50 Shades of Grey; E. L. James: Chapter Three
Something really awkward has started happening to me with 50 Shades of Grey. People have noticed it in close proximity to my person, and have asked the inevitable, “Are you reading it?”
And then I say, “Yeah, well…” and feel like I need to explain. And then I hear that they’re fans of the book. And therein lies the awkwardness: I’m not sure what to say because that’s fine, if people like this stuff, that’s their prerogative, but, um, I really don’t. And I don’t know how to say, “I’m finding it arduous and horrible and that’s when I’m not cringing with pity for the writer whose editor doesn’t know when to say enough” without being, well, offensive.
And then part of me longs to say, “Um, there’s, like, a bazillion better porny titles I could recommend to you,” but I realise it’s probably a little bit odd to recommend porn to people whom you work with.
So, anyway, onto chapter three. Still no inner goddesses and badsex. What does happen, though, is as follows:
Kate gets all excited about not having to use stock photos of Grey for her article and gets convinced that this is the start of a beautiful thing between Ana and Grey. Meanwhile, I spend far too much time wondering if there is a grammatical error and there should be a question mark after Kate says “[…] The question is, who’s going to do them and where.”
Then I realise I’m in editor mode, that it doesn’t matter because the horse has well and truly bolted, and I’m sure there will be more head-tiltingly “WTF was that?” moments so I probably don’t need to get hung up on this one.
Paul, Ana’s touchy-feely-workmate, wanders in and tells Kate to GTFO the phone and actually do some work, and then asks her all about Grey. He then asks her out again. Ana turns him down, which is probably the only thing she’s going to do in the entire series that I agree isn’t mind-crushingly stupid, because Paul, despite his all-American boy-next-door looks, connection to the boss and Ivy league attendance, comes across as a world-class creep with Nice Guy Syndrome. Especially when he tells her—after what I’d consider The Most Obvious Hint Ever (beyond “Dude, I’ve been living with a girl for four years and I haven’t dated any dudes in all the time you’ve known me which is longer than that, and I make her soup when she gets sick and I know what type of mood she’s in by what pyjamas she’s wearing…”)
“Ana, one of these days you’ll say yes.”
(To which, my reply, were I in Ana’s shoes would be something along the lines of, “I might be saying, “Yes, Your Honour, I do understand that stabbing him forty-three times in the throat and genitals looks like overkill, but he would not fucking take no for an answer.” Ana doesn’t say anything like this, though.)
Anyway, they line up the photography shoot with Jose, Kate pretty much bullying him into it even though the poor kid explains that he doesn’t take portrait photos, but architectural ones. But Jose shouldn’t have any issues: there’s probably more life in your average skyscraper than there is in Grey, and a hell of a lot more warmth.
Ana then calls Grey, at Kate’s insistence. Ana does that panic-attack One Direction fangirl freakout thing she’s been doing every other time she interacts with Grey, and has to remind herself to breathe. Maybe when these two finally have sex, the shock will actually kill her.
(And then everything will go all Body of Evidence and it’ll have fake face-slaps and terrible acting and oh god how many times have I come up with plot which would turn this book around into an awesomely camp crime thriller?)
Grey agrees to the photo shoot, at the hotel he’s staying at.
“Okay, we’ll see you there.” I am all gushing and breathy—like a child, not a grown woman who can vote and legally drink in the state of Washington.
God, that felt awkward. For one thing, yes, Ana does sound like a child—well, an angsty teenager in the throes of awkwardness, and for another, children don’t sound gushing and breathy. “Gushing” I associate with sycophants and people on various stimulants, and “breathy” I associate with phone sex operators giving you a five-bucks-a-minute description of the clothing they’ll supposedly be removing in the next five-bucks-a-minute. Neither of these things bring to mind children.
I don’t know why we get the Washington reference, unless it’s to illustrate that E. L. James has actually researched at least something about the location where her characters are about to do their thing.
“I look forward to it, Miss Steele.” I visualise the wicked gleam in his eyes. How can he make seven little words hold so much tantalising promise?
How can someone make one sentence sound like it’s been in and out of several languages through Google Translate? And what the fuck is such a tantalising promise about “I look forward to it”? Unless there’s something implied in “photoshoot for an article” that my twisted little mind has managed not to decrypt. And trust me, I’ve spent more than ten years in fandom, so it’s likely that I’ve come across most euphemisms or mind-going-bad-places scenarios. But this? I got nothin’.
Kate goes all fangirly-squeeish and starts playing armchair psychologist and posting that she ships Grey/her bestie all over online business discussion groups and is disproportionately excited about the fact that Ana likes a boy. Perhaps Kate’s found a girl who is nice and intelligent and non-irritating and is trying to slip off to the side and wants Ana to truly be happy so that’s why she’s so insanely excited. Or someone’s given her some Es.
“Anastasia Rose Steele! You like him! I’ve never seen or heard you so… so… affected by anyone before. You’re actually blushing.”
“Oh Kate, you know I blush all the time. It’s an occupational hazard with me. Don’t be ridiculous,” I snap. She blinks at me with surprise—I rarely throw hissy fits—and I briefly relent. “I just find him …intimidating, that’s all.”
So much awkward in that paragraph. I actually typed it out differently, realising that I was playing beta reader once again, and had to go back and redo it verbatim. Oops.
A couple of points on this stuff, too: Is Kate’s opinion of this guy and their relationship really that important? Ana/Kate shipping aside (though I’m honestly wondering if there will be an Ana/Kate/Grey threesome down the track and this is a subtle lead-in to that*) who really gives a fuck whether Kate is cheering and popping champagne or sulking in a corner about it? I get a sense of recreated author experiences here: did E. L. James long for that uber-supportive friend who encouraged her and cheered her on with relationships like that? All this Kate-fangirling-Ana/Grey stuff is really starting to feel like that.
Also: how many people react like, well, this, about someone they find intimidating? Someone as nervy as Ana would most likely go into preservation retreat mode rather than Call Me Maybe mode. “Intimidated by” is a crappy excuse, and it seems out of place here. Even if she’d said something cheesy like “I just find him interesting/intriguing/fascinating” or something even worse like “He makes my heart race and my libido soar to the heavens,” that would have been at least more relevant than “intimidated by.”
I am restless that night, tossing and turning, dreaming of smoky grey eyes, coveralls, long legs, long fingers, and dark, dark unexplored places.
I feel like keeping a dream diary of Ana’s nightmare-fuelly dreams which are meant to sound symbolic and deep but which instead come across as unintentionally terrifying. Whether they’re meant to or not: it’s like when some idiotic parent decides that because it’s “a cartoon,” there’s nothing wrong with their six year old watching The Wall or Perfect Blue or some of the more surreal Studio Ghibli stuff, and then the poor kid spends ages trying to make sense of what they’ve encountered and can only come up with strange whimpering noises and the desire to keep their eyes open all the damned time. (Honest, I actually did know someone who was completely freaked out by Pink Floyd music until she was in her early twenties thanks to Mum and Dad assuming that the animation in The Wall made the movie kid-friendly.)
Think about it for a second: Ana’s dreams are scary, in that abstract, disconnected kind of fearful way where you don’t know what’s going on and you’re feverishly wondering whether you’re hot or cold or why the room is shrinking or if you somehow ingested magic mushrooms. And the addition of coveralls just adds to the effect for some reason.
I’m really unnerved by the dreams. Then again, I haven’t gotten to the book’s sex scene yet. I’m sure I’ll be okay.
Anyway, morning after, they drive to the hotel. For some reason (which is later revealed to be a continuity assistant), the group of them arrive in Ana’s car, with Kate taking her own car because apparently everyone won’t fit in Ana’s car. (Presumably they’ll all fit in Kate’s, which makes the greenie and miser in me go, “Why the fuck don’t they just all go in Kate’s car?” but who gives a fuck about pollution, natural resources and the cost of fuel when… I don’t know. Seriously: name me a uni student who isn’t freaking out about the cost of living and pulling all sorts of stops out to save money.)
Some dude called Travis comes along to help out too. Yawn. More arduous description of shit that doesn’t really matter, and they arrive at the hotel. Kate apparently dazzles the hotel staff with her beauty and gets better service because this is what blondes do. For some reason, a young, nervous marketing executive shows them up to the room (why have hotel staff when you can have marketing execs wait on you, right?) and we get more extraneous bullshit and Kate starts bossing everyone around. Or asking everyone to do their bit in getting this photo shoot happening because presumably otherwise they’d stand around like stunned mullets.
Some foreshadowing (or Ana/Kate suggestion) from Ana:
Yes mistress. She is so domineering. I roll my eyes but do as I’m told.
Ana has a type, it seems.
Grey shows up, resembling something from a Calvin Klein print ad, Ana ogles, and a bodyguard with stubble and a buzzcut (presumably another guy to fall for Ana?) arrives on the scene.
“Miss Steele, we meet again.”
No fucking shit, Captain Obvious.
Grey extends his hand, and I shake it, blinking rapidly.
Warning: this hunk of estrogen-bait may cause seizures.
And then we get this:
Oh my… he really is quite…
Hands up who didn’t hear that “Oh my” in George Takei’s voice? I am ruined. Ruined, I tells you.
We never find out quite what Grey is, but it’s probably smooth and dark and melty and unexplored like fudge chocolate coveralls or some fucking thing anyway, and it doesn’t matter because Ana is having a reaction that’s kind of, um, electric.
As I touch his hand, I’m aware of that delicious current running right through me, lighting me up, making me blush, and I’m sure my erratic breathing must be audible.
Zzzzap. Mosquito, meet bug zapper.
Kate gets introduced to Grey (and my editorial hat comes back on and I’m mentally striking red pen through some more of this book) and Ana admits to being in awe of Kate for her apparent confidence. Basically, Kate doesn’t turn into a gibbering fangirl or have an epileptic fit when she is in close proximity to Grey, therefore she is to be awed.
Jose and Grey (hey, their names rhyme!) meet, and it’s like watching two stags sizing one another up before the tangling of antlers and the wrestle for dominance and the inevitable transferred-emotions not-quite-hatesex that happens—oh, pardon me, I was just trying to make this more interesting—and Grey sits down and poses. Ana gets to ogle him close up.
There is some weirdness which I can only hope is homoerotic subtext happening between Jose and Grey, but which is probably some sort of “Both of us are in love with the same girl,” bullshitty Twilight thing, and then Grey walks out, deciding that he has to ask Ana out for a coffee because as well as having the power to run an empire, cause epileptic seizures, and reduce an English Lit student to the sort of prose a ten year old would come out with, he’s also the king of subtlety and discretion. He then offers to get his bodyguard to drive the others home. Ana says no. More time for the red pen.
Grey smiles a dazzling, unguarded, natural, all-teeth-showing, glorious smile. Oh my…
Sorry, there I was about to say “Cram some more adjectives in there, Ms. James,” and George Takei’s voice took over. A peverse part of my brain wants to see “Oh my” pop up in the sex scenes now.
Grey lets her into some room where the others are, Kate gushes more about how Grey loves her (is this in front of Grey or what?) and then Ana asks Kate about the car situation.
“Christian Grey asked me to go for coffee with him.”
Her mouth pops open. Speechless Kate! I savor the moment. She grabs me by the arm and drags me into the bedroom that’s off the living area of the suite.
“Ana, there’s something about him.” Her tone is full of warning. “He’s gorgeous, I agree, but I think he’s dangerous. Especially for someone like you.”
By this point, I’m laughing out loud. I’m hoping that Kate will admit that she just got some of the photos developed and there was no image of Grey in them or something awesomely supernatural like that, but the next line is actually funnier:
“What do you mean, someone like me?” I demand, affronted.
“An innocent like you, Ana. You know what I mean,” she says a little irritated.
So much to say here. My first thought was “Fuck, how old is Ana?” followed by “Is this some sort of 1950s euphemistic thing about sex?” And why is Kate, previously captain of the SS GreySteele, now so freaked out by the idea?
Anyway, even though she hates coffee, they do coffee. Ana has more physical reactions to Grey’s presence, there’s small talk, some elevator awkwardness (again, red pen time) and he holds her hand for four entire blocks as they try to find a coffee shop.
There is awkwardness over ordering beverages.
I surreptitiously gaze at him from beneath my lashes […]
ARRRGH. Well where the fuck else is she going to be be gazing from? Her navel? Furthermore, unless she doesn’t have bottom eye lashes, or her upper ones are so enormous that she’s aware of the fact that she’s looking out from underneath them, just NO NO NO NO.
At least we get another “Oh my.” (Can someone PLEASE ask George Takei to do a reading of this book if he’s got the time and the humour to do so? I realise it’s a big ask, and I mean the man no offense, but seriously, people…)
Once or twice he runs his long, graceful fingers through his now dry but still disorderly hair. Hmmm… I’d like to do that. The thought comes unbidden into my mind and my face flames. I bite my lip and stare down at my hands again, not liking where my wayward thoughts are headed.
Did I miss something? The girl’s looked at a dude she’s clearly sexually attracted to, and thought, “Yeah, I’d tap that,” and she’s having a guilt meltdown about thinking about this? Strict Catholic household with guilt about sex instilled from a young age stuff? Fundamentalist Christian upbringing about how sex is the devil tempting you and that women aren’t meant to think about sex unless their husbands do? I don’t fucking know, and to be honest, I don’t fucking care, either. Let’s just get to the end of the chapter.
They drink tea and coffee (more arduous description which would put Tolkien to shame), and Grey asks if Jose is Ana’s boyfriend.
After Ana’s said that she likes her tea black and weak.
I don’t even…
Ana watches his finger because it’s apparently fascinating watching him peel a muffin wrapper from a muffin. Grey says she seems nervous around men. Grey is a fuckwit. It’s mean to prey on the emotionally vulnerable and obviously weak. I don’t like Ana, but I don’t actually derive any pleasure from seeing Grey being a jerk, either. He’s not even a cool jerk.
“I find you intimidating.” I flush scarlet, but mentally pat myself on the back for my candor, and gaze at my hands again. I hear his sharp intake of breath.
“You should find me intimidating.” He nods. “You’re very honest. Please don’t look down, I like to see your face.”
Oh. I glance at him and he gives me an encouraging but wry smile.
“It gives me some sort of clue what you might be thinking,” he breathes. “You’re a mystery, Miss Steele.”
I laughed here. I felt guilty and mean for doing so, but I did. Um, Ana, sweetie, he’s sizing you up. You’re not being flattered, you’re being interrogated. And even when he’s being so hopelessly obvious, you’re still in fucking la-la land and—look—I’m sorry—it’s really hard to have any empathy or desire to identify with someone this fucking moronic.
More blushing from Ana, creepiness from Grey, unsubtle foreshadowing (“I’m used to getting my own way, Anastasia,” he murmurs. “In all things.”) and Ana suddenly deciding to challenge him. He’s warning her of, so she goes after him.
Oh, Ana, this is like, the oldest game in the book. It’s probably in the fucking Bible. Or hieroglyphs scratched onto some pyramid somewhere. Seriously, girlie, I am socially inept and even I’m aware that you’re being played, badly, like an out-of-tune instrument.
She asks him about why he doesn’t ask her to call him by his first name. (They’ve met three times. They’ve met personally, what, once? It is not like they’re fucking. Next thing she’ll be asking why he’s not calling her his girlfriend or something.)
“The only people who use my given name are my family and a few close friends. That’s the way I like it.”
Wow. I mean, um, wow. The guy has friends?
Oh. He still hasn’t said “Call me Christian.” He is a control freak, there’s no other explanation, and part of me is thinking maybe it would have been better if Kate had interviewed him. Two control freaks together. Plus, of course, she’s almost blonde—well, strawberry blonde—like all the women in his office. And she’s beautiful, my subconscious reminds me. I don’t like the idea of Christian and Kate.
Okay, um, now who’s being the control freak? Who’s throwing a hissy fit in spite of her previous declaration of rarely throwing hissy fits? Who seems to have some serious resentment towards her best friend, too, while we’re at it?
He asks about her family life. She obliges and tells him. It’s complicated and boring. He taunts her about not giving much away. She gets some information about his family—there are Grey siblings, presumably important to the plot somewhere down the track—and there’s some talk about travel.
He cocks his head to one side, running his index finger across his lower lip… oh my.
Nope, George Takei’s voice hasn’t dulled in my mind no matter how many times I see this phrase.
It all comes to an abrupt, painless end when Ana remembers, after hinting that she’d really like to go to England, that she’s got study to do. Grey walks her out to the hotel, and there’s some awkward questioning (“Do you always wear jeans?”)
“Do you have a girlfriend?” […]
“No, Anastasia, I don’t do the girlfriend thing,” he says softly.
Ding-ding-ding, and YOU, Ana, you lucky thing, get to be the super-magical exception! Hooray! Or not.
Ana demonstrates her uniquely Bella Swann clumsiness and nearly stumbles headfirst into traffic, to which Grey grabs her and swears and
It all happens so fast—one minute I’m falling, the next I’m in his arms and he’s holding me tightly against his chest. I inhale his clean, wholesome scent. He smells of freshly laundered linen and some expensive body wash. It’s intoxicating.
The scent geek in me is scowling, because when you’re writing you can do so fucking much with scent in order to evoke a mood and feeling and a description of a character. “Freshly laundered linen” doesn’t suggest myseterious, dangerous and creepy, or expensive and hard to pin down and tumultuous. I get that Grey wears expensive fragrance, or uses expensive body wash: but what does that smell like? Is it mature, sophisticated woods with something crisp and alive? Is it old-fashioned, serious gentlemanly charm? Is it manufactured yuppie crispness that’s hard to pin down but ultimately without much authenticity or substance or fucking what? Again, editor mode here: you have senses which you can evoke and play on to the reader, and scent is one of them. It’s the first one many living creatures develop, and believed to be the last one to leave us as we’re dying. Smells can evoke all sorts of triggers and memories and if done well… well, why the fuck am I talking about that, this was just like taking a cheap gimmicky way out.
Then there’s this:
“Are you okay?” he whispers. He has one arm around me, clasping me to him, while the fingers of his other hand slowly trace my face, gently probing, examining me. His thumb brushes my lower lip, and his breath hitches.
Remember, this is after one coffee. This guy has more freaky lack-of-personal space issues than that dude Ana works with who keeps touching her and asking her to go out with him.
Anyway, they stare into one another’s eyes, and surprise, surprise, she realises that she wants him to kiss her. Whouda thunk it? I know: I was surprised, too.
Anyway, I think that was meant to be a cliffhanger ending or something.
* NB: I haven’t read spoilers which have mentioned it, but if there is Ana/Grey/Kate ness, hey, I called that shit.