Readthroughs and Random Thoughts

Writing about what I'm reading…

50 Shades of Grey, E. L. James; Chapter Two

SO, kids, we survived chapter one. I think that, alone, is admirable, because if it weren’t for the promise of more things to snark about, bad sex, serial killer sociopathy and references to inner goddesses, I would have taken this book back to Savers and popped some tags. But no. There is more glorious horror within. And so many unsubtle Twilight references that you wonder why E. L. James didn’t just team up with Summit Entertainment and do the screenplay for the movies. Or “write” the inevitable porn parodies. (Though if you think about it, the only title that translates at all to a porno parody title is “Breaking Dawn.” Hmmm. It does sound vaguley BDSMish, though, doesn’t it?)
Anyway, chapter two? Ana spends the first few pages reeling, in mind-numbingly TMI detail, from her encounter with Grey, in a fashion that sounds like an extended, directors’ cut version of what happens when I ingest too much caffeine. Confusion, racing heart, spiralling thoughts, that sort of deal. If this was Jane Austen, the girl would have fainted, I suppose, so I shouldn’t snark too much.
Ana, by the way, is as disorientated as the reader has become. This is where I should credit E. L. James– or her editor– with doing something particularly creepy: changing the location of events without being obvious about it, to the point where you’re not really 100% aware of it. Didn’t the book start in Vancouver? Didn’t she drive to Seattle? I’m confused, and having horrible de ja vu about a self-published thing that I read once with a nauseatingly shifting background which turned out to be little more than silverchair/Savage Garden bandslash.Ohgod. Maybe I’ll chapter-by-chapter that, to show everyone that bad fiction is an equal opportunity lech and that it happens to gay couples, too. Or not, because at least the whole world isn’t screaming for more of it.
Anyway, we get some more pondering and stupid from Ana as she thinks about Grey:
I’m truly perplexed as to what makes someone so driven to succeed
Hmm, I dunno: money? Power? A desire for control, which you identified within two seconds of meeting the guy? I’m truly perplexed as to what makes someone not skim through these painful sections of introspection from Ana.
Some of his answers were so cryptic– as if he had a hidden agenda
I dunno, but none of what Mr. Grey said came across as at all cryptic. Unless, if, by cryptic, you mean “really fucking obvious,” though by this point I would also be thinking that perhaps you weren’t doing an English Lit degree if you had that as a viable definition of “cryptic.”
And then, folks, we have the Dramatic Driving Scene. She’s cautious and thoughtful and taking Grey’s “drive carefully” advice (was that cryptic?) to heart. Then she stops thinking, cranks the music, and zooms off, with “indie rock” blaring. She’s driving Kate’s luxury car, by the way, which, I dunno, would be enough of a reason for me to not speed like a moody teenager blaring emo– I mean “indie rock” music– particularly if I was a certified klutz. Because, I dunno, totalling my bestie’s car coming back from the interview that she really wanted would probably put some strain on the friendship, yanno?
She arrives home.
We live in a small community of duplex apartments close to the Vancouver campus of WSU. I’m lucky– Kate’s parents bought the place for her
(Wait. Hang on: this is important enough for me to interrupt the section: THEY BOUGHT HER AN ENTIRE UNIVERSITY? And I thought the girl I knew whose folks bought her an apartment and a car and pretty much anything she decided she needed and was too precious to get off her butt and work for had some entitlement issues. This one really takes the cake.)
and I pay peanuts for rent. It’s been home for four years now. As I pull up outside, I know Kate is going to want a blow-by-blow account
(yeah, but we, the readers, are a trifle sick of them)
and she is tenacious.
(She is also ill, though, which is why Ana attended the interview, so perhaps her tenacity isn’t at an all-time high right now, though, Ana.)
This section introduces me to something I haven’t seen mentioned before: a possibility which, if we were talking about a couple of male characters, would be painfully obvious to even the non-yaoi fangirls: Ana/Kate. I ship it. Let’s see: so far it’s got more going for it and it makes more sense than just about anything else in the book. They’ve lived together for four years. Presumably Kate has put up with Ana’s bullshit for this long, and even though Ana is always noting that no one can say no to Kate, she’s unable to as well. And there’s plenty in there to suggest that Ana finds Kate attractive. And, let’s face it, if Kate really is that manipulative and devious, what’s to say that she wasn’t getting Ana to ask Grey a bunch of embarrassing questions so there would never ever be a relationship between them. Ridiculous? Yes. Ridiculous in this universe though? Hell no. (And Kate herself didn’t want to go and do the interview lest she become part of Grey’s blonde brigade, right?)
Then we have Ana’s fixation with Kate’s bunny-covered pyjamas. We get, what, a third description of the pyjamas now:
…she’s still in her pink flannel pajamas decorated with cute little rabbits, the ones she reserves for the aftermath of breaking up with boyfriends, for assorted illnesses, and for general moody depression.
I’m cringing, reminded of when I was about eight and I used to write like this. At risk of saying something I’m going to regret: THIS IS BORING, E. L. JAMES, WE DO NOT NEED TWITTER-LEVEL DETAIL OF WHAT IS GOING ON. MAKE WITH THE NOOKIE.
…I’m going to regret saying that, aren’t I?
Kate asks Ana about the interview.
“Ana, thankyou so much for doing this. I owe you, you know. How was it? What was he like?” Oh no–here we go, the Katherine Kavanagh Inquisition.
Yeah… why the HELL would Kate be even mildly curious about how her dream interview, the one she’s spent months trying to land and then missed because she got sick– went? (Then again, why am I surprised that Ana is acting like this? A few pages ago she was wondering what motivated Grey to be a high achiever.)
I struggle to answer her question. What can I say?
“I’m glad it’s over and I don’t have to see him again. He was rather intimidating, you know.” I shrug. “He’s very focused, intense even– and young. Really young.”
Kate gazes innocently at me. I frown.
Oh, the tension and moodiness and overinvolved description, all about a dude who is hours away and whom she’ll never have to see again.
Ana then bitches out Kate for not giving her the guy’s backstory, and she heads off to her job. Kate worries about her being exhausted. I’m so shipping these two, though I’m already wanting Kate to find a girlfriend who isn’t a complete arsehole.
We get a few scattered, random and painlessly quick descriptions of bits and pieces. It’s very “tell not show” but the brevity is refreshing after arduous descriptions of secretaries and panic attacks and inane conversations. In dot points:
  • Ana works at a hardware store, even though she’s self-confessedly “crap at any DIY.” Normally I’d call frogshit on that, but I’ve been into video games shops staffed by people who don’t know about gaming, and I’ve been into book shops staffed by people whose reading ended with Little Golden Books. And don’t get me started on the “knowledge” imparted by a lot of pet shop clerks. I’ll buy that Ana isn’t there because she knows her DIY, okay? (Though I strongly suspect it’s Author Laziness which explains the lack of DIY knowledge.)
  • She’s pleased to be at work so she can stop being Overly Involved Girlfriend levels of obsessive about Grey.
  • Ana returns home to see Kate is still ill but toiling through the interview, and praising her on a job well done. Kate: you’re sweet, but really? That’s like congratulating the Bush Administration on the successful handling of when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
  • Kate has decided that Grey wanted to spend more time with Ana. Ana then goes all awkward and teenaged about everything and implies that Ana likes Grey and there is more juvenile flushing and ohmygodthisisdullhowdidanyonestickaroundlongenoughforthebadsex and
“So what did you really think of him?” Damn, she’s inquisitive.
Or Ana has some serious level of paranoia going on. Haven’t we already gone over this before? Kate was dying for the interview. She got it. She missed it. She’s curious. Sheesh.
“He’s very driven, controlling, arrogant–scary, but very charismatic. I can understand the fascination,” I add truthfully, hoping this will shut her up once and for all.
It’s funny: Ana’s the one who can’t stop thinking about him, and yet she’s pissed at Kate for asking some questions.
“You, fascinated by a man? That’s a first,” she snorts.
By which point I’m snorting because this only adds to my Ana/Kate shipping. They have sandwiches, Kate seems to think that Grey is taken with Ana, and then Ana goes to bed and dreams of “dark places, bleak, cold white floors, and grey eyes.”
I’m pretty sure this is meant to sound deep and intriguing and vaguely dangerous. It sounds ridiculous instead.
We get some more short, sharp slices of Ana’s life which consist of working at the hardware store, watching Kate recovering whilst putting together the student newspaper (is she the editor or the lead writer or what —and does it actually matter?) in those rabbit pajamas which need to get mentioned again, and talking to her scatty ADHD mother who doesn’t sound at all like Bella Swann’s mother from Twilight. From here on out, I’ve deduced that there are so many similarities between them that I’m going to see 50 Shades as Twilight in a parallel universe. And this has me thinking about what would happen if a whole bunch of parallel universes of bad fanfic came together and there was an almighty deathmatch between the various insecure, narcissistic heroines with terribly porn-starry or over-the-top soap operattic names, and their respective Mr. Darcy wannabes and how much more interesting that would be, because this is really, really fucking arduous. See, this is all escapist fantasy because the canon is that fucking dull. Ana’s mother is boy crazy, it seems, and wants Ana to be dating. And she has a much older husband. I’m sure this is some sort of foreshadowing or something, or just Lazy Authorial Excuse for Ana’s mother to have loads of cash to splash.
Oh, and probably irrelevent to the plot, but worth mentioning for some reason: Ana chats to Ray, her stepfather, (Ana’s mother’s second husband) who grunts rather than talks, but who is apparently a skilled carpenter and who apparently has a list of man hobbies and is mentioned in the mix for reasons unknown. But at least, as Ana says, he’s still alive, leading me to wonder if we’re going to see Daddy issues used to explain Ana’s psyche in later stages of the book.All that we glean from that conversation is that Ray exists, he doesn’t talk, and he is well. He is possibly the least annoying character in the series so far.
We also get to meet Jose, who is, as others have said, not at all Jacob from Twilight, whose father is a friend of Ana’s stepfather, who has dark twinkling eyes, and presumably a really obvious crush on Ana which will incite rage and jealousy and possibly some thinly-disguised uncomfortable racism from Edw– I mean, Grey– later on. Even though Jose is visiting, she’s still thinking about Grey. Yawn. Jose is a photographer and even though he’s just got an exhibition happening, all Ana can think about is teh Grey.
Things get moving again when Ana is working at the hardware store, and who should spontaneously (NOT) wander in but… yep. He’s here. And he’s reduced her to a gibberish, wide-eyed whispering mess.
“I was in the area,” he says by way of explanation. “I need to stock up on a few things. It’s a pleasure to see you again, Miss Steele.”
And there aren’t any hardware stores in Seattle, right? This is where my skin starts crawling: you see a guy once, in an environment three hours away, in a social sphere entirely different to your own, and suddenly he knows where you work and he’s “casually” popping in to visit? I believe I am meant to find this romantic. I find it deeply disturbing. It’s not like she added him on FaceBook or something.
And no review of this book is complete without this quote:
His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.
I actually blinked when I first read it. This is the sort of thing I’ve written in sleep-deprived moments when writing porn-without-plot fanfiction, which beta readers have looked at, underlined, and gone, “You need to make that into a real sentence, delete it, find another way of saying it, or rework it.” And then I’ve cringed and gone, “How the fuck did that get there?” like I did when I realised that there was an early Britney album in my CD library.
E. L. James’ editor must be that producer who Shakira fired. You know, the one who didn’t pick up that the line “Lucky that my breasts are small and humble so you don’t confuse them with mountains” made it into a song… which was then released as a single.
I shake my head to gather my wits. My heart is pounding at a frantic tempo, and for some reason I’m blushing furiously under his steady scrutiny. I am utterly thrown by the sight of him standing before me. My memories of him did not do him justice. He’s not merely good-looking– he’s the epitome of male beauty, breathtaking, and he’s here. Here in Clayton’s Hardware Store. Go figure.
See what I mean about the overly-caffeinated state? She’s going nuts. I mean, fer reals: whouda thunk that pretty people need to buy things at the hardware store? That’s like suggesting that they sleep and shit and eat and stuff.
“Ana. My name’s Ana,” I mutter, “What can I help you with, Mr. Grey?”
He smiles, and again it’s like he’s privy to some big secret. It is so disconcerting.
And so on and so forth.
Grey’s shopping list includes cable ties, which is apparently some sort of codespeak for something my poor naive brain hasn’t figured out yet because there’s more overexaggerated weirdness between them and Ana acting like she’s been slipped some es. Gawd forbid he ask for some lube and tiedowns or hoes or anything else which might have a vaguely sexual double entendre attached to it which would be commonly found in a hardware store.
More conversation over the hardware, more Ana pondering. Instead of being at least a little bit not-stupid and framing some investigative questions about what he’s doing posed as customer service (it’s amazing what you can get customers to tell you about themselves… how do you think I made my years in retail interesting?), Ana ponders about his need for particular hardware items. Over the course of the conversation, Ana wonders about his arrival there, going into Carly Rae Jepson Call Me Maybe video clip mode and having fantasies that it’s All About Her, only to be brought back to reality to hear that he’s here because of one of his philanthropic projects. Except that he’s not, really, and it is all about her, but she doesn’t know it yet, and unsatisfied, Ana pouts. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a functional model of adult maturity right here. So help me god. Hang on… I don’t believe in god. And… let’s face it, the popularity of this book and watching people squeal about it like it’s fucking Tolstoy is only further evidence the Richard Dawkins fans need, IMHO. Either that, or there is a god, and he’s an arsehole.
Eventually Ana starts asking about his need for DIY stuff. And I’ll admit something: a FaceBook friend spoilered me about this: when I admitted I was reading the book, she told me about the cable ties. Being used… as a sex toy.
Now, I don’t do the whole BDSM thing, and I think now that this series is very mainstream, I’m going to steer very fucking clear of the whole scene at least until the hype dies down, because frankly, the idea of people using cable ties in sex play is scary. Just… cable ties. Think about it for a minute. Think about even one thing that could go wrong with this. And then realise, like I did, that if people are buying the idea of cable ties as sex toys, then maybe those Captain Obvious warning labels you see on things (WARNING: WEARING OF CAPE DOES NOT ENABLE USER TO FLY [child’s Superman cape] WARNING: DO NOT USE IN BATHTUB OR SHOWER [hairdryer]  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO STOP CHAIN WITH YOUR HANDS OR GENITALS [chainsaw]) really DO have a functional purpose in preserving the human race, as much as I think Darwin’s Law should be taking care of things.
Back when I was a kid, I remember you’d hear about the odd British Conservative who’d be found dead through some sort of hilarious sexual misadventure, usually involving autoerotic asphixiation and some quirky props. A few years ago, I heard about kids copying stuff they saw in porn (and assumed was the real, unlubricated deal) and wound up giving one another injuries with. Nurse friends of mine and morbid curiousity on the internet have introduced me to all sorts of amusing sexual mishaps which have resulted in emergency room staff having to correct things.
I have more than a sneaking suspicion that the health profession is about to encounter horrors that were inspired by 50 Shades of Grey. Let’s face it: cable ties don’t belong on body parts.
I assume the masking tape and the rope he also adds to his shopping list is wink wink, nudge nudgey as well, and I realise there is nothing suspect about these items by themselves, but, well, three things:
a) wouldn’t a guy who has all this money available to him be purchasing top quality BDSM gear from specialist outlets or online? (Come on, even Cracked.com knows about this stuff (http://www.cracked.com/article_19488_14-luxury-sex-toys-extremely-rich-creepy.html#ixzz1dXXRuguH)
b) the rope, masking tape and cable ties all sound very uncomfortable. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to use Google and realise that they actually make versions of these sorts of things specifically designed for “adult entertainment.”
c) Are there no sex toy shops in Seattle, too? Did Guiliani come in and get rid of them under the guise of cleaning up the town or something?
Again, I can’t help but be irked on a Lazy Writer level, because it really doesn’t take much in the way of research to blow this entire mess out of the water. Maybe this would be easier to believe if it were the 1950s or something, but we’re a generation with the internet and years of research invested in sex toy development (if the Cracked.com article is to be believed) and there are possibly a bazillion other more plausible ways they could have met and interacted.
Also, how old is Ana? Her age hasn’t been revealed yet, but she sounds like she’s about 14. Seriously, the narrative reminds me of when I was a kid reading The Babysitters’ Club books (except I actually liked the characters) and that just makes the book MORE disturbing. At least in Lolita, we damn well know it’s fucking creepy. This has been described as “Mommy porn.”
Grey tells her he’s redecorating and seems to find this funny. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve picked up a crime thriller by accident, and when extra-thick plastic garbage bags (we called them “body bags” in trauma cleaning) are going to get asked for. Grey then starts asking Ana about herself, and there are some awkward accidental touching moments between them, and Ana has to mentally remind herself not to look at his various features.
There’s a half-hearted attempt to upsell to him, too, where she suggests, because he kind of asked what else he’d need that he gets coveralls. Cue this:
“You wouldn’t want to ruin your clothing.” I gesture vaguely in the direction of his jeans.
“I could always take them off.” He smirks.
“Um.” I feel the colour in my cheeks rising again. I must be the colour of The Communist Manifesto.
“Um” was the only reaction I had to that.
 
More talking, and apparently they need photos of Grey, who obliges and agrees to do a photoshoot for Ana and Kate.
Grey gives him her business card.
All of a sudden: a wild Paul has appeared.
Oh, Paul’s some Ivy league kid who works at the hardware store, and who is related to the boss, and who seems completely unaware of the idea that “No, buddy, I’m not interested in dating you” actually means that. He’s repeatedly hit on Ana, who has repeatedly turned him down. He also seems to be a “toucher”– you know thaose people who aren’t good with personal space? In the space of a few moments, he hugs Ana, and “drapes an arm possessively over [her] shoulder.” At work. In front of a customer. EW.
Ana then decides Paul needs to meet Grey and introduces them. Paul gushes about Grey because, he’s, like a bazillionaire, and this painful exchange comes to an end when Ana rings up his sale and there’s more introspection from her and more overly-descriptive arrrrgh which could have been sliced artfully by a decent editor, and then the chapter ends.
I know a lot of writers struggle with the second of something: the second book, the second chapter, et cetera. I’ll admit, I understand. I’ll also admit, though, this was fucking painful to get through, and it took me ages. Not because it’s a hard read, but because I got bored. Things I did whilst reading this chapter– got distracted by the internet, started writing a piece of abandoned fanfic I rediscovered on my hard drive, finally fixed my computer and sorted out conflicting driver issues, started reading Dark Soul, an Aleksandr Voinov novel about gay mafioso (which completely shits all over this, by the way), watched a few episodes of Blake’s 7, worked, slept, roller derbied and watched the first season of the Persona 4 anime. And edited and uploaded 16k of fanfiction.
I normally don’t distract myself that much whilst reading a chapter of a book. It either has to be particularly dry (but seriously, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was more gripping and interesting than this) or especially long-winded and, well, challenging, but this was… I dunno. It reminds me of betaing especially crappy fanfiction, only this time there aren’t spelling errors and I don’t have to be at least a tad nice and encouraging in my feedback.
I hope Chapter Three is better or at least more engaging. Seriously, there has to be a reason people persevered with this and got to the dodgy sex scenes.

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