Tuesday, February 11, 2014

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 5 part 1

Ana storms out of the hair salon because she's jealous of Christian's ex-lover, Elena. Christian carries Ana around for a while like he's a goddamn Viking and she's the spoils of war because he's worried that a different ex-lover, Leila, might be armed and dangerous. 

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must inform you 50 Shades Shadier is both easier to read than its predecessor and more frustrating. It's easier to read because the occasional thing actually happens. Ana and Christian worrying about CG's ex-lover Leila is more plot that we got in the entirety of the first book, and we're only a handful of chapters in. And, eventually, Jack Hyde over at Ana's publishing company is going to turn into a plot point as well. He hasn't yet. He's sort of a proto plot point. Great! When you're writing a book it's a good idea to have some kind of plot.

But CG is continuing to make Ana miserable most of the time. He's terrible to her and infantilizes her at every opportunity. So Shadier is a book that presents us with a central conflict (Ana vs. Christian) but displays no curiosity about it. EL seems to think that we ought to become invested in the side story and forget about the main conflict. Or maybe she doesn't even realize that there is still a central conflict. I'm not sure how that could be possible! Once again, Chapter 5 sees CG utterly ignoring clear requests from Ana because he knows better or whatever. Ugh. It's a bit like the government taking every opportunity to say "The terrorists are out to get you! So don't worry that the bank is booting you out of your house! Worry about the terrorists!"

Here's another thing about Leila. Leila, who was once in a Dom/sub relationship with Christian, is a pretty good representation of how EL wants to have it both ways when it comes to BDSM. On the one hand, EL wants to write (bland) sex scenes involving improvised restraints and a few modest signifiers of kink. Fine. Whatever. Enjoy! She wants the trappings of the lifestyle, but she makes sure to let us know that everybody who actually enjoys the stuff is diseased. CG only likes to tie people up because he was abused as a child. And Leila--we don't know exactly what she's into? But we know that she suffered some kind of mental break and now is insane. 

So basically, Ana is magic. Via the power of her (relative) virginity she is able to handle CG's sexy-times, even though the power of his sexiness would surely ruin a "regular" lady! Only she can endure! Because she isn't really that into it anyway. Am I making sense? Leila is just going to serve as another bit of "proof" that Ana is special and that anybody who likes kinky stuff must be a dangerous maniac. 

And that's why this book is also kind of worse than the previous one. Shocking!

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. But then they get too horny to cook so they have sex.
  4. Ana and Christian eat dinner and then have ice cream sex and then in the middle of the night Ana has a dream about Christian's ex lover Leila, which worries Christian. Later, Ana and Christian fight about money, eat breakfast, and then go to a hair salon where the woman who introduced Christian to BDSM works.

As is typical of EL's style, even though she dropped a "big" reveal on us at the end of Chapter 4, she needs to re-reveal it, and she needs to take her time doing it. At the end of 4 Ana worried that the lady chatting up CG was probably "Mrs. Robinson," his older lover from his high school days. And now, EL belabors the point, and takes her time proving this thing that Ana already assumes. And we already assume it, too, because let's be real: Ana is so slow about figuring anything out, that when she does figure anything out, we assume it to be super obvious and therefore true.

In these early lines, though, we also learn that Mrs. Robinson (actually Elena Lincoln! OR EL! LIKE EL JAMES! OMIGOD I JUST FIGURED THIS OUT HOLY SHIT EL James fancies herself CG's original lover! From when he was fifteen! Gross gross gross but it totally works!) owns this salon with CG. Right? Get that? This billionaire financier is only co-owner of this little beauty shop. I dunno who's running CG's empire, but whoever's in charge is doing a super weird job of it, right? Small investments in super small, risky businesses? All these little vanity projects just seem silly. Whatever. 

This is a fun part, though! Well. Not fun. More weird. But kind of fun? I don't know you decide! Ana gets the receptionist at the hair place to divulge the name of the lady chatting with CG, and since Ana knows Mrs. Robinson's first name from an earlier conversation with CG, Ana learns that the lady is indeed Mrs. Robinson, even though absolutely nobody reading this book thought for a moment that EL was doing some kind of fake-out because she's not clever enough to do a fake-out.

I'm swamped by a strange sense of relief that my spidey sense has not let me down.

Spidey sense? My subconscious snorts, Paedo sense.

They are still deep in discussion. Christian is talking rapidly to Elena, and she looks worried, nodding, grimacing, and shaking her head. Reaching out, she rubs his arm soothingly while biting her lip. Another nod, and she glances at me and offers me a small reassuring smile.

Mostly I just copied this so that you could read the phrase "Paedo sense" which is somehow even worse thanks to EL's British spelling. Again, I'm reading an unlicensed version of this dumb book, and I'm guessing that it wasn't edited for the US. The actual American edit probably didn't "edit" anything other than a few extraneous British vowels. I'm guessing that "Paedo" is unique to the British editions. "Paedo" is funnier than "Pedo" though so I'm fine with it. Remember: Ana acquired Paedo sense in the first book when she was bitten by a radioactive paedophile. Wait, did I make that up? I can't remember anymore but I might've made that up? Sometimes when I get bored my brain implants false memories to insure that I'm entertained. 

Ana is certainly justified in feeling weird about Elena. I won't argue that. But it's pretty obvious that CG is talking to Elena about Leila, and not rekindling their old romance or whatever. So I don't blame Ana for feeling bad, but I am rolling my eyes at her for doing such a poor job at interpreting context clues.

CG finishes up his chat with Elena, but Ana is feeling slighted and wants to split. I legitimately like this sentence:  "I just need to get away from all this fuckedupness." That's fun, right? That made up word? Tell me I'm not alone in this guys! Help me to overcome the loneliness that defines the human condition!

Here's a sentence that doesn't matter, but is just one of those little reminders that EL tends to describe physical action in a hard-to-follow manner: "Wrapping my arms protectively around myself, I keep my head down, avoiding the trees on Second Avenue." It's an ugly sentence, for sure. But wait what's she doing? Ducking under trees? I guess there are some trees on Second Avenue, probably. Somewhere. But this is like the absolute heart of downtown. This is one of the most-walked streets in the entire country, but EL makes it sound like it's a rainforest that Ana has to crawl through. Whatever. I guess I should just be happy about the fact that Ana's sensibly trying to put some distance between herself and CG. 

CG does manage an apology, even if it is a bit tepid. He's not so dense that he can't admit that, yes, it's a bit ridiculous of him to take Ana to this particular salon that has such close connections with his previous lovers. It's easy to see Ana's side on this one. CG is kind of just sticking her into an existing routine. He's not doing new, special things with her, but instead trying to incorporate her into routines that he shared with other women. 

This argument is interrupted by a phone call form Welch, CG's security goon. Of course CG takes the call. Nothing could be more important than Welch! It's a long, awkward one-sided call. EL does that thing where she makes CG say totally unnatural things just so that we can hear them:

"Killed in a car crash? When?"

Does anyone do that? Repeat lines back like that, after hearing some surprising news? I mean maybe at some point, I suppose. Most of the phone call is just cryptic and a waste of time. Much wiser to cut these chats as short as possible. Just let us believe that CG is receiving a bunch of information very quickly, and then have him hang up the phone and report what he's learned. These half-conversations aren't so much building intrigue as they are making me bored. I keep doing this thing where I feel like an uninteresting section goes on for pages and pages. But then I look back at the text and it's more like eight lines. Yawn. 

Here's CG filling Ana in after he gets off the phone:

"Leila left her husband about three months ago and ran off with a guy who was killed in a car accident four weeks ago."


"The asshole shrink should have found that out," he says angrily. "Grief, that's what this is. Come."

Do you like that first sentence? I do. The way CG introduces the idea of Leila's affair makes it sound a bit like some poor guy got killed in a car accident, and then got together with Leila. If only there were some ghosts in this book! They could only improve it!

I hate that little non-sentence there from Ana. "Oh." C'mon, EL! Give us a reaction! Let us know what our narrator is thinking! Ugh. 

And then the end there? I do not know who the "asshole shrink" is. And I don't know what CG means when he says "Grief." I don't know if he means that Leila is grieving her dead lover and that's why she's become dangerous, or if he just means "grief" to mean "trouble." Also I don't care because I don't care about any of these things.

I'm going to copy in a fairly long section here. Forgive me. You know, gentle reader, that me pasting in a long section is never a good sign. It means you're going to have to read a long chunk of EL's prose, without the buffer of my dumb jokes about it. Please just do the best you can, and I'll join you again shortly.

What starts this? CG insists that Ana has to relocate to his place because Leila is out there somewhere and maybe she's dangerous maybe.

He glares at me. "You are coming back to my apartment if I have to drag you there by your hair."

I gape at him... this is beyond belief. Fifty Shades in Glorious Technicolor.

"I think you're overreacting."

"I don't. We can continue our discussion back at my place. Come."

I fold my arms and glare at him. This has gone too far.

"No," I state stubbornly. I have to make a stand.

"You can walk or I can carry you. I don't mind either way, Anastasia."

"You wouldn't dare." I scowl at him. Surely he wouldn't make a scene on Second Avenue?

He half smiles at me, but the smile doesn't reach his eyes.

"Oh, baby, we both know that if you throw down the gauntlet I'll be only too happy to pick it up."

We glare at each other - and abruptly he sweeps down, clasps me round my thighs, and lifts me. Before I know it, I am over his shoulder.

"Put me down!" I scream. Oh, it feels good to scream.

He starts striding along Second Avenue, ignoring me. Clasping his arm firmly around my thighs, he swats my behind with his free hand.

"Christian!" I shout. People are staring. Could this be any more humiliating? "I'll walk! I'll walk."

Let's talk about the worst part first, shall we? Ok so the worst part is the part where he picks her up! And then spanks her! It wasn't enough to merely carry her around! Instead he has to spank her while he does it! Ugh. What a goddamn monster! Ana could not make it more clear that this is all against her wishes. But he does it anyway and I hate him because he's the absolute worst. I can't even really say much more about this event other than the fact that it's the worst. Definitely the worst thing CG has done to Ana in several days. 

Let me pick some additional nits, tho. Look at this sentence: "Fifty Shades in Glorious Technicolor." What the hell does that mean? It's such a weird, old-timey phrase, to start with. But what does it mean for "Fifty Shades" to appear in Technicolor? I mean, the implied extra phrase is "of Grey" right? Which has always kind of implied "of gray" as well, hasn't it? I thought that was the whole purpose for his name--the idea that he's literally gray. Stony. Hard. Difficult to read. Seems older than he is. And so on. So are we talking about a brilliant color representation of something that is itself actually gray? 

I'm overthinking all of this, I know. I've probably already thought about this phrasing more than EL ever did. But that's what infuriates me about these books! These little phrases just dumped in, which feel so out-of-place coming from our narrator who's all of twenty-two, and which basically don't make sense if you try to make sense of them. 

One last thing: notice how we keep seeing the phrase "Second Avenue." I wonder what EL's strategy is here. I don't see 2nd Ave having any particular significance. I'm pretty sure that if I were to be slung over some dude's shoulder against my will, I'd be equally terrified no matter which downtown street it happened on. But, it almost reads as though Ana thinks that 2nd Ave is a particularly inappropriate spot to be hoisted into the air. If only he'd done it on 3rd instead! This sort of thing would seem quite normal on 3rd!

I wonder if EL thinks she's giving us some geographical specificity. Here's my imaginary version of her thought process: "Ok so this is taking place in Seattle, and I want it to feel like it's taking place in Seattle, so maybe I should go ahead and like, mention some Seattle stuff over and over again. Like 2nd Ave! That's a totally unique Seattle thing that isn't in basically every city in the English-speaking world!" Ugh.

So I'm going to bring in one last stupid point about this stupid chapter and then go to bed. Here's another thing that EL doesn't understand about America: guns!

Ana sees that CG must've gotten some extra information over the phone with Welch because he's much more worried about Leila than he was before. So what's changed?

"She managed to obtain a concealed weapons permit yesterday."

Oh shit. I gaze at him, blinking, and feel the blood draining from my face as I absorb this news. I may faint. Suppose she wants to kill him? No.

"That means she can just buy a gun," I whisper.

Oh, hell. Would it have killed EL to do like, two minutes of research per book? That's all I'm asking now. Two minutes, total, per book. That doesn't seem cumbersome, does it?

I don't have to tell any of you how ridiculous this all is, right? Now, it is very easy to obtain a concealed carry permit in the state of Washington. That is a fact! But it's a totally irrelevant fact! Because obtaining such a permit does not mean you can just buy a gun! You can always just buy a gun! I mean, no not always always but basically always-always. It's quite unlikely that Leila has done anything that would remove her right to buy a gun, so the carry permit would be an extra little formality. It's a formality that you would not expect a dangerous, unstable person to undertake. 

The permit honestly makes Leila seem a little less dangerous to me. I'm not going to bother looking up any statistics. I'm just going to say this, which I think is basically intuitive: voluntarily completing paperwork is not the sort of activity I associate with the dangerously unstable. "Before I murder Christian's new girlfriend, I'd better make sure that I go fill out that form so that it's legal for me to carry a concealed gun. I would hate to have to hide my legally-obtained handgun without a permit while en route to doing a murder. I am ok with the idea of doing a murder, but I want to make sure I'm not in violation of any other codes on my way to said murder."

But the real issue here is that EL thinks that Americans have to go through some tricky process before we get guns. That's cute that she thinks that, isn't it? Kind of precious, really. But the truth is that I bought two new guns just during the course of writing this little essay. Now, I don't take them anywhere, usually. And I don't have a concealed carry permit because ugh. Paperwork! You guys know what I'm talking about. I gotta fill out a form and go through a whole thing and just, ugh. Never mind! Not doing it! I'm an American, which means I'm pro-gun and anti-paperwork and there's only one bit of paperwork I care about at all, and that's the 2nd Amendment!

But seriously. This is terrible writing. Irredeemably bad writing. CG mentions Leila's gun permit, and Ana quits being upset about the fact that CG just got finished carrying her around and spanking her as a way of forcing Ana to stay at his home against her will. CG mentions this permit, and all his previous transgressions are forgotten. 

Not by me, though. I remember all of the shitty things you do, Christian. I write a blog about it. I even went so far as to obtain a concealed blog permit, which gives me permission to maintain this blog in total concealment. Basically nobody even knows that this blog is a thing! Just me, Christian. Pretty dangerous, right? 

I guess some other shit happens in the rest of this chapter, probably? Whatever. We'll talk about it later, probably. But maybe not! Maybe we won't! Maybe this spanking on 2nd Ave and this gun permit thing will just prove too much for me, and I'll never write again!

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