Saturday, February 01, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 13

You know you're in trouble with this chapter when, in the opening paragraph, Anastasia is worried about tomorrow's dinner with Christian because "I'm worried that perhaps I've been too negative in my response to the contract." What? What? WHAT? The contract where Christian asserts total dominance and control over you in every aspect of your life, even when you're not with him at all, to the point where you're not even allowed to touch him or look him in the eye? That contract? You're worried you've been too negative about that contract? I'm worried that no one could ever be negative enough about that contract.

But no, she's worried. And she's also trying to get through a conversation with her mom, who can't come to Ana's graduation because her husband got injured and she has to take care of him. I'm not suggesting the only reason that's happening is because that's what happened to Bella's mother in Twilight, but, you know, this novel is an incredibly shitty rip-off of Twilight, so draw your own blindingly obvious conclusions.

(Also, isn't it convenient that she's not going to get to meet Christian? I mean, I know EL James couldn't be setting this up, but I'm still holding on to this hope that Christian is actually the stepfather that Ana never met and doesn't know anything about, and this is all some kind of twisted revenge scheme or something, because if you're going to write something this fucked up, go big or go home.)

I've mentioned it before, but I need to mention it again: Anastasia is a total bitch to everyone she knows on a personal level. I think she's just got that kind of narcissistic social disorder where she loves validation but can't stand attention, and sees having any personal relationships as a burden unless they're completely on her own terms and at her own whim. First, she seems desperate to get off the phone with her mother, whom she called to distract her from thinking about Christian. Then, she calls the one stepfather she thinks of like her father, Ray, and tells us all about this special connection they have and how much she loves him, but also describes their conversation as "mercifully brief," because nothing says you think of someone as your rock in the storm like wishing they'd get off the phone after you called them about your graduation plans. Then she has Paul at the store hounding her for a date; he actually doesn't believe her when she keeps telling him she already has a date, which is unbelievably offensive--to her credit, she thinks so, too, but I wish she'd just called him on what an asshole he is--and then he's actually exasperated with her when she says she has a date with Christian Grey. And then she has Kate just standing around and being supportive and saying things like "Boy, you scrub up well" and "Just keeping it real" and not really acting like a person. I kind of hope in the movie Kate's played by Danny DeVito, but the way he played Joey Buttafuoco on Saturday Night Live, because that's all I'm getting anymore. Ana gets annoyed because Kate calls her "hot," because supportive friends, ugh, what a drag, right?

Ugh, ugh, ugh. Fuck.

Before the dinner, Christian sends her an email with the dictionary definition of the word "submissive," which is kind of hateful and doesn't actually apply to the kink he's pretending to have in order to have an excuse to torture women. This isn't discussing the terms of the contract, this is just being rude. She sends him the definition of "compromise," but she should really be sending him the definition of "dismissive," because he's still not taking her concerns seriously. Ana actually does something smart here and tells him she'll be driving her own car to their dinner, and he gets really huffy about it, because duh, he's trying to cut her off from escaping, because he's an abusive asshole.

(Side note: there is a metric fuck-ton of extraneous detail in here about Ana getting ready for her date. Does no publishing house hire editors anymore? Every book isn't Stranger in a Strange Land. As they meet for dinner, we're on page 214 of 514. there is no reason for this. A better, more succinct writer--maybe one who's actually researched what they're writing about--could probably have pulled off this entire novel in less than 300 pages. The Bell Jar is 288 pages. The Catcher in the Rye is only 220. But those were literary masterpieces written by talented people. I see no reason why this story--which is only the first third of a larger story!--needs 102 more pages than Dune to say nothing.)

So Ana goes to meet Christian to discuss her objections to the contract, and it's all manipulative bullshit again.

She tells him the contract is legally unenforceable, and his reaction is basically "Well, duh," but it's pretty clear he was going to let her think that it was. He also dismissively says "If you don't like it, then don't sign," even though every time she says she might not sign he has a little hissy fit and then shows up at her apartment saying he wishes he could beat her and that would fix everything. (Even in this chapter's email exchange, he laments to Ana--who has not agreed to anything yet--"Do you ever think you'll be able to do what you're told?" Fuck you, pal.)

He natters on about trust, which they've had no real time to build up, and honesty, which he seems to be confusing with being direct. He's been very direct about what he wants from her, but he hasn't been honest about it--in fact, he's very closed about it. Hell, when she starts to ask about his past submissives, he steers the conversation away from that (possibly because EL James has no clue how Doms and subs meet and doesn't want to do the research), then pulls her into a private dining room (cutting her off from the outside world again), her glass of wine in hand, and starts getting pissy about her eating habits again, because he always has to re-establish control over her instead of just talking to her like a goddamn person.

(Another side note: EL James describes the table as "all starched linen, crystal glasses, silver cutlery, and white rose bouquet." Of all of her idiotic writing habits--and there are many--this is the one that pisses me off the most. Everything is "all" some stuff because I don't know how to describe it so I'll just be vague. This whole thing feels like it just takes place on an empty stage in an empty theater surrounded by smoke and fuzz and shadows.)

This is the wrong venue for a serious conversation about limits and role-play, because Ana is constantly getting distracted by the wine and trying oysters for the first time and, you know, how hawt Christian is. She's constantly giddy and incredulous over the idea that he's actually attracted to her, because that's her schema to deal with. He's always directing her to eat and subtly reminding her that she's not really in control, and every time she gets all heady with wine and lust, he talks about another point in the contract, so it comes across so smarmy and calculated, like he's trying to trick her into thinking they've really made compromises. The only things he actually compromises on are her food and exercise. He does give her her weekend off, but manages to weasel in a mid-week visit on those weeks.

"Obey me in all things. Yes, I want you to do that. I need you to do that. Think of it as role-play Anastasia." It's not role-play if it's constant. If it's constant, it's her life, and you don't get that.

The thing Ana can't get over and the thing that's making me so disgustipated with this book is that Christian doesn't want a real relationship. He doesn't want to date her and get to know her and go out and do stuff with her and then also engage in SM play at specified times. He only wants this master-slave thing that he keeps incorrectly referring to as a Dom/sub thing. Dom/sub is as much about nurturing as it is about the actual domination and submission. Has EL James ever heard of sub-drop? It's the endorphin crash that comes after BDSM, when the endorphin high runs out and normality actually feels depressing compared to the euphoric high of earlier. (They call it sub-drop, but it doesn't just happen to subs.) It can actually lead to serious depression or depression-like states, and depending on the intensity of the session, it can last for weeks. That kind of thing is why you can't do this 24/7. There's a nurturing, reassuring side that has to go with the come-down, and Christian is just not going to do it because he doesn't respect the biology and the emotions of it. He thinks this is all about his power. But no; it's about her power, too. The power is on both sides of the relationship, which is one of the things that can be so erotic about it; the difference is in how that power is wielded and given.

EL James has such a bad understanding of the dynamics involved and Christian just keeps trying to railroad Ana into accepting his bargain, saying things like "You'll get used to it" (which doesn't sound like a mutually agreed on decision to me) and explaining how wonderful it will be when she doesn't have to think for herself anymore, which is a complete misunderstanding of the D/s relationship.

Then, the unexpected happens: Ana, after calling out Christian for using sex as a weapon, actually asserts herself. He's trying to overpower her, so she tries to play his game. She acts seductive, and he's surprised by it. Taken aback, even. He desperately wants her, but she needs boundaries (good choice), so she turns him down and says she's going home. When did she become an actual person?

Christian tries to up the manipulation, first threatening to make her stay, then telling her he doesn't think she's submissive after all (because you totally misinterpreted her introversion as submissive, which is a mistake people make all the time), and then basically telling her that he doesn't know any other way to be in a relationship. EL James tries to make it all sad and poignant, but it just comes across like threats.

But there's this whole undertone of saying goodbye to this, where neither one of them seems sure they'll ever see one another again. He wants her to spend the night; she says she won't if she can't touch him. She wants a real relationship, he doesn't. This isn't a high tragedy. It's just life. You had some great sex, now move on and have sex with another man. Or a woman. Or yourself. There are so many possibilities in life; you don't have to just bind yourself to this one man because he's hawt and he gave you a couple of orgasms.

What's disappointing, actually, is that in this one bit of this one chapter, Ana almost seems to know that. I think she'd be amenable to some of the D/s stuff if she could also have a real relationship with him. And she really seems to know that it's not going to happen. So, seriously... just walk away.

This is what makes Christian Grey such a giant asshole: he claims he's all about teaching her and testing her limits and trust and honesty, but he doesn't want a relationship. And I don't mean a dating relationship or even a friendship... I mean the actual relationship part that goes into being a Dominant. I mean that nurturing, respectful part I was talking about before. He doesn't want the responsibility of it. We keep hearing all about her responsibilities to him, but what about his responsibilities to her as a caring, respectful Dominant? He doesn't care. He has no interest in her well-being, only in what she can do for him.

Jesus, guy, hire a professional sub and leave this gal alone.

This is like reading Twilight, only all of that novel's emotional and verbal abuse is supplemented by the physical abuse that merely seemed like a constant threat in the other book.

Ana gets home, finds an email from Christian basically guilting her into signing the contract, but in a way that makes it clear that he's not going to compromise any further. Ana cries herself to sleep, thinking about all the times Christian has warned her to stay away, and the way, at dinner, he said "This is all I know."

"And as I weep into my pillow silently, it's this last idea I cling to. This is all I know, too. Perhaps together we can chart a new course."

Girl, no. That's some co-dependent shit. It's not up to you to fix someone who's broken. Seriously: walk away.

Well, congratulations, novel. You actually made me feel sorry for Anastasia Steele. Too bad I know she's going to try to make this work. Idiot.


Autumn said...

One of the more frustrating things about this book is how she couldn't even be bothered to research the Dom/Sub relationship, because it's so so inaccurate. This is just her fantasy of an abusive relationship involving mildly kinky sex....
and apparently people are really really into it. Which is kind of terrible, right?

SamuraiFrog said...

That really does mystify me. I just can't fathom anyone finding this romantic in some way. That's the part I don't understand at all.