Saturday, November 30, 2013

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 4

When last we left our self-obsessed heroine, she had tripped trying to avoid a bike courier or something, and Christian had caught her, and they were staring into each other's eyes.

Now, there are a couple of ways that scene could have gone. They could have kissed. He could have ignored the sexual tension that the author is artlessly trying to ram down our throats until we choke. He could have gotten all angry about the bike courier. Hell, she could have actually asserted herself and kissed him. But, no. Instead, EL James decides to go with the most manipulative outcome possible.

Christian Grey stares at her meaningfully. He lightly traces his thumb over her mouth. He gazes deep into her eyes. Then he closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and then--as though it were causing him great emotional and psychological pain--whispers to her "Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I'm not the man for you."

And she gets so hurt. So angry. She's so sad that he doesn't want her after all. She wants to cry right there on the street.

But actually, for Christian, it's mission accomplished. Manipulation achieved. There it is once again: he's making her desperate to gain his approval. He's already made her think she's not worthy of him. Now he's confirming it. But he's also throwing in a pained, melodramatic warning. He's just a few steps away from pulling the old I know I'm wrong for you, but god help me, I can't resist you. She thinks he just doesn't want her. But, of course, now she wants him more than ever.

See, I can't speculate about EL James' personal life or what kind of relationships she's had. That would be unfair. But this novel so far is proceeding as though she set out to dramatize and romanticize the abuse cycle. This is like the start of the Excuses Phase. He's pulling a blame shift; he's planting seeds called Plausible Deniability. So later, when she comes to him (seemingly of her own accord, but really because he's trained her to be submissive), he doesn't have to take responsibility, because she'll believe it was all her own desire and not this brainwashing mindfuck her's pulling on her muy rĂ¡pido.

She's already responding to her training. Even as she's devastated inside by rejection, she also quietly thanks him "For saving me." He pounces on that, saying "I'm glad I was here. I shudder to think what could have happened to you." Which, dude...she was knocked over by a bike messenger, not nearly mauled by a rhino. You're overselling it for effect. You've already got her on the line, ease off.

Oh, and then they have this meaningful moment where they say goodbye, where he stops himself from saying something with "anguish in his voice" and looks at her with "bleak" eyes, "torn, frustrated, his expression stark, all his careful control has evaporated." Then he just wishes her luck on her exams and she hurries away, where she rushes to her car and doesn't just cry, but has a full on breakdown because apparently the only man she's ever wanted sexually has rejected her.

So, to recap, what we just saw was a master manipulator sowing doubt and confusion in his prey so she'll be that much more willing to be captured. That last thing, where he lets his guard down and pretends to emotional turmoil, was the final stroke he needed.

(Well, he actually invited her to go back to the hotel where she could calm down from the trauma of being bumped into on a street corner, but she turned him down because she's confused. So he's going to have to work a little more, but hey, he's already got her crying the cry of her life, so it's not like it's going to take much more work.)

(God, I feel like an asshole writing about this. Like... I just look at this guy and think, Yeah, we're really animals.)

My favorite part of her dramatic spin into self-obsessed tears is when she starts listing all the things that are wrong with her, like in that way where people think self-deprecation is modesty and not self-obsession, and she starts going on and on about how she's too skinny and too pale and always gets picked last for sports teams, like a burlesque of a depressed person. And then she actually says in the narration "Maybe I should be kinder to the likes of Paul Clayton and Jose Rodriguez," which is just... Well, yes, you should be kinder to people, anyway, especially people who go out of their way to be nice to you. I'm not saying you owe them anything physical--you should always be honest with people about that--but you should just, in general, be kinder to people. Also, the use of that phrase, "the likes of," makes me not like her. What "likes" are they? People who are nice to you and actually elect to be around you for reasons I've yet to understand?

"Oh, the substandard peasants who aren't special enough to date me, I should perhaps look upon them with less dismissive cruelty."

Then she goes home, and Kate sees she's been crying and knows where she's been and asks if Ana's alright, and Ana immediately thinks to herself "not the Kate Kavangh Inquisition," which is just a flat-out straight-up bitchy way to characterize your best friend's concern for your well-being.

"You never cry," Kate says, which seems like it can't possibly be true, since Ana's so moody, but then might be true, because in order to cry at disappointing interactions, Ana would have to first acknowledge that she's one of these lesser humans she's so detached and aloof from when she deigns to interact with them.

Kate says "He likes you, Ana," and every time they use this phrase, it makes me laugh. You're grown damn women, talk like adults. Gee, Kate, does he like her or like-like her. Here's a brilliant idea: pass him a note that says "Do you like Ana?" and put a box for yes and a box for no and a box for I want to fuck her mind until she's more of a basket case than those pre-cogs from Minority Report and see which one he checks.

Then Kate tries to build up Ana's confidence with the equally stupid phrase "You're a total babe" and Ana actually thinks to herself "Oh no. She's off on this tirade again," which is revealing of a truly deep level of self-esteem problems. You know, it's self-serving and bitchy, but I'm going to let this one go, because I know from experience how that level of anxiety--the kind where you need a therapist--can be pernicious. It can force you to make judgments about other people--even people you've never met--that are totally unfair, just because you feel compelled to refute any evidence that goes against your belief that you're a worthless person.

Then she goes into full-blown martyr complex mode, giving us this chestnut: "He's too gloriously good-looking. We are poles apart from two very different worlds. I have a vision of myself as Icarus flying too close to the sun and crashing and burning as a result." Ugh, no you didn't. You did not do what that awkwardly-constructed sentence claims.

Melodrama, melodrama, on and on, dreaming about his eyes and running, and then she takes her final exams, and she's "doing graceful cartwheels around my head, knowing full well that's the only place I can do graceful cartwheels." Ugh, we get it, you're clumsy, quit reminding us to think poorly of you. We haven't forgotten. And trust me, we're not judging you because you can't do cartwheels (which, frankly, are not that graceful; you ever see a dancer do a side aerial? that's grace), we're judging you because you're so deep into yourself that I'd be amazed if you were mentally capable of acknowledging the existence of other people unless they're speaking directly to you.

The day she finishes her exams, she gets a delivery: a three-volume first edition of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the book she happened to be reading and writing a final paper on. She's amazed by this "coincidence," rather than jumping to the obvious conclusion, which is that he's stalking her. No, I'm sure his position as a benefactor of your university wouldn't give him access to a syllabus. (Or a quick search of your English Department's website, you dope.) Kate looks up the books online and figures they must have cost him over fourteen thousand dollars. And they come with this quote from the book written out on a plain white card: "Why didn't you tell me there was danger? Why didn't you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks..."

Are you fucking kidding me? I don't know what he finds so special about her, but he's really pulling out all the stops. Expensive British literature for Miss "I Only Read Classic British Literature," and a quote that's basically him pleading that he can't help himself from being obsessed with her because she's so magnetic and fascinating... ladies, welcome to the Honeymoon Phase of the abuse cycle. This is the part where the abuser gives gifts and conforms to his victim's expectations and desires for a relationship, so that the victim won't leave.

I am watching a fly caught in a web with this book.

"What is he trying to say?" Kate wonders. Let me spell it out: he's going to rape your friend and make it think it was her idea.

The numerical title this book should have is not 50 Shades of Grey, it's Manipulation 101.

Well, now he's got her confused, emotional, and wanting him. But her big plan for tonight is to go get drunk for the first time, on "tequila-based cocktails," because EL James doesn't care enough to throw in an actual name, because why bother? Yes, I get that her neuroses take front and center, but it's hard to know Ana in any other context other than her self-obsession when the only kind of info we get is that she listens to [thumping indie rock] and reads [classic British literature] and drinks [tequila-based cocktails]. That's basically just the next step up from listening to [rhythmically arranged sound patterns] and reads [printed language expressions] while drinking [liquid mixtures].

She becomes the wasted cliche that you're familiar with if you've ever known anyone who gets on Facebook or Tumblr when they're drunk, while Kate "has the constitution of an ox," which is totally a thing that college girls still say. We get a whole passage where Ana is too drunk to walk or to hold herself steady when she's just trying to stand and breathe, as though that's the alcohol and not literally any random page of this book so far. Then she decides it's an awesome idea to drunk dial Christian while she's at whatever generic club she's at. He's concerned about her being out and drunk and wants to come get her, and she goes right to "control freak," which is such a painfully naive way of describing her sexual predator that I just want to slap her silly every time she says it. She thinks she's got it all figured out and she's smug about it. (Full disclosure: I've dealt with people who are drunk and demanding of attention enough times in my life that I can't be anything but aggravated reading this bit.)

He decides he's coming to get her, and she's just floating around all drunk, and then her friend Jose takes her outside for some air, where he almost immediately tries to sexually assault her. She clearly says "no" twice and tries to fight him off, but he's doing that entitled thing of "Please, I've always liked you so much" which is just a half-step away from saying that he thinks she owes him for being so patient and not forcing himself on her until, you know, right now in the street, because apparently every man in her orbit is a predator just circling around waiting for their prime rape opportunity.

Of course, EL James is going to leave no romance novel cliche/Twilight plot beat unturned, so just as as he's settling in for a satisfying and romantic invasion of her bodily integrity, Christian Grey is there, softly demanding that he let her go, because he won't have a Beta stepping in and consuming his prey cares about what happens to her.

And then, because Ana hasn't embarrassed herself enough for maximum endearment, I guess, she spends the entire page vomiting.

Just puking her guts out, and then feeling shame about it.

He, being the classic abuser, proceeds to lecture her about her behavior and how she should know her limits--how, when she's never experienced anything?--and says "I'm all for pushing limits, but really, this is beyond the pale," like it's Victorian England and he's never been in a college town before. Dude, I live in one, you see and hear a lot of puking. But he scolds her, and she gets contrite and actually apologizes. Then he basically tells her that he's taking her home and pawns off Kate on his brother Elliot.

Okay, so let's take a look at this situation. He's scolded her for drinking, made her apologize, told her that she's coming home with him, then mentioned that his brother came with him and even says he found her because he tracked her cellphone, and her response is just to tell us "somehow, because it's him, I don't mind." Because, again, as I've learned from Tumblr, no one can be too evil or violating of your life as long as he has floppy hair and sad eyes and is thin enough. If Christian Grey looked like Zach Galifianakis, she'd be running to the police station right now.

He's seriously miffed, too, when she insists on going back inside and telling her friend she's leaving, like he's really frustrated that something will happen that will make her think twice about getting in his car. It's like when the fisherman has the net out and he's worried that the line will snap before he gets his catch.

And she's eating it up, because if there's one thing she loves to pretend she doesn't love, it's attention. Even being near him makes her "flush, and somewhere deep, deep down my muscles clench deliciously."

Now I'm going to vomit.

Then he orders her to drink a glass of water to clear her head, which she totally does even though inside she's annoyed at how "overbearing" he is. Notice she doesn't even think once, though, about not doing everything he says.

Folks, we've already advanced to the Planning Phase of the abuse cycle. He obviously feels--and you can see it by how reluctant he is to even let her go back into the club, for fear that her friend might reason with her--that he's on the verge of losing control of her, and is figuring out how to regain control. And to that end, he's brought his brother Elliot with him to distract Kate. Kate is slutting it up on the dance floor so well, and sort of vibing with Christian, that Ana even starts to get jealous and worry that her friend is going to swoop in on the man she like-likes. (Oh, yes, there's a whole scene here where they're all dancing and Ana is amazed by what a great dancer Christian is, and it plays like that ridiculous club scene in Basic Instinct, and it is the first thing that makes me eager to see the upcoming movie, because they're both going to look like a couple of ridiculous twats.)

But Christian, in the Planning Phase, has chosen his target and deftly unleashes his brother Elliot on Kate, and he pulls her into his arms and Kate just sort of waves Ana off. Seriously, Ana... he brought a guy to distract your friend so he could steal you off like der Erlkonig. Why are no warning signs going off for you?

Oh, because you're drunk, and also kind of dumb and heavily wrapped up in being fascinated with yourself. She gets overwhelmed and passes out drunk, and the last thing she's aware of is Christian catching her and harshly saying "Fuck!" Which, of course he does. He's frustrated because tonight was going to be the night.

Oh, well. We'll see what happens in the next chapter. Christian should be in the Set-Up Phase by then, where the abuser waits for the time when his abuse can be justified. I'm sure he was thinking it was going to be tonight, when her drunkenness would be pretext enough. Still, he's following the abuse cycle pretty closely, so I'm sure he's got a backup plan.

No points for guessing if she wakes up in her own bed or not.

You want to read a sentence mired in resigned hopelessness? 64 pages down, 450 to go.


Koeniou said...

My only problem with these are that they only come once a week!

Carl said...

You're only 64 pages in?!? What the Hell happens for three fucking books?!

Roger Owen Green said...

Quit if you have to, because this awful...