Tuesday, May 20, 2014

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 13

Leila doesn't shoot Ana. Ana has some drinks with Ethan. 

I’m typing this from the bar at a bar. (Editor’s note: meta!) It took me ten minutes to screw up the courage to be the one weird jagoff typing at a computer and I mean, what’s the big deal? All these other jagoffs are looking at their phones, so is it really that weird for me to put my set up my Compaq Presario tower? I mean I had to get somebody to run an extra extension cord, but I really don’t see what the big deal is. 

I worked way too hard at that joke. I’m sorry. I’m just trying to kill some time before I have to start in on this chapter. Because let’s be real: it starts with one of the absolute most terrible starts of all time. I mean check this out: 

Holy fuck.
She’s here, gazing at me with an unnerving blank expression, holding a gun. My subconscious swoons into a dead faint, and I don’t think even smelling salts will bring her back.

Right? I mean look at that. Do I even have to say anything about it at this point? I don’t, right? You’re right there with me. I mean here’s my one question: who administers the smelling salts to subconscious? Inner goddess? I don’t even know what’s happening anymore.

So, let’s talk about what’s happening anymore:

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.
  5. Ana is upset by the sight of Christian's ex-lover, Elena, and storms out of the salon. Christian insists that Ana come to his house because his other ex-lover Leila may be armed. Christian picks up Ana bodily when she disagrees with him. Ana and Christian retire to Christian's house and Christian allows Ana to draw on him with lipstick so that she knows which parts of his body he is comfortable having touched and which parts are off limits. 
  6. Ana and Christian have sex and get ready for a fancy charity auction at Christian's parents' house. Then they go to the fancy charity auction, and Ana bids $24,000 on a weekend getaway at Christian's Aspen condo. 
  7. Ana gets auctioned off to Christian for the first dance of the evening, but before the dance, the couple retreat to Christian's childhood room for sex. Christian's ex, Elena, threatens to hurt Ana if she mistreats Christian. After the party, Ana and Christian drive home, where they are informed by Christian's security staff that someone, most likely Leila, has vandalized Ana's car and may have broken into the apartment.
  8. Christian's security goons conclude that Leila is not in the apartment, but soon she sneaks into Ana's room while she sleeps so Christian and Ana go to a hotel because Leila may be dangerous. Ana has another of her famous Sunday morning home appointments with her gynecologist. 
  9. Ana and Christian buy a car and ride on a boat. 
  10. Ana and Christian eat dinner and play pool.
  11. Ana returns to work and Christian follows every little thing she does from afar.
  12. Ana returns to her apartment to meet Kate's brother Ethan, but instead finds Leila, who holds a gun.

Right? So there’s Leila, in Ana’s apartment, staring at Ana, holding a gun. I might have to just make you read the entire chapter with me, right? This was the thing I was thinking about last night: wouldn’t it be sweet if you could get an annotated version of 50 Shades with all my dumb jokes interspersed? I mean, it wouldn’t be that great. It’d be better than reading the thing the regular way. But why isn’t that a thing? Mystery Science Theater but for terrible books? Why isn’t that a thing and more important--why am I not being paid to do it? Yet? 

Moving on:

I blink repeatedly at Leila as my mind goes into overdrive. How did she get in? Where’s Ethan? Holy shit! Where is Ethan? 
A creeping cold fear grips my heart, and my scalp prickles as each and every follicle on my head tightens with terror. What if she’s harmed him? I start breathing rapidly as adrena- line and bone-numbing dread course through my body. Keep calm, keep calm—I repeat the mantra over and over in my head. 
She tilts her head to one side, regarding me as if I’m an exhibit in a freak show. Jeez, I’m not the freak here. 
It feels like an eon has passed while I process all this, though in reality it is only a split second. Leila’s expression remains blank, and her appearance is as scruffy and ill-kempt as ever. She’s still wearing that grubby trench coat, and she looks desperately in need of a wash. Her hair is greasy and lank, plastered against her head, and her eyes are a dull brown, cloudy, and vaguely confused.

The first paragraph I included because of how hilarious it is to me that Ana’s mind could go into “overdrive.” I mean it makes sense. She’s basically been chugging along in first gear. Or, get this: sometimes, big trucks have a gear that’s even lower than first gear, so that they can go super slowly while doing things like hitching up trailers--tasks that require careful, precise movements. I think that that’s the gear that Ana’s mind is usually in, because we spend so much of this book waiting for her to figure out what’s going on. 

It’s sweet of her to worry about Ethan, I guess. I’m not worried about Ethan. I’m just hitting this paragraph by paragraph.

Oh and next one I’m going to make you read a second time: “She tilts her head to one side, regarding me as if I’m an exhibit in a freak show. Jeez, I’m not the freak here.

Is that how people look at things in “freak shows”? They just look the usual way, but with their heads slightly tilted? Is that like, the super insulting way to look at someone? Maybe! But what I really want to address is how yes, Leila is a “villain” or whatever but I’m uncomfortable with this paragraph. It’s judgmental, sure. I don’t like that. But I think my real objection comes from the fact that Leila is just so contrived

Reading this book, you sort of feel like there are really only two characters. No one has any vitality besides Ana or Christian and so none of the side characters feel like real people. They just feel like little hand puppets that Ana and Christian are holding, and so when I see Ana say, “Jeez, I’m not the freak here,” I sort of imagine Ana wearing a Leila sock puppet on her hand and pretending to be scared of it. There’s never any real danger, because Leila isn’t a real character. She’s just a different way of expressing the tension between Ana and Christian, and I have no patience for the tension between Ana and Christian. 

Oh and the last paragraph? I made you read that because of how much Leila looks like Gollum. Right? Wait until she starts talking! Even more Gollumy!

Ana does what anyone would do upon stepping into a room and noticing an intruder with a gun: she makes some tea. EL never does a good job establishing the spatial relationships between characters, despite the fact that this is kind of a book about spatial relationships between characters. In bed. Get it? But anyway. What I mean is that I don’t understand why Ana doesn’t just leave, or make any attempt to leave, when she sees Leila. Leila is threatening, in the sense that she’s not herself and has a gun. But she isn’t pointing it at Ana or making any demands of Ana. She’s just kind of standing around wistfully. Ana's decision to move toward the apparent danger doesn't seem to make lots of sense but nothing here ever does so whatever. 

I'm going to bounce through this pretty quickly. It's mostly just Ana talking about how much she's breathing. It seems a lot like lamaze class. 

Here's about a half-page you're going to have to read because I need you to agree with me that Leila is Gollum: 

"I am struck once again by how much she resembles me."
“Master—Mr. Grey—he lets you call him by his given name.”
“I’m not his submissive, Leila. Er . . . Master understands that I am unable, inadequate to fulfill that role.”
She tilts her head to the other side. It’s wholly unnerving and unnatural as a gesture.
“In-ad-e-quate.” She tests the word, sounding it out, seeing how it feels on her tongue. “But Master is happy. I have seen him. He laughs and smiles. These reactions are rare . . . very rare for him.”
“You look like me.” Leila changes tack, surprising me, her eyes seeming to focus on me properly for the first time. “Master likes obedient ones who look like you and me. The others, all the same . . . all the same . . . and yet you sleep in his bed. I saw you.”
Shit! She was in the room. I didn’t imagine it. “You saw me in his bed?” I whisper. “I never slept in Master’s bed,” she murmurs. She’s like a fallen ethereal wraith. Half
a person. She looks so slight, and in spite of the fact that she’s holding a gun, I suddenly feel overwhelmed with sympathy for her. Her hands flex around the weapon, and my eyes widen, threatening to pop from my head.
“Why does Master like us like this? It makes me think something . . . something . . . Master is dark . . . Master is a dark man, but I love him.” 
I'm reaching the point where I'm just kind of fed up with how terrible this book is, and hence can no longer be counted on to mention every shitty aspect of the parts I make you read. Mostly, I just want you to read this, and just try not to read it in Gollum's voice. Try it! See if you can do it! You can't because it's impossible because Leila is Gollum!

The other thing that's particularly reprehensible is "You saw me in his bed?" because that's already been established. We know that Leila was in CG's apartment and saw Ana there. That event was the whole driving force behind multiple chapters. Did anyone ever read this chapter and feel like this was some big revelation? That the thing that everyone believed to have happened did, in fact, happen? Ugh.

Oh and let's just take a moment to acknowledge how specifically terrible "and my eyes widen, threatening to pop from my head," is because that shit is terrible. That is just a terrible bit of writing there and there's no excuse for it.

But wait! There's more!

No, no, he’s not. I bristle internally. He’s not dark. He’s a good man, and he’s not in the dark. He’s joined me in the light. And now she’s here, trying to drag him back with some warped idea that she loves him.
“Leila, do you want to give me the gun?” I ask softly. Her hand grips it tightly, and she hugs it to her chest.
“This is mine. It’s all I have left.” She gently caresses the gun. “So she can join her love.”
Holy shit! Which love—Christian? It’s like she’s punched me in the stomach. I know he will be here momentarily to find out what’s keeping me. Does she mean to shoot him? The thought is so horrific, I feel my throat swell and ache as a huge knot forms there, almost choking me, matching the fear that’s balled tightly in my stomach. 
See, I don't even really know what's happening here.

Ugh. So, I hope it's getting clear that the person most hostile to BDSM in this enterprise is EL James herself, because look at that first paragraph: CG is leaving the "dark" for the "light" and Leila is trying to "drag him back." See, CG hasn't particularly improved is the thing. He's still a terrible boyfriend who shames Ana for not eating enough and spies on her and yells at her for having wet hair. Oh, but what's that, you say? He's less interested in consensual spanking than he used to be? Well isn't he just boyfriend of the year, then! Yay!

No, but seriously: this sequence makes it seem more like CG is a recovering meth addict being tempted by friends from his drug days than a dude who likes extra props in the bedroom. The message of the book seems to be this: watch out! If you get too kinky, you'll turn into Gollum, just like Leila! Be careful, kids! But of course, the real deal is this: CG is a terrible boyfriend, but his kinkiness is a real causation vs. correlation situation.

And also: "some warped idea that she loves him." Hey maybe Leila does love CG! I mean, that does seem kind of warped to me, since he's so unlovable. But it shouldn't seem that warped to Ana, should it? Since she loves him too? Whatever.

The end dialogue from Leila is the most confusing part, though: "So she can join her love." I don't know what that means at all. Any help? It's not like Leila has been speaking about herself in the third person, so I don't know who Leila is talking about at all, but it makes Ana all scared. Whatever.

But just in time! CG and Taylor burst in. Didn't see that coming! Just kidding! The situation gets resolved even more easily than I expected. But first, let's give Ana another opportunity to be pointlessly jealous!

I realize I’m holding my breath. What will she do? What will he do? But they just con- tinue to stare at each other. Christian’s expression is raw, full of some unnamed emotion. It could be pity, fear, affection . . . or is it love? No, please, not love!

His eyes bore into her, and agonizingly slowly, the atmosphere in the apartment changes. The tension is building so that I can sense their connection, the charge between them.

No! Suddenly I feel I’m the interloper, intruding on them as they stand gazing at each other. I’m an outsider—a voyeur, spying on a forbidden, intimate scene behind closed curtains.

Christian’s intense gaze burns brighter, and his bearing changes subtly. He looks taller, more angular somehow, colder, and more distant. I recognize this stance. I’ve seen him like this before—in his playroom. 
Then CG and Leila have sex right there in front of Ana and Taylor and I'm like, oh wow! This is a strange turn!

Just kidding. If that happened, then yeah, I guess it would make sense for Ana to be all jealous. But here she is, being all jealous, even though she won't shut up about how Leila is all dirty and looks like Gollum and everything. That's kind of why Ana and CG work so well together: they're the most jealous people I've ever heard of.

But I guess that CG still has some like, leftover sex-power over Leila because of the overwhelming power of his sexiness or whatever. Because literally all he has to do is mouth a word at Leila--doesn't even have to say it out loud!--and she drops the gun and cowers. Ick.

The there's some more of Ana being jealous! Basically CG wants Ana to peace out for a while, which basically makes sense. I mean, Leila kinda maybe wants to murder Ana. Maybe Ana should be in a different place from where Leila is! I mean if I ever find out that someone might want to murder me, I know that I would try to avoid being in the same place as that person. But Ana still thinks they're going to have sex and worries that her relationship with CG is in danger and I wish she were correct but obviously she isn't and so we get to be annoyed at Ana again for reading yet another situation incorrectly.

Ana won't even leave the apartment on her own--Taylor carries her! Ugh. I get so angry anytime anyone carries Ana everywhere. I mean I'm always angry at this thing but Ana's inability to walk during times of stress just fills me with absolute rage.

Downstairs, Kate's brother Ethan is waiting. Ana catches him up to speed RE: the standoff upstairs, and the two of them leave to go have a drink while CG does whatever it is that he's doing. One drink turns into several, but not in an interesting way. As in, I might want to keep reading if, for instance, Ana were to get drunk and then make out with Ethan, but instead, she just kinda gets drunk while repeating to Ethan all the stuff we already know about Leila and Christian and so on. EL continues to amaze me. Her ability to waste my time is, I think, without precedent. I've just read this chapter, and then I have to wait while Ana repeats the chapter to Ethan. I guess I should just consider myself lucky that Ethan doesn't turn around and repeat everything to his sister Kate over the phone.

During our third beer, a large cruiser with heavily-tinted windows pulls up next to the Audi in front of the apartment. I recognize Dr. Flynn as he climbs out, accompanied by a woman dressed in what look like pale blue scrubs. I glimpse Taylor as he lets them in through the front door.
“Who’s that?” Ethan asks.
“His name’s Dr. Flynn. Christian knows him.”
“What kind of doctor?”
“A shrink.”
We both watch, and a few minutes later they are back. Christian is carrying Leila who

is wrapped in a blanket. What? I watch horrified as they all climb into the cruiser, and it speeds away. 
Ok so somehow CG's therapist shows up with a police escort which makes not any sense at all because it would be daffy for CG and Leila to both go tot he same therapist, wouldn't it? I mean unless they were going together? And I'm sure they aren't?

But here's what I really want to know: how many mutterblushers are riding in this one cop car? Wait I guess in hindsight EL never makes it explicit that we're talking about a cop car. But who else drives a cruiser if not cops, right? Are non-cops even allowed to drive cruisers? Is there such a thing as a non-cop cruiser? Whatever.

Notice that not long ago, Taylor carried Ana downstairs. And now CG is carrying Leila, only she's wrapped in a blanket, so Ana notes that this is super weird. I mean, getting carried is one thing, but getting carried while wrapped in a blanket? That's just silly! Wait no that's exactly the same. Whatever.

Ethan walks Ana back to CG's house. Ethan does not stay at Ana's apartment; he makes arrangements to sleep somewhere else. They have locked themselves out of the apartment somehow, which is pretty dumb, but I don't care to give it any more thought.

Back at Escala, CG tells Ana that Leila is at a psychiatric hospital in Fremont which kind of makes sense because (Editor's note: remember to think up a joke about this. You know--since Alden works in Fremont and complains about that neighborhood literally every day. Something about like, oh hey! That's Fremont for ya! Whole place is practically one big psychiatric hospital. Amiright fellas? Something kind of like that only like, a funny version of that. Be sure to delete this placeholder before publishing.)

Ana and CG get into one of the fights that they're always getting into. CG flips out in a new and uninteresting way, though, so that's something different at the very least. It isn't better in any way, but it is different, so I guess that's something.

“No,” he breathes, his eyes wide with panic, and suddenly he drops to his knees in front
of me, head bowed, long-fingered hands spread out on his thighs. He takes a deep breath and doesn’t move.
What? “Christian, what are you doing?”
He continues to stare down, not looking at me.
“Christian! What are you doing?” My voice is high-pitched. He doesn’t move. “Chris-
He continues to stare down, not looking at me.
His head sweeps up without hesitation, and he regards me passively with his cool gray
gaze—he’s almost serene . . . expectant.Holy Fuck . . . Christian. The submissive. 

What is this even?

So basically, CG is doing the exact same thing that Leila did back at Ana's apartment and why is any of this even happening?

Ana didn't actually say that she was leaving him, or even really hint in that direction. She was just doing her same, tired thing where she's like, "Oh noes you want someone who has more kinks! You'll never wanna be boyfriend and girlfriend with me! I has a sad!" But for whatever reason, CG has this um. This, um. This thing happen to him. Panic attack? I don't even know. But it does seem to me to be just more evidence that he lacks the ability to cope with conflict and human emotions and should probably kind of work on himself a little and not be dating anybody. Right? Because that's one of those things that you kind of need to be able to deal with if you're dating someone--the possibility that you might have to stop dating them.

But that's the end of the chapter. CG disarms Leila and takes her to a psychiatric hospital. Ana argues with CG. CG becomes "submissive."

I think I'm going to basically stop talking about dominant / submissive relationships at this point because EL's version of this lifestyle is so weird and seems to have so little relationship to anything in the real world. EL basically makes it seem as though "dominant" and "submissive" are not roles that consenting adults adopt because they think it's fun, but rather some sort of mental illness which, in CG's case, is bipolar. Right? Leila is I guess monopolar submissive whereas CG is bipolar. Does that make sense? Of course it does not. But that's EL's fault, not mine.

And I know that I threaten to be done with specific topics all the time. I'm always saying that I've exhausted some particular topic, but then EL keeps annoying me in the same ways so I can't help but


FierceFierce said...

I am really loving these recaps! I've gone through the archives this last week (I've been sick and at home) and they've been massively cheering me up. Plus, as a writing hopeful it kind of seems like if this gets published, I could do okay? Maybe? Or maybe just fills me with despair at the state of publishing. I'll let you know where I land.

Alden Eagle said...

Thanks so much for reading! Sorry you've been sick but I'm glad to know this makes useful sick-day entertainment. I too vacillate between optimism and despair when I read this stuff. It's a heady cocktail.

Anonymous said...

I've burned through the archives over the last couple weeks and I love all your commentary on Seattle (I live here too), writing, writing about sex, and just, well, everything! Thanks for reading this so I don't have to.

Alden Eagle said...

Thank you so much! I do think that there's something uniquely unpleasant about reading this book about Fake Seattle from Real Seattle, so I applaud your decision to forego this book, even though every bookstore is stuffed to the gills with copies right now with new, exciting covers that say, "read me! I'm intriguing!" You lie, new book covers. You lie, and we know it.