Saturday, December 07, 2013

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 5

Well, as predicted, she doesn't wake up in her own bed. She wakes up in a suite at the Heathman Hotel. Christian Grey's suite. Holy crap and all that!

As is typical of EL James, she can't really describe the room to give us an idea of what it's like, other than the basic idea of browns, golds, and beiges, and that it's surprisingly big. Which, seriously, am I the only one picturing a motel room from 1974? It doesn't sound dazzling, it sounds chintzy. But hey, when did the ability to write ever stop someone from being a bestselling author?

(Seriously, one of you, you know who you are--and I'm only not saying your name because I don't know if I'm supposed to or not--has written one of the best contemporary novels I've read in the last decade, a decade that includes the bulk of the Harry Potter books, and it kills me that it's not in print yet and that society is apparently placing a value on this absolute twaddle!)

Anyway, she wakes up, and she's in Christian Grey's suite, and she sees he's put some Advil out for her, so she defaults to "control freak" again rather than "being a polite and considerate host." I mean, seriously, that's what sets you off? Knowing that you'll probably need some pain reliever because you were going to wake up with a hangover? (Which she should, but which the novel is almost totally unaware of, because why bother?) Given the way he lords over her in this chapter, leaving out Advil for her is downright sweet.

What bugs me more, though, is that after she gets pissy and dismissive about him being a control freak (how I am coming to absolutely despise this overused phrase), she then says that she feels "much better than I deserve." And can I just say here that I hate being around drunk people, I hate being around hungover people, and I don't understand what the reward is in drinking to get drunk, but we need to stop thinking of getting drunk as a moral failing.

I've participated in this kind of thinking before. I've made people feel bad for choosing to do something that not only would I never choose to do, but which I actively find somewhat disgusting. But you shouldn't make people feel bad for making a choice you wouldn't make. I kind of hate that I've done that to people, because I think of how people have talked down to me as though I've made an active choice to be fat. (Hell, I've seen people outright get offended at the idea that it's rude to make fun of fat people for being fat.) I don't know what their life is. It's not up to me to judge their choices and then make them feel bad about it. No one "deserves" to feel bad because they got drunk, accidentally or no. How they feel is how they feel. If she had gotten behind the wheel and hurt someone, that would be a different story. But, in the grand scheme of things, getting drunk and puking in the street and drunk dialing a guy may be repellent behavior to me personally--behavior that I wouldn't make the choice to be around--but it's also not that big a deal. So, you know, I still don't like you, Ana, but take it a little easy on yourself. You undoubtedly have much worse choices ahead of you.

So, in walks Christian Grey, all sweaty from his morning workout, and I'm sure that's totally unplanned. "Christian Grey's sweat: the notion does odd things to me" she thinks disgustingly.

A thought occurred to my wife: this isn't Twilight fanfiction, this is Twilight movie fanfiction, and it's about a girl who didn't like Robert Pattinson but had to interview him and then fell in lust with him and he immediately fell in love with her. I think that must be accurate. Unfortunately, it reads like fanfiction, where motivations just happen and relationships and emotions don't need to grow organically, because who has time for that?

Anyway, she's all nuts over how sweaty he is and how he's sitting on the bed: "sweat and body wash and Christian. It's a heady cocktail--so much better than a margarita, and now I can speak from experience." Ew. Ew, lady.

He's being "phlegmatic," which means EL James finally went over to (She also uses the word "profligate" later, because she's trying too hard to sound smart.) We're told, for the nth time, "He hides his thoughts and feelings so well." Look, the word you're trying desperately to find is enigmatic, for chrissakes.

She is, of course, contrite and embarrassed and constantly blushing. She worries that they slept together, to which he replies "I like my women sentient and receptive." And easily manipulated, apparently. She then gets defensive and they have this truly idiotic back and forth about his "James Bond gadgetry" where he basically reminds her that he saved her from getting raped, and she responds "Which medieval chronicle did you escape from? You sound like a courtly knight." He says "Dark knight, maybe." The flirty banter of idiots. It's like The Thin Man, but without nuance, subtlety, or wit. So, not like The Thin Man at all, actually.

And then we're back to manipulation. He's using tone control to make her feel awkward and chided--like she's not only a victim (which she's not) and that it's her fault (which it isn't). He suddenly gets angry because she hasn't eaten and she should know enough to not get drunk on an empty stomach, which, dude, how is she supposed to just know something she's had zero experience with? You can offer advice, but don't get so angry and personal about it. The words James chooses to use reveal it all: he's described as "accusatory," "impassive," "exasperated." He's angry at her for "putting yourself at risk," and even saying that makes him close his eyes, "dread etched briefly on his face," and shudder. Did you picture him in clothes from the Regency period of England when he did that? I did. Putting his hand to his face, gasping, shivering... he should just be played by Hugh Laurie in Blackadder the Third. Seriously, hon, Christian's not a courtly knight, he's a princely ass.

Everyone in this thing is overreacting all the time.

He also warns her: "You're lucky I'm just scolding you [. . .] if you were mine, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday." How do you not see this is a gigantic red flag, Ana? Let's unpack this. Here's a list of what you did last night: you got drunk on an empty stomach, you drunk dialed Christian, you almost got assaulted by your friend, and then you puked in the street. And he's scolding you for it like you purposely did something wrong. He's taking your lack of experience with alcohol and one unfortunate night and Jose's actions and turning it into something morally wrong with you. Honey, that's not a stunt, you were just careless. He's "just scolding" you? Who the fuck does he think he is? You haven't entered into any kind of agreement, you're not a couple. You barely know each other. He's an overly-concerned, controlling stranger that you've now met a total of four times, and who has inserted himself into your life, stalked you, begun telling you that your judgment is poor and that you're basically incapable of making your own decisions, and you're telling us that it excites you? Do they even have a name for what's wrong with you?

Oh, yeah; co-dependent narcissist.

She calls him a disciplinarian, he responds "Oh, Anastasia, you have no idea," and she's confused and excited this whole time.

He's always touching her, directing her, telling her what to do, tearing her down out of faux-concern, and she's always irritated but always, always, always contrite and obedient. It makes me feel gross.

Again, look at the words accompanying how he treats her and how she responds. He's antagonizing, she's safe. He's confusing, she's protected. He glares, she's quiet. He's commanding, she's contrite. He's castigating, she's tentative. He's persuasive, she's squirming. He's angry, she's cowardly.

I wonder if EL James is doing this on purpose or not. I think that's the thing I find most frustrating about this whole novel. Is James making Christian a manipulative bastard on purpose, or does she even know that this is the kind of thing a guy does when he's manipulating someone?

The power dynamic has been firmly established, and I just find it sad. This isn't erotic in the slightest; it's someone more than willing to subsume her personality to someone completely manipulative because she's aroused. And holy shit, is she aroused. She's horny as hell.

After smelling his sweat and seeing him shirtless, she spends some time squirming and taking way too long to understand that what's she feeling is desire. "This is desire. This is what it feels like." I don't like that she's this virginal girl who's just blossoming now under the command of this giant fucking prick. Sure, lots of people are virgins when they graduate college, and I'm not judging them. But it just adds another layer of ick to this book. Yes, I get it, Christian Grey is so amazingly hot that he makes your panties melt even though you've apparently never been aroused ever once in your whole boring life. You don't need to sell it so hard. She feels so safe around him and then thinks to herself "He's not a dark knight at all but a white knight in shining, dazzling armor--a classic romantic hero--Sir Gawain or Sir Lancelot."


"For the first time in my life, I want to go to bed with a man."

God, shut up. You're pathetic, Ana. I can't stand you. You are pathetic.

"Michelangelo's David has nothing on him."


"But he's not made a pass at me."

WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUSLY THIS MUCH OF AN IDIOT? Ana is such a stereotype of the sheltered girl who only reads [classic British literature], although apparently now she only reads [medieval British romances]. I know she's supposed to be this sheltered, virginal, ignorant, inexperienced girl--you know, the kind of girl people who've never read any of those novels assume that's how women act in them--but give me a break. That she's a virgin, I don't have a problem with. That she's never once felt aroused in her entire life, I find unbelievable. And that she can be caught in the middle of this overly elaborate seduction--one that includes a hotel suite, tea in the city, being saved from a rape attempt, fourteen thousand dollar Thomas Hardy novels, and at least two separate instances of him stroking your face and running his finger across your lip--and think that he's never made a pass at you, I find inexcusably stupid.

How am I supposed to like, respect, root for, and care about someone this ridiculously thick? Because remember, all we know about Anastasia Steele are her neurosis, her self-obsession, and now her desires, but we know absolutely nothing about who she is as a person apart from feeling sorry for herself and being amazed by every feeling she ever has. What does she even want out of life? How am I supposed to believe there's conflict going on inside a woman who, every time she feels awkward, confused, or irritated by this man, nonetheless always does exactly what he tells her to do and admits that inside she's always doing cartwheels, a hula dance, or a "triumphant samba" at the thought of even being with him?

Did I mention I'm only four pages into this chapter right now?

She goes into the shower and almost has her first orgasm, I guess, because she's erotically thrilled at the way the body wash smells like him. I think she means soap, because if the bottle of body wash smells like him, that means he's been rubbing it on his body or shoving it up his ass. She rubs it all over herself, imagining that it's him, and it really seems like she's about to climax when, of course, he calls her to breakfast and she has to get out, tingling all over, daintily drying herself because she's a little sensitive right now, okay, guys?

Then she finds the clothes he's bought for her, including "exquisitely designed fancy European lingerie" that's "All pale blue lace and finery," which I guess sounds to James like a description, but is actually more of an impression. If I were being nice, I guess I could call her terrible hack writing "active," since the reader pretty much has to participate in it to even know what the hell she's talking about. But that seems ennobling. Then she walks out into yet another vaguely-described room. Let's just say it: the details don't matter because EL James' imagination doesn't go very deep.

Ana does think "It's the size of a tennis court or something, not that I play tennis, though I have watched Kate a few times." Which... who cares? That whole self-deprecation thing again, which, honestly, now that I'm seeing it in action, is quite annoying. If there's one good fallout from reading this book, it's that I realize how genuinely annoying it must be when I do that whole self-obsession disguised as self-deprecation bit, so I really want to be conscious of that and not do it anymore. You know what I mean. When someone denigrates themselves all the time, does it make you feel more sympathetic towards them? Not me. It makes me want to not talk to them anymore. Why? Because subconsciously we can tell the difference.

Anyway, it's only there so she'll remember Kate's out there and Kate's with Christian's brother. It's kind of stupidly sweet how Ana thinks about how Kate was dancing in an effort to seduce Elliot, as though Elliot wasn't deployed for the entire purpose of taking her home. I wonder if we'll ever even see him again. It's not like he matters as a character, because it's not like this is a book about people. Elliot's usefulness has been served, I imagine.

Christian commands--and she uses that word in the text--Ana to sit and eat and then scolds her for still having wet hair, because, remember, Ana can't do anything with her hair because she's oh so endearingly quirky and shit. It's like EL James thinks of her as a cross between Merida from Brave and the 9000 other frizzy-haired quirky proactive redheaded heroines we've had to endure almost constantly in pop culture for the last 15 years, which was fine the first thousand times but has become a grating case of copy & paste ever since. I'm getting much more of a Carrie White vibe from this person.

The dialogue between the two of them at breakfast is utterly hilarious. She tries to repay him for the new clothes and he's offended (which I kind of get; I mean, I don't like to have my compliments and kind gestures thrown back in my face, either, but it's not worth it getting offended, because the other person may just not be used to compliments and presents and making it an even bigger deal just makes them feel more awkward, so calm it down and just turn her down politely). Then he tells her the books were an apology for not kissing her that time, and also a warning to stay away. "I'm not a hearts and flowers kind of man...I don't do romance." Which would have more meaning if it weren't for this elaborate seduction he's been orchestrating, but of course, Ana being Ana, she takes him at his word.

And then, the manipulative standby that I've been waiting for: "There's something about you, though, and I'm finding it impossible to stay away."

Ugh. Of course he goes to that, and of course she eats it up, because to a bad writer, that's the sort of thing that genuinely happens. It can't be that he's grooming his handpicked psychological and physical abuse victim, it's that Anastasia's so goddamn special that only something so unlikely could ever happen to fulfill her.

What is it about her, Christian? Is it the vomiting? The awkwardness? The way she looks so cute tripping headlong into your office? Or is it the way that she's pliant, obedient, believes every one of your lies willingly, and doesn't know any better because she has no experience in this kind of thing? I'm guessing it's the last one. I'm guessing that the "something" about her is that you haven't found so perfect a victim in a long time.

He also appends that with "But I think you've figured that out already." Heh, not if her inner monologue has been anything to go by. This lady couldn't fart without pondering how it made her feel, what it represented in her life, and whether or not the fart desired her as a woman or was simply mocking her.

She responds "Then don't." And now it's time for him to have another uncharacteristically cartoonish reaction.

His eyes go wide and he gasps, which I guess is always supposed to look like this:

But always comes across to me as this:

Just say he looked at you longingly, okay?

And he responds "You don't know what you're saying."

Which is supposed to seem genuine, but doesn't, because he's such a shit and this is the next move in the abuse game. He's just making her think this is all her idea and, when it goes bad, her fault.

Then he just starts asking her questions about when she's available, where she's moving (to Seattle, near him), what she's doing for work, and whether she applied for an internship at his company. "The Christian Grey Inquisition is almost as irritating as the Katherine Kavanagh Inquisition." Keep bristling when anyone asks you any personal questions, Ana, and pretty soon you'll be wondering why no one ever asks them anymore.

He says "I'd like to bite that lip," and it's "the sexiest thing anyone has ever said to me." And then he follows up by telling her that he won't do anything to her without her written consent, and that he has to tell her something about him, later, at dinner some time, after which she "probably won't want to see me again." She wonders at all the things it could be, all of which are pretty stupid, and even admits to herself "it'll have to be pretty damned bad to have you running for the hills." He could tell her that he lives in a common law marriage with a Japanese body pillow and he wants her to watch him have sex with it in the middle of a traditional tea ceremony and she'd just smolder over how mysterious and commanding he is. She's already in for anything you have in mind.

She agrees to have dinner tonight. "Like Eve, you're so quick to eat from the tree of knowledge." Is that supposed to be sexy or something? Because... just, wow. Yikes. Has EL James ever met an actual person before?

Christian sets up a helicopter, then orders her (again, the word in the text) to finish eating, and has some very vague and laughable business-sounding talk on the phone that I don't know why James even bothers throwing in since it adds nothing and sounds so unrealistic. For her part, she goes in his bathroom and uses his toothbrush, because "it would be like having him in my mouth." It makes her feel "naughty." She's thinking of all of this even though she's also so shy that she can't even say the word "sex" in front of Christian without blushing, flustered, and getting super embarrassed. When she tells him later, it turns him on. She can't wait to find out what his secret is, and she seems to be approaching it like she's some intrepid reporter in a bad noir picture, but really it seems to be the weird flush of that first time when you actually take a genuine interest in someone who isn't you. Makes sense if you're a narcissist. Which she is. Big time.

I love how when the two of them get in the elevator, she says that because of the close space the atmosphere between them changes and becomes more charged. No it doesn't. He's told you he wants you, you've told him you want him, you're both dripping hormones all over the carpet. The atmosphere is steady. And then they kiss and they're kissing and she's all moans and tongues and strange new sensations and he's all grinding and erections and hair-pulling and he's pinned her against the wall and it's supposed to be this erotic release but it's not Anais Nin. Hell, it's not even Anne Rice.

Okay, I also have to be fair and say, you know, this book isn't aimed at me. Obviously, there are people out there for whom this really works. But not me. Not even a little. But it's hard to get lost in the characters when there really aren't any. It's just about being naughty and horny and taking the long way around the barn to get off, because apparently that makes masturbating classier. There's nothing else to this, at all. It's like porn for people too afraid to buy real porn. In other words, not for adults.

I imagine the next chapter will be the dinner. I'm sure this is where things will get serious and more intense, right?

1 comment:

New York Erratic said...

The "four pages" and "Japanese body pillow" comments made me lose it.