, what? Is this a British thing? Maybe. It looks like a screw-up, though, Janine. I googled the phrase and other people are using it, for some reason, which suggests that EL didn't invent this one. I think it's just one of the many Britishisms that Janine should have removed, but did not. 

The roses just make Ana sad. She convinces herself that CG's assistant sent the roses, but I don't know why she has this thought, nor do I care. Also, Ana hates music now?

And the music... so much music - I cannot bear to hear any music. I am careful to avoid it at all costs. Even the jingles in commercials make me shudder.

Got that? Literally every piece of music makes Ana think of Christian. This makes sense, because he did play the piano in front of her twice, and put on music in his car a couple times, and put on music in his house one time, and they did have sex one time while listening to music. I can see how this would ruin all music for Ana forever. Also CG often wore pants, so Ana will probably avoid those, too. Srsly though. What the hell? Ana should seek help.

And I don't mean that in a snide way. I guess that EL is trying to prove that Ana and CG "need" each other or whatever by showing us how miserable Ana is. But she overdoes it. Ana pretty much seems like a danger to herself. She reveals that she's gone five days (!) without eating, which I suppose is supposed to reinforce the notion that Ana needs CG to make sure she eats properly, but mainly it just reinforces the notion that this book is awful and I hate it.

"Maybe I'll put some plot in this one." -- EL James

So, for no reason, that dude Jack Hyde with the publishing company? He's the villain now. Yes, Christian is the real problem, and yes, it's super weird for this book to be about a man making unwanted advances toward Ana and for that man to be someone other than Christian Grey. But that's what this book is about--CG "saving" Ana from Jack Hyde because CG is a savior (Editor's note: A Christ-figure, if you will?) and Ana is incapable of doing anything by herself. She can barely breathe when she's alone. She can't eat. So how could she hope to escape from Jack Hyde without Christian's help?

No possible way! Geez I hope they get back together soon! (Spoiler alert? They will be making out by the end of this chapter. Shocked? Probably not, I bet.)

So anyway, here's how we know Jack Hyde is the villain: "Jack has started to hover over me, irritating me, asking me personal questions. What does he want? I'm polite, but I need to keep him at arm's length." 

Got that? That's what passes for dramatic tension in this book. Ana just tells us that this thing is happening, and so we know that it's happening. Quite efficient! Don't you hate it when an author like, wastes your time building up suspense and intrigue? I sure do! That's the worst!

That "arms length" phrase jumped out at me, as do lots of phrases in this chapter. So very much of it is just a remix of a bunch of dumb stuff from the previous book. At one point in 50 Shades Ana's mother told her to keep CG at arm's length, and here these words come back to us. Only now we're talking about this dude Jack, the super villain. 

We don't get to see any of Jack's villainy in scene yet, though. Just Ana complaining about it. All we get on day 5 of the breakup is Ana crying in the bathroom after reading an email from Christian, asking her if she wants a ride to José's photography show the next day. Some of you may recall that José was a character in the first four chapters or so of the first book, but EL abandoned him when she decided that a love triangle was just too complicated. EL puts José in the awkward situation of 1) being one of Ana's two friends and 2) being the dude who tried to assault Ana in the first book. But hey, life is complicated, right? 

Ana freaks out about receiving an email from CG while she's at work, and CG even starts his email by saying "Forgive this intrusion at work." This is silly because emails are hardly an intrusion, particularly compared to hand-delivered flowers. But whatever. EL can't be expected to maintain anything like logical consistency within a single chapter. Ana notes that she'd promised José she'd attend the show and now has no way of getting there on her own, since she sold her car in the previous book.

A couple of holes in this, though: 1) Kate has a car and she isn't using it because she's on vacation. Kate is basically an ok friend so I'm sure she would have told Ana it was cool to borrow her car. 2) There is also the matter of where to stay in Portland. An art gallery opening is certainly an evening affair. Is Ana really going to feel like driving all the way back to Seattle after attending? Somehow, this hurdle does not cross Ana's mind in the slightest. 

Also Ana realizes that she hasn't been getting any calls to her phone because she "still has it on divert to the Blackberry" which doesn't make any sense, does it? It suggests that two separate mobile devices are sharing the same number, right? Or maybe that the Blackberry has a different number but that her calls were being forwarded? I can't make sense of it but I think that's only because it doesn't make sense.

"Holy hell. Christian's been getting my calls--unless he's just thrown the Blackberry away." Wow that seems important! Maybe CG has been doing all sorts of crazy stuff with all this extra information he has about you on account of how he is getting Ana's calls without her even knowing about it! Just kidding. This is one of the many, many times in which a concern is raised and then abandoned. There is absolutely no drawback to the fact that Ana has not been getting calls since the breakup. 

Ana does that thing she does all the time where she feels conflicted about CG and it's really interesting just kidding. She ends it by reminding us that she loves Christian, and so, yeah, she'll accept his offer of a ride to Portland and, we can assume, go back to having an obnoxious relationship with him. That was easy!

We then get an extraordinarily tedious sequence, even by EL's standards. Ana writes CG to say that she'll ride with him. But then she calls José to find out when the show is. And then CG asks when to pick her up. And then Ana tells CG when the show is. And then CG says "Portland is some distance away. I shall collect you at 5:45." And then Ana says "See you then" and I yell different swears at the book for putting me through all this. 

You know what would've been easier? It would've been easier for Ana to just say, "Christian arranges to pick me up at 5:45." Boom. Non-problem solved. Could've saved several pages with a short little sentence. I wonder if we could figure out how many actual trees could've been saved, too, right? Because trimming this book by a couple of pages might seem trivial, but you multiply that by a billion or so books, and soon we're talking about whole forests that could've been left standing! This is on you, EL James! Your book is bad for the environment. You heard me. 

It does not immediately occur to Ana that they will undoubtedly be using the ol' helicopter, because if you pick somebody up by car in Seattle at 5:45, you won't get to Portland until 9:30. And that's assuming you're kind of lucky with traffic. Nothing ever really occurs to Ana, though. Nothing that matters, at least.

The next day, Jack is being all villainy. Or, at least, he's being "unusually attentive" and it's clear that Jack is probably going to try to murder her. No but seriously--CG gives Ana super dangerous signals all the goddamn time and Ana is like, "OMG he's complicated!" So if Jack Hyde strikes as Ana as dangerous he probably literally has bodies in his basement.

Jack asks if Ana has a date after work, which Ana attributes to the fact that she's wearing Kate's clothes. You may recall that Ana doesn't own any nice things and instead has to borrow everything from her roommate. Jack invites Ana out for drinks after work the next day and Ana is creeped out. 

Here's what I'm thinking about, though: Ana is going from Portland to Seattle after work. I figured that this was like a Friday night gala. But no. This is a Thursday; Ana not only is getting a ride to Portland from Seattle for an evening event. She must be returning back to Seattle the same night, as well, since she's got work tomorrow. Does EL just not have any sense at all of American geography? Hasn't she looked at a map? I'm sure EL has. But somehow Ana keeps treating the three-hour drive between Seattle and Portland like it's a trip across town. 

Ana ducks into the bathroom. She thinks, "Jeez, I wish I knew how to use makeup." And then she proceeds to apply makeup. I like the idea that she's doing it all wrong. You know, since she doesn't know how. Just kind of smearing it on and hoping for the best. But of course, the fact that she is using it suggests that she does, in fact, know how to use it. I am reminded of how much I hate Ana's helplessness. EL James seems to divide the world squarely into two categories: "boy stuff" and "girl stuff." In writing Ana's character, EL made sure that Ana didn't know anything about boy stuff. But EL also looked over at the "girl stuff" column and erased almost all of that knowledge from Ana's character as well. The only things Ana knows about at all are cooking and reading books. What an exciting character!

Jack Hyde makes a show of opening the door for Ana. Ana notes that he's talking to Elizabeth but this is Elizabeth's first appearance in Shadier. I guess she is somebody who works at Seattle Independent Publishing but I don't remember, nor do I care to look back at the first book to remind myself who this meaningless background character is, exactly. I point this out only to make a note about EL's style. Every single chapter of every one of these books (so far) features repetitive scenes in which Ana recapitulates her conflicted feelings about CG. We get a reminder that she has complicated emotions at or near the start of every chapter, but not even a sentence to remind us who Elizabeth is. Surely a little bit of catch-up is fair for the second novel in a series, right?

After escaping form Jack's nefarious door-opening (J/K this dude is obvs a piece of shit. Just obnoxious that when he does stuff it's menacing but somehow when CG does it it's romantic or whatever.) Ana steps outside. Here's a fun bit of writing:

Outside on the curb, Taylor is waiting. He opens the rear door of the car. I glance hesitantly at Jack who has followed me out. He's looking toward the Audi SUV in dismay. 

I'm not the only one who thinks it's weird how the car gets introduced in the second sentence, right? It reads at first like Taylor is just chilling, and CG's fancy car is around the blog or something maybe. Oh and also Taylor is CG's manservant. Speaking of background characters that maybe EL should reintroduce to us rather than presume we're all on board. Whatever. 

Anyways. CG is super happy to see Ana and does not at all act like a real asshole. J/K! CG does act like a real asshole! Tricked you! When I used to teach preschool, four year-olds would often pull some move like, I dunno, "hiding" from me but also I could still see them? And then they'd reappear and say "tricked you!" Imagine me saying "tricked you!" like a four year-old would. Because I know for a fact that you are not tricked at all. No, you knew CG was going to act like a real asshole, didn't you.

Take a second and guess what he's going to say first.

Is he going to murmur "Hello, Anastasia" dryly? 

Or what's a topic that's near and dear to his heart?

Give up? Here's a hint!

"When did you last eat?" he snaps as Taylor closes the door behind me.
Crap. "Hello, Christian. Yes, it's nice to see you, too."
"I don't want your smart mouth now. Answer me." His eyes blaze.
Holy shit. "Um... I had a yogurt at lunchtime. Oh - and a banana."
"When did you last have a proper meal?" he asks acidly.

. . .
"Christian, that really is none of your concern," I murmur, feeling extraordinarily brave.
"Whatever you do concerns me. Tell me."
No, it doesn't. I groan in frustration, rolling my eyes heavenward, and Christian narrows his eyes. And for the first time in a long time, I want to laugh. I try hard to stifle the giggle that threatens to bubble up. Christian's face softens as I struggle to keep a straight face, and I see a trace of a smile kiss his beautifully sculptured lips.
"Well?" he asks, his voice softer.
"Pasta alla vongole, last Friday," I whisper.
He closes his eyes as fury and possibly regret, sweeps across his face. "I see," he says, his voice expressionless. "You look like you've lost at least five pounds, possibly more since then. Please eat, Anastasia," he scolds.
I stare down at the knotted fingers in my lap. Why does he always make me feel like an errant child?

He makes Ana feel like an errant child because he's a patronizing mutterblusher who thinks women are inferior beings! I mean he thinks everybody is an inferior being, sure. But women in particular and Ana in particular-particular. How is Ana not used to how terrible he is? And how does she still love him or whatever? Gross.

Oh, but also, yeah Ana definitely has an eating disorder. Or, at a minimum, is depressed and has no one obvious to turn to. She's not close to anyone in the entire world except for Kate kind of and Kate is far away. Ana needs actual help--not just some asshole to yell stuff at her.

I do kind of like how, in the middle of this, Ana kinda laughs at how predictable this guy is. It would be more fun if she weren't so into him, and so quick to forgive him for being so terrible all the time. 

The first time I read this chapter, I got super angry about Ana saying the last thing she'd eaten was pasta alla vongole because I was like, "Oh hell no. That's the same dumb, ridiculous thing she ate in the last book! And now she's eating it again? Where the hell is she finding that?" But now I'm equally mad but in a different way? I guess? Because it's not that she ate it twice. The last real meal she ate was at CG's house almost a week ago. Doesn't that seem like ages? It does to me. That was way back in the previous book. And once again, EL does nothing to give the reader any help. I'm reading these books literally as carefully as I can and instead of putting it together that the last time Ana ate was with Christian, my first impulse is to say, "Oh, weird! She ate spaghetti and clams again? Is that her favorite food or something?" 

Soon Ana is on CG's lap and they're all ooh I missed you! Ooh I missed you! And they aren't like, officially together yet again because their facebook relationship statuses are still set as "It's complicated" but we get it. They're back and it's like they were never apart since they were only apart for five days. I'm sure that their time apart has provided ample opportunity for reflection, and their relationship will only be stronger for it. (J/k.)

Pretty soon CG is all "we're here," and Ana is all wut? because they've only been driving for two minutes and Portland is farther than two minutes from Seattle. And Ana is not good at geography, but she is at least wise enough to know that the distance from Seattle to Portland is more than two minutes by car.

"Helipad - on the top of this building." Christian glances toward the building by way of explanation.

It's weird that this wasn't obvious to Ana from the beginning, but I guess I should be used to her inability to assemble context clues. She simply can't figure out anything for herself, which is part of why this book is so unreadable. We get impatient when our narrator puts pieces together so much more slowly than we do. A good narrator should be a step ahead of the reader. Instead, Ana is so far behind us that it feels like we're walking an excitable dog who has to sniff every tree, and meanwhile, w're tugging on the leash, saying, "Yes, yes. It's a tree. We walk here every day. You really should have figured this out by now."

Also, this is one of those times when EL could say the same thing in half the words. Let's try a quick rewrite: 

Christian glances out the window at a building. "Helipad." 

See? The phrase "by way of explanation" is implied so cut it. And also? The helipad? Probably going to be on the top of the building, right? If it were in the basement, that would be worth mentioning, because that would be weird and also why would anyone put their helipad somewhere so awkward? No wonder this books is so long. Every sentence is either a) pointless or b) twice as long as it needs to be.

Ana offers to give Christian back his handkerchief and CG declines and I don't know why we're talking about handkerchiefs and also I don't care. Christian says "Nine?" to Taylor and I presume that means that Ana and CG will leave Portland again at 9 after arriving there at 7:30 which is pretty ridiculous. 

They step inside the building. It is eventually made explicit that this is not the Escala building where CG lives. It's some other place where he stashes his helicopter? You know how Jason Bourne has like, stashes of passports and guns and international currency in different spots? CG has that, but for places to park his helicopter. 

Christian nods as he turns and leads me through the double doors into the grandiose foyer. I revel in the feel of his large hand and his long, skilled fingers curled around mine.

I feel the familiar pull - I am drawn, Icarus to his sun. I have been burned already, and yet here I am again.

First, we get this weird thing about how CG has long fingers. You know what they say about a guy with long fingers, right ladies? They say he's probably a good pianist! Get it? Because CG plays piano sometimes? Oh and pianist kind of sounds like penis? Right? Get it?

And also, that thing about Icarus again. Yawn. EL won't remind us of who any of these side characters are, but she will reuse these terrible, embarrassing clichés. 

Then they go in an elevator and you know what that means! Lip biting! Almost having sex! Except this time. We just get a bunch of obnoxious reminders about how sexy elevators are. You remember how sexy elevators are, right? Those little rooms, with no beds? That smell like all the people who've stomped in and out of them all day? I know such a turn-on!

Well, sexy to CG and Ana, at least. But they stay on their good behavior despite the allure of the elevator. Oh and also they're still technically broken up so maybe that's why? Who cares.

On the roof there's a helicopter waiting and there's a helicopter dude there. CG asks the helicopter dude, "You'll collect her around eight thirty?" I guess since CG is talking to the helicopter dude, the "her" in question is the helicopter? Wait so if the helicopter is going to fly from Seattle to Portland an it's about six o'clock now, how is the helicopter dude going to collect it in Portland? Is he going to take a second helicopter? Because that's the only way! He literally must be flying down as well. This is a hilariously wasteful and complicated set of transit arrangements.

But then CG says, "Taylor's waiting for you out front." This suggests that, what? Helicopter dude is going to haul ass with Taylor down to Portland in hopes of getting there by 8:30 to grab the helicopter and fly it back? This is basically the sort of shit that goes down when the President goes somewhere, right?

They get in the helicopter and we get a repeat of the last time CG cinched Ana into a harness for a flying machine and I guess we're supposed to be like, "Oh yay I love how this is just like the other book!"

They take off:

"We've chased the dawn, Anastasia, now the dusk," his voice comes through on the headphones. I turn to gape at him in surprise.

What does this mean? How is it that he can say the most romantic things? He smiles, and I can't help but smile shyly back at him.

I like to imagine that when Ana says, "What does this mean?" she is literally trying to figure out what the hell CG is talking about. He's not romantic. He's just a weird show-off. 

"Escala's over there." He points toward the building. "Boeing there, and you can just see the Space Needle."
I crane my head. "I've never been."
"I'll take you - we can eat there."
What? "Christian, we broke up."
"I know. I can still take you there and feed you." He glares at me.

Just so you know, in case you're as unfamiliar with Seattle geography as our author, the distance between Escala and the Space Needle is .7 miles. The distance between Escala and Boeing is 6 miles. But the way CG's talking, he makes it sound like Escala and Boeing are quite close to each other, and the Space Needle is far off in the distance. This is not accurate.

More important, though, c'mon. This is a dude who lives in Seattle, and he's talking to a woman who also lives in Seattle. Either might point out the Space Needle to, say, a visiting relative who happens to be a toddler. But the idea of a local pointing it out to another local--even one who's only lived in Seattle a few weeks--is pretty absurd. See, the thing about the Space Needle is that you can see it from a lot of different places, and if you live in Seattle, you see it pretty goddamn often. Let me try to give some local equivalents to help out of towners put this in context. Boston: "Oh, look! A Dunkin Donuts." Chicago: "Oh look. One of those huge lakes we live right next to." Las Vegas: "Oh look! A brightly lit casino!" 

Also, the idea of CG eating in the Space Needle is kinda hilarious. You know those things in your town--the attractions--that you never go see until you've got out-of-town guests who want to see it, and then you take them, and you'd never go by yourself? The Space Needle is kind of like that, only when your out-of-town guests wanna go, you just drop them off and say they can take the bus back to your place when they're done. It's a fifteen-dollar elevator. This is like me writing a book about a couple in Paris and having one say to the other, "Oh hey let's go have some crepes and cheese at the Eiffel Tower, oui? 

And Ana is pretty insightful, right? Pretty valuable to be able to read her thoughts like this, right? "What?" That's all we we get! "What?" I can think that up myself, Ana! In fact, that's pretty much what I think after each sentence. I barely ever read a sentence that doesn't make me say "what?" Don't need Ana to help me out on that account.

As is often the case, I hassle EL for getting all this obvious Seattle stuff wrong first, and then bring up what a dirtbag CG is later on. Why? Because you get that part, no matter where you're reading this from. You don't need to know anything about Seattle to know what a real prick is being here.

"We can't go on a date to the space needle because we're not dating anymore."
"Well, little girl, that may be technically correct, but you see, I am the man and as such, still own you, so it is well within my rights to make you go to a restaurant and put food into you until your body conforms to my own expectations about how your body ought to look."

I'm paraphrasing, but that is all in there. EL just didn't spell it out quite as explicitly as I did. Gross. Gross gross gross this book is gross.

They have some uninteresting small talk for a bit. It is not interesting. CG asks Ana about her job and she doesn't say anything that helps us to learn anything additional RE: her job and what it is that she does there. Yawn. And then we get a third version of the Icarus line.  Ana is like Icarus! Her wings will melt! We get it! This is a cliché once. But holy hell. Three times in a single chapter? That is just madness. Absolute madness.

We also get competing nonsense lines about how the sky looks, basically back-to-back:

The dusk is to our right, the sun low on the horizon - large, blazing fiery orange - 

The dusk has followed us from Seattle, and the sky is awash with opal, pinks, and aquamarines woven seamlessly together as only Mother Nature knows how. 

Some points of note: 1) This description is so pointlessly terrible that I'm pretty sure it's making me dumber. 2) Is opal a color? I think it isn't. I literally can't figure out what "opal" means in this context since the actual gemstone comes in all kinds of goddamn colors. 3) We didn't need a single bland, empty description of this sunset. But instead of zero, we got two.

I think I'm going to leave you with that. Ana and CG are just about to land in Portland but you see, we've already made it to about 5,000 words and we're not much better than halfway through the chapter. Shadier is, it turns out, even longer than its predecessor, but has fewer chapters. And between Jack Hyde being all villainish and the trip to Portland, this chapter already has about as much plot as the whole first book. Hence, I'm going to experiment with breaking some of these pieces into chunks. So you'll just have to wait a bit to find out what sort of terribly exciting things happen at José's art opening! Won't that be something!

No, it won't. Not actually. It won't actually be anything at all. It will be nothing, but a lot more nothing. Nothing after nothing after nothing, with some sex thrown in here and there. Just like that other book. Yawn.

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