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50 Shades of Grey chapter 3 recap, or Bike Accidents Get Me Squirrely in The Pants

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Previously, on 50 Shades of Grey: Jeez!

Ana tells Kate about the photo shoot she’s arranged with Christian Dexter Rpattz Grey, III. Kate is psyched. She calls Ana on the bullshit excuse she’s buying from Grey:

I think that is one huge coincidence, Ana. You don’t think he was there to see you?” she speculates. My heart lurches at the prospect, but it’s a short-lived joy. The dull, disappointing reality is that he was here on business.

Murdering business, hence the zip ties, rope, masking tape, and coveralls. And Ana is definitely not special enough to murder, she’s made that clear from the first paragraph. Kate bickers with Ana over whether or not Christian Grey wants to bone her, and Kate sounds, for the most part, like she really wants to convince Ana of her self worth and maybe see her end up getting boned by said murderer. In fact, throughout the book so far, Kate has tried to get Ana to say she thinks Christian Grey is a hottie, and Ana won’t do it. Remember this, we’re going to touch on this subject again. Not because of any particularly clever plotting or anything, so don’t get too excited. Just keep it in mind. Kate is shocked that Christian gave Ana his cell number, and Ana says that he could have just given it to her to be nice. Because rich, famous people always give their private cell numbers out all willy-nilly. I think that if Ana were a real person, every time she opened her mouth to speak, it would just make a sad trombone noise. Every time.

It’s like you could show her a picture of herself next to pictures of elderly burn victims with facial cancers, and she’d still find some way to believe she was the ugliest. She probably read Mein Kampf and said, “What a nice guy… compared to me.” If any of this stuff had happened to any other woman on the planet, she would have gone, “Huh. Maybe he does think I’m cute,” and be flattered by it. Okay, no. No matter how rich or hot the guy is, I think any female hardware store employee, when faced by evidence that they’re being stalked by the Red Dragon, would get a restraining order and take some time off work. But in the world of 50 Shades, where shit like that is apparently not creepy at all, a woman would be able to take pleasure in the idea of a hot, rich guy finding them attractive and move on. It wouldn’t have to mean anything. And therein, I think, lies the second biggest fault in Ana’s character. There is no gray area (that is not a pun. I will not sully puns by using them in this discussion. I love puns too much), anywhere, with her. Christian Grey can’t be attracted to her, because she’s not exactly, perfectly what she imagines a person like Christian Grey would want. She can’t even give her friend Jose the courtesy of considering him as boyfriend material, not because he’s not attractive, but because he’s not a literary hero. Nothing is good enough for Ana, therefore, Ana is not good enough for the world. Speaking of Jose, they need a photographer for this gig. Kate suggests that since Jose will “do anything for you,” Ana should call him. Anna feels Kate is “irritatingly cavalier about Jose”. I’m not sure what Ana is irritated at, though. Is she irritated that Kate is cavalier about his participation, taking it as a given? Is she cavalier about the fact that he likes Ana, and that makes her uncomfortable? We don’t know. And the reason we don’t know is because if any of the other characters in this story were developed, that might take a little of the bloom off Ana’s rose. Kate suggests that Ana call Grey because she has a “relationship” with him. Ana takes offense to that description, and Kate hangs up on Ana, forever securing herself a place in my black, shriveled little heart. Ana is calling Jose when Paul, the old friend from the end of chapter two, enters the stock room. He wants to take Ana out on a date, and he’s got a lot of questions about Christian Grey. Because the chemistry between Christian and Ana is like a boomerang: it’s hitting everything but her, including innocent bystanders. Ana thinks:

Paul is cute in a wholesome all-American boy-next-door kind of way, but he’s no literary hero. Not by any any stretch of the imagination. Is Grey? My subconscious asks me, her eyebrow figuratively raised.

Yes, Ana. He is a literary hero. He’s Edward Cullen. Granted, literary might be a stretch, but I’m not here to criticize Twilight. I am impressed, though, that you know that the subconscious can only figuratively raise its eyebrows, but that the notion that conscious thought doesn’t flow from the subconscious has somehow escaped you. Ana. Everything you pretend to believe about yourself is right. You’re horrible. Jose doesn’t want to do the photo shoot, because “I do places, Ana, not people.” Remember that lady that married the Berlin Wall? She and Jose should friend each other on Facebook. Kate gets on the phone and threatens Jose, saying the newspaper won’t cover his gallery opening if he doesn’t do this favor for her. Ana sees this as “awesomely tough”. It’s awesome when Kate openly bullies someone else into doing something for her, but when she asks Ana to do something and follows up by  thanking her profusely, that bitch has crossed a line! Like a few moments later, when Kate asks her to call Grey. Ana is super nervous to call Christian Grey. I feel like I should make fun of the scene somehow, but honestly, I’m at a loss as to where to start. It’s like the buffet at the casino over in Battle Creek. They have pizza, they have Chinese, they have seafood, they have prime rib, but there are too many choices, so many directions you could go in, and then suddenly you’re sitting back at your table with a plate full of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese because everything got too overwhelming and sad for you.

I scowl at her and reach into my back pocket for his business card. I take a deep, steadying breath, and with shaking fingers, I dial the number.

Is anyone else imagining bomb-defusing music and then a cut to commercial? At the very least, the tension here is on the same level as when Ryan Seacrest says we’ll find out who’s going home after the break.

He answers on the second ring. His tone is clipped, calm, and cold. “Grey.” “Err… Mr. Grey? It’s Anastasia Steele.” I don’t recognize my own voice, I’m so nervous. There’s a brief pause. Inside, I’m quaking.

“Err… Mr. Grey?” I love it. Dude gave you his cell phone number. He answered by saying only his name. Who else would it be? They have a short conversation in which the details of the photo shoot are established, and Ana has all sorts of reactions listening to him on the phone. If there were a commercial for Christian Grey, in the middle an announcer with a deceptively soothing voice would say, “Ask your doctor if Christian Grey is right for you. Side effects include, but are not limited to, shaking fingers, inability to recognize your own voice, nervousness, quaking, hitching breath, flushing, sudden awareness of roommates watching you, hasty breath, being able to see facial expressions over the phone, and whatever the hell this is supposed to mean-”

I am all gushing and breathy – like a child, not a grown woman who can vote and drink legally in the State of Washington.

Just because an election is coming up, I’d like to remind you all that while you might be able to vote and drink legally, doing them at the same time is probably not such a great plan. Also, if you’re ever writing an erotic novel, you probably shouldn’t use the words “child” and “gushing” in the same sentence. Kate is stunned by her friend’s reaction to the short phone conversation. So stunned, she has to use Ana’s full, fully ridiculous, name:

“Anastasia Rose Steele. You like him! I’ve never seen you or heard you so, so… affected by anyone before. You’re actually blushing.”

First of all, I’m only on chapter three, and I haven’t been keeping a running total or anything, but I estimate that Ana has blushed about a hundred and fifty-seven times already. Everything seems to “affect” her. Her entire life that we have seen thus far has been nothing but a series of various, seemingly negative, emotional highs. Kate lives with her, and she’s never noticed? Second, excuse me, but what the fuck do you think you’re doing, walking around with a name like that? Anastasia Rose Steele is not a heroine in a contemporary novel. Anastasia Rose Steele is the name of Jack and Rose’s rebellious teenage daughter in a Titanic fanfic. Anastasia Rose Steele is the name of a literal rose that doesn’t flourish very well, even in ideal conditions, thus making it a sought after bloom by master rose gardeners. Anastasia Rose Steele wins the Triple Crown. This is no kind of name for a contemporary heroine. That night, Ana has difficulty sleeping, dreaming of “smokey gray eyes, coveralls, long legs, long fingers, and dark, dark, unexplored places.” So, she’s either dreaming of spelunking, or Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” video. In my interpretation, the dark, dark unexplored places are deep in the recesses of Billy Joe’s hair. The next morning, Ana, Jose, and Travis (a friend of Jose and probably also a Quileute) are travelling to Portland in Ana’s car. Kate drives separately, because they can’t all fit in Ana’s quirky car. They’re going to the Heathman hotel in Portland to take pictures of Christian Grey.

The rooms are elegant, understated, and opulently furnished.

There’s that logic disconnect in the prose again. How is something understated and opulent at the same time? “Opulently” suggests excessively. “Understated” suggests subtlety. Ana, if I may remind you, is an English major about to graduate. They set up for the shoot (Ana gets irritated at Kate, but as she’s in a constant state of irritation with her, you probably already anticipated that) and Christian Grey arrives, to the strains of Ana’s strongest profanity:

Holy Crap! He’s wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and grey flannel pants that hang from his hips. His unruly hair is still damp from a shower. My mouth goes dry looking at him. He’s so freaking hot.

Grey is accompanied by a body-guard type of guy. Ana marvels at the way Kate can remain calm under Grey’s onslaught of hotness. It is at this point that I’d like to remind you that this is a Twilight fanfic, so for all intents and purposes, this is the gentleman that makes Ana positively squirt upon catching a glimpse of him:

Robert Pattinson making an unfortunate facial expression that is not flattering at all.

Introductions are made:

“This is Jose Rodriguez, our photographer,” I say, grinning at Jose who smiles with affection back at me. His eyes cool when he looks from me to Grey.

Fire and Ice, y’all! I think Jose dislikes this Christian Grey guy. He better keep his hunting party off the rez. They take his picture for a while, in various poses, and Ana, from what I can gather, stands there and stares dopey-eyed at him the entire time.

Twice our eyes lock, and I have to tear myself away from his cloudy gaze.

A diagram of an eye with cataracts

Grey asks Ana to walk with him. To where? Just around the hotel? Does he need to go get ice? It doesn’t matter to Jose, who is not pleased to see Ana leave with the young tycoon. Grey invites Ana to coffee. Considering she thinks shaking his hand is like having live current arcing through her, and just talking to him on the phone makes her gush, I’m surprised she doesn’t faint in the hallway.

“I wondered if you would join me for coffee this morning.” My heart slams into my mouth. A date? Christian Grey is asking me on a date. He’s asking if you want a coffee. Maybe he thinks you haven’t woken up yet, my subconscious whines at me in a sneering mood again.

I love that he’s sending out every signal on the face of the earth and she is still so beaten down and victimized- by herself, remember- that she refuses to receive any of them. I’m going to lay money down right now that he’s going to be inside her and she’s still going to be thinking, “He couldn’t possibly want to have sex with me.” Because the story is flimsy and needs to be padded out, there is discussion regarding how everyone and the equipment is going to get home if Ana doesn’t take them. Thank god for Taylor the bodyguard, who has a 4×4 he can take everyone home in. This is going to be the biggest nitpick I make in this entire book (no, it’s really not), but what does four wheel drive have to do with the number of people a car can carry? 4×4 isn’t a  type of car, it’s a class of drive train. I’m going to go ahead and imagine that Ana dumps her friends for coffee and they all have to squeeze into a pickup truck. Also, Ana, you don’t have to drive everyone home, just Travis and Jose. Kate drove her Mercedes CLK, which should have rear seats. Taylor doesn’t have to drive anyone home. The entire exchange about who is going to drive who where reads like listening to my husband and my mother-in-law trying to coordinate transportation arrangements while I stand by, repeating the best solution over and over, only to be ultimately ignored in favor of whatever jackassery the two of them dream up. Once Grey commands his manservant to drive the group home, he’s easily manipulated the situation- by virtue of his money and status- so that Ana cannot continue to refuse his offer of coffee. This guy is a charmer. Nothing is sexier than a man who wants to isolate you from your main group and is aggressive in his approach when doing so. They work it out so that Ana will swap vehicles with Kate. Remember, at the beginning of the chapter, when Kate is practically demanding that Ana have a crush on Grey? Well, this happens:

“Ana, there’s something about him.” Her tone is full of warning. “He’s gorgeous, I agree, but I think he’s dangerous. Especially to someone like you.”

I think Kate saw his receipt from the hardware store. Jose glares, completely un-Jacob-like, while Kate scolds Ana for wanting to go for coffee with Christian, but she relents, and Bella and Edward go for coffee.

I make my way down the corridor, my knees shaky, my stomach full of butterflies, and my heart in my mouth thumping a dramatic uneven beat. I am going to have coffee with Christian Grey… and I hate coffee.

Of course you hate coffee, Ana. You hate everything. Because you’re horrible. Grey holds her hand as they walk to the coffee place, and it is revealed that Ana has never held hands. With anyone. Ever. She’s twenty-one and she’s never held anyone’s hand. We are privy to the many mundane steps involved in going to get coffee with someone, including such classics as: walking four blocks. Waiting for a light to change. Explaining that you don’t care for coffee because you prefer tea.  How you take tea. Waiting for someone who is waiting in line. It’s like no one ever told E.L. James that as an author, you can handily skip over those bits by compressing them into a single line. I understand that she’s trying to spin out the tension here. Even waiting for Grey to return to the table, she’s looking at him, admiring the way “those pants hang from his hips…” (and really, where else do pants hang from? Does everyone in Portland wear their pants around their knees or up around their nipples? This is the second time Ana has noticed how awesome it is that Grey’s pants go around his hips.) and daydreaming about running her fingers through his hair. But at this point, with all the flushing, looking up from beneath her lashes (where else are you going to look from? Above your lashes? beside your lashes?), biting her lip, and generally going all weak and gushy when he’s around, we get the point. We understand that she finds him sexy. What I, as a reader, do not understand, is how I’m approximately forty pages into what’s supposed to be this life-changing, erotic work of fiction that’s revitalizing sexless marriages and nothing, absolutely nothing sexual has happened yet. If you don’t count the part where they titter like fifth-graders over Grey’s suggestion that he would do home improvement projects in the nude to avoid spoiling his clothing. Ana flushes way too much. I’m going to throw this out there right now. At the end of one paragraph, her face flames. There is a line of dialogue, and then the beginning of the next paragraph, she goes crimson. I get the distinct impression that she’s a Humboldt Squid in a dress, flashing red like a broken neon sign. Ana doesn’t know what to talk about, because she’s just so lowly and beneath Grey, in her own estimation.

“I like my tea black and weak,” I mutter as an explanation. “I see. Is he your boyfriend?” Whoa…What?

Thank you, Ana, for coming along in my confusion. Is who her boyfriend? The tea? A weak black guy? Neither. See, he asks Ana what she’s thinking about, and the moment, the very instant she answers, he changes the subject to ask if Jose is her boyfriend. Then, he asks about Paul, from the hardware store. Is he Ana’s boyfriend? He only asks because Ana seems “nervous around men.” That is the creepiest, most date-rapey line I have ever read in a romance novel, and I have read some pretty questionable old school rapemances in my time. But he gets so much better!

“You should find me intimidating,” he nods. “You’re very honest. Please don’t look down. I like to see your face.”

I can see why the women of America are falling for this guy. Who doesn’t want a dude who doesn’t want you at ease, so he can more easily manipulate you, and who treats you like an object that should be displayed for his enjoyment at all times? Grey describes Ana as “self-contained,” much in the way an environmental disaster might be described as “self-contained”, I guess.

“Except when you blush, of course, which is often. I just wish I knew what you were blushing about.” He pops a small piece of muffin into his mouth and starts to chew it slowly, not taking his eyes off me. And as if on cue, I blush. Crap!

From here out, I’m going to imagine that every time Ana says “Crap,” she’s referring to the quality of the writing. Christian explains that he doesn’t want her to call him by his first name because he only allows certain people in his life to do that, and apparently Ana hasn’t earned that right. But Ana has a very low opinion of herself, so she just sort of accepts it, and refocuses her anger on Kate, lamenting internally about how beautiful her friend is and how she should be the one having coffee with Christian. Ana doesn’t realize that a guy like Christian isn’t going to be interested in a woman who can’t be controlled through her low self-esteem. Because this book is what it is, Christian decides to interview Ana, as she interviewed him. The problem with this section is that it doesn’t reveal anything new to the reader. We already know about Ana’s parents, but at least we learn a little more about the enigmatic Mr. Grey. I would be more interested in him if he wasn’t such a first-class twat, so I’ll admit, I mostly skimmed the bits about what his parents do for a living and how many siblings he has. I was surprised to find that they don’t all live together in a big steel and glass and white sandstone and steel and glass and steel house somewhere. As they leave, Ana feels like she has totally blown it with Christian. She still thinks he wants some worldly, self-possessed woman, and she feels like she’s not good enough. Little does she know that her feelings of being “not good enough” are exactly what Christian Grey finds attractive. He offers to walk her back to the hotel, and on the way, absolutely nothing happens that in any way resembles anything like something that happened between Bella and Edward in the parking lot of Forks high school. At all.

“Shit, Ana!” Grey cries. He tugs the hand that he’s holding so hard that I fall back against him just as a cyclist whips past, narrowly missing me, heading the wrong way up this one-way street. 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, vital scent. He smells of fresh laundered linen and some expensive body-wash. Oh my, it’s intoxicating. I inhale deeply.

It’s not a car. See, if Ana were about to be hit by a car, it would be suspect. This is just a cyclist. And while in Twilight, Edward saving Bella from being crushed by a car is a crucial moment, a turning point in which Bella realizes that something unnatural is up with the Cullen family, in 50 Shades of Grey, it’s a turning point in which usually asexual Ana realizes for the very first time that she wants to kiss someone. That’s the entire purpose of the near-miss bike accident scene. Being almost hit by a bicycle awakens the sleeping bear, and that bear is powerfully horny. Lost in his gaze, she realizes, “for the first time in twenty-one years, I want to be kissed. I want to feel his mouth on me.” When I read the third book in the Twilight series (I thought the first two were actually not all that bad… I recognize that this is an unpopular opinion, and many of my readers want me to lash out against all things Twilight with the fury of a thousand newborn stars), I said to myself, “There will never be another writer as bad as Stephenie Meyer. It won’t happen.” I feel almost responsible for 50 Shades, like I damned us all to the existence of this book by thinking that. I looked the universe in the face and, laughing, dared it to do its worst. And this is what we have. A twenty-one year old heroine who has never been attracted to any man, simply because he didn’t treat her badly enough, whose sexual awakening comes from nearly being run down by a bike messenger. Because I have busy, important, non-vomit inducing things to do with my time this weekend, there won’t be another recap until Monday. I have to write my own books, you see. Right now, I’m working on a scathing indictment of the institutionalized homophobia in professional sports. Ha! No. I’m actually writing a book about two major league baseball players who get it on together. A lot. There are no bicycle collisions, and very little flushing, but I’ll try to muster up some level of enthusiasm for the task.

50 Shades of Grey, Chapter 2 recap, or: Shopping For A Serial Killer’s Birthday

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First of all, I want to thank everyone who has cheered me on in this endeavor. Please know that this is going to be like a marathon. No. It’s going to be like an ultra-marathon, through a mine field covered in hardening hot glue. Your support is like unto Gatorade, replenishing my parched brain as I slog ever further.

Oh, shit. I’m only two chapters in.

Before I share the glorious recap, I have to give a shout-out to @Scarimonious, who I just started following on Twitter yesterday and who has already proven that I’ve made a really, really good choice in doing so. Remember my wish for a picture of the tie described in the first chapter?

Photo of a black necktie with Robert Pattinson's hair and eyes on it.
Wish granted, bitches
 
You have @Scarimonious to thank for that. I don’t know about you, but the above picture is exactly how I’m going to imagine Christian Grey for the rest of the book.
All right, onto the pain. We last left Ana in the elevator, leaving Christian’s office. Chapter two begins with her heart pounding, the doors opening, and then there’s some scrambling and stumbling that doesn’t end with a classic Bella Swan Anastasia Steele pratfall. I don’t know, Ana, maybe you wouldn’t fall down so damn much if you had more speeds than a cheap lawn mower. Seriously, she’s either walking like a normal human or bouncing around like a pinball with a very bad concept of gravity.

I race for the wide glass doors, and I’m free in the bracing, cleansing, damp air of Seattle.

I know that the first adjective that comes to mind when I think clean and bracing is “damp”. And wait, wasn’t she driving to Portland in the first chapter? Now she’s in Seattle… oh, who the fuck cares, it’s all one big, rainy, Forks to E.L. James, right?

No man has ever affected me the way Christian Grey has, and I cannot fathom why.

I can’t, either, AnaBella. Just a minute ago in his office he was an arrogant prick that you seemed like you couldn’t stand. Now, reader, let me assure you, I’m not misunderstanding the classic Sam-and-Diane rules of attraction and loathing. I get loving to hate someone, and hating that you love them. This came off more like a middle schooler with an embarrassing crush; I don’t like you, but I like you, so I’m going to think a lot of mean things about you while doodling your name in my notebook.

Ana goes outside and leans against a (steel) pillar in the rain because she needs a moment to recover from the sheer sexual intimidation that is Christian Grey. If you don’t understand by now that she is really, really affected by him, well, there’s no hope for you, because she’s beating you over the head with it. She even throws in a “holy crap” for good measure. You know Ana is serious when that kind of language starts.

She drives away from Seattle/Portland, still playing over this highly erotic experience of interviewing someone. Seriously, from the way she’s going on, I’m thinking Barbra Walters must have to wear  waterproof undies to work, because interviews are that sexually exciting. Okay, not every interview. Just every interview with a man who wears ties that have shrewd gazes.

Okay, so he’s very attractive, confident, commanding, at ease with himself – but on the flip side, he’s arrogant, and for all his impeccable manners, he’s autocratic and cold. Well, on the surface.

As everyone who watches Downton Abbey knows, impeccable manners usually go hand in hand with deep expressions of feeling to total strangers. This is the kind of thing that’s going to kill me in this book. It doesn’t follow that having impeccable manners would mean you’re a warm person. In the next line, “An involuntary shiver” runs down Ana’s spine. Who shivers on purpose? Seriously, who controls whether or not they shiver? Especially after standing in the rain, leaning on a steel pillar? This is exactly what is going to wear me down, all this little bullshit.

So, Ana is thinking about Christian has a right to be arrogant, then she says “He doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” and I spit out my gum. Bish, please. You just did a header into his office rug and couldn’t work a recorder, then insulted him to his face and he still cancelled his next meeting to make sure you didn’t secure yourself a handicapped parking spot leaving the building. On second thought, maybe that last part had to do with the insurance nightmare having someone like Ana on your property is going to inevitably lead to. But still. He suffered a fool today, and he was very polite about it. Because of his impeccable manners.

And Kate’s questions – ugh! The adoption and asking him if he was gay! I shudder. I can’t believe I said that. Ground, swallow me up now! Every time I think of that question in the future, I will cringe with embarrassment. Damn Katherine Kavanagh!

She’s super embarrassed, not because she Bella Swan-dived into the office, not because she called him a control freak to his face and was openly hostile throughout the interview, not because she stood outside his building in the rain like she was auditioning for a Michael Bolton video in 1989, but because of Katherine. Katherine forced her to read those questions, which Ana apparently hadn’t bothered to look at before showing up to the interview. She’s mad that Kate didn’t give her a biography before she went, but if she didn’t bother to look at the questions, would she have bothered to read the bio?

Deciding that she’s had enough of ruminating how impossibly hot Christian Grey is, she flouts his order to drive safely, because this is New Moon, and she’s going to be damned if he’ll run off to Italy to immolate himself and leave her behind! No, sorry. I keep getting confused, but can you really blame me? She turns on “thumping indie rock music” and tears down the highway. Ten to one, she’s listening to Muse’s “Black Holes and Revelations”. Because, as you may not have picked up from the subtle hints I’m laying down, this is Twilight.

We get a description of Ana’s living situation, in a small community of duplex apartments near the WSU campus. Apparently Kate’s parents bought the place for her. The apartment? The whole duplex? The whole community? Who knows, because subject/verb agreement is for pussies, and E.L. James is no pussy. Ana realizes that Kate is going to want to know what happened at the interview. I’m guessing that Kate is going to listen to the disc, hear the way Ana was talking to the most important entrepreneur in Washington and/or Oregon and be absolutely thrilled. Ana, meanwhile, isn’t thrilled. Her friend is wearing horrible pink bunny pjs that she wears only during moments of absolute weakness. Kate hugs Ana, expresses that she was worried because she expected her home earlier, and thanks her profusely before asking questions about the interview. How does Ana’s internal narrative respond to this?

Oh no – here we go, the Katherine Kavanagh Inquisition.

Seriously, Ana? Seriously? You were expecting that she wasn’t going to ask you about the interview that will make or break her as editor of the WSU school newspaper? When I was reading Twilight, I had this horrible feeling that if it were a memoir, and Bella’s friends read what she had said about them, they would have Javelinaed her ass before she could say, “What’s up with all the mud?” I’m beginning to feel a lot more sympathy toward the wretched Kate than toward Ana. Sure, Ana made her soup to make her feel better, but she probably bitched about it internally the entire time it was simmering on the stove.

“Don’t you look so innocent. Why didn’t you give me a biography? He made me feel like such an idiot for skimping on basic research.” Kate clamps a hand to her mouth.

“Jeez, Ana, I’m sorry – I didn’t think.”

I huff.

“Mostly he was courteous, formal, slightly stuffy – like he’s old before his time. He doesn’t talk like a man of twenty-something. How old is he anyway?”

“Twenty-seven. Jeez, Ana, I’m sorry. I should have briefed you, but I was in such a panic.

Maybe he’s a vampire. Maybe that’s why he sounds like he’s old before his time. And while we’re flinging wild accusations around, Ana, maybe you’re a vampire, too, since you talk all sorts of stuffy, yourself. “A man of twenty-something.” Who talks like that? No one. Absolutely no one. This is why you should always read your dialogue aloud, kids. And the clean cussing is another thing. Crap? Jeez? Were “Oh brother” and “golly” too strong for print? I’m seriously expecting “Great Honk!” and “Jeepers” to pop up, and for the Mayor from The Music Man to start lecturing everyone about watching their phraseology. If we were to make a drinking game out of every time someone says an impossibly clean curse word, do you know what would happen?

This would happen.
 
But let’s not gloss over something that is so incredibly irritating to me at this point in the chapter. Look at how much Kate is apologizing to Ana. And what is she apologizing for, really? What was stopping Ana from looking any of this information up on her phone while she waited outside Christian’s office? Not a damn thing. Ana knew she was going to go interview the guy. It’s not like Kate had commandos bust into Ana’s room in the middle of night, hit her with the stun gun a few times, then bag her head and drop her off in Christian’s office with a recorder and a list of questions. She could have prepared better for the experience, she didn’t, but because this is Ana’s story, we’re supposed to be just as annoyed with Kate as Ana is? No, E.L. James. I am not buying what you are selling today.
Because Ana is nothing if not a martyr, she leaves immediately for her job at the hardware store. It’s ironic, you see, that she works in a hardware store, because she’s hopeless with anything DIY. She actually says she’s “crap” at DIY, but I hesitated to type that at first because of the whole drinking game thing. I don’t want to be responsible for your alcohol poisoning. Ana would rather curl up with a book than build anything with her hands, and that’s probably stemming from a real solid sense of self preservation in the saws vs. fingers department, based on what we’ve seen of her coordination so far. But she knows a lot about hardware, and she’s happy to go to work because it will take her mind of Christian Grey.
After absolutely nothing happens at her job, but we’re forced to come along for a few paragraphs anyway, Ana comes home to find Kate working on the story. Once again, Ana reminds us of all the studying she couldn’t do because she spent all day interviewing Christian Grey. Except, when Ana showed up for work, her boss said she didn’t expect Ana that day. So, wait a second. Ana could have stayed home from work, gotten this impossibly huge amount of studying done, but she went in anyway and we all tagged along why? For further proof that she is bound and determined to be miserable and irritated at her roommate who, by all accounts, seems like a really nice person? I’m liking you more and more, AnaBella SteeleSwan.
Kate suggests that the reason Christian offered to show Ana around the office was because he was interested in spending more time with her. Ana mentally blows this off, thinking that he just wanted to show off how powerful he is. Because Ana is clearly someone a rich, handsome guy would need to impress. I don’t understand how this character can be so incredibly full of herself, and yet so incredibly down on herself, at the same time.

“That’s fine. I can still make a fine article with this. Shame we don’t have some original stills. Good-looking son of a bitch, isn’t he?” I flush.

Here is another problem I have with this book, since I’m so obviously short on things to critique.  See that line of dialogue? Looks like Ana is saying it, right? Nope. Those words are coming out of Kate’s mouth, tagged with Ana’s actions. And it happens all the time in this. It makes it difficult to read, because you’re always trying to figure out who said what. I had the same issue, by the by, with The Time Traveler’s Wife. And I’m sure there is a special place in hell just for me for comparing that book to this one.

Kate wants to talk some more about how good looking Christian Grey is, and Ana is just interested in complaining about the trial of a thousand cuts that was having to interview someone for a college newspaper.  I guess Ana is just as tired as I am of hearing about how good-looking, fascinating, commanding, arrogant, mysterious, etc. Christian is. Still, that night, Ana dreams about “dark places, bleak white cold floors, and gray eyes.”

Now is the time on Sprockets where we get the rest of the week wrap up, and some suspiciously Twilight-ish exposition. Oh, but not before Ana gets another dig in about Kate and her pjs. We learn that Ana’s mom lives in Georgia. I wonder if she ever drives across the state line to chat with Bella’s mom in Florida, because they’re both flaky and on new marriages, so they have a lot in common. Also, they’re the same person. Also, just like Bella’s mom, Ana’s mom asks right off the bat about boys. There is one aspect that differs between the two of them. Bella’s mom has a name. After calling her mom, Ana calls her stepdad, Ray. She considers Ray her father, despite the fact that he only communicates in grunts and she basically prefers him over her biological father because “he’s still alive”.

This brings us to Friday night, when Ana’s friend Jose comes over. Jose is a completely new and original character, completely unlike any character in Twilight. He’s got dark eyes, his dad and Ana’s stepdad are BFFs, and although he really likes Ana and wishes she would date him, she’s got him locked firmly in the friend zone. I challenge you, reader, to find any character in Twilight with any similarity at all to Jose. I mean, these allegations of plagiarism are totally preposterous. Jacob likes motorcycles. Jose likes photography. Absolutely nothing about the two of them are the same in any way.

I watch Jose open the bottle of champagne. He’s tall, and in his jeans and t-shirt he’s all shoulders and muscles, tanned skin, dark hair and burning dark eyes. Yes, Jose’s pretty hot, but I think he’s finally getting the message. We’re just friends.

In the interest of transparency, it’s not E.L. James’s fault that there aren’t accent marks on Jose’s name. It’s mine, I’m just way too drunk to do them after all those craps and jeezes.

Ana can’t date anyone because no man in the history of ever has come close to ringing her bell the way the heroes of classic literature can. Well, you know, except Christian Grey, but she won’t even let herself consider such a thing. It’s days later, and she’s still brutally mortified that she was forced at gun point by those commandos to ask him if he was gay. Yeah, she’s been dreaming of him nonstop, but that’s only because everything about him and the entire interview debacle were so unthinkably bad.

Saturday at the hardware store, Ana is doing something inventory-ish and who walks in and creepily stares at her until she looks up from what she’s doing? Christian. Motherfucking. Grey. Looking all casual and fine (he left the anthropomorphic tie at home today), he tries to pull off this whole, “I was in the area,” shtick. I guess when you’re a millionaire, you have the luxury of driving from Seattle to Portland to go to a hardware store. But just a heads up, dude, that whole, “I was in the neighborhood” line seems sketch when you just drove three hours to creep on some chick who works at the hardware store. Then, we are treated to what is, without doubt, the finest metaphor ever crafted in the history of the written language:

His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.

See that? Remember that mean thing I said about the Pulitzer in my intro post? I take it back. The reason they did not award the Pulitzer for fiction this year is because none of the entrants lived up to that metaphor, but to give the Pulitzer to 50 Shades would be to insult the mastery of its prose. They were caught in an impossible situation.

Ana does a lot of weak-kneed, heart-poundy, blushy-flushy escorting of Christian around the hardware store. He’s looking for some pretty specific stuff. Cable ties, for example, that he selects so erotically that Ana has to look away while he does it. Masking tape. Rope. They chat about her interests, while the store owner calls the cops because this dude is obviously stocking up for a kidnapping. Just kidding! But to make his receipt look even more incriminating, Ana suggests he buys coveralls. In my mind, Christian Grey has gone from RPattz to Dexter in 3.2 seconds.

The dialogue between the two characters is so absurdly childish, I can’t even fathom why this is considered erotic:

“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 color in my cheeks rising again. I must be the color of the communist manifesto.
Stop talking. Stop talking NOW.
“I’ll take some coveralls. Heaven forbid I should ruin any clothing,” he says dryly.

OMG LOL, do you get it? I so get it. If he takes off his clothes (omg) he will be NAKED. Swoon. Sploosh. Scene.

Ana asks Christian if he’s willing to have some pictures taken to accompany the article Kate is writing, and he’s totally down for that. He gives Ana his cell number, which is apparently a contract, because when an old friend of Ana’s shows up and acts “over-familiar”, he glares at them and starts acting all strange.

“Just these items.” His tone is clipped and cool. Damn… have I offended him? Taking a deep breath, I turn and head for the till. What is his problem?
I ring up the rope, coveralls, masking tape, and cable ties at the till.

His problem is that the guy in the trunk of his car isn’t going to stay alive long enough to torture to death if you don’t ring up those supplies, sweet cheeks.

One of the challenges of writing erotica is injecting sensuality into mundane situations. This ramps up the tension between the characters who will later do it (that’s a technical term). For example:

“Would you like a bag?” I ask as I take his credit card.
“Please, Anastasia.” His tongue caresses my name, and my heart once again is frantic. 

Okay, that’s not the best example.

Finally, after their hyper-sexy murder kit shopping spree, she admits she might, maybe, a little bit, be attracted to Christian:

Okay – I like him. There, I’ve admitted it to myself. I cannot hide from my feelings anymore. I’ve never felt like this before. I find him attractive, very attractive. But it’s a lost cause, I know, and I sigh with bittersweet regret. It was just a coincidence, his coming here. But still, I can admire him from afar, surely? No harm can come of that. And if I find a photographer, I can do some serious admiring tomorrow.

Yeah, he’s probably not interested in you. He only drove three hours out of the way on a flimsy excuse (visiting the university) and showed up to buy incriminating supplies at the hardware store you work at. Ana would be so easy to kidnap  and cut up, for real. “I was just in the neighborhood, and I decided to drop buy to buy zip ties and rope and glare jealously at you when you talk to another man.” And what do you want to bet the hapless schmuck who has to photograph Dexter Rpattz Grey, esq. is going to be Jose, the guy who’s been permanently friend zoned by Miss “Only Mr. Darcy can give me a tickle in my pants” Steele?

The sick thing is, I can barely wait to read more. I’m starting to understand why this became a huge hit. Sadly, I’m also starting to think that the plot of Idiocracy is actually a dire prophecy, and this book might be the keystone in the foundation of the downfall of the human race.

50 Shades of Grey, chapter one, or why Ana is the shittiest friend ever.

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So, as I announced in a delirium of hatred last night, I have begun reading 50 Shades of Grey, and I’m going to share the experience with you. This will accomplish two things.

  1. It will provide me with an important emotional outlet, thus lowering my blood pressure.
  2. It will give you the experience of reading the book without really having to read it. Much like videotaping a friend getting stitches gives you the experience, but not the pain and hassle of, cutting your own finger with a razor blade because you’re too lazy to get up and get the scissors to open that USB drive packaging.
We have a lot to cover. Let’s get started.
Our story begins with our heroine, Ana, looking in the mirror. She doesn’t like what she sees. Her hair is uncooperative. Also, she has huge blue eyes and pale skin, in our American culture which does not value these things as traditional hallmarks of beauty or anything. She’s pissed off at her roommate, Kate. Why? Because Kate has lined up an interview with the most powerful entrepreneur in the country, Christian Grey, but she got the flu and now she can’t go. Even though Ana is having a bad hair day, has exams coming up, and has to work, her selfish friend is trying to manipulate her into going to do the interview herself:

Therefore, she cannot attend the interview she’d arranged to do, with some mega-industrialist tycoon I’ve never heard of, for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. I have final exams to cram for, one essay to finish, and I’m supposed to be working this afternoon, but no – today I have to drive a hundred and sixty-five miles to downtown Seattle in order to meet the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. As an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our University, his time is extraordinarily precious.

She’s never heard of this guy, except that she knows the extremely unwieldy name of his company, that he’s an entrepreneur, that he gives tons of money to the school she attends, and that he’s super busy? This is the kind of logical error that I’m finding over and over in this book, and I’ve only read three chapters so far. But putting that aside for a minute, doesn’t this sound like an amazing opportunity for her friend? I bet Ana feels really bad that Kate is going to miss out on the interview of a lifetime, right?

“Ana, I’m sorry. It took me nine months to get this interview. It will take another six to reschedule, and we’ll both have graduated by then. As the editor, I can’t blow this off. Please,” Kate begs me in her rasping, sore throat voice. How does she do it? Even ill she looks gamine and gorgeous, strawberry blonde hair in place and green eyes bight, although now red-rimmed and runny. I ignore my pang of unwelcome sympathy.

Of course Ana doesn’t feel bad! Why should she? She’s the heroine! We have to like her. Because she’s the heroine. So, when her friend is saying, “Please, for me, blow off work and classes and go meet this famous person, so you can put this interview on your resume when it could have been on mine had I not contracted a horrible respiratory illness,” Ana can only think, “Ugh, it is soooo not fair that she is prettier than me. I will absolutely not feel sympathetic toward you,” and the reader better know whose side to be on, damnit!

As Ana complains more in the narration about how good Kate is at manipulating people, and how awful it’s going to be to meet this rich, successful guy, she outwardly acts like it’s not a big deal. This gives me the distinct impression that Ana is one of those people who will agree, or even offer, do a favor for you like it doesn’t inconvenience them at all, then immediately phones up a friend and bitches about you and all the boundaries you’re overstepping. And then, exactly like one of those people, Ana attempts to tell the reader how great Kate is, and that she’s her very best friend, after complaining about her for like two pages solid. At this point, do I actually have to say that Ana is Bella Swan?

So, Ana sets off from Vancouver, heading toward Portland. Wait a second, didn’t she say she had to go to Seattle to meet this Grey guy? I can never tell where I am in this serious. Just in the nebulous Pacific Northwest, I guess, where:

The miles slip away as I floor the pedal to the metal.

Dear Non-American Author trying to write in Americanisms: It’s either “floor it” or “put the pedal to the metal”. And actually, no one says the latter anymore. By the way, she’s flooring it to the pedal in a Mercedes loaned to her by Kate. A Mercedes, and she’s still bitching? Her car, a quirky, old vehicle (but not a quirky, old truck) is unreliable, like a quirky, old truck. But it’s a VW Bug, so she’s definitely not Bella Swan. Still, there is something endearing about reading an non-American author trying to capture the slang of my people.

When she gets to Christian Grey’s steel and glass office building with the building name in steel letters over the glass doors to the steel and glass and sandstone (c-c-c-combo breaker!) lobby, we learn that Ana’s name is really Anastasia Steele, because that’s totally not a pornstar name and the word “steel” had to be used in some form or another in every single sentence in this scene. Ana runs through a succession of blonde receptionists, each one making her feel more and more like Anne Hathaway in the interview scene in The Devil Wears Prada. In fact, her outfit sounds kind of familiar…

I am beginning to wish I’d borrowed one of Kate’s formal blazers rather than wear my navy blue jacket. I have made an effort and worn my one and only skirt, my sensible brown knee-length boots and a blue sweater. For me, this is smart.

Where have I seen this before?

b9a3a-the_devil_wears_prada-20-anne_hathaway

So, at least now we have some kind of visual inspiration for sad-sack Ana.

Anyway, there are a lot of blondes working in the office, and as Ana appears to hate blondes more than Anita Blake does, she’s absolutely certain she doesn’t fit in. She signs in, gets a visitor’s pass, and heads upstairs to the second steel and glass and sandstone and steel and more glass and mahogany and red and yellow and pink and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and violet and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and gray and purple and white and pink and orange and blue lobby. I wish I could tell you that I just used more adjectives and words than James did to describe this sequence of events. I am many things, but I am not a liar.

This is one of the biggest problems with 50 Shades of Grey. It’s like a team of cameras is following Ana everywhere she goes, every second of the day, and it’s being transcribed for the reader into the book, no matter how inane the details:

“Mr. Grey will see you in a moment. May I take your jacket?”
“Oh please.” I struggle out of the jacket.
“Have you been offered any refreshment?”
“Um – no.” Oh dear, is Blonde Number one in trouble?
Blonde Number Two frowns and eyes the young woman at the desk.
“Would you like tea, coffee, water?” she asks, turning her attention back to me.
“A glass of water. Thank you,” I murmur.
“Olivia, please fetch Miss Steele a glass of water.” Her voice is stern. Olivia scoots up immediately and scurries to a door on the other side of the foyer.
“My apologies, Miss Steele, Olivia is our new intern. Please be seated. Mr. Grey will be another five minutes.”
Oliva returns with a glass of iced water.
“Here you go, Miss Steele.”
“Thank you.”

Let’s do a little writing exercise, shall we? Let’s see if we can make that chunk of pointless dialogue into something more manageable, to move the story along to literally anything else in literally a tenth of the time. I’l go first:

One of the blonde receptionists took my coat and offered me a glass of water.

I’m no Nora Roberts, but I think I can safely say that the book would not have been ruined without the unnecessary interplay Ana witnesses between the two receptionists, and the odd focus on the “iced water” and who is in possession of said water at which time.

Because Ana still doesn’t know a single thing about Christian Grey (besides his name, his mother’s maiden name, his place of birth, the name of his first pet, the security code on the back of his Visa card, his blood type, and whether or not he’s circumcised), she doesn’t know how old he is or what he looks like. She figures he’s probably blonde, too, and wonders if he requires his employees to be blonde. She’s “wondering idly if that’s legal” while I’m wondering if this isn’t some Neo-Nazi thing. But it’s totally cool, because then a black guy comes out of his office, talking about golf. So Christian Grey is definitely not an Aryan Nationalist.

The blondes send Ana into Mr. Grey’s office, and wouldn’t you know it, like a dope, she falls right through the doors and winds up on her hands and knees in front of Christian Grey. Foreshadowing. She is so embarrassed that she says all kinds of strong curse-words like “Holy cow,” and “Double crap”. No single craps for Ana, oh no. She’s a rebel and a potty mouth of the highest caliber.

Immediately, she realizes that Christian Grey is not some ancient forty-year old dude, practically crumbling to dust atop his icy blonde empire, but a very hot young man:

So young – and attractive, very attractive. He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.

That… is one hell of a tie. I’m going to have to ask someone, please, look into the kindness and the goodness of your soul and photoshop me a picture of a black tie with Robert Pattinson’s hair and eyes stuck on it, gazing at me shrewdly.

When she shakes his hand, Ana has some kind of short circuit situation that makes her blink like a malfunctioning Furby. She explains that she’s there on behalf of her sick roommate, then makes a stunningly astute comment about some paintings in his office. Of course, he agrees with her, and this puts Ana immediately at ease, knowing that they are on the same level, intellectually. Just kidding! Instead, she’s building him up in her head, calling him an Adonis and being too embarrassed by his really, really good-looking-ness to operate the recorder. He’s amused by her uncertainty, she can tell. Because tycoons often find it amusing to have their time stolen by inept student non-reporters. Then she asks him if she can record his answers. Which is the most bizarre sentence I think a person can ask another person they are interviewing. “Do you mind if I make some kind of permanent record of the answers you give me, or would you rather this all become a pointless exercise in time wasting?”

Once they launch into the interview, things really pick up. Ha, just kidding again! We’ve finally got the hero and heroine of what is touted as the hottest, sexiest, most toe-curlingest naughty erotic novel since the Marquis de Sade was branded a lunatic, together in the same room and what’s going to happen? Pages upon pages of clumsy exposition. Why show, when Christian himself can tell, in a series of incredibly banal interview questions, everything we as the reader are going to need to know to have a clear impression of his character for the rest of the book? And let’s also see Ana insult him, over and over again, from suggesting his success is based on luck to outright calling him a control freak. For someone who was so insecure just moments ago, Ana begins to verbally spar with this powerful guy while representing her sick roommate whose reputation as editor of the college newspaper is riding on this interview.

Still, even though he is, by her own description, an arrogant control freak who does weird things with his fingers while looking at her, Ana is completely, sexually paralyzed by his stunning physical appearance, which, as far as I can tell from the numerous superlatives Ana breathlessly recounts, is like looking directly at the face of God if God were an orgasm dipped in chocolate and the perfect pair of jeans. So, while Christian  Grey is rattling off incredibly intimate details of his life to a rude, awkward, mousy college student who just spilled her ass through his office doors, Ana is practically writing odes to his teeth and wondering what’s so wrong with her that she would be distracted by someone who is just the physical manifestation of the very soul of perfect beauty.

The scene goes on so long, Christian actually has to cancel his next meeting. When it comes time for Ana to leave, he teases her about her earlier fall, helps her put on her jacket, and walks her to the elevator. But only after this passage:

“Well, you’d better drive carefuly.” His tone is stern, authoritative. Why should he care?

Because he’s Edward Cullen, reader. Because he’s Edward Cullen.