Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fifty Shades Shadier: Chapter 18 part 2

I rushed through the last one because of the World Cup and I'm rushing through this next one because I'm going on vacation and I'll be in an entirely different country by the time this is posted. But really, the really-real reason I keep rushing through these is that this book is terrible and increasingly difficult to deal with. It almost managed a little bit of plot earlier--some of the bits with Leila and Elena introduced some legitimate tension into the first third or so. But those situations have all been seemingly dealt with handily, so we're just left to wait for Ana to decide if she'll  marry Christian. EL does introduce some new bullshit at the very end of this chapter, but I'm sure that's going to disappoint.

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.
  13. Christian disarms Leila and Ana has drinks with Ethan. 
  14. Nothing happens in Chapter 14. 
  15. Ana's boss confronts her in the break room after work. 
  16. Ana thwarts her boss's attack. 
  17. Ana is promoted to her boss's job and talks to CG's psychiatrist. 
  18. Ana and Christian visit a mansion he wants to buy and then eat dinner. 

Hey so I abandoned the last chapter in the middle of a really just miserable part and that should be a lesson for you: procrastination is always going to bite you in the ass eventually. That's just what happens! You put off some really obnoxious thing and then what happens? You still gotta do it. And then you're even more bummed out about it the second time around.

Right so Ana and Christian are seducing each other over food, I guess? In the first part of the chapter, CG told Ana to remove her panties and she did because he's the boss of her life or whatever. And now I guess she wants him to do sex to her right there in the restaurant? Because she keeps trying to touch him or whatever? I don't know. I wish they would just hurry up and get it over with so I can complain about different stuff but whatever. Here it goes! As usual!

It is, on the whole, rather obvious:

I take a bite out of my sea bass. It is melt-in-the-mouth delicious. I close my eyes, savoring the taste. When I open them, I begin my seduction of Christian Grey, very slowly hitching my skirt up, exposing more of my thighs. 
OH SNAP! I'm about to go lie down on my fainting couch because goddamn. Right? Yeah.

I take another bite of sea bass, ignoring him. Then, putting down my knife, I run my fingers up the inside of my lower thigh, lightly tapping my skin with my fingertips. It’s distracting even to me, especially as I am craving his touch. Christian pauses once more. 
“I know what you’re doing.” His voice is low and husky. 
“I know that you know, Mr. Grey,” I reply softly. “That’s the point.” I pick up an as- paragus stalk, gaze sideways at him from beneath my lashes, then dip the asparagus into the hollandaise sauce, swirling the tip round and round. 
Is that asparagus part about CG's dick? I guess it is, right? It's kind of like that famous sex move with the hollandaise sauce, right? Is that what Ana is alluding to here?

I just don't have any patience for this at all. I mean they're going to have sex. So what's the point of this? What is this accomplishing, other than making the book longer?

Oh then CG steals Ana's asparagus, tells her to open her mouth, and then shoves asparagus in her mouth and it's really, really hot if you happen to be an asparagus fetishist and I'm not so I'm pretty bored.

OH SHIT THIS PART IS IMPORTANT! I mean, it isn't, but you know. Maybe it is!

“Eat,” he orders. “I am not taking you home until you’ve finished your meal, and then
we can really celebrate.” His expression is so heated, so raw, so commanding. I am melting. 
“I’m not hungry. Not for food.” 
He shakes his head, thoroughly enjoying himself, but narrows his eyes at me just the
“Eat, or I’ll put you across my knee, right here, and we’ll entertain the other diners.” His words make me squirm. He wouldn’t dare! He and his twitchy palm. I press my
mouth into a hard line and stare at him. Picking up an asparagus stalk, he dips the head into the hollandaise. 
“Eat this,” he murmurs, his voice low and seductive. 
I willingly comply. 
“You really don’t eat enough. You’ve lost weight since I’ve known you.” His tone is
I don’t want to think about my weight; truth is, I like being this slim. I swallow the
“I just want to go home and make love,” I mutter disconsolately. Christian grins. 

Ok this isn't actually important because this book is garbage and doesn't make any sense so nothing is important and nothing matters oh and also I'm a nihilist obvs. But we've got some of the usual shit--we've got CG doing his food-shaming routine. And we've got him doing that shit where he threatens to punish Ana in the mode of an unruly child and a shitty parent. Oh and the combination of the spanking-threat and him feeding her is extra gross right? I mean, no pedo, but he might as well declare that the asparagus is an airplane coming in for a landing, right? Only he doesn't because obvs he's making her do asparagus fellatio which is for reals the least reasonable sex act that we've seen in this book so far. I mean, c'mon. Eat your vegetables, sure. But respect your vegetables. That's just as important, people. Very, very important.

But that last part! "I don't want to think about my weight; truth is, I like being slim." I mean, I'm sure it's great to be slim. I have no idea but but's probably a thing that slim people totes enjoy even if they don't notice that they're enjoying it since they're used to it. Fine.

But this is the first time that Ana has ever associated her own reluctance to eat with her actual body and her actual feelings about her body. This is the most compelling evidence that the whole book is just an elaborate bit of pro-anorexia propaganda oh and also "inner goddess" and "sub-conscience" are probably just a result of Ana's starvation-induced hallucinations. So that's cool I guess! Explains a lot.

I mean I don't actually think that EL is actually trying to inspire eating disorders, but this is a really odd theme. I think it's probably just a bit of a lot of things. CG is probably just telling Ana to eat all the time because it's another way of exerting his authority over her. EL spends so much time discussing food because her vocabulary is limited, and she's bad at writing about sex so writing "sexily" about food is a way to try to make up for some of her limitations.

Why eats so rarely I can't say. There's no reason for it. It isn't adding anything to the story. It just kind of makes Ana seem like a captive animal. Like she's been yanked form her native habitat and doesn't trust the food at the zoo and is starving herself while zookeepers try to coax her back to health. At least that's how it reads to me. But let's be real: this book's obsession with what Ana's eating is super intense, and so it doesn't surprise me that there are people who are constructing complex theories about the role of food in this book. Personally, I just think it's a result of EL James being a terrible writer, but I guess I'm willing to be convinced that something more sinister is going on, because that would at least give me additional cause for being grossed out by this gross book.

Hey do you guys like super vague writing? I sure hope so!

As the doors close, Christian briefly stoops down beside me to tie his shoelace. Odd, his shoelaces aren’t undone. Discreetly he places his hand on my ankle, startling me, and as he stands his hand travels swiftly up my leg, skating deliciously over my skin—whoa— right up. I have to stifle my gasp of surprise as his hand reaches my backside. Christian moves behind me. 
Oh my. I gape at the people in front of us, staring at the backs of their heads. They have no idea what we’re up to. Wrapping his free arm around my waist, Christian pulls me to him, holding me in place as his fingers explore. Holy fucking shit . . . in here? The eleva- tor travels smoothly down, stopping at the fifty-third floor to let some more people on, but I am not paying attention. I am focused on every little move his fingers make. Circling around . . . now moving forward, questing, as we shuffle back. 
Again I stifle a groan when his fingers find their goal. 
“Always so ready, Miss Steele,” he whispers as he slips a long finger inside me. I squirm and gasp. How can he do this with all these people here? 
Do you guys wanna talk about this? Like, what's going on? I mean, I know what's going on eventually. But like, it doesn't make sense, right? The beginning--the fact that CG is starting from Ana's ankle--makes it seem like he's reaching underneath the bottom of her skirt. But that's totes impossible, because it would be all bunched up and it would be completely obvious to the other people in the elevator. This whole undertaking is basically miraculous. I mean how is it even possible? It's not possible. It's not possible to get finger-blasted in an elevator without alerting the other elevator-riders who are not participating in the blasting. Please weigh in if you disagree.

I think that's why EL is so vague in this passage--she knows that the thing she's describing is totes impossible, and so she doesn't want to go into too much detail. She's like, "Hey I got Ana out of her panties! What other possible barriers could there be to this particular act?" And the answer is many. Many. This is like some conspiracy theory shit: how could there be but one fingerer? Are you trying to get me to believe that Christian Grey has some kind of magic finger? And what about all the other people in the elevator? You trying to tell me that they aren't in on it? I think they're in on it!

So the elevator ride ends finally and then they spend a bunch of time deciding where they're going to have sex or whatever. And it's really quite abysmal. Nothing is as weird as their elevator magic trick but it's all equally unpleasant.

They keep almost going at it and then not. And then at some point CG brings up his marriage proposal again and we're once more confronted with the idea that the only thing keeping this book going is Ana's delayed answer. It's basically enough to make me do a thing I never expected: wish that they'd hurry up and get married so that we could just be done. That's how this ends, right? I mean, no spoilers. But that's how it ends, right? What other way could it possibly end?

Dunno. Anyways they have sex on top of some table because they're too turned on to get to their bedroom or whatever. Also in this chapter Ana uses the word "dress" but she was totally wearing a skirt. I know because I looked at the previous chapter to figure out what she was wearing, because I wanted to know what she was wearing in the elevator. Now she says "dress" and that makes it even more impossible to imagine CG making it to third base without anyone knowing. (Editor's note: for our international readers, you can think of third base as being roughly equivalent to the penalty area.) Whatever. They get things over with quickly, for which I am thankful.

The next morning we get some more of the pointless bullshit that EL James ought to be most famous for. I mean, I think people know about the sex, but the sex isn't really what defines these books. What defines these books is what I'll call "the non-transition."

I'm going to paste in the entirety of a non-transition so that you can see exactly what I'm talking about.

“Gotta go, baby.” Christian kisses me just below my ear.
I open my eyes and it’s morning. I turn to face him, but he’s up and dressed and fresh and delicious, leaning over me.
“What time is it?” Oh no . . . I don’t want to be late.
“Don’t panic. I have a breakfast meeting.” He rubs his nose against mine. “You smell good,” I murmur, stretching out beneath him, my limbs pleasurably tight
and creaky from all our exploits yesterday. I wrap my arms around his neck. “Don’t go.”
He cocks his head to one side and raises his eyebrow. “Miss Steele—are you trying to keep a man from an honest day’s work?”
I nod sleepily at him, and he smiles his new shy smile.
“As tempting as you are, I have to go.” He kisses me and stands. He’s wearing a really sharp dark navy suit, white shirt and navy tie, and he looks every inch the CEO . . . the hot CEO.
“Laters, baby,” he murmurs and he’s off.
Glancing at the clock I note it’s already seven—I must have slept through the alarm. Well, time to get up. 

Before this is a sex scene. After this is Ana thinking her thoughts in the shower or whatever. So this is a "full" scene in the sense that it's blocked off from the rest of the book quite explicitly. It's not "full" in the sense of offering us anything like a complete idea. It's just a complete time-waste, is what it is.

What possible purpose could this serve, do you think? I can't really come up with anything, and I've tried. The next scene is quite pointless too, but it is "important" for the scene that Ana be alone, so basically EL just wanted to get CG out of the bedroom quickly. So here's my suggested edit:

"Laters, baby," CG says, kissing me awake. Where does he get his energy? Already leaving for a breakfast meeting while I'm barely able to open my eyes without having them shut on me again. 
Right? I mean, again, that's not good. Whenever I rewrite bits of EL's prose I'm not trying to say, "Hey look at how great this is!" What I'm trying to say is that a couple of mediocre sentences is a lot less of a burden on a reader than a page of time-wasting.

It's so repetitive, too. Terribly repetitive. We get so many of these 'waking up' scenes and they're just such a drag. CG wakes up first because he's the man and he's the breadwinner which means I guess he's going to some kind of bread-contest? I don't know. But he always gets up first and Ana always gets up second and worries about being late and then says he looks like a hot CEO or a bad-boy or marvels about how "young" he looks even though he's supposed to be five years older than she is or whatever. And then the scene starts.

And I guess in EL's mind this little nothing of a scene was a bridge but it was quite unnecessary. It's overkill. It's like someone built a massive steel bridge because there was a seem in the pavement and people were worried that it was a tripping hazard. It's fine, is the thing. We don't need the bridge. The bridge is just a waste and also it's a toll bridge! We had to pay for that dumb bridge! Unpleasant.

The next thing that happens, insomuch as anything happens, is that Ana starts rummaging through CG's stuff and finds a bunch of photos of sex happening in his sex room.

Her justification is quite slim: something something something birthday.

Now for Christian’s present. I start rummaging through his drawers, looking for his ties. 

You know, of course, so I don't have to tell you that CG would never put his ties in a drawer. Ties in a drawer: not even once. But also, I don't have to tell you that twenty-seven year-old tech billionaires don't have boxes of photographs in 2011. Almost no one does. But Christian, in particular, is going to be a real first-adopter and he's not going to have a box of photographs. It's just not not believable.

Ana is surprisingly chill about the photos that ought not exist:

I shudder. My subconscious scowls at me—this is before you. Forget them.
She’s right. Standing up I notice his ties are hanging at the end of his clothes rail. I find my favorite and exit quickly. 

Is anyone else as baffled as I am by the role of subconscious at this point? That one of Ana's mysterious extra identities kinda seems all over the map. Usually this is the inner voice telling Ana to stay away from Christian or have less sex with him. But this time, subconscious is pretty reasonable. I mean, as reasonable as a hallucination can be, I guess. That much reasonable. I wish EL could keep Ana's multiple personalities straight tho.

Ana goes and eats breakfast, but not before borrowing a key to the playroom from Mrs. Jones. I don't really believe that Mrs. Jones would have a key to the playroom, nor do I believe that Mrs. Jones would keep a bunch of keys on her belt, but in this book, both of these things are true and who am I to doubt them? Srsly tho. The fact that Mrs. Jones has keys kind of makes it seem like the only one who isn't allowed in the sex dungeon is Ana, the person for whom the sex dungeon is nominally for. Whatever.

What else does he have hidden away? Quickly I ferret through the museum chest, take what I need, and lock the playroom door behind me. Wouldn’t do for José to discover this! 

So I guess Ana gets something from the sex dungeon for whatever this gift is that she's assembling for CG. Dunno what. She's not sharing with us, and also? I'm not interested so it's fine. Also Ana keeps bringing up "the photograph" singular, but never offers any details. Don't know what separates "the" photograph from the others, or what it's a photo of, beyond the most general terms. I guess this is supposed to be suspenseful or intrigue me in some way but it does not.

Next, Ana goes to work, where her job is sending emails to Christian, I believe. I mean that's all she does, or at least all she tells us about. A few hours pass with no new messages from CG after a final one during which he expresses a general pissiness about Ana having secret plans for his birthday. Chill out, Christian! You should calm down because her gift has something to do with ruining one of your ties. Keep that in mind since you're probably going to be even more pissy once you actually see the gift.

Next, two terribly pointless non-transition scenes. One in which Ana shares a vacuous phone conversation with her bff Kate, newly returned to Seattle. And then next José shows up to take Ana to a bar. Two scenes, both of which have one tiny little bit of information to deliver. There are always easy ways to deliver tiny bits of information. A scene ought to be where something happens. Not just a tiny bit of information. But EL doesn't know that so most scenes are just tiny little bits of nothing.

Next Ana and José are in a bar drinking bottles of Rolling Rock which is absurd. No offense intended to the fine folks at Rolling Rock but this is Seattle and there are more breweries than people so it's weird to me that they're at a bar where Rolling Rock is even available. Their conversation is pretty much like this: How're you? Good, how're you? Good, how's school? Good, how's not school?

It's really that bad not exaggerating. Oh! José, we are told, sold most of the photos at his art show and paid off all his student loans. So, that's another thing that EL doesn't understand. Fun.

Then Kate her brother Ethan show up and they continue a larger version of this pointless conversation. José doesn't like Ethan. No idea why. Whatever.

Ana hasn't heard from Christian in several hours so obvs he's most likely dead.

Elliot, CG's brother / Kate's boyf, calls Kate and asks to talk to Ana and this is how the chapter ends:

“Ana.” Elliot’s voice is clipped and quiet, and my scalp prickles ominously. “What’s wrong?” “It’s Christian. He’s not back from Portland.” “What? What do you mean?” “His helicopter has gone missing.” “Charlie Tango?” I whisper as all the breath leaves my body. “No!” 

Are you mutterblushing serious? His helicopter is missing? What the shit. Christ. FTB. Ef tee bee. Is this really the dramatic high point of this book? This bullshit? His helicopter is missing?

What's so outrageous is that of course he's fine. And not just in the sense that he's the hero's love interest. He's fine in the sense that not even EL James is going to end a book by abruptly killing someone in a helicopter crash. Ha what if she did though! I'm the only one that would like that. Next chapter is CG's funeral. And then that's the end of the book! Marvelous.

But no. We just have to wait around to find out what happened to his dumb helicopter. Embarrassing. Just embarrassing.

Well. Four chapters to go! Lucky us!

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