Tuesday, January 28, 2014

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 3 part 3

Ana and Christian have sex again.

Sometimes when I'm reading a particularly good book, I feel like I have to hurry through it, as though its characters might proceed without me while the cover is shut. With Shadier I feel the opposite. I return to, disappointed to find Ana and Christian precisely where I left them. If only something would've happened to them while I wasn't reading! But no. Nothing. Still boring. Still up to nothing.

Let's catch ourselves back up to speed, shall we?

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.
  3. Ana goes to work. She is confronted by one of Christian's ex lovers on her way out for drinks with her coworkers. Christian picks up Ana from the bar, and then they venture to a grocery store so that they can cook dinner at Ana's house. 

Isn't that depressing? I feel like I wrote a lot last week, but what happened? "Christian picks up Ana from the bar, and then they venture to a grocery store so that they can cook dinner at Ana's house." That's it? That's it! That's it. And what's worse: I didn't really even get us out of the grocery store. So I guess let's go back to the grocery store! Fun!

Ana is feeling concerned, for all the usual reasons. She hasn't had sex with CG in a few days and OMG maybe she never will again! Also she's jealous of all women who come near CG. Also, she has voices in her head with whom she organizes conspiracies. She is not concerned about this, but I mention it because I'm still pretty worried about it. Will anyone ever help this poor woman? No? 

Maybe we should just go to his place, then we wouldn't have all this hassle. I watch as he strolls purposefully and with easy grace out of the door. Two women coming in stop and stare. Oh yes, eye my Fifty Shades, I think despondently.

I want the memory of him in my bed, but he's playing hard to get. Maybe I should, too.

My inner goddess nods frantically in agreement. And as I stand in line, we come up with a plan. Hmm...

People are always stopping and staring and CG because he's so sexy. You know, just like people do in real life, which is why attractive people are so miserable all the time. Strikes me as more than a bit excessive for Ana to see women looking at CG and then grow despondent, but I'm getting used to her jealousy. 

I almost like this line--"I want the memory of him in my bed"--because it's kind of weird, right? Usually you look forward to the thing. You don't look forward to the memory of the thing that hasn't happened yet. So that's kind of fun and weird, right? But then I remember that CG has already been in Ana's bed, just not in her new apartment, and I don't really get what the big deal is. Also, I really enjoy the idea of them both playing hard to get, because then maybe they would just stay away from each other and I wouldn't have to read any of this any more. 

And then, Ana and one of the voices in her head "come up with a plan" together and that is pretty weird, but not in an intriguing way. So I'll just highlight it so that we can be not-intrigued by it together.

They get back to Ana's place.

This feels so... normal. Two people, getting to know each other, having a meal. Yet it's so strange. The fear that I'd always felt in his presence has gone. We've already done so much together, I blush just thinking about it, and yet I hardly know him.

This is surprisingly lucid. Ana admits to basically always being terrified of CG. No idea what makes her feel less scared this time, but good for her, I guess! But yeah. These characters scarcely know each other. Or, no. Let me rephrase that: these characters scarcely know anything good about each other. it's like they're both optimists who presume that they'll discover some good traits if they try hard enough, only I'm pretty sure they're both mistaken about the good traits.

They start making dinner and it's pretty dumb. CG has never cut a vegetable, which is fine. But somehow he needs help mastering the process, which I don't buy. I mean, it would make sense that he'd be slow at it or something. But he's seen a chopped vegetable before, right? Probably? Knows how a vegetable ought to look after slicing, right? He's pretty baffled. I wouldn't trust him with a knife, myself, but maybe he's stupidity in the face of a bell pepper is what's putting Ana at ease. He doesn't understand vegetables! Not so big now, are you, Christian Grey? 

During this meal preparation, Ana is all getting up in CG's business and rubbing up on him and stuff. Hey you remember how when Ana's horny she acts like she has an intestinal parasite? When CG gets horny he acts like he he's just about to snap into a homicidal rage. Is that what they call "chemistry"? Maybe! 

(Editor's note: Alden is reading this book online, which means that it's super easy for him to just copy and paste this shit, which means that he copies and pastes way more than is fair. And he's sorry? But also misery loves company.)

He puts down his knife and saunters slowly over to me, his eyes burning. Leaning past me, he switches the gas off. The oil in the wok quiets almost immediately.

"I think we'll eat later," he says. "Put the chicken in the fridge."

This is not a sentence I had ever expected to hear from Christian Grey, and only he can make it sound hot, really hot. I pick up the bowl of diced chicken, rather shakily place a plate on top of it, and stow it in the fridge. When I turn back, he's beside me.

"So you're going to beg?" I whisper, bravely gazing into his darkening eyes.

"No, Anastasia." He shakes his head. "No begging." His voice is soft, seductive.

And we stand staring at each other, drinking each other in - the atmosphere charging between us, almost crackling, neither saying anything, just looking. I bite my lip as desire for this beautiful man seizes me with a vengeance, igniting my blood, shallowing my breath, pooling below my waist. I see my reactions reflected in his stance, in his eyes.

There are elements of this that aren't terrible, but it's pretty terrible. It's pretty shopworn, of course: saunters, eyes burning, atmosphere charging between us, crackling. The "best" parts feel too familiar to be exciting, and the whole scene is undercut by two problems.

1. We know that they're about to have sex! It's so obvious that they're about to have sex! And I get it: they're in a relationship. And in relationships, even ones of like four days or however long theirs is, people reach a point where getting lucky isn't a big surprise. I would be unfair if I expected Ana and CG to seduce each other--and me, by extension--every time they do sex. But still. There's a bunch of build-up that I guess seems like it's supposed to be fun, but it's not fun.

And then, in hindsight, I guess Ana's "plan" that she cooked up with one of the voices in her head was to brush up against CG while they were making dinner. Ugh. So basically, her plan was, "Oh I know! Maybe I'll try flirting! Let's see if that gets me anywhere!" 

2. The chicken! They're getting ready to have sex and all we keep hearing about is this goddamn chicken! Ana claims that CG makes talking about raw chicken "hot, really hot" but this is a pretty great example of "show don't tell." Not only is "telling" kinda boring, it's not very convincing. Ana is essentially saying, "Look, you! I know that it seems like my boyf telling me where to stick this raw chicken would be pretty unsexy, but trust me! I can't explain to you why it's sexy, but it's sexy!"

I don't trust her, though. So I'm not impressed. And now I guess they're going to have sex but their "seduction" of each other has been a real cold shower for this guy. I'm talking, like, Raging Bull pitcher-of-ice-water-down-the-pants here. I do not want to read about them having sex. Can't they just do it and like, tell me when they're done? 

CG makes good on his earlier threat to make Ana spell out everything she wants him to do before he'll do it and while I sort of agree that this might be a good step for them, relationship-wise, it's a bad step for them, interestingness-wise. Sex is not a chess match. Don't worry; I'll explain. A chess match can be broken down into a series of discrete moves, because that's how the game works. I don't know what all y'all are doing, but I doubt you're doing anything like Ana and Christian. And I'm not just talking about sex dungeons. I'm talking about how their sex is always a series of discrete moves. One of them doing a specific thing to the other while the other feels feelings. EL's attempt to capture the details of these encounters rather than their tone just makes them seem so boring. 

CG's insistence that Ana make specific requests just slows the whole thing down and makes it worse. Ana doesn't do anything herself. She tells CG she wants to move things to the bedroom so he carries her there. And then tells him to take her clothes off because she's incapable of movement, I guess? And tells him to kiss her. 

"Tell me what you want, Anastasia." His eyes smolder and his lips part as he takes quick shallow breaths.

"Kiss me from here to here," I whisper trailing my finger from the base of my ear, down my throat. He smoothes my hair out of the line of fire and bends, leaving sweet soft kisses along the path my finger took and then back again.

"My jeans and panties," I murmur, and he smiles against my throat before he drops to his knees in front of me. Oh, I feel so powerful. Hooking his thumbs into my jeans, he gently pulls them and my panties down my legs. I step out of my pumps and my clothes so that I'm left wearing only my bra. He stops and looks up at me expectantly, but he doesn't get up.

"Oh, I feel so powerful." Again: show don't tell! You don't seem very powerful to me! But do you get what I'm saying? Ana's requests are just slowing the whole thing down and making me lose interest even faster than usual. Everything has this extra-slow cadence. I tell him to do the thing. He does the thing. I tell him to do a different thing. Then he does that different thing. 

Stray thoughts: where would I find "the base of my ear" do you think? My medical consultant is away tonight which means I can play music at the volume I want but also that I'll have until later to get the answers to some of my important questions, like, "Hey where's the base of the ear?" 

And these weird war metaphors! "He smoothes my hair out of the line of fire. . . " Ana is basically always scared of Christian, and then when they start getting freaky, we're hearing all about the line of fire, and taking prisoners, and digging out her foxhole. 

I made up that foxhole part. I'm sorry. That part isn't in the book. That was pretty funny, though, right? But yeah, more gross than funny. But c'mon. I'm just trying to get through this chapter! It's taken me weeks! Literally weeks! So the least you can do is forgive me one foxhole joke.

Ok this next part I'll apologize for in advance. Here you go!

"What now, Anastasia?"

"Kiss me," I whisper.


"You know where."


Oh, he's taking no prisoners. Embarrassed I quickly point at the apex of my thighs, and he grins wickedly. I close my eyes, mortified, but at the same time beyond aroused.

"Oh, with pleasure," he chuckles. He kisses me and unleashes his tongue, his joy-inspiring expert tongue. I groan and fist my hands into his hair. He doesn't stop, his tongue circling my clitoris, driving me insane, on and on, round and round. Ahhh... it's only been... how long... ? Oh...

"Christian, please," I beg. I don't want to come standing up. I don't have the strength.

"Please what, Anastasia?"

"Make love to me."

"I am," he murmurs, gently blowing against me.

"No. I want you inside me."

Ugh. I wasn't joking about the "prisoners" part! There we go again! "Oh, he's taking no prisoners." I don't know what that means! I mean, I do! It means he's executing captured enemy forces rather than holding them captive, which is a violation of the Geneva Convention. What if she said that instead? "Oh, he's really violating the Geneva Convention." What is wrong with me? I keep coming up with these dumb war jokes and now I want the whole scene to be them. Here are just a few of the possible sex / war jokes I'm kicking around in my head right now:

  • I demand that he open up a western front.
  • He kisses down my Maginot Line. 
  • He drops 3,900 pounds of bombs on my Dresden.
Wow. Even by my standards? I managed to run that from "pretty funny" to "sad and weird" with impressive speed! I'm sorry. I'm just trying to distract myself from this scene. At least this isn't the one where CG eats ice cream off of Ana. That's coming, though! Just you wait!

There's a lot that's weird about this sequence of events. In the whole first book, oral sex only happens once. Hence it's a bit presumptuous of Ana to say, "You know where" since it's not like it's an established practice for CG invade Normandy. 

Also I continue to be depressed by how dissociated from her body Ana seems. "I quickly point to the apex of my thighs." I imagine that EL is trying to be artful, but instead Ana just comes across as embarrassed about her lady-parts and I just think it's sad. It would be one thing if she were progressing toward greater agency, but she's not. Even here, although she's formally giving CG orders, it still feels like he's entirely in charge. He's just asserting his authority in a different way.

Last complaint about this bit: CG is only down on his knees, trying to decode Ana's Enigma machine for like, what, ten seconds? I know that the timeline is going to be sped up considerably, but this just feels weird. Like, I'm pretty sure CG spent more time taking off Ana's clothes than he did using his tongue and this gives the scene a disjointed quality. 

"I'm still dressed."

I gape at him in confusion.

Undress him? Yes, I can do this. I reach for his shirt and he steps back.

"Oh no," he admonishes. Shit, he means his jeans.

Oh, and this gives me an idea. My inner goddess cheers loudly to the rafters, and I drop to my knees in front of him. Rather clumsily and with shaking fingers, I undo his waistband and fly, then yank down his jeans and boxers, and he springs free. Wow.

Gross. Gross, gross, gross. Doesn't EL understand how gross this is? I won't quote the whole thing, but soon enough, CG is wearing only a shirt and that is the worst possible thing for a man to wear. He even takes off his socks! But his shirt is still on! Filthy. 

But what's worse is the fakey way that EL walks us through Ana's thought process. She's like a goddamn cartoon character, pausing for a moment, holding up a single finger because that's cartoon for "I haz an ideas!" And then a thought bubble appears above her head in which it occurs to her that she also has a mouth, and thus is capable of using it on CG's wang. 

Just for fun, let's take a look at how dramatically we can improve this sequence just by cutting:

"I'm still dressed."

I drop to my knees in front of him. Rather clumsily and with shaking fingers, I undo his waistband and fly, then yank down his jeans and boxers, and he springs free. Wow.

Right? Because all the other stuff was dumb garbage. What'd we cut? 1. The part where CG is a never-nude, because that's weird and not sexy. 2. The part where Ana consults with the voices in her head because that's the worst. 3. The part where Ana has to remind herself of the different things that consenting adults might do to each other. 

"Ahh. Ana... whoa, gently."

He cups my head tenderly, and I push him deeper into my mouth, pressing my lips together as tightly as I can, sheathing my teeth, and sucking hard.

Well, that sounds unpleasant! Am I reading this correctly? She's biting his dick, right? I mean, yeah, her teeth are not directly against his skin, but goddamn! If I were capable of feeling sorry for CG, I might almost feel sorry for CG here. 

Oh and then Ana narrates to us that she feels like Aphrodite, which makes sense, because Aphrodite bit tons of dudes on the dick. #Mythology

. . . he bends down, grasps me by my shoulders, hauls me to my feet, and tosses me on the bed. Dragging his shirt over his head, he then reaches down to his discarded jeans, and like a good boy scout, produces a foil packet. He's panting, like me.

Hey remember when CG was pretending that Ana was in charge of this particular sexual encounter? Well, we're finished with that pretense! More honest I guess. The "boy scout" bit is a reference to a dumb joke back in the previous book, recycled. Or, perhaps distilled. It was kinda dumb before, but now it's like, high-proof stupidity. Cask strength stupidity! Because it sounds like this: "You know how boy scouts are always careful to carry condoms, right? Well, CG, just like a boy scout, also has a condom." 

Then they have sex. And just like real-life awful sex, it lasts like ten seconds. But unlike real-life awful sex, Ana has an orgasm right when CG tells her to, and then the scene ends.

Wasn't that just the worst? At the beginning, EL tried to hit us with a variation on a sex scene from the previous book by making Ana nominally "in charge" but quickly grew bored of that tactic and once again put Christian in charge. The result is a scene that's comically "by the numbers." It almost makes me wish somebody got tied up, almost. Because at least then? When people get tied up? There's some variation! Will EL go with the zip ties? The silk tie? 

Ugh. I'm kidding. None of the sex scenes are interesting. But this one is particularly bad.

At least this brings us to the end of the chapter. At least we're making some kind of progress! 

Having a hard time feeling optimistic at the end of this one, though. 

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