Saturday, January 04, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 9

And we're back... but before we begin Chapter 9, I decided to look up that Bach piano piece from the previous chapter that Christian was longingly playing in the middle of the night, the one Ana described as "very sad" with a "melancholy melody." Others have written about it, but here's a link to it on YouTube (a Glenn Gould recording). It's a transcription of an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, and it's in a minor key, which... I don't know. I know that's a shorthand for melancholy for a lot of people--I know people who love a minor key piece regardless of anything else about it--but it sounds more contemplative to me than sad. I know it's yet another way EL James is trying to show us Christian Grey as this lost little boy, but it just comes across as clumsy to me. I kind of hate it when writers try to tell us the soundtrack to their novels in clumsy prose, especially when they have such a hard time even describing music.

Incidentally, here's the piece as it was written. That doesn't sound melancholy to me at all. Indeed, it's beautiful, even triumphal. I grew up in the Lutheran church, this kind of music (particularly JS Bach) is imprinted in my DNA. It's worth noting, too, that Bach's transcription was for harpsichord and not piano, and nothing sounds melancholy on a harpsichord. Everyone's just trying too hard. EL James apparently wants this to be, as I said last week, a whole Beauty and the Beast thing. Christian's the little boy lost inside the monster, and Ana is the one who's special enough to reclaim the human from his prison. Is this why some women stay in abusive relationships?

This chapter begins with Ana, sore from last night, waking up in bed with Christian "I don't sleep with people" Grey. She keeps comparing him to a little boy. "His lovely face looks younger..." "How could anyone look this good and still be legal?" (That's a sentence that's both awkward and creepy.) " a small child, he's so lovely when he's asleep."

What makes this kiddie stuff even more gross is that she admits to us that one of the reasons she likes him asleep and boyish is that "I don't have to worry about what I'm saying, what he's saying, what plans he has, especially his plans for me." In other words: he's so pretty I want to cry, but I'm terrified of him when he's awake. This is not the foundation for a relationship. The contract makes it pretty clear that Christian doesn't want a relationship. But she seriously thinks this is the start of one, even though she admits she's afraid of him and doesn't understand why he's into what he's into. So this is a real dilemma, I guess?

Except no. It's not a dilemma at all. Let's assess.

They've known each other less than two weeks. He sent her books. They had tea together once. He made her feel like an asshole for getting drunk. He made out with her in an elevator and they ate breakfast--yesterday. They had dinner last night. She lost her virginity to him. She saw him playing the piano in the middle of the night. And they had a helicopter ride. That's basically the sum total of this "relationship" so far. Oh, and he made her sign an NDA and told her he wants her to sign a contract that would give him total control over her body and will.

Why does Ana not understand that the important part to him is not the relationship part, but the contract? I know, I know, there's just "something about her" and all that, but seriously, apart from that, what's the appeal? Yeah, he's pretty and he's rich, but he also treats you like he thinks you're too stupid to take care of yourself, tells you when to eat, and has no respect for your consent. And as Ana spends the morning realizing she forgot to text Kate or condescendingly wondering why a man needs so much space or so many clothes and literally dancing around the kitchen and cooking Christian breakfast, this is the biggest tonal issue I'm having with this repulsive novel: she thinks she's in a romantic comedy. She keeps thinking--but, by her own admission, not too deeply--about what shallow pop psychology labels she can affix to all of this, referring to Christian as "Bluebeard" (who, by the way, was a murderer, so that's not cute) and telling us what a misfit she's always been and how Christian is a misfit and I guess that means they fit together somehow. But the whole time, it's like she's desperately trying to act like she's in a rom-com romp and she's terribly upset that Christian's come along and gotten all of his emotional issues and his personal kink wrapped up in them like some sort of obstacle she can't figure out how to get around.

But it's not an obstacle! It's the entirety of what he wants: to be an abusive asshole and not be questioned about it. You're not in a relationship. And you're not in a dilemma. You don't owe anyone anything, and you could actually just leave right now if you wanted to so bad.


Another thing that EL James really needs to quit doing is personifying every one of Ana's feelings. We're always hearing about how her subconscious is always telling her these nasty things about her, or how her inner goddess is always dancing at compliments, and it's starting to get... dialogue-y. Yes, we all have second thoughts and we all have fears and concerns, but do you have to be so literal? Honestly, you can get them across in your narrative, and by the way, you can't consciously hear your subconscious, Ana. Seriously, how many people do you have in there with you, Smeagol? Is one of them reason, because you really need to have a conversation with that one. Fuck your meringue-dancing inner goddess, alright? She's leading you down a path you're not remotely mentally prepared for just because you've got self-esteem issues so pronounced they can be seen from outer space.

Anyway, I'm skipping swaths of narrative, because much of it is an overly-detailed description of Ana making breakfast in Christian's "sleek," "modern," "state-of-the-art" kitchen. Christian likes his eggs "beaten" because he can't take his mind off of it for a second, and he and Ana both think he's so charming and funny and cute.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the stupidest thing she does. Because her hair's so unruly and blah blah blah, she puts her hair up in pigtails, literally thinking "The more girly I look perhaps the safer I'll be from Bluebeard," which made me laugh and laugh and laugh. Jeez, Ana, did you really think that someone who wants to totally control you would not like it if you looked more like a child? Someone needs to take away your self-awarded degree in pop psychology bullshit. When he sees them, he loves them, but assures her "They won't protect you." Look, there's a certain amount of sexually/romantically immature bullshit radiating from both of these assholes, but unfortunately that's 100% because of the emotional immaturity of the author. Can we stop explicitly talking about how they're apparently mainly attracted to each other because each reminds the other of a child?

This is all so boring and dull and flat. He refers to the sex they had last night as her "basic training" and he wants to continue it by focusing on her "oral skills" because she's so sore from last night's fuckening. She continues to react to the suggestions of sex like a cartoon caricature of a person: "I stare at him dumbfounded as I stop breathing and everything inside me clenches tight. Ooh... that's so nice. I suppress my groan." She also thinks "more... more sex... yes, please." It's like finally having sex has made her even dumber.

Another thing we need to stop with: yes, Anastasia bites her bottom lip like Kristen Stewart does. She does it all the time, apparently, because Christian is always telling her to stop doing it because it just turns him on so much and it's so distracting, always so distracting. The thing is, it is constant. He tells her something like five or six times in this short chapter alone. I'm starting to get the image of her chewing her lip, even literally just eating it like some kind of zombie, with all of these scabs and sores on her bottom lip. We get it, already. Fucking stop it.

It bothers me that every time Christian is a smug, condescending prick, she thinks he's just being wry. Why doesn't it bother her? Why isn't it a red flag for her when he gets short with her about when she needs to go home? Abusive asshole doesn't want to hear about his property's personal needs. Why isn't it a warning sign when he orders her to eat, yet again, because of his weird food issues? Why isn't it a panic button when he says he'll clear because she cooked, even though democratic is "not my usual style"?

And if none of that did it, even she should be able to realize that it's a big problem when she calls Kate and then realizes she can't tell her about the sex because she's signed her NDA. She actually asks Christian about whether she can ask mechanical questions about sex, and he turns into a bully. (Gee, Ana, imagine what you'd know about the boundaries of the agreement if you'd read it before you actually signed it.) She can't talk to Kate about any of it, but Christian tells her that she can ask him. Because this is what abusive assholes do: they cut you off from people you love and trust, isolating you in their world so that you don't have a chance to question when something seems wrong. And Ana even says to herself that she doesn't want to ask Christian about sex, because she doesn't want his kink-filtered point of view, she wants impartial answers. But that's not what being controlling is all about, and you really should have thought this through, and this really should be the moment when you decide not to sign his contract.

He pretty much demands to know what she wants to ask about, but she says nothing, and admits to us "I cannot lie to this man."

And then it's off to the "very designer" bathroom for bathing and more sex.

Even before that starts, he orders her again not to bite her lip because "Your chewing it makes me want to fuck you, and you're sore, okay?" Then he adds to that "Get the picture?" Isn't that weird? Like, first he can't even control himself, and then he's basically mad about how her unconscious tics are problems for him, so he makes her self-conscious about them. We're just going to catalog all the abusive behaviors, aren't we?

"I had no idea I could affect him so." How could you have no idea? He only hasn't shut up about it for the last day. It's been one day, Ana.

Then it's a lot of scary shit about oh fuck I'm naked oh fuck he's naked and "feel it, baby" and feelings "there" and everything's so scary and shocking but it feels good o-m-jeez. And then he's showing her his cock and oh, my.

She says "oh, my" repeatedly in this chapter, over and over, because EL James can't describe a single sensation compellingly. Oh, my, oh, my, oh, my and... well, you know what I'm thinking of, right?

Anyway, his dick. Excuse me, his erection. His erection that makes her feel something there.

"I want you to become well acquainted, on first name terms if you will, with my favorite and most cherished part of my body. I'm very attached to this."

And then she asphyxiates herself with laughter. Oh, wait, that's me. She's all stunned by it.

These two are very boring, aren't they? They're both obsessed with sex, but they're also afraid of it and haven't made much of an effort to understand it. Jesus, they can't even say the words "penis" or "vagina" comfortably. If EL James is really this parochial when it comes to sex, maybe she's the wrong person to write about kink. Grow up.

So, she's all transfixed by his magical penis, and fascinated by how it could have been inside of her when it's so big, and when she starts touching it he says "That's right, baby," which is even funnier if you hear it in a Homer Simpson voice. Look, when you're with a consenting partner and you're calling each other baby, that's one thing. But reading it... it's very hard to take seriously. And he's telling her this all the time during the sex. "That's right, baby." "Suck me, baby." "I want you sore, baby." It's so stupid. It sounds so idiotic. "Oh, baby, that feels good." Maybe just don't say anything instead.

"Hmm… he’s soft and hard at once, like steel encased in velvet, and surprisingly tasty – salty and smooth."

Like steel encased in velvet? This is the funniest chapter yet.

So then she takes it in her mouth.

And it's totally amazing to him because she can take it really deep and she seems to not even have a gag reflex, because she's just so magical and perfect and instantly good at everything except staying upright when she walks, and it's totally amazing to her because "I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on" because it's not like she ever thinks about how other people are people, anyway.

Anyway, then he comes in her mouth.

And she can take it all no problem the first time out of the gate even though she basically has no idea what's going on. Oh, and he is practically moved when he finds out she's never done it before, but she's just so naturally perfect at it, that he decides he owes her an orgasm. You know what her thought is? "Orgasm! Another one!" Like a fucking puppy getting a reward. It's really weird and sad. I mean, yeah, orgasms are great, but you can do that yourself. You're not dependent on another person for that. Oh, wait, she is, because remember, she somehow doesn't even know how to masturbate or that people do it, so that's one other thing she's not allowed to be in control of.

"Quickly, he clambers out of the bath, giving me my first full glimpse of the Adonis, divinely formed, that is Christian Grey." This awkward sentence on loan from Twilight.

Another quick mention, out loud, by Christian about how young Ana's pigtails make her look, because every guy wants to fuck Cindy Brady, apparently, and then he's tying up her hands and orders her not to lower her hands from above her head. "His eyes burn into mine, and I'm breathless from their intensity. This is not a man I want to cross...ever." She hasn't even signed the contract, but she's already a victim. Sex is great, but she's so quick to adopt the mentality of an abuse victim with a guy she barely even knows, and what's scary is that she acts like this is an exciting part of being in love. I mean, he's so pretty, you guys!

So he goes to work on her feet, and oh my, and it's too erotic, and holy crap, and he goes down on her "there" and EL James brings herself to use the word "clitoris" for once and "Aargh!" and then she has an orgasm and "Oh, baby, I love that you're so wet for me" which, just, no, please. And then more thrusting and "Come for me, baby," and he is absolutely begging her to sign the contract because she's just that good and she's actually thinking "I know in that moment I would do anything for this man," which, why? You would do anything for him, but he bristled at the idea of taking you home a few hours early. I mean, what's the trade-off? An orgasm when you've pleased him? By yourself a vibrator and move on with your life.

And this his mom shows up.

Will Christian stop fucking Ana long enough to say hi to his mother? Will mother like Ana? Will Ana sign the contract? Will Kate discover Ana's contract? Will Benson discover Ana's contract? Will Benson care? These questions--and many others--will be answered in the next episode of... 50 Shades of Smartass.


Carl said...

Thank you. The picture of you tearing into that baguette right after reading that sentence... It was the funniest thing I've seen in a while. And as I was reading this to Kate, I was using George Takei's voice for the "Oh My" even before the link!

I can't believe the book is this... bad... I can't think of any other word for it. Vile, yes. Reprehensible, sure. But none of those can compete with "bad" spoken with just the right tone of voice, soaked deep with disappointment and disgust.

I look forward to these all week long, man. I'm proud of you. Stay Strong.

Kelly Sedinger said...

I was merrily scrolling along, and then the baguette photo. Glad I wasn't nursing a beverage at that moment, because I lost it. (Question is, did you acquire props just for this purpose?)

Autumn said...

When I realized she couldn't seem to describe anything with any clarity I knew the sex was probably going to be bad. But I couldn't help laughing when you had that bread picture pop up. All I could imagine while you were writing it was the way she described his office space. "His penis was all hard angles, sleek, white and modern" And when you said the Adonis line I pictured her taking a bath by herself when suddenly (!) sullen, sparkly Robert Pattinson rises out of the bubbles completely naked.

Oh man these chapters are less boring with you...

Roger Owen Green said...

Spit take worthy stuff!

SamuraiFrog said...

The true story behind the baguette: when I'm sick, I swing wildly between not wanting to eat or just grabbing the first edible thing in sight. So I was eating that anyway, and reading the book, and all of a sudden the oral sex started, and it was one of those "I wonder if this would be funny..." moments.

Kelly Sedinger said...

I'm trying to decide if I want to write something worthy of one of these summaries....

Nathan said...

I can't help imagining the Inner Goddess as being something like the cartoon Lizzie McGuire.