Tuesday, February 3, 2015

50 Shades of Grey Review - Chapter Four

It's terribly trivial—and entirely a personal pet peeve of mine—but I HATE it when books reference the banal, trivial, commonplace phrases in their titles. It's one thing if you're "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix;" that's your title because that's what you're about. But 50 Shades of Grey is a play on the phrase "shades of gray" meaning the minute nuances of something. It's James trying to be clever, saying that this book will be about the minute nuances of Christian Grey.

First, it's not very clever because it's not very true. So far, the novel is more about the repetitive, rather uninteresting, mind-numbing minutiae of Ana. We don't get much about Grey, because we're trapped in Ana's tiny, tiny, ill-informed, unobservant, unreliable head. We don't get a good study of Grey because Ana is completely incapable of giving us one. She lacks the resources, the intelligence, or the insight to give us more than a skeleton of his history. How can we get a nuanced character development if our narrator is a dim-witted, painfully self-absorbed, verbally stunted child?

Second, the phrase in objection, "this is so, so many shades darker in terms of humiliation" isn't about Grey. It's about Ana. And how—yet again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum—she's embarrassed. So, in essence, the "shades" in reference aren't referencing the title. They're committing a far worse, far cornier crime. They're tongue-in-cheekingly, wink-wink-noddingly, attention-whoringly pointing at the title of the series for no good reason.

And, yes, it is a common phrase. Shades of what-have-you is part of the vernacular. But, in this case, it's in the title. In this case, you can't use that phrase without always and already referencing the title. A reader can't read that phrase in this book without thinking about that title. James chose that title, she chose the conditions in which she was writing. It's irritating and I foresee it happening a lot more in the series. Because James is THAT corny.

Ana just keeps getting stranger and stranger. She is a contradiction. She's setup to be completely incompetent. Knowingly incompetent. Impossibly incompetent. She's illogical, completely self-unaware, childish, irrational, klutzy, stupid, and without any good sense at all. And yet she continually asserts that she should be left to her own devices. That she should be trusted to make good decisions.


When she's well proven that she's incapable of doing such. I mean, I certainly don't trust Grey. He's a predator with less than admirable intentions and actions aplenty. He's manipulative and obviously playing around with power dynamics he doesn't understand and, moreover, doesn't WANT to understand or play with responsibly. But he's obviously more capable than Ana. I mean, she literally has to be told when to breathe. She constantly has to either run away from or be rescued from situations she can't handle. She never knows what to say or do in any situation. She can barely remain upright and unharmed if not watched like a wobbly kneed toddler.

Her judgment is ALWAYS flawed. Look at the gift Grey sends her. He sends her first editions copies of her favorite classic novel—a ridiculously, inconceivably, unrealistically expensive gift that costs far over $14,000 dollars—and she doesn't understand what that means. She thinks it's Grey way of warning her to stay away from him. Are you freakin' kidding me?! It's clearly backhanded, mixed-signaled flirting from a stupid, stupid, manipulative man with more money than sense!

But, of course, Ana wouldn't understand that. Would have to have Kate explain that to her. Because Ana is a child. And even she knows it. Twice—TWICE—in one page, she refers to herself as a child in reference to Grey's clear adulthood. She is an "errant child" whom he has to rescue, hold, and scold "like a middle-aged man." He has to watch over her like an eagle-eyed parent because, left to her own devices, left to make her own decisions, Ana flounders miserably.

The one time—THE ONE TIME—Ana decides to do something wholly on her own with no influence or suggestion from anyone else is when she decides, after finals, to get drunk. And how did that turn out for her? Let's see:

First, she does five margaritas on top of champagne when her friends all call her a lightweight. And—clearly—the logical solution to fix her inebriation is a pitcher of beer! She then proceeds to flirt with her friend, whom she only feels platonic feelings for, even though she KNOWS that he has romantic feelings toward her. She then drunk dials the other man whom she KNOWS has aggressively romantic designs on her. Finds herself saved by one of those men from the other because she keeps foolishly dangling herself in front of them, sending them both irresponsibly mixed signals!

The one shining moment of this chapter is Grey's comment on limits. " 'It’s about knowing your limits, Anastasia.  I mean, I’m all for pushing limits, but really this is beyond the pale.  Do you make a habit of this kind of behavior?' ” It's clear censure on the fact that Ana is really just not ready for adult human relations, much less a BDSM D/s type relationship. 

Kink—particularly BDSM—is a study in limits. One has to know—completely and reflexively—their own limits. They have to know the ones that are concrete and unmovable and the ones that can be pushed and moved and explored. That is the only way to practice safe, sane, consensual play. It takes a lot of self-exploration and analysis. It takes a lot of negotiation and understanding between partners. 

If you don't know your own limits on something as simple and socially pervasive as alcohol, how can you be trusted to know your limits when it comes to something as complex and socially taboo as BDSM? How could Grey even hope to play with Ana if she has no idea who she is and what she's capable of?

I don't understand how Ana is the main character of a BDSM erotica novel. I just don't. She isn't ready for it in any sense. She dislikes even the barest hint of it. 

Note, again, Grey gets one of James's strange titles in this chapter. A Caps title this time. When he takes control of the situation—that quite obviously needed someone capable to take control—and forces the falling-down, puking-her-guts-up drunk Ana to re-hydrate, she sneers at him and mentally calls him "Mr. Control-Freak Grey." Again, this is a perfect example of James's Caps pattern. Grey asserts himself above Ana. Ana gets defensive and mentally dehumanizes him with a derogatory, insulting nickname. Yet she still defers to him as her better.

James even further dehumanizes Grey with the bar lights, having them turning him monstrous colors "alternately green, blue, white, and a demonic red." The more dominant—the more Dom-like—Grey acts, especially when he actually, for once, has her best interests in mind, Ana responds negatively. She's irritated and upset by it.

How is this classified as BDSM erotica?!

And, yes, all this bothers me greatly—as a reader and a kinkster—but, as I predicted, it's the vanilla aspect of James's characters that bothers me most. Ana is just so one-dimensional. Even Twilight's Bella had fairly regular relations with other characters than Edward. Hell, the second novel hardly contained Edward at all. But it's been a week since Grey and Ana parted and she hasn't called anyone or had anyone call her since then? His is the first number on her phone's redial? I hate my phone and use it as infrequently as possible in this very mobile-device-driven modern society, but this would be hard for even me to accomplish.

Yet somehow it makes perfect sense. Despite the fact that she has people around her who care about and care for—and in fact have fallen in love with her—she doesn't seem to care about any of them. 

She only helps Kate because Ana is incapable of standing up to her so-called friend. 

She toys with "the likes of Paul Clayton and Jose Rodriguez" and their feelings for her, at times even using those feelings to get her way. She's constantly dismissive of them, wondering "Maybe I should be kinder to the likes of Paul Clayton and José Rodriguez." 


Like Paul and Jose—and even Kate, for that matter—are so far beneath Ana that she refers to them as "the likes of?" Perhaps—just maybe—Ana should stoop to be kinder to them? 

Please, Ana, don't trouble yourself to treat people who care about you with a modicum of decency. Why trouble yourself so? Apparently, they'll still love you even if you don't.

Apparently, they'll be so in love with you that they'll lose all control and turn into a date rapist.

For a while, it was really bothering me that the one kinkster, Grey, in this story was a manipulative, secretive, abusive predator while all the vanilla guys, Jose and Paul, we such nice, normal, sociable guys.

Well, James took care of that little problem in this chapter.

She made Jose drunkenly sexually assault Ana in the parking lot.

Thank you?

Apparently, ALL the men in Shades' world are predators. Apparently, nice-guy Jose is just a few drinks away from pushing past all social convention and basic moral decency, willing to ignore Ana's clear and persistent "nos" while he kisses and gropes her aggressively.

Or maybe Ana is just THAT spectacular. She's just so irresistible that men just can't help themselves. I mean, she drinks far past her body's limits, drunk dials Grey, has to be rescued by him, vomits all over the place, almost falls over herself a bunch of times, and to top the scene off she passes out. 

Yeees, attractive. 

Who wouldn't want to tap that?

I mean, if that had happened to you on an impromptu, tore-you-away-from-the-family-business-you-were-conducting date, what would you do? Clearly, start dancing. Drag the drunk girl who'd just puked in front of you into circle around the dance floor. Like you do. I mean, I get that that was where Kate was and they needed to talk to her. But, if you're so worried about Ana, why not just sit her drunk ass at the bar and text her friend to meet you there? Or sit her safely down where she can't pass out like dead weight while you just go into the crowd and grab Kate? Wouldn't that have been easier?

And then there's that weird comment about the advice Ana's mother gave her about not trusting men who can dance? What was that about? James doesn't even explain WHY her mother had said that or what the ability to dance has to do with trustworthiness. It's just thrown out there as an afterthought with no explanation as to its relevance. Even if it were true, it's terrible advice because it doesn't make sense and there's no logical proof to back it up.

Which makes it even better when Ana regrets that she can't give Kate parting advice before she passes out. Ana is an inexperienced, bad-life-decision-making twit next to Kate who is worldly, intelligent, experienced, confident, knowledgeable, savvy, and tenacious. Who the hell is Ana to be advising Kate on anything?

Lastly, I want to talk about that note Grey sent Ana along with those ridiculously expensive first-edition warnings. AGH! "Why didn't you tell me there was danger? Why didn't you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks..."

First, James is yet again giving her okay—her validation and approval—to Grey's obviously abusive dating habits. She's saying that, if Grey really were dangerous, wouldn't Ana know it because she reads a lot? And, clearly, literature never lies to girls about romance and the nature of men. Because fairy tales and Austen novels give us accurate depictions of human relations. Nothing is ever exaggerated or creatively contorted to fit an author's vision or fantasy. Never! Perish the thought. Reading Victorian literature and Harlequin romance novels is clearly the equivalent a PhD in psychology.

Which bring us to the second thing this note does. By quoting this, James is giving herself a pat on the back, elevating herself to classic authors like Hardy. Trying to borrow the historical and academic relevance and reputation of classic literature. It's blatant ego stroking and an effort to make her novel seem more important and acknowledged than it is.

Trust her book; it's just like "Tess of the d'Urbervilles." After all, her novel is filled with helpful advice and warnings about how to navigate romance. Trust her. She'd let you know if jealous fits and stalking were REALLY red flags. She'd warn you if lying, secretive, power-grubbing behavior were signs that you should run. She'd show you the very real, very dangerous consequences of getting involved with men who would manipulate you like Grey does. Who would want you and prey on you for the worst, more deplorable reasons possible. Wouldn't she?

Clearly, the next chapter will show Grey's true "demonic" colors, his shades of darkness.


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