Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas, Mutterblushers! Fifty Shades Darker: Prologue

That's right! As promised: The Complainist returns, just in time for Christmas, with the continuing adventures of Ana, Christian, and the worst romance in the history of literature. Hurray!

Our first entry will be an abbreviated one for two reasons. 1) 50 Shades Darker starts with a brief prologue rather than Chapter 1 so this week, we'll just be covering the prologue. 2) Darker is longer than the first book, but has fewer chapters, meaning that getting through a full chapter and the prologue in one go is a real chore. 3) I haven't done Christmas very well, dear readers. And as a result, not only did I fail to accomplish half the things I had planned pre-Xmas, I didn't finish covering all of Chapter 1 in time. So Chapter 1 will be your New Year's Eve present next Tuesday. For Christmas, we'll start with a reminder about where we left things with Ana and Christian, muse about Darker for a bit, and discuss the prologue. And then you can go back to watching bowl games and putting your new train sets together and that sort of thing. You know. Christmas stuff.

But what's that, you say? You've forgotten all about the plot of 50 Shades of Grey and so you need me to run through a quick summary before we get started?

Great. Here's everything that happens in Fifty Shades of Grey:
Ana is a naive college student who dated a billionaire for a couple weeks but broke things off with him because he spanked her too hard. 

It's kind of nuts how easy it is to summarize the first book, right? I didn't leave out anything important. You could even start following now, with the second book, even if you didn't read Fifty Shades of Grey or my hilarious insult-version of Fifty Shades of Grey. (Editor's note: Fifty Shades of Cliché. What do you think? Is that anything? Hm? Help me out here.) This is not to say that you shouldn't read my hilarious insult-version. Please do! But if you haven't, don't worry. Nothing really happens in the first book, so you'll have no trouble catching up.  

Speaking of summaries: Lemony Snicket is a wonderful writer and everyone should read everything he ever writes. In the first A Series of Unfortunate Events prequels, Who Could That Be At This Hour, a character gives this quite spectacular summary of a famous novel: "A bunch of elves and things get into a huge war over a piece of jewelry that everybody wants but nobody can wear."

Spectacular! I personally think that there is a lot to enjoy in that famous novel about elves and jewelry, so in that case, I'd rather read the whole thing. When it comes to EL James, though, the summary is better, because it's shorter. And that is why I'm here to summarize it for you. I already did the first entire book so you wouldn't have to! I quite literally wrote an entire book about a book! That's the sort of treatment that's usually reserved for actual scholars writing about actual books that are good. As in, there are plenty of books in which scholars carefully dissect the works of Virginia Woolf or William Faulkner or whoever. Not a lot of careful dissections of pop-erotica, so don't say I never did anything for you! I wrote you a whole book!

And now, the sequel! Just in time for Christmas! (Editor's note: Merry Christmas.)

Let's jump right in, shall we? The presents are all unwrapped. You're wearing your new sweater and you've already got it all covered in cookie crumbs. You've got nothing else to do with your day. So now, join me.

Let's talk about the trilogy as a whole for a moment, shall we? It's named in the absolute most obvious way.

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey
  2. Fifty Shades Darker
  3. Fifty Shades Freed
Get it? The middle one tends to be the one where things look bleakest for our hero, right? You expect the biggest cliffhanger between books 2 and 3. We're talking like, maybe the hero learns some shocking information and has his arm cut off and has to get a robot arm. Serious stuff! EL James knew that, at least, so she calls this book "Darker" and who knows. Maybe it will get darker. Maybe some different sex stuff will happen besides just Ana holding perfectly still while her boyf kisses her toes or whatever. Maybe! And then, of course, the last book is "Freed" because that one is going to be all about Christian "escaping" from BDSM and learning to appreciate sex with Ana that's even more boring that the BDSM-lite sex that they had all throughout the first book. 

So you can pretty much predict the rest of this without having to read it. Things are going to get even worse for our heroes during this book! But then the next book will come around and everything will be fine. Hurray. 

When we left Ana, she'd just dumped her boyfriend of three-ish weeks because, even though she knew all about how much he wanted to spank her, the whole spanking thing just wasn't clear to her until she finally gave him permission to really spank her. Christian, the billionaire boyfriend, likes to divide spankings into two categories: fun and punishment. But CG doesn't give Ana a full-on punishment spanking until the very end of the first book, and Ana reacts poorly. He's been terrible to her the entire novel, but somehow it becomes too much for Ana only after 500 pages of basically the same tired conflict over and over: "OMG Christian is rich and hot but also I'm super unhappy around him and also scared of him and the only time things are nice with him is when we're having sex but also the sex is a little weird to me too so what do I do?"

Well, you dump him, is what you do, Ana. And in the last chapter of Grey she does just that. She dumps him. And now we move on to Darker. Fifty Shades Shadier.

At least in the American versions of these books that I read because I'm an American, by god! EL James uses the British spelling of gray (grey) only in reference to Grey's actual name. For the color, it's spelled "gray." But still, I interpret the title Fifty Shades of Grey as "fifty different color gradations between black and white." This makes me think that Fifty Shades Darker refers to fifty new color gradations, all darker than the darkest shade of gray on our previous color wheel. Meaning we divided the spectrum form white to black into 50 even increments, then looked at the space between "gray 50" and black and further subdivided that into 50 new increments. This means that these new darker shades will be so similar to each other that any differences will be imperceptible to the naked eye.

This is my way of saying that I think that this book is going to be even worse than the first one, but fewer than 100% of the hits on my blog are obviously spam robots, so I might as well keep reading and writing for you, my beloved non-robots.

We do get some hints in the first few chapters that this time, EL has decided to include a bit of plot, so that's something. Not a good plot. Not a plot that any of us will enjoy. But at least there is evidence that we're going to have a few more characters to hate and a few more things to worry about other than whether or not Ana is going to get spanked. We shall determine wether or not these bits of plot make this book any more readable than its predecessor. I assume I will hate the books equally. But who knows! Maybe this one will wear me down so much that I end up being entertained on occasion. Fingers crossed!

I am currently without a physical copy of Shadier. (Editor's note: that's our nickname for this book around the office: Shadier. Get it? Right? Funny right? Kind of? No? Sorry.) I found a pirate digital copy. Sorry / not sorry. As a rule, I've given up on unlicensed copying. This last year I deleted all the MP3s I torrented during my torrenting days. Many I just parted with because I wasn't listening to them anyway and so what was the point of torrenting them in the first place? Quite a few, though, I replaced with physical copies so as to restore my karma or something? Even though I don't believe in karma?

But anyway. What I'm saying is that I was once an avid pirate, and now I don't pirate anything anymore, except I did pirate this book because it's terrible and I want EL James to have less money. I do wonder if my digital copy is accurate, though. Early in the file we get this weird note: "EL James is currently working on the sequel to Fifty Shades Darker and a new romantic thriller with a supernatural twist." 

Isn't that the most terrifying thing you've ever heard? A fourth mutterblushing book? Ugh. I do hope that the "supernatural twist" just means that EL is going to rewrite Fifty Shades only with vampires because that is an original idea that someone should totally do because when you think about it, since CG is so cold and reserved and everything, he kind of acts more like a vampire than like a person. I dunno--just something I've been thinking about, you know? But anyway. I hope that these other books never happen and that this threatening sentence about potential additional books by EL James was sneaked in by some pirate as a joke and is not true. 

Also, this bit in the acknowledgement section is obviously a fabrication: "And finally, thank you to Janine, my editor. You rock. That is all." 

That's an obvious lie, right? There is no Janine. We all know these books weren't edited. I do think it's possible that Janine is the name of one of the voices in EL's head, though. EL probably has voices in her head, right? That's the only explanation I can think of for the fact that her protagonist, Ana, has voices in her head called "inner goddess" and "subconscious" who always tell her what to do. So that's probably what's going on here--EL James has some voices in her head, one of whom is named Janine.

I think I'm going to blame Janine for absolutely everything because Janine did not do a good job editing this novel. Not that this was an easy job! Janine, if she is a real person, was stuck editing a real garbage pile, and so there was no way it was going to be good. Could've been better, though. Could've worked harder, Janine. I mean, look at me! I'm working on this On Christmas. And I'm not even getting paid. Learn from me, Janine. Let me be your mentor. Let's talk.

And now, the prologue, which takes us back in time to Christian's youth, sort of.

My avid readers will recall that Mr. Christian Grey was adopted by the rich-ass Grey family after much suffering during his early childhood. Delving into CG's early days and the source of his obnoxious character quirks could be interesting to people who don't hate CG. I can't stand the guy, though, so I'm not particularly interested in stuff that happened to him when he was a toddler.

Sometimes, we meet obnoxious people, and then learn about some tragedy that befell them earlier in life, and it humanizes them a little, maybe even makes us like them a little more. Doesn't work as easily for Christian. I think that the problem is that I don't trust these books. Every new character detail I get about CG feels like a hoax rather than an explanation. When EL tells me about how hard CG had it as a child, I don't feel like she's explaining so much as excusing. It's a fine distinction, but I think it's an important one. Learning that CG used to have a terrible life feels like a get out of jail free card. Like a loophole.

It doesn't work on me. Rather than humanizing Christian, these bits about his troubled childhood just convince me more that he really ought to chill out and stay away from Ana. I am no expert, but I think it's a bad idea for a person to work through their childhood traumas by tying up and paddling their sex partners. Right? Seems like a pretty unfair position to put Ana in. Plus, it's kind of gross. Seeing, for instance, that CG was hit with a belt as a boy makes his adult fascination with spanking seem more like a red flag and less like sexy times for consenting adults.

The prologue has some style problems, too, but that won't surprise anyone. This brief opening sequence makes a curious jump from first person (the young CG is the narrator) to third person (an omniscient narrator tells us what CG is thinking). Particularly odd since the entire first novel was in the first person point of view. I'm always a little baffled by this move. I understand switching between first-person narrators and I understand moving between different third-person perspectives, but jumping between first and third feels a little odd. Ana was our guide through all of the first book, and now, somehow, we're with Christian, in bed, and Ana is somewhere else entirely. How did we get there? And why did we get there? Don't know.

The only thing we learn is this: somebody mean beat Christian's mother while he hid under a kitchen table. This mean guy called Christian's mother "one fucked-up bitch" which echoes the end of 50 Shades, in which Ana called Christian a "one fucked-up son of a bitch" and this parallel is about as clever as anything we're likely to get in this series. It is still pretty gross, though, because it kind of blames all of CG's unpleasantness on his poor mom. I feel bad for Christian's mom. I bet nice moms who have kids who become asshole billionaires feel complicated, conflicted feelings and live with the burden of doing things so right and also so very, very wrong and don't know what to make of their lives. (Editor's note: if any nice moms with kids who are asshole billionaires would like to comment, we'd appreciate it.)

The dude with the belt finds little Christian hiding under the table, and then we move from Christian's dream (first person) to Christian waking up in a sweat. (Third person.)

Another thing I always dislike: dreams in fiction. You've had dreams, right Janine? You'll remember, then, that dreams are really just a bunch of nonsense. Not perfect little sleep-videos of particular events from earlier in our lives. But that's how dreams usually work in novels. We're supposed to assume that CG dreamt a particular thing that happened to him. I don't know about you, but I have never once had a dream that was an exact replica of a thing that happened to me. Whatever. I understand that traumatic experiences can effect one's dreams and sleep, but still. Dreams aren't a DVR.

The prologue at least has the good sense to end promptly, unlike the rest of Shadier, which is slightly longer than 50 Shades, which is itself dangerously bloated. Quick dream sequence, and then Christian, waking up sweaty and startled. That's it.

And then we leave CG in bed, and begin Chapter 1.

We will rejoin Ana next week. Exciting, right?? I'll bet she's up to something very interesting and not just moping around doing nothing! J/K. That's precisely what she's doing. So question: How long is it going to take these two crazy kids to get back together, do you think? I'll let you guess in either days or chapters.

Hint: not going to take very many of either.

Didja miss me?