Tuesday, January 14, 2014

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 3, part 1

Ana is confronted by one of Christian's former lovers.

Just so you know, I'm aware that a lot of these posts seem nit-picky. I know that you may read some of my complaints and say, "What's the big deal? EL James doesn't understand iTunes? Fine. Who cares?"

And yeah. Does it matter that EL doesn't understand that the songs on Ana's new iPad are available to her for use on her other devices? No. No writer is going to get every little detail right in a 1,500-page trilogy. And even if a writer were to get everything right about these little technical points, that's the sort of thing that won't matter in a few years anyway. So, for instance, Ana's excitement about the iPad already seems a little silly now that the things are everywhere. The fact that EL doesn't seem to understand how iPads work is obnoxious, but it takes more than a little thing like that to ruin a scene.

The problem with this book isn't that EL gets the occasional detail wrong. The thing about this book is that EL gets absolutely everything wrong. Ana is confused about every detail of modern life, and then most of the details about modern life that are offered to her are at least slightly askew. And as the mistakes pile on, smaller little issues start to take on added significance. A mistake that we might've overlooked if it were an isolated incident starts to seem huge.

So, yeah. It's completely insignificant that EL James doesn't get how iPads work, but when you've been suffering through all these similar screw-ups for hundreds of pages, you find yourself yelling at your book over the most insignificant bullshit.

Plus, EL James is a billionaire because of these terrible books. If this thing were just another story on a fanfic message board, I wouldn't complain in the slightest. But somehow, EL James is the most widely-read author of the 21st century, but can't even be bothered to figure out how an iPad works, and I'm pretty upset about it.

But back to our story, such as it is.

Our story thus far:

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.
  1. Ana starts her new job at a publishing company and agrees to let Christian give her a ride to José’s art show. It turns out they both miss each other or whatever.
  2. Ana and Christian eat steaks at a restaurant. They rekindle their “romance” and Christian says that they won’t have to have rules anymore and he won’t punish Ana. They drive back to Seattle and Christian gives Ana back the expensive gifts that she'd returned to him when they broke up, along with a new iPad.
So, Chapter 3.

EL James manages to start this chapter with something other than several pages of Ana figuring out how to wake up and get out of bed, and I can't help but feel a little disappointed. If EL gets even just a tiny bit better at writing, these books will just be dreary and boring instead of weird and nonsensical and boring. Plain boring is even worse than dizzyingly terrible and boring. 

Don't get too worried, though. Even though I'm glad we don't start with Ana waking up, what we get instead is not actually good:

The one good thing about being car-less is that on the bus on my way to work, I can plug my headphones into my iPad while it's safely in my purse and listen to all the wonderful tunes Christian has given me. By the time I arrive at the office, I have the most ludicrous grin on my face.

Fun, right? You see, there is no way for a person to listen to the music that's on an iPad while driving in a car. It's impossible, and there's no sense even trying to imagine a scenario in which a person could listen to music in a car. So don't even think about it. Also, I'm glad that Ana made it clear that her precious iPad was stowed safely in her purse, so as not to be stolen. I was really worried there for a minute. 

Also, I am going to be furious if Ana never does anything on her iPad except listen to music. I mean, it's her fictional machine and it doesn't actually exist so on the one hand of course I don't really care at all. But since Ana already owns an iPod, which is a convenient thing to carry around and is intended only for listening to music, it's really going to irk me if Ana only uses her iPad as an oversized iPod. CG probably bought all the "wonderful" tunes at the iTunes store, so of course it would be pretty easy for Ana to share them from an inconvenient device over to a convenient one.

I agree with the end of the paragraph, though. If CG's shitty mixtape is enough to infect Ana with a long-lasting grin, that is pretty ludicrous. 

At the office, evil boss Jack Hyde tells Ana that she looks "radiant" which is indeed a real stunner. Ana thinks it's inappropriate, and she's right, but also it sounds like something a soap opera character might say, not a real person. Oh well. Email time!

Ana and CG flirt over email for a while and CG shames Ana for not eating enough food. Look back at that sentence, please. I could stick that into every chapter of every book in this series, minus the first handful of chapters in Book 1. You know, the ones before Ana got her first computer and email address. (Cringe. Remember that, friends? Remember when EL tried to convince us that a college student graduating in the year of our internet two thousand and eleven didn't have an email address? That was a fun time, right?) Because that's pretty much the only thing that happens in this book: Ana and CG flirt over email for a while and CG shames Ana for not eating enough food and then they meet up later for sex. Repeat a billion times.

One fun thing about these emails, though, is that EL includes timestamps. 

Let's just accept the fact that the first email is marked "8:05 AM" and pretend that it makes sense that this publishing company would start its business day at 8. Particularly hard to believe considering that, in the first chapter, Ana left work at 5:30. So her hours are 8AM-5:30? At a publishing company? What, EL James can't even be bothered to the math to figure out an eight hour day?

Sure, why not. Anyway, Ana finishes her morning emails and decides to start in on her actual work. And look--don't get me wrong. I'm basically the last person to say that people ought to do work when they're at work. The whole idea of work is just like, a place you go, where you try to avoid doing work, right? Right. But still, it is pretty hilarious that Ana only starts doing her work after she's read through an email with the timestamp 8:36. Maybe her real day starts at 8:30 and she just likes to email-flirt for a half hour before getting started? Perhaps! Still shaving off a half-hour is pretty impressive, right? Maybe that's standard for you desk-job people, and I'm just unlucky. 

I sit grinning at the screen like an idiot. But I need to read these chapters for Jack and write reports on all of them. Placing the manuscripts on my desk, I begin.

At lunchtime I head to the deli for a pastrami sandwich and listen to the playlist on my iPad. First up there's Nitin Sawhney, some world music called "Homelands" - it's good.

Mr. Grey has an eclectic taste in music. I wander back, listening to a classical piece, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughn Williams. Oh, Fifty has a sense of humor, and I love him for it. Will this stupid grin ever leave my face?

There really is an awful lot of terrible jammed into this quick sequence. 

1. The grins! Already in this chapter we had "ludicrous grin" and now we add "grinning at the screen like an idiot" and "stupid grin." Ugh. Embarrassing. You know that "grinning like an idiot" is not the only way to say that a person is happy, right, EL? In fact, it's one of the worst ways to say it! Most of the other ways of saying that a person is happy are superior! Terrible.

2. This might be my favorite-ever 50 Shades capsule review. "Homelands" - it's good. Groan. What the hell was the point of that? Did people pay for advertising space in this terrible book? I took CG's advise--"always start with wikipedia"--and looked up Mr. Sawhney. Turns out, he's basically a composer within the mainstream of British electronic music. And all his music kind of sounds like something from a Lexus commercial. And also he's from England. Oh! But he's got brown skin this so must be "world music."But seriously. Putting that all aside: I can't even begin to figure out why EL brought up this song. Is there a soundtrack album she's trying to sell? Probably.

3. "Fifty" does not have a sense of humor. You think that's a joke, Ana? CG includes a song based on another song that he played for you while you had sex? That is not much of a joke. 

I bet you can't guess what happens after lunch!

Seriously, try to guess.

I'm only giving you one guess. Guess what Ana does after lunch.

DING! Yes. You are correct. Time for more emails. Ana tells CG that she's bored, and CG writes this back and I love it the most:

You should have come to work for me.

You wouldn't be twiddling your thumbs.

I am sure I could put them to better use.

In fact I can think of a number of options...

So, Christian wants Ana to stick her thumb up his butt, right? I mean, it kind of pains me to write that? But like, there isn't another option, is there? I mean, what else is CG going to make Ana do with her thumbs? He says there are "a number of options" and I guess that's true in the sense that "one" is a number. Or maybe there are two options, since Ana has two thumbs. And CG probably only has the one butt, so you multiply thumbs by butts and you get the number 2. Don't worry guys. I double checked. The math is solid. 

He signs off with this: "Your e-mails at SIP are monitored." OH SNAP! Now, at this point we all know the NSA is collecting every email we ever send and probably even knows our Candy Crush scores or whatever, too. Seems unlikely to me that some little Seattle publisher is spending much time monitoring employee email but sure, why not. Let's say they are. Here's an idea: switch to sending texts like a regular person, Ana! I mean, you still have the NSA thing that way, but the NSA doesn't care what happens between Ana's thumb and Christian's butt, probably. Ana flips out and deletes her emails to be safe or something.

Time for evil boss to come and be evil!

Promptly at five thirty, Jack is at my desk. It is Dress-down Friday so he's wearing jeans and a black shirt. He looks very casual.

"Drink, Ana? We usually like to go for a quick one at the bar across the street."

"We?" I ask, hopeful.

"Yeah, most of us go... you coming?"

For some unknown reason, which I don't want to examine too closely, relief floods through me.

"I'd love to. What's the bar called?"


"You're kidding."

He looks at me oddly. "No. Some significance for you?"

"No, sorry. I'll join you over there."

"What would you like to drink?"

"A beer please."

It's weird that America never came up with it's own version of the British concept "dress-down Friday." But we never did, so it makes perfect sense that Ana would use this Britishism since, as we know, there is no local equivalent and if we ever wear casual clothes on a Friday, we just call that "dress-down Friday" like Ana does here. 

Moving on, it's pretty unclear who "most of us" refers to since we have not yet encountered another soul at this publishing company so far in this book. It's just Ana and Jack oh and I guess there's an Elizabeth somewhere? Sure. So three people. Maybe we'll meet some new faces at the bar and that will be very exciting.

Also the bar is called 50s which is maybe the dumbest thing in this whole book, right? 50s? I mean, I guess it would be ok if 50 Cent owned a bar, right? Otherwise, that's totally ridiculous. Their interaction is pretty weird too though. Here's a version that would make more sense:

Promptly at five thirty, Jack is at my desk. He's wearing jeans and a black shirt. He looks very casual. It is casual Friday so I guess this makes sense.

"Would you like a drink, Ana? We usually like to go for a quick one at the bar across the street."

"We?" I ask, hopeful.

"Yeah, most of the staff go. Care to join?"

For some unknown reason, which I don't want to examine too closely, relief floods through me. Probably I'm just glad that I will not be alone with my creepy boss.

"I'd love to. No sense in me asking the name of the bar since it's across the street, and I see it all the time."

"That's right. We both know that the bar across the street is called 50s."

"Strange name for a bar."

He looks at me normally. "You are correct."

"I'll join you over there."

"I'll just let you order a drink when you arrive, then, like a regular person."

"Good idea."

My prose isn't great, but I think you'll agree that my version makes a good deal more sense, right? I mean, Ana doesn't know the name of the bar across the street? I mean, it would make some sense if Ana asked which bar across the street, because maybe they work in an area with a lot of bars. But no. That's not what Ana asks. She asks the name of the bar, even though one would assume she'd have seen it. 

And what? Jack is going to order her a drink before she gets there? This isn't like ordering a pizza. It's not a long process! Who the hell orders a drink before the drinker arrives to drink it? Bizarre. 

Next? This:

I make my way to the powder room and e-mail Christian from the Blackberry.

Make up your own explanation for why Ana says "powder room" and why she doesn't just use her Blackberry wherever. They exchange four emails in six minutes in exactly the sort of quick exchange that regular people would use text messages for. Ana thinks it's delightful that the bar they're going to is called 50s and also this doesn't make sense at all. It's a dumb name for a bar, and also, CG doesn't know that Ana has taken to thinking of him as "50" because of that one time he said he was "fifty shades of fucked up." But I guess somehow this is just their special number so while Ana is in the bathroom, she emails CG about their special number and he says he'll be by the bar shortly to pick her up.

Ana looks in the mirror and I guess she looks better than she has of late and she's feeling good and also wearing the shirt that Taylor bought for her back in Book 1 that time that she puked on herself and Christian kidnapped her. Remember that time? Fun, right? She spends some time thinking about her clothes and at this point, I believe that Ana only has clothes that a)Taylor bought her that time she puked on herself or b) she stole from her roommate Kate. Oh well!

This scene in the mirror is "important" because of the contrast between how Ana looks and how the plot device looks who's waiting for Ana outside the bathroom.

That's right! You heard me! A plot device! Srsly!

I'll just go ahead and share this whole thing with you because it's probably important or something and also I really procrastinated pretty badly and you guys know I'm trying to reach a minimum wordcount here, right? That's right--I'm paid by the word, even if I just copy and paste from EL James. Which is funny because that's how EL James does most of her own writing. Just copies from previous books.

As I head out of the building, I hear my name called.

"Miss Steele?"

I turn expectantly, and an ashen young woman approaches me cautiously. She looks like a ghost - so pale and strangely blank.

"Miss Anastasia Steele?" she repeats, and her features stay static even though she's speaking.


She stops, staring at me from about three feet away on the sidewalk, and I stare back, immobilized. Who is she? What does she want?

"Can I help you?" I ask. How does she know my name?

"No... I just wanted to look at you." Her voice is eerily soft. Like me, she has dark hair that starkly contrasts with her fair skin. Her eyes are brown, like bourbon, but flat.

There's no life in them at all. Her beautiful face is pale, and etched with sorrow.

"Sorry - you have me at a disadvantage," I say politely, trying to ignore the warning tingle up my spine. On closer inspection, she looks odd, disheveled and uncared for. Her clothes are two sizes too big, including her designer trench coat.

She laughs, a strange, discordant sound that only feeds my anxiety.

"What do you have that I don't?" she asks sadly.

My anxiety turns to fear. "I'm sorry - who are you?"

"Me? I'm nobody." She lifts her arm to drag her hand through her shoulder length hair, and as she does, the sleeve of her trench coat rides up, revealing a soiled bandage around her wrist.

Holy fuck.

"Good day, Miss Steele." Turning, she walks up the street as I stand rooted to the spot.

I watch as her slight frame disappears from view, lost amongst the workers pouring out of their various offices.

What was that about?

OMG SO CREEPY. Well. Kind of, maybe. Perhaps.

This isn't well-written, of course, because nothing that EL writes is ever written well. It's serviceable, though. I don't think that EL's descriptions of this mystery woman are terrible, but they are overdone. She's kind of hitting the same note from a slightly different angle again and again and she could really establish the same idea in fewer words. It's weird that this mystery woman is wearing a trench coat because that's always weird, but the bandage is a pretty good little detail. (Editor's note: Alden is grading this on a curve. The bandage is a pretty good little detail by EL's typical standards.)

It is madness that this other young woman calls Ana "Miss Steele" and it's madness that she says "Good day" but these are stupidities that I expect we're all kind of getting used to, like an old injury that only troubles us now and again.

What really ruins the scene is Ana's stupidity. Once again, the reader knows exactly what's going on and Ana doesn't. "What was that about?" Ana asks, and we sort of want to pull her aside and maybe diagram the plot for her. And when I say "diagram" I mean literally that we should draw her a series of pictures since she maybe isn't smart enough to handle language.

You, gentle reader, aren't even reading this book, but you know what's going on. This mystery woman is "the situation" from the end of the previous book. This must be an ex-lover of Christian's, and she's stalking him or maybe stalking Ana or maybe both or maybe just suicidal? In any event, she's bad news. But the scene is kind of a flop because instead of getting nervous with Ana, we want to yell at Ana for being such a dunce. She just isn't putting the pieces together at the speed that the reader is, and that is always obnoxious. I think it's really best if the narrator is just a tiny bit smarter than the reader. I want her to figure things out just the instant before I do. Instead, we're figuring out shit that Ana is never going to figure out, and it's just obnoxious. "What was that about?" Are you really paying so little attention, Ana? Gross.

But wait! She does kind of figure it out. Kind of.

Confused, I cross the street to the bar, trying to assimilate what has just happened, while my subconscious rears her ugly head and hisses at me -  She has something to do with Christian.

A couple things about this. Has Ana been calling her subconscious ugly before? I forget and also I don't care. This is weird though, right? Right. Note the pronoun confusion that EL gets herself into. That final "she" seems like it's going to be about "subconscious" but it's about the mystery woman. That's the sort of thing an editor would like, you know. Edit. 

More important, all Ana figures out is that this woman "has something to do with Christian." Or, at least, that's all Ana admits to us. Obviously this lady is "the situation" and obviously she used to get spanked or whatever by Christian. Thanks for your help, Ana, but we're kind of figuring things out better without any help from your or subconscious.

Ana steps into 50s, which is a bland-sounding sports bar. Yay. Then this implausible thing happens:

"Hi, Ana!" Jack hands me a bottle of Bud.

Jack. Hands. Ana. A. Bottle. Of. Bud. 

a) What the hell? If you're going to buy somebody a beer, ask what kind they want, and also buy it when they show up. Don't just leave a beer on deck. 
b) Bud? In a bottle? So I don't know if you've picked up on this from reading these things? But I can barely handle Seattle. It regularly sends me into a rage-spiral and just when I feel like I'm recovered, I'll see another utili-kilt and and then I'm off the wagon again and have to call my sponsor at rage-aholics anonymous. But I'll tell you one goddamn thing about Seattle! There's wonderful beer literally everywhere, so anybody who buys you a Bud at a bar in Seattle is a terrible monster of a person, who must be avoided at all costs.

So I didn't really understand why Jack Hyde was making Ana so nervous before, but now I am on board. He is truly disgusting, and I don't know what he's up to? But it must be stopped. 

We really didn't make it very far into this chapter. There is a lot of Chapter 3 left. But, at least I took you in as far as the first truly important event in this trilogy, which is the part where Jack Hyde buys Ana a Budweiser. 


HaroldTGoldfish said...

I admired your fortitude for finishing book 1, but this is just torture, and prolly not the kind anyone finds appealing. May the powers that be help ya through it. Invest in a good Magic Eraser for your walls for when you end up hurling your book with great force. Since it looks like you're going to persist, here's 2 things to consider: a) perhaps Janine isn't a persona of Ms. James' rich interior life, because it makes sense that she's only acknowledged by first name. Career suicide. ... and b) go find your copy of the 5th? Harry Potter and revisit the passage where the Black family's house elf, Kreacher, is introduced.

HaroldTGoldfish said...
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