Tuesday, January 7, 2014

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 2 part 1

Ana and Christian eat steaks and drive from Portland to Seattle

The problem with preparing a post for publication Friday is that now, it's Tuesday again, and I'm behind. It is possible that I should have taken a longer break between books, because this books is terrible and difficult to bear. I hope that you appreciate the depth of my sacrifice. However, the only way you could truly understand what I'm going through would be to read this thing yourself, and I do not wish that on anyone. Not even my worst enemy, EL James, who also has never read this book. Yes. You read that correctly. I maintain that EL James has not read her own books. I think she just types without really reading what's going on and then someone gives her a check for a billion dollars.

We rejoin our heroes in a restaurant, where Christian Grey is being a real prick. After leaving José's art show and making out for thirty seconds, they hurry off to the nearest restaurant which is of course romantic and perfect and also CG hates it because he hates everything. He even hates those things literally conjured up specifically to match his singular tastes, like this anonymous restaurant.

"This place will have to do," Christian grumbles. "We don't have much time."

CG is in a real hurry. Why? Don't know. All his scheduling was completely arbitrary; he has given no indication that he needs to be anywhere in particular. I guess he doesn't want to make his various drivers or helicopter pilots wait around? Possible. But I doubt that's the issue. What's the point of having a dedicated driver chauffeur you around all the time if you can't make the dude wait for you on occasion? 

Also, he grumbles about the restaurant, but it sounds like EL's dream spot. It's got all the trappings of "fancy" that we would expect if we were watching a low-rent daytime soap, which is basically exactly what we are doing:

The restaurant looks fine to me. Wooden chairs, linen tablecloths, and walls the same color as Christian's playroom - deep blood red - with small gilt mirrors randomly placed, white candles, and small vases of white roses. Ella Fitzgerald croons softly in the background about this thing called love. It's very romantic.

Right? What's also fun is how different it is from anything a person would actually find in Portland in the sort of area that would have some type of fancy art gallery. This place is full-on Lady and the Tramp. 

I'm not wrong, am I? That's what I thought. Moving on: CG immediately repeats himself. He complains that they don't have time. He jumps into the first restaurant he sees, where of course they are seated instantly and there's no particular evidence of any other diners, and it's all romantic or whatever. So what's the next thing out of his mouth?

He's got to tell the poor, innocent waiter about how he's in a hurry to do his rich-guy stuff, and also he orders this nonsense meal:

"We don't have long," Christian says to the waiter as we sit. "So we'll each have sirloin steak cooked medium, bearnaise sauce if you have it, fries, and green vegetables, whatever the chef has; and bring me the wine list."

Hey here's a tip: If you ever eat with somebody and they start barking out food orders without looking at a menu or anything, leave. Abandon your coat or whatever. You can buy a new coat. Just get out, because you might have accidentally sat down to eat with Christian Grey and he's the absolute worst and you should try to escape. Of course the waiter is happy to oblige, even though in the real world? In the real world restaurants tend to be either "steak" or "not steak" and also you could not pay me enough money to go into a random restaurant in Portland and ask the waiter for steak before sitting down. I'm not saying that I wouldn't do it under any circumstances; I'm saying that if you're reading this, you don't have the amount of money that it would cost to convince me to go into a restaurant in Portland and do this weird stunt. (Editor's note: this is in part because there are probably some dumb mutterblushers actually doing it. We assume that every stupid thing that happens in this book is getting tested out by fans who want to re-enact their favorite terrible moments.)

Also, of course his order is weird, right? Bearnaise sauce? For realsies? Once again EL's conception of what fancy people do is decades out of date. 

(Editor's note: Alden is now imagining a version of 50 Shades that's also kind of a Portlandia mashup and believe us when we say that this idea is completely awesome.)

And bearnaise sauce if you have it.
CG is all pissy. Ana quite logically is annoyed at having dinner ordered for her, and CG calls her childish for trying to make him jelly by being all friendly with José last chapter. That was kind of rude of Ana, I guess? But José legit had all these gallery-opening ladies hanging off him  because he's a famous artiste now that his photos are in some Portland photo-barn, so I'm pretty sure that dude is going to be fine. Also, CG is all shitty and jealous no matter what? So it's pretty unfair of him to blame anyone else for how shitty and jealous he is.

Next he trolls Ana by inviting her to choose the wine, which she takes as an insult, since she knows he probably has a lower-than-low opinion about her taste in wine. She misses a sweet opportunity, though. When he asks what she wants, she really should shrug her shoulders and say, "Whatever. Give me the most expensive one, Richie Rich." I think she should call him that all the time because he would totally  hate it. But then, he hates everything all the time no matter what so I'm not sure what good that would do. It would make me feel better, I guess?

EL definitely did not read this scene after writing it. The waiter scuttles off after the dumb steak order, and then a few lines later CG is ordering a bottle of wine. No indication that the waiter has returned with the requested wine list. EL does this frequently. She'll overwhelm a scene with pointless details, and you'll think that you see everything that's going on thanks to the volume of description. But then, some phantom character just joins the scene unannounced, and you find yourself skipping backwards to see if you missed something. You didn't miss anything. Just bad writing. 

Here's a sequence that I'm making you read with me:

"You're upset because of what happened last time. I behaved stupidly, and you... So did you. Why didn't you safe word, Anastasia?" His tone changes, becoming accusatory.

What? Whoa - change of direction. I flush, blinking at him.

"Answer me."

"I don't know. I was overwhelmed. I was trying to be what you wanted me to be, trying to deal with the pain, and it went out of my mind. You know... I forgot," I whisper ashamed, and I shrug apologetically.

Jeez, perhaps we could have avoided all this heartache.

"You forgot!" he gasps with horror, grabbing the sides of the table and glaring at me.

I wither under his stare.

Shit! He's furious again. My inner goddess glares at me, too. See, you brought all this on yourself!

"How can I trust you?" he says, his voice low. "Ever?"

Ugh. I hate this so much. You may have read my essay on the final chapter of the first book. You may not have! I understand! Not that many people did! And most of you were probably Russian spambots anyways. I see my web traffic. I know your game, spambots. But let me rehash some of that chapter for you here.

Ana decides at the end of the first book to test CG. She allows him to spank her, hard, so that she'll know what he really has in mind when he talks about "punishment" or whatever. It's easily the most dramatic part of the entire book and my "favorite" part as well, though I hesitate to use the term about any aspect of this dreck. It's my favorite because she finally forces the issue. She is active in the conflict rather than a passive moper like she is the rest of the book. She challenges CG to do his worst so that she'll know what she's really in for if she sticks around.

And? She hates it. It hurts. She's miserable. She peaces out. So while I understand the idea of the safe word, I also understand why Ana just endured CG's wrath and didn't say anything until he was done. The whole point was to see how far he wanted to go; asking him to stop would've defeated Ana's entire purpose. 

But here, EL allows CG to rewrite the scene. Now, they are both at fault. Now, CG is accusing Ana of being untrustworthy when, in fact, she can be trusted to act the same way basically all the time, and he deserves no trust at all. 

"I forgot" is the worst part of all. She didn't forget. I mean, there's nothing in the previous book that suggests that she considered using her safe word. But by saying "I forgot" rather than standing up for herself, Ana basically accepts CG's bullshit argument that somehow they're both to blame.

True, they are both to blame in the sense that they're totally wrong for each other and should stay the hell apart. So they're both to blame in a general sense, I guess, sure. But I despise how easily CG turns things around and makes Ana responsible for his problems. 

Ana apologizes for not using her safe word. This is another moment where I kind of curse this book for having a narrator who does so little self-reflection. This would, actually, be an appropriate moment for a little bit of a flashback or at least some consideration on Ana's part of the events that ended the first book. You know, like we just did. But no. She doesn't think about it at all. She just says she's sorry for not using her safe word and then they mope about how much they miss each other.

Here's the dumbest part of the whole scene, probably:

"You said you'd never leave, yet the going gets tough and you're out the door."

Wonderful! Geez, Ana! Why you gotta be such a quitter? You should stay with CG no matter how shitty he is because that's what you do in relationships, according to nobody. 

Further confusing things is that CG asks if Ana still loves him like she said before, and when she admits that she does still love him, he says "Good," which is basically the opposite of what he said when she actually used the "love" word in the last book. This is the kind of thing that makes me feel like the author of Shadier couldn't have paid much attention to the events of Fifty Shades. (Editor's note: even though all the book titles start with 50 Shades when we say 50 Shades what we mean is 50 Shades of Grey, the first book.)

At least Ana thinks it's a weird change too, but then their food shows up and it's time to eat their food. This is very impressive service. Their steaks were cooked medium in the time it took about thirty short lines of dialogue to pass. So like, maybe five minutes. Dunno why CG had to make such a big deal out of what a hurry they were in; the food arrived basically as fast as my pho shows up at pho places. (Editor's note: on Tuesdays, Alden reads this terrible book and eats pho. The pho is his reward. Pho.)

"So help me God, Anastasia, if you don't eat, I will take you across my knee here in this restaurant, and it will have nothing to do with my sexual gratification. Eat!"

Jeez, keep your hair on, Grey. My subconscious stares at me over her half-moon specs.

She is wholeheartedly in agreement with Fifty Shades.

There's a lot of weird going on here, right? I like how CG says that spanking Ana wouldn't be about sex, but we're all, "Um, yeah pretty sure it would be." But doesn't this just confuse things further? I thought the whole role of punishment in BDSM was a sex thing, right? So he's literally saying that Ana just ought to be spanked? Like an old timey kid? Outrageous.

I enjoy Ana's use of the phrase "keep your hair on" because that's British for "keep your shirt on" which is a dumb cliché that good writers wouldn't include in their books and which bad writers at least ought to recognize as an inappropriate phrasing for an American character.

I have no idea what to make of the half-moon specs. When I google the phrase I'm getting all British stuff so I guess this is another phrase that ought to have been axed in favor of something else but I don't know the significance.

Also I don't care. For those unfamiliar, Ana's subconscious is her inner. . . something. It kind of works, kind of, if you believe in that sort of thing, as id, ego, and super-ego. Subconscious is kind of like super-ego because it's always telling Ana not to do stuff. Id is kind of like "inner goddess" because inner goddess always wants to have sex. But Ana proper really isn't like ego. She doesn't mediate between the two. She just gets chastised by them and feels bad. And also, in this case, subconscious is siding with CG, which is normally the role of inner goddess.

So basically what I'm saying is that I hate all the parts where we talk about Ana's inner nonsense, and it kind of seems like subconscious has traded sides but also I don't care. But as a rule, subconscious is sort of the "moral center" of this book. Whatever subconscious wants is, in the world of the novel, the "sensible" choice, whereas inner goddess is all about getting her swerve on. Hence it's kind of upsetting to read that subconscious is on board with Ana's hypothetical public spanking, since that suggests that we're supposed to see this hypothetical spanking as the "boring but sensible" option. How gross is that?

So Ana eats. And the food is great. Yay. I guess they must've accidentally found a steakhouse. Lucky!

Check out this marvelous conversation:

"Do you know who's singing?" I try for some normal conversation.

Christian pauses and listens. "No... but she's good, whoever she is."

"I like her, too."

And that's the end of that! Some people are intrigued by all the sex, but I'm reading this book for all the insightful discussion of music. Can't get enough of it!

They finish eating. CG explains why they're not helicoptering back to Seattle:

"No, I thought I might have a drink. Taylor will collect us. Besides, this way I have you in the car all to myself for a few hours, at least. What can we do but talk?"

Oh, that's his plan.

Don't you adore Ana's thoughts? I do! CG tells Ana his plan, and then Ana is all, "Oh, so that's his plan."As though I couldn't tell what CG's plan was just from him telling his plan. Also, I hate his plan. It's like a three-hour drive to Seattle, and the last thing I want is three hours of these two talking. That's the only thing that's good about the sex scenes. At least they don't talk during those. Well, CG tends to talk, but not as much, and Ana lies like a dead fish. (Editor's note: we're really looking forward to the next sex scene! Can't you tell?)

They get ready to leave the restaurant for CG's car, which Taylor is bringing to the restaurant. CG says he has a proposal for Ana, and here's what Ana thinks about this:

He has a proposition? What now? A couple of scenarios run through my mind: kidnap, working for him. No, nothing makes sense.

This is fun for me because I've been saying since the beginning that CG seems like a kidnapper, and also he did kidnap Ana one time, which is the main reason that I say he seems like a kidnapper. That's one of the main traits of kidnappers. They kidnap people. Weird that Ana rejects this idea since CG does have a track-record of kidnapping her. Maybe she figures that we wouldn't propose a kidnapping but would, like last time, just take her to a hotel somewhere. 

Once in the car, CG makes his driver, Taylor, listen to an iPod with earbuds so that Taylor won't hear CG and Ana talk, even though this is illegal in Washington State. True fact! I just looked it up! Now, at the beginning they are of course in Oregon, where you can literally do anything all the time. It's the wild west out there, except for the fact that you can't pump your own gas. They have special petrol artisans to do that for you. I also looked that up, too. Check it yourself. It's total anarchy, except for at the artisanal gas stations. Weird, right? But yeah. Earbuds on drivers are against the law in Washington. 

Once again, EL has come up with a weird solution to a "problem" that's long been solved. Plenty of fancy people have fancy cars with dividers so that their drivers won't hear their terrible rich people conversations. Why doesn't EL just give CG such a car? Dunno. 

"Taylor can't hear you," Christian reassures me.


"Taylor," Christian calls. Taylor doesn't respond. He calls again, still no response.

Christian leans over and taps his shoulder. Taylor removes an ear bud I hadn't noticed.

"Yes, sir?"

"Thank you, Taylor. It's okay; resume your listening."


"Happy now? He's listening to his iPod. Puccini. Forget he's here. I do."

"Did you deliberately ask him to do that?"


This is particularly inefficient storytelling, even for this book, which is comically inefficient at every opportunity. My favorite part is where Ana asks if this arrangement is CG's idea, because of course it's his idea! And how could CG ask someone to do something any way but deliberately? Did you accidentally ask him to do that? Ugh. 

Oh and Puccini? Taylor is listening to Puccini? Sure, why not. Maybe that's one of the things that CG makes sure of when hiring people: must share employers shitty rich-guy fake snobbery. Also, what? When CG tells Taylor to put his earbuds in, does he also insist that Taylor listen to Puccini in particular? Or is CG like, "Hey I wanna talk about sex with my ex, so put your earbuds in, brah," and then Taylor is all, "Oh word. Gonna get my Puccini on, boyyyyyyyy!" Yeah that's probably the thing that happened probably.

Also, that's such a rich guy move. "I don't even notice the help!" Gross.

I kind of want you to see this whole car-ride chat, because it's so terrible and I need someone to understand how terrible it is with me so that I feel less crazy. But also I love you, and I don't want you to have to endure this shit. So I also kind of want to just skip to the end. But wait. CG has a proposition for Ana. I wonder if it's about sex!

Oh. "Okay, your proposition?"

Christian looks suddenly determined and businesslike. Holy shit. We're negotiating a deal. I listen attentively.

"Let me ask you something first. Do you want a regular vanilla relationship with no kinky fuckery at all?"

What the hell? So like, CG changes his facial expression, and Ana is all, "Holy shit." Everything is so off-balance in this book. This totally meaningless shit creates these wildly overblown responses, but earlier, Ana was like, "Oh hey I wonder if he's thinking about kidnapping me? I guess I'll stop worrying and get into his car."

Also, there's only one person who can get away with using the word "fuckery" and that person is Amy Winehouse and she is dead.

Ana allows as how she likes it when things get a little cray-cray in the boudoir on occasion, but is against being beaten with implements, which seems like a super reasonable position. CG seems on board with this notion, but Ana is suspicious.

I gaze at him puzzled. "Are you attempting to redefine the hard limits?"

"Not as such, I'm just trying to understand you, get a clearer picture of what you do and don't like."

"Fundamentally, Christian, it's your joy in inflicting pain on me that's difficult for me to handle. And the idea that you'll do it because I have crossed some arbitrary line."

"But it's not arbitrary; the rules are written down."

First, I think it's fun how CG makes it sound like it's Ana who's hard to understand. He has never really given Ana anything like a decent sense of what he wants, other than her keeping still. He does want that. He's made that quite clear.

But even better! "But it's not arbitrary; the rules are written down." "The rules aren't arbitrary because I listed them in a Word document." The rules are all totally arbitrary! Writing them down doesn't make them less arbitrary! I mean, you know that. But how does CG not know that? Ugh. 

But here's what CG proposes:

"Anastasia, I want to start again. Do the vanilla thing and then maybe, once you trust me more and I trust you to be honest and to communicate with me, we could move on and do some of the things that I like to do."

Wow! Except for the shitty part where CG blames Ana for not communicating with him, rather than accepting the fact that he's a huge bully and their communication issues are all his fault, it's not that crazy an idea. Of course, this really only covers what kind of sex-stuff they do. Their problems go far, far beyond sex. What about how miserable they are all the rest of the time together when they aren't having sex? No mention of that!

I stare at him, stunned, with no thoughts in my head at all - like a computer crash.

And this is Ana's most honest assessment of her own brain. 

But anyway, Ana thinks this is just grand and they get all snuggly in the back of the car, until CG reminds Ana that she isn't allowed to touch him ever. That's part of their whole thing. He can do whatever to her but she can't touch him except as instructed quite specifically, because CG has a bunch of childhood trauma. 

CG talks more about this trauma, but it doesn't prove particularly illuminating. He does refer to his mother as "the crack whore" which really should concern Ana more than it does. I mean, could there be any more obvious proof that this dude has real issues with women? Then he adds that his mother committed suicide and that his younger self was stuck in the apartment with her, after her death, for four days before anyone else came by. But once again, I don't find that this backstory makes CG seem any more sympathetic. If anything, it just makes him seem more volatile. But I guess some people think he's hot or whatever? I mean, they must!

And that's where we will end this section. They eat dinner, and then CG finally says they can have sex without his complicated rules and that he won't hit her with things and that they can try out some of the stuff he's into later on once they've built up some trust. It took them a whole book to reach this conclusion, even though is exactly what somebody like me--who knows basically nothing about BDSM--would expect to happen between two people. 

But then, there were a couple points in 50 Shades in which it seemed like our heroes had gotten their shit together, and yet it turned out that they still had a lot of nonsense to argue about. So even though it seems at the midway point of Chapter 2 that maybe Ana and Christian can chill out for a while and not have to have the same discussion over and over, there is a lot of this book left, so I'm pretty sure they're just going to have the same discussion over and over.

Because that's what this whole book is. I'll summarize it:

Christian: "But I want to hit you while we have sex."
Ana: "I don't really like that but I guess I could put up with it kind of because I like you."
Christian: "Do what I say all the time!"
Ana: "Oh no! I don't want to! Subconscious doesn't want to! I guess inner goddess does want to! But the other two of us say no! What shall we do? Subconscious, inner goddess, and I operate on the basis of consensus, so we have a real problem on our hands when we don't have total agreement."
Christian: "Maybe we could just do missionary until the three of you reach some conclusions, so long as you don't touch me because of my troubled childhood."
Ana: "Oh, ok great!"
Christian: "But I want to hit you while we have sex."

See? It's just that on a big, dumb loop. I explained the whole thing to you. You can quit reading now. I will not stop writing, though, because of my dedication to my craft or whatever.

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