Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fifty Shades Shadier: Chapter 4 part 1

Ana and Christian eat some food and have more sex and then talk about Leila, one of Christian's ex-lovers, who may be stalking Ana. 

Stray thought:

I'm watching this tv show called The Following about this English professor who leads a murder cult. Anyway the murder professor is played by James Purefoy who's a British actor and the more of the show I watch, the more convinced I am that Purefoy would be a perfect Christian Grey. Yes, I know CG is supposed to be 27 or whatever, but everything Purefoy does in The Following fits CG super well. I think they should hold off on the movie and just put Purefoy in instead of whatever young guy they signed up.

This even looks like a scene from our book, right? I mean, minus the hoodie. Christian Grey doesn't ever wear a hoodie I don't think. Yes, I do think it's creepy that I'm watching this show about a murder professor and thinking, "Hey you know what? This is really making me think of Fifty Shades." Oh well!

Back to our heroes!

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.

EL is back to her old tricks. Chapter 4 begins with Ana "waking up" after sex. I mean, she doesn't actually fall asleep. But the beginning of the sequence still has a "waking up" feel to it, even though no time has passed.

Here's a cute part! CG is hungry.

"Come cook me some food, wench. I'm famished," he adds, sitting up suddenly and dragging me with him.

"Wench?" I giggle.

"Wench. Food, now, please."

Just kidding! Not actually cute. But I at least will give EL credit for, I think, trying to be cute. Usually, she doesn't even try. 

Soon, dinner is ready, and we get this totally not-weird paragraph:

Christian and I sit on Kate's persian rug, eating stir-fry chicken and noodles from white china bowls with chopsticks and sipping chilled white Pinot Grigio. Christian leans against the couch, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He's wearing his jeans and his shirt with his just-fucked hair, and that's all. The Buena Vista Social Club croons softly in the background from Christian's iPod.

Ok, so they have a couch they could sit on but instead they're just sitting couch-adjacent because who knows why. Once again I have to read the phrase "just-fucked hair" and now I'm punishing you by making you read it twice because I don't know how to properly direct my emotions. 

But get this! CG is wearing A) jeans and B) a shirt, but besides that? He's totally nekkid! This is some seriously racy shit guys! They'd have to tone this way, way down for a movie. I mean, no movie has ever shown a person wearing just jeans and a shirt while eating noodles, right? That would be a first for American cinema, at least, right? 

Oh and how is the music situation working, exactly? Is CG just turning up the volume on his tiny earbuds real loud? For all the time EL spends telling us about our heroes' use of Apple products, she still gives the impression of never having used any of them herself. 

Their conversation about food leads to a nice segue into some weird background stuff RE: Ana's life. I guess it's nice of EL to fill in some of these details / make some sense of things that made no sense. But it feels pretty perfunctory. This bit of biography doesn't help us understand Ana as a character any better, although I guess it does explain why she ended up at UW Vancouver, which was a mystery to me. Too bad this mystery's solution isn't more interesting.

"Did you your mother teach you?"

"Not really," I scoff. "By the time I was interested in learning, my mom was living with Husband Number Three in Mansfield, Texas. And Ray, well, he would've lived on toast and takeout if it wasn't for me."

Christian gazes down at me. "You didn't stay in Texas with your mom?"

"No. Steve, her husband and I, we didn't get along. And I missed Ray. Her marriage to Steve didn't last long. She came to her senses, I think. She never talks about him," I add quietly. I think that's a dark part of her life, which we've never discussed.

"So you came back to Washington to live with your stepfather."


"Sounds like you looked after him," he says softly.

"I suppose." I shrug.

What are we supposed to do about all this data? So this fringe character (mom) had a shitty marriage years ago. And? What is the purpose of this information? What is the purpose of giving mom all these ex-husbands? But oh well. At least we know how Ana got to Washington now, I guess. Yay. But you know what? It doesn't sound much to me like Ana took care of Ray. And, it offers even more confusionism. So did Ray actually adopt Ana? That would be kind of a big deal, right? A child leaving her birth mother to live with her step-father? That suggest a whole other story, right? Or maybe not. EL just makes up these details without thinking through their potential ramifications, and then I sit here and try to make sense of them, and then I can't. 

Speaking of people taking care of other people: here's a fun part!

"I want to take care of you." His luminous eyes glow with some unnamed emotion.

My heart rate spikes.

"I've noticed," I whisper. "You just go about it in a strange way."

His brow creases. "It's the only way I know how," he says quietly.

Ha! You know the old adage: if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Or whatever. If your only tool is intimidation and an endless supply of capital, then all you ever try to do is buy people or intimidate them. Fun! But the "only" way CG knows to "take care of" Ana pretty much makes her miserable whenever sex isn't happening. Grand. EL is furthering her "this is for Ana's own good!" thesis. This is not a strong thesis. 


"I'm still mad at you for buying SIP."

He smiles. "I know but you being mad, baby, wouldn't stop me."

Presented for your consideration without comment. (Editor's note: For anyone just joining us, SIP is the publishing company that Ana works at. So now CG is Ana's boss, kinda. seems healthy!)

CG then goes on to admit that if Ana gets a job elsewhere, he'll just buy that place too. (!) Ana! I've got an idea! Go get an internship at Microsoft. Wait! New idea! Get a job with the government! Find something CG can't buy! That's probably your best hope for escaping this dangerous stalker who seeks to control your life! Ana's reaction to this new bit of madness is awfully calm, considering just how bonkers CG is being. But, that's kind of her style.

But, our heroes haven't had sex in a long time so it's time for sex!

Nobody actually brings food into bed, right? I'm not talking about that time you ate a bowl of soup in bed because you were sick, or like, the one time you were like, "I have the whole house to myself! Therefore, I am going to watch an entire season of Sons of Anarchy on Netflix and eat a dozen Fig Newtons!"

I'm talking specifically about being naked with food and another person. Nobody actually does that, right? Because it's gross and super messy, right? Ok that's what I thought! But because EL doesn't really know how to write sex scenes at all, her strategery is merely to substitute "variety" for good writing, and her method for establishing variety is entirely prop-based. New props! This time, ice cream.

"Would you like dessert?"

"Now you're talking!" he says, giving me a lascivious grin.

"Not me." Why not me? My inner goddess wakes from her doze and sits upright, all ears. "We have ice cream. Vanilla." I snicker.

"Really?" Christian's grin gets bigger. "I think we could do something with that."

What? I stare at him dumbfounded as he gracefully gets to his feet.

All these "clever" things are not clever at all, is one problem. "Now you're talking" is one of those cliché lines that no character in any book ought to ever say ever, ever. Also, I hate this "vanilla" non-joke joke. We're supposed to regard it as Ana and CG's cute thing, but it isn't cute. And who the hell says, "Want dessert? I've got vanilla ice cream." I don't even think it's legal to just eat vanilla ice cream by itself. I mean is it? None of us ever have, right? You eat vanilla ice cream with your pie! Where's the pie, Ana? That's what I'm asking if I'm Christian Grey in this scene. Where's the pie?

Also? This is another one of those bits where the reader immediately understand what's coming next, and Ana is all, omg what could be coming next? This makes her look like a real, real idiot.

This ice cream sex scene is just so tedious. So, so tedious. 

I will skip over a fair bit of "fun" banter and bring us to this line because I think it's hilarious:

"This will do just fine." He looks up at me, eyes dark. "Ben & Jerry's & Ana." He says each word slowly, enunciating every syllable clearly.

HOT! Right? A little menage a trois, right?? Anastasia and a couple of aging hippies? And CG just there? Watching or whatever? Oh, I guess there's an apostrophe there, huh? So he's just talking about ice cream and sex? I'm so surprised! I hope Ana will make some further declaration, because I'm not yet crystal-clear on exactly what's going to happen next. 

I feel winded. Desire, dark, sleek, and wanton runs hot through my veins. We're going to have fun, with food.

Oh shit really?!? Ugh. We all knew this pages ago but I guess I'm glad that Ana caught on eventually. 

So they move into the bedroom. And it's so, so tedious. We've got CG telling Ana all about the fact that she's going to get ice cream on her sheets, which we know. And then he's got to tie her up because he's kind of got a problem where he can only enjoy sex if his partner is incapable of running away in the middle. And he's got to slowly take his clothes off because that's how we works. At least one person is enjoying this: Ana's inner goddess. Too bad the "person" having the nicest time is my least favorite aspect of this, my least-favorite book.

My inner goddess is doing a triple axel dismount off the un-even bars, and abruptly my mouth is dry.

Fans of the winter and summer olympics may well note that the un-even bars are a gymnastics apparatus, whereas the triple axel is a particularly difficult jump performed by figure skaters. I really hate this kind of line because I don't know if this is a weird joke that EL is making, or if she's actually misunderstanding these two unrelated sports, or what. Right? EL is kind of like the boy who cried wolf. She does so much that's unclever that I can't ever tell if she's actually trying to be clever when she muddles two different concepts together.

Soon CG is in bed with his ice cream or whatever. And again, I'm confused as to what's a joke and what's not.

"Hmm... it's still quite hard," he says with a raised brow. Scooping out a spoonful of the vanilla, he pops it into his mouth. "Delicious," he murmurs, licking his lips. "Amazing how good plain old vanilla can taste." He gazes down at me and smirks. "Want some?" he teases.

He looks so freaking hot, young and carefree - sitting on me and eating from a tub of ice cream - eyes bright, face luminous. Oh what the hell is he going to do to me? As if I can't tell. I nod, shyly.

Is the "quite hard" part about his boner? I mean, probably, right? But who cares. And I guess since "vanilla" is like, BDSM-speak for non-BDSM sex, CG is alluding to how fun sex without a bunch of props and domination and whatever can be, but at the same time, he's saying this while he's got Ana pinned down in her bed, tied up, and he's about to coat her with cold ice cream. 

I like the line "As if I can't tell" because Ana does really give the impression that she can't tell what's going to happen, or maybe even what's already happened. That's how out of it she seems. Also, Ana notes more than once how "young" Christian looks, and it strikes me as odd every time. Right? He's five years older than she is, but she kind of keeps asserting that he's childlike or something and that's a little creepy, right? Dunno. I do kind of feel like, on occasion, EL forgets that her narrator is 22 and not middle-aged, because I'm sure CG would look pretty young to EL if it were EL tied up. 

Next we get a longish period of CG "teasing" Ana by withholding ice cream from her and then feeding her some and then zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz oh shit sorry! I fell asleep. Where were we? Did the sex scene proceed without me? Did I miss the whole end??

Ugh. No. Still going. Still with the ice cream. CG is all dripping it on Ana and whatever and I can't even pretend to be interested. Then they have sex and it's the same as always except for they're kind of ice-creamy still and also they vary positions ever so slightly. Yay. 

"Come on, baby," he growls through gritted teeth and on cue, like the sorcerer's apprentice I am, I let go, and we find our release together.


They talk for a little while about how they feel big, scary feelings about each other. Whatever. 

And then, when they're done with that, CG invites Ana to some charity thing his dad is throwing. Yay. 

I kind of want to end here but I feel bad about the idea of leaving you, gentle reader, with two consecutive sex-only posts, so I'll proceed a little deeper into this chapter and tell you about some token "plot" developments.

Next, Ana is asleep again. And she's dreaming about CG's ex-lover--the woman Ana saw earlier that evening on her way over to the bar. Only get this! In this dream, that ex-lover is Ana! Isn't that so clever and trippy? She's imagining herself as CG's ex-lover! Terrifying! Ana wakes up screaming!

I hate the use of dreams in all books all the time. I particularly hate the way it gets used here. First, Ana waking up from this "nightmare" alerts CG to the fact that Ana ran into the ex-lover. So, Ana sort of accidentally advances the plot. She's such a passive character. Such a sad, passive character. She literally accomplishes more for the plot while asleep than she does while awake. Ugh.

Also, the "scary dream" is a kind of cheaty way to suggest the elevation of stakes. Ana's dream scares her, because it's a scary dream, and her change in emotional state is meant to make us worried, too. But nothing has changed. Nothing is different for Ana after the dream. Whatever amount of danger she's in after the dream--it's exactly the same as whatever amount she faced before the dream. But we're supposed to get all nervous. Oh noes! Not a scary dream!

Here's the fun part where Ana wakes up:

"Jesus, Ana!" Christian is shaking me awake.

I am so disorientated. I'm at home... in the dark... in bed with Christian. I shake my head, trying to clear my mind.

"Baby, are you okay? You were having a bad dream."


I find it just super cute the way Ana just says "Oh." Oh is that what happened? "You were having a bad dream" is the sort of dumb thing that people say in poor works of fiction. It's a line directed at the audience. That's always a good test to apply to dialogue. Is this something that Character A would say to Character B, or is it just something that I want the reader to know? But of course, the reader (us, or, I hope, just me) knows because it's pretty mutterblushing obvious that Ana was having a bad dream. "Oh," she says. Oh. Thank you for telling me what's going on literally inside my own brain, guy! Gross.

And then they have a little chitchat about Ana's earlier run-in with Leila, one of CG's ex-lovers. Ana, permanently insecure, is worried, but not about the fact that Leila might be yet another dangerous stalker. She's worried that CG might like Leila more. That's fun, right? Right. 

CG calls up his security guy and then tries to sex Ana again but she decides to make tea because she's an American, by god, and that is what Americans drink all the time. You can pretty much set your watch by our tea-drinking. 

We all know what's going on, but not Ana. "My anxiety level has shot to defcon one. Is he going to tell me the problem? Or am I going to have to dig?"

Ugh. Go ahead and dig, Ana! And by all means, please do tell us what you find. Tell us when you've reached the conclusion that Leila is a former lover of CG's and that they split up on bad terms and now CG has reason to believe that Leila might well be a danger to herself and others, particularly Ana, because Leila is jealous of Ana's relationship with Christian.

That's not a good sign, right? The reader is stuck wishing for the opportunity to explain to the characters in the book what's happening in the plot. I want to pull Ana aside and catch her up to speed, because her failure to understand the most basic details of this story is really slowing this whole process down.

CG confirms our assumptions: Leila showed up at CG's place while he was busy stalking Ana in Georgia during the previous book. At CG's place, she sliced her wrist in front of CG's housekeeper, Gail Jones. I forget if I mentioned before that Leila was wearing a bandage on her wrist when she came up to Ana at work. Either way, a wrist bandage is a pretty obvious shorthand for "attempted suicide" but Ana is not smart enough to pick up on obvious shorthand. 

We also learn that Leila has been married for two years to a dude she met after things ended between her and CG. CG suggests that Leila's return has something to do with Ana, which strikes me as unfair. Leila is not well, but that's not Ana's fault.

Ana sees basically no difference between herself and Leila, which is weird: 

I stare at Fifty, magnificently naked from the waist up. I have him; he's mine. That's what I have, and yet she looked like me: same dark hair and pale skin. I frown at the thought. Yes... what do I have that she doesn't?

Those are the only characteristics worth considering, right? Hair color and skin tone? Ana and Leila both have dark hair and pale skin! They must be clones! Who could even tell them apart from each other? Too hard! Don't even bother! How could CG possibly prefer one brown-haired, pale-skinned woman over another woman of the same general description? No idea, but Leila must be even more useless than Ana, right? I mean, anybody less interesting than Ana must be a real zero.

Then, they do run back to the bedroom to do sex again. At least this time EL spares us the scene and just jumps ahead to later in the morning when they wake up. I'll end us there, for this post. It's another sex scene, but I didn't have to write about it so I won't make you read about it either. 

The fact that CG is so eager to screw again after Ana's nightmare basically undercuts any elevation in stakes, though. News can't be that bad if your first reaction is to have sex.  I feel like we were supposed to get all worried about Ana's dream and about Leila, but they leap back into bed so quickly that it's hard to take the threat seriously. 

But then, it's hard to take anything about this book seriously. 

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