Friday, January 3, 2014

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 1, part 2

Well, happy new year! To both of us. I'm still reeling from a recent day in which I only had nine hits. Nine hits! In an entire day! Twenty-four hours! That's a pretty long time for nine hits. Bored spam robots usually pass by at least a dozen times, so nine is quite nearly without precedent. C'mon guys. Help me out here. Read this dumb thing that I'm spending all my time writing all the time.

So, we'll try a little experiment. I'm contemplating more posts, only shorter, so here we have the second part of Chapter 1. It's ready. You're ready. Why keep it form you? No reason. So here it is.

Ana and Christian go to José's photography show, which has lots of photos of Ana. Then Ana and Christian make out in an alley. 

When we left, Ana and CG, who totally aren't technically back together yet but who are totally back together already, were just landing in Portland via helicopter to visit José's photography show because it's no big deal to Ana that José kinda sorta kinda assaulted Ana kinda way back in the early chapters of the first book.

Ana notes, as they land, that they're landing precisely where their first helicopter trip started, which totally seems like it was years ago but was probably a week or something.

Jeez, it's been hardly any time at all. Yet I feel like I've known Christian for a lifetime.

OMG me too right? I feel like I've known CG forever because he never says anything with the slightest bit of originality and also when you hate something it seems like it's around more than it really is. Oh and also EL drags everything out so slowly that a simple thing like, say, two people arranging a meeting together can stretch to the length of an entire chapter. 

Here's CG on the art show:

"Well, let's go see the boy's photos." He holds his hand out to me and taking it, I climb out of Charlie Tango.

Heh. What a dick! Basically reacts to José's show the way that you or I might react to a piece of refrigerator art made by a toddler we'd never met. Also somehow CG is 27 and José is 21. This line wouldn't be nearly as hard to swallow if CG were just 50, considering that he always seems like he's fifty. A dude who's 50 calling a college kid a boy seems less weird, but it would still be gross. Oh well!

We then have a quick check-in with CG's--I dunno--helicopter repairman? Some dude named Joe. And also while they talk we learn that the Seattle helicopter repairman is named Stephan and with that, all of our remaining burning questions about the book were put to rest, so we can quit reading.

Oh, are you still reading? Fine let's continue.

Joe makes CG aware of further preparations: "Your car's waiting downstairs, sir. Oh, and the elevator's out of order; you'll need to use the stairs."

You'll note two things of importance here. 1) This will be the third vehicle involved in Operation: Get to Portland. We had CG's regular car, and then his helicopter, and now some other car and also he'll be back in his regular car again later in the evening. One of my dearest friends would not hesitate to drive four blocks to stop at the drug store. Compared to Christian Grey, though, said friend is basically Al Gore. Also 2) Convenient that the elevator is out of order because if it weren't our heroes would probably have to have sex because they are gross animals incapable of resisting elevator-inspired urges. 

Ana expresses concern that she won't be able to make it down the stairs in her heels because, as we know, she is basically incapable of simple human activities like walking or whatever.

Their car ride over to the gallery is awkward, like all of their interactions all the time no matter what. Here's some more recycling! CG: "Those beautiful eyes look too large in your face, Anastasia. Please tell me you'll eat." Awfully similar to a line on the first page of the previous book. Also it doesn't make sense, right? Nobody has ever said, "Wow your eyes look bigger! Did you lose weight?" 

Their conversation is otherwise too worthless for me to even bother mentioning. CG says he wants Ana back, and Ana's like, "Duh." J/K that's what I said. But then they're like, let's talk about it later. Yawn. 

The car pulls up in front of the gallery, and Christian climbs out, leaving me speechless. He opens the car door for me, and I clamber out.

Wait, Ana is speechless because CG got out of the car? Makes sense!

The first woman they at see at the gallery falls in love with CG because he's basically Helen of Troy. 

A young woman dressed in black with very short brown hair, bright red lipstick, and large hooped earrings greets us.

She glances briefly at me, then much longer than is strictly necessary at Christian, then turns back to me, blinking as she blushes.

Right? I guess the problem is that maybe EL knows that she isn't doing a good job of making CG seem sexy, so instead of figuring out how to do that, she just tries to make all these random one-page people serve as character witnesses. How is that supposed to work? "Well, if this random lady at the art show who we've never seen before thinks CG is hot, then he absolutely must be hot!"

The lady who greets them as they enter the gallery seems to be expecting Ana, even though she's never met Ana either. Ana and CG discuss this fact and then CG is dispatched for drinks. Then Ana runs into José since this is, after all, his night.

José holds Ana at arm's length, which is as clever a thing as we will ever see in this book. Because of the way we've heard the phrase "at arm's length" used metaphorically, it seems like EL is telling us that José is over Ana which is good news I guess. Maybe he won't try to assault her again. Yay.

Here's a fun part. OMG guys remember how José is Mexican? Have we been reminded of that lately?

"Hey are you okay? You look, well, odd. Dios mio, have you lost weight?"

Great, right? Ugh. Dios mio indeed. Show of hands: who's ever heard a person say "dios mio" in life ever? No? Didn't think so. Also, that middle sentence? It's, well, bad. EL wants to include a pause, but, well, that's the most annoying way of doing it and, well, I wish she'd stop. Also people don't look, well, odd, when they lose weight. Ana might look too skinny, or tired, or listless, or like a newly-formed vampire. "Well, odd," just seems unlikely. Plus, there are better ways to get the same point across. 

José pulls away from me, then stares at me as though seeing me for the first time. "Hey. Are you okay?"

That second version is mine obvs. Is it good? No, not really. Nothing interesting is happening so it would be hard to make something that isn't interesting sound very interesting. But at least in my version it doesn't seem like I'm doing some dumb caricature. Or here's another option: just have José say "You look different." Scary, right? With those italics? Exactly. This is a poor story told in such a way as to maximize its problems. 

Here's a summary of EL's trouble with dialogue: no subtext. Nobody ever says anything other than precisely what they mean. This is, of course, not how conversation actually works. We use context clues and listen for tone when we talk to people; we don't rely exclusively on the words they say. But in this book, people only assess the speech others by considering the precise meanings of spoken words. That means that every sentence uttered is either 1) Directly on the nose or 2) Obnoxiously sarcastic. Nobody can say anything other than exactly what they mean or the opposite of what they mean, and it's unpleasant to read. 

Ana stops paying attention to the conversation she's having with José and instead checks out CG's progress getting drinks. 

"Ana!" José distracts me, and I'm dragged back to the here and now. "I am so glad you came - listen, I should warn you - "

Suddenly, Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick cuts him off. "
José, the journalist from the Portland Printz is here to see you. Come on." She gives me a polite smile.

"How cool is this? The fame." He grins, and I can't help but grin back - he's so happy.

I do like that EL makes an actual attempt at building some tension here, but Ana totally ignores it. Ana hears José literally use the word "warn" but doesn't take a moment to process it or wonder what he might be warning her about. She's too worried about the woman from earlier who looked at CG. Ana makes a habit of making up these long names for people, and the way she phrases them, it kind of seems like it's supposed to be an insult. But it isn't. The woman who speaks to José does indeed have very short hair and is wearing red lipstick, so it's really not much of an insult. 

What do you make of this part: "She gives me a polite smile." I think that EL actually means the opposite of "polite" but says "polite" because she's not good at writing. Right? Isn't this lady a villain who's only here (Editor's note: like all ladies in this book, it seems.) to make life more difficult for poor Ana? 

Also, of course the Portland Printz isn't a thing. What's it supposed to be, though? Is the idea that Portland has such a substantial photography community that it can support a photo-specific journal? One that has a staff capable of getting around to small-fry art openings like this one? From some college kid? Sure why not.

Oh, and this counts as fame? Don't you love that last little bit from José? I do! EL has this weird way of blowing up totally small-time events and making them seem like they matter when they don't. Sure, this night matters to José but he's not an idiot, right? He knows he didn't just become famous. 

Let's hear about José's famous photos, though, right? Bet they're pretty great, huh? I mean, mustn't they be??

Jose's photographs are everywhere, and in some cases, blown up onto huge canvases.

There are both monochromes and colors. There's an ethereal beauty to many of the landscapes. In one taken out near the lake at Vancouver, it's early evening and pink clouds are reflected in the stillness of the water. Briefly, I'm transported by the tranquility and the peace. It's stunning.

Sounds pretty wonderful, right? Pretty stunning? We're talking both monochromes and colors. We're talking big. We're talking pink clouds and a lake. What could be better? Serious question: you don't put photos on a canvas, right? That's a thing you paint on, right? Also, I know writing about art is hard. But you know what makes every kind of writing sound better? Specificity! And this is pretty vague. Good for José, though, I guess! No wonder he's famous!

I think that there's no way to get at how bad this next part is without quoting a fair bit of it for you to hate with me. 

Christian joins me, and I take a deep breath and swallow, trying to recover some of my earlier equilibrium. He hands me my glass of white wine.

"Does it come up to scratch?" My voice sounds more normal.

He looks quizzically at me.

"The wine."

"No. Rarely does at these kinds of events. The boy's quite talented, isn't he?" Christian is admiring the lake photo.

"Why else do you think I asked him to take your portrait?" I can't help the pride in my voice. His eyes glide impassively from the photograph to me.

"Christian Grey?" The photographer from the Portland Printz approaches Christian.

"Can I have a picture, sir?"

"Sure." Christian hides his scowl. I step back, but he grabs my hand and pulls me to his side. The photographer looks at both of us and can't hide his surprise.

"Mr. Grey, thank you." He snaps a couple of photos. "Miss... ?" he asks.

"Steele," I reply.

"Thank you, Miss Steele." He scurries off.

"I looked for pictures of you with dates on the Internet. There aren't any. That's why Kate thought you were gay."

Christian's mouth twitches with a smile. "That explains your inappropriate question. No, I don't do dates, Anastasia - only with you. But you know that." His eyes burn with sincerity.

"So you never took your" - I glance around nervously to check no one can overhear us - "subs out?"

"Sometimes. Not on dates. Shopping, you know." He shrugs, his eyes not leaving mine.

Let's go through this, shall we? 
1) A lot of this is just an exercise in spotting repeats of earlier terrible lines. Just like Ana tried early in Book 1 to recover "some" of her equilibrium, here she is, doing it again. Only this time, the problem is a photo of some clouds that she saw, so it kind of even makes less sense. 
2) The wine was bad at Ana's graduation. It is also bad, a few days later, at this art gallery. CG keeps careful track of the sorts of events that offer good or bad wine. Probably writes a lot of Yelp reviews too. Or, more likely, makes poor Taylor do it. Poor Taylor.
3) I don't think that Ana asked José to take photos of CG; I think that was Kate's idea. Also, did those photos ever run in the newspaper? Did that issue ever get published? Whatever. Thanks for reminding me of one of the dumbest parts about Book 1, EL!
4) What the hell kind of outlet is Portland Printz supposed to be? Ok so their reporter wants to talk to the artist who's featured at the gallery, and they've got the word "Printz" on their masthead. So it's some kind of "cool" arts thing? But also they want to take a picture of CG cause he's a rich guy and he's there? So it has a society page or whatever too?
5) Also the reporter is super surprised that CG wants Ana in the photo. Really? Is this reporter about to run outside to a payphone, call the Portland Printz and say, "Stop the presses! New front page! Billionaire playboy seen with lady at college kid's photo show!" Is that what's going to happen next? Sure why not.
6) Yadda yadda yadda let's talk some more about that time that Ana asked CG if he was gay because that is entertaining for everyone.
7) And then some stuff about how special Ana is because CG usually only likes ladies tied up in his sex room. Doesn't really like to like, have to go places or have conversations with them. Can you imagine what Blandy McBlandersons CG's previous lady-friends must be if Ana seems intriguing in comparison? Maybe CG just has "singular tastes" or whatever and only finds super boring people attractive. Neat. 

OMG GUYS! Ana is famous too it turns out!

We wander past a few more prints, and I notice a couple nodding at me, smiling broadly as if they know me. It must be because I'm with Christian, but one young man is blatantly staring. Odd.

We turn the corner, and I can see why I've been getting strange looks. Hanging on the far wall are seven huge portraits - of me.

I stare blankly at them, stupefied, the blood draining from my face. Me: pouting, laughing, scowling, serious, amused. All in super close up, all in black and white.

Wow she's totally like his muse, right? Everything is always a big deal in this book, so of course, yes, it's a big deal that there are these portraits and Ana is in them. And sure. That would probably be kind of a weird experience for Ana, sure. But EL doesn't particularly do anything with them. If this art show had happened at about the mid-point of Book 1, it could've been intriguing. EL could've re-introduced us to the idea of the love triangle, with José playing the part of the moody, artsy outsider. He could've shown Ana a movie he made of a paper bag or whatever and Ana might have felt some feelings down there and then we could've all split into Team Christian and Team José and Team Let's All Read A Different Book Instead. 

But at this point it's too late. We know that this art show won't mean anything. Why even bother with it? I guess it gives Ana and Christian somewhere to be for a little while before they go back to having sex again. Whatever.

Of course CG goes and buys all the photos right away because he doesn't "want some stranger ogling you in the privacy of their home." Makes sense. 

As we all know, it is impossible to copy photographs. CG has assuredly purchased every copy of the prints and the digital files or negatives or whatever and hence no one will ever be able to look at these ever again. EL continues to amaze me with the scope of her confusion. She does not understand that photos are not unique, special snowflakes that can never be reproduced. What the shit, y'all. It was one thing when she was all weird about cellphones because nobody knows how those work. But everyone knows how photos work and this is just dumb as hell. 

Ana and CG have the sort of conversation that they always have. To my surprise, Ana says something that makes a lot of sense and pretty much lines up with what I think about CG:

"It's very confusing being with you. You don't want me to defy you, but then you like my 'smart mouth.' You want obedience, except when you don't, so you can punish me. I just don't know which way is up when I'm with you."

Right? That's what I'm trying to figure out, too!

But here's the thing, really: probably CG wants to both be defied and obeyed. That's part of the game. And what he really wants is someone who will defy and obey and be punished and be rewarded and enjoy all of it. This stuff would make a lot more sense to Ana if she were interested in the things that interest Christian, but she really doesn't, and he has never made much of an attempt to explain any of it to her, so there ya go. Turns out they're not very good for each other. But then, we knew that many hundreds of pages ago. 

CG doesn't have much to say back, so he changes the subject by announcing that it's dinner time, even though they've only been at the show a few minutes. Ana is all, let's stay longer. 

"You've spoken to José - the man who, the last time I met him, was trying to push his tongue into your reluctant mouth while you were drunk and ill," he snarls.

"He's never hit me," I spit at him.

Christian scowls at me, fury emanating from every pore. "That's a low blow, Anastasia," he whispers menacingly.

Touché! I do enjoy the occasional interjection of logic into our narrative. It happens so infrequently that it ends up being a real delight. And it's true! No matter how shitty José was to Ana that one time, he has still caused her less stress, misery, and fear than has CG, her boyfriend. I mean officially he's not her boyf at the moment but he'll be back for good any second now. 

We then get an annoying exchange in which Ana says goodbye to José and is sure to be all huggy with him so as to annoy CG and then CG is all grabby with Ana so as to make sure José doesn't get any ideas and everyone is having a very nice time I'm sure. 

José asks Ana what she thinks about the photos he took of her. Wait for it, because her answer to this is really going to be important. Definitely going to set the tone for the rest of the book. Really going to redefine her relationship, not just to José, but to Christian as well. Ready? Here she goes:

"Um... I don't know," I answer truthfully, momentarily knocked off balance by his question.

To be fair, this is a totally surprising question on José's part. I mean, how was Ana supposed to know that, after being invited to an art show, the artist was going to ask her what she thought about the art? Pretty unlikely scenario right? Right. 

Anyway. It's at this point that CG pulls Ana into an alley and makes out with her or whatever. It's very strenuous for both of them because they're panting and stuff. "He pushes away from me and bends, hands on his knees as if he's run a marathon." Wow they must be really into each other then, huh? 

I feel kinda like I ran a marathon myself, you know? Reading that whole other book? And a little part of this book? I think the comparison works because running a marathon seems like it would be super terrible and also reading this book is pretty terrible too. Same idea. 

After they make out for a sec CG decides it's time to eat again because he's always sure to police Ana's food situation. But I'm afraid that will have to wait until next time! Because that's in Chapter 2!

Wow so they're back together. Took even less time than I expected, and I'm even more bored by it than I expected. Kind of ruins the whole ending of the first book, which was the part I found most tolerable. Really can't say that Ana's decision to (temporarily) dump CG is going to have any effect on the future of their relationship, considering what a short time it lasted and the fact that Ana is basically going to take him back unconditionally, without even a promise that CG will try to try to get over any of his terrible problems.

At this point I have to say that Shadier is worse than Book 1, because somehow, Shadier is making me hate Book 1 extra in hindsight. The first chapter of Shadier is like a time machine sent back to make the previous book seem even more pointless. And it succeeds! Yay.

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