Tuesday, February 3, 2015

50 Shades of Grey Review - Chapter Three

So I think I've done pretty well so far, not letting James's Britishness bother me. Like I said in my predictions, I just pretend that Shades' Seattle is a small, lesser known district of London and let it go. But all the "...ers" are really bothering me. For one, they're obviously, uningnorably British. Americans don't say "er," we say "um" and "uh." It may sound more inelegant to the British ear, but it's what we do.

But more importantly, like "or something," it's lazy. James can't be bothered to actually find more concrete, more descriptive ways to say that Ana is feeling confused or conflicted. She can't figure out how to say something like "Ana said, sounding unsure" or "her voice wavered weakly" or "she hesitated." It makes both the author and the character sound witless.

I know I mentioned it before, but this book makes a huge deal about physical appearance. Grey's, yes, of course. But everyone else's too. Ana is obsessed with the attractiveness of others. Just about everyone around her is super hot, from the background Blondes to her more-main-character friend Kate. I get that this is supposed to emphasize Ana's own lack of self-confidence; she sees everyone else as beautiful and herself as painfully plain. 

But that's really annoying and rather delusional. It smacks of a severe case of body dysmorphic disorder, especially when Kate assures Ana that she's a babe and every man Ana meets falls instantly head-over-heels in love with her when Ana really has no other, more substantial qualities—such  as intelligence, humor, confidence, talent, uniqueness, etc.—to speak of. Ana has to be one of those unquestionably attractive people. She just HAS to be. I can't see why anyone would fall for her otherwise. She's one of those emotionally unstable messes that bear traps people with her hotness. And the only reason why she can't see it is because she IS crazy. It is the ONLY explanation.

It's really odd for James to care so much, to spend so many words on appearance, and yet not give us concrete descriptions. It would be one thing if Ana just didn't care about how people looked and so just never mentioned it. It'd still be strange and leave Shades in that vacuous literary white room Twilight exists in, but it'd make logical sense. 

But Ana can't stop noticing and commenting and judging people on their attractiveness. She is obsessed. I know I should probably just let it go, but it take 32 pages for James to give us any commentary on Grey's physical body—"tall, broad-shouldered, slim." She goes on and on and on about how in love with his looks Ana is but all we get on those looks are "tall, broad-shouldered, slim." Classic and evolutionarily attractive traits, to be sure. But I've known many a tall, broad-shouldered, slim, unattractive man. And I've known many more attractive short men with reasonable proportions. I need more than this to determine Grey's attractiveness. All I have to go by is Ana's unreasonable, illogical, unrealistic, insane reactions. And this is not enough for me. It shouldn't be enough for anyone.

Instead, what we more often get is a litany of his wardrobe. Every time he appears, James gives us a head-to-toe, fashion-show description of what he's wearing. "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."

Ana has a fashion fetish!

I finally get it! She has a thing about how Grey dresses. She gets positively horny over cotton blends and hemlines. She probably creams herself watching "Project Runway" and "What Not To Wear." It is the only explanation!

Look at that excerpt's structure. Ana describes Grey's clothes and then goes buck-wild crazy. She says nothing about HOW those clothes make Grey look. Just that they exist. There's no mention of HOW the flannel pants hang from his hips, just that they do. Do they make his ass look great? Do they—I don't know—cup his junk nicely? They're flannel pants, so I can't imagine that they're so tight as to show off leg definition. James gives us nothing. Not even whether the flannel material is good quality! Ana doesn't notice any of this. I have no idea how his pants hang, just that it drives Ana wild.

I know that authors often use clothing and fashion to say something about their characters. A lot can be said about a person by what they wear. I know this. Economic bracket, confidence level, attentiveness to detail, hygiene level, etc. All these things and more can be determined by clothes, if done right by an author. If a character is wearing wrinkled, mismatched clothes, you can generally assume that they're distracted by other things than fashion. If a character is polished and meticulously groomed, you can assume that they're trying to make a good impression. Clothes can indeed make a character, but they have to do something more than exist.

If James is trying to tell us something about Grey through his wardrobe, I have no idea what it is. I don't even know what style the white shirt is or the cut of the flannel pants. They don't say anything about him. Not even that he's necessarily a fashionable dresser. All I know is that Ana is gaga over it. Which really doesn't tell me anything because I can't trust her judgement. Because she's crazy. And insipid. And witless.

Oh, and awkward. Ana is one of the most awkward characters I have ever read. Especially for a main character. She has zero poise. No confidence. Trips over herself all the time. She's always blushingly embarrassed over absolutely everything. She rarely speaks and, when she does, you wished she hadn't. This novel is entirely in first person. James traps you in the head of the most awkward, socially inept person in existence.

I mean, for deity's sake, we're three chapters in, 37 pages in, several meetings between the two main character in, and she's still referring to Grey as "Mr. Grey" and "Christian Grey." She hasn't even made it to a first name basis with him!

Again, I've seen authors do this. Play around with names. One of my personal favorites is the Batman series, in all its forms. You can tell a lot about characters' relationships to the main character by what they call him. Who calls him "Bruce," "Mr. Wayne," or "Batman" and when makes a huge impact on the story. Alfred alone is a fascinating study in names. His personality and demeanor changes greatly between incarnations that call his employer "Master Bruce" versus "Master Wayne." Names can be vastly powerful and can change the entire dynamics of a story.

If done right.

With James...I can almost guess at what she's trying to do. But it's a mess. It feels like she's trying to borrow the austere, reserved quality of Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy by using Grey's full name and formal appellation to create distance between Grey and Ana. To force the D/s roles this way.

But, first off, Mr. Darcy existed in Victorian England where the rules of titles and greeting were different, more strict and structured. Society was built and maintained on social hierarchy. That was one of the major themes of the story. Social status and economics and how they affected marriage and love. So the "Misters" and "Misses" and "Lords" and "Ladies" made sense. They belonged and impacted the story appropriately.

Ana and Grey exist in modern day America. We don't play that game here. Not often. I haven't called someone "Mister" or "Missus" since I was in high school and those were all teachers. I don't call my bosses by formal appellations. I don't even call the president of my company by a formal title. As an adult, I'm on a first name basis with everyone I come in contact with. I don't know many other adults who aren't.

I get that there are those in D/s relationships who do formal appellations, like "Sir" and "Master" and "Daddy." And, I think, James knows this too. That's why she wants to have Ana refer to Grey as "Mr. Grey" while Grey can refer to her as simply "Ana." It's a way of establishing D/s roles out of the gate. 

The problem is I also know that these titles exist within an established relationship. They are negotiated and earned. Only the very uninitiated and ill-informed would try to make people use these terms without negotiation. No one—not even Doms—have the right to pull random people into a D/s relationship—even just by title—without consent. It's rude and unforgivably arrogant. I am not calling someone "Sir" or allowing them to put me in such a titled power play as this without them earning that. A person doesn't get to put themselves above me, make themselves my Dom or Master, until and unless they prove to me that they belong there.

But Ana does. For no good reason. Again, it feels very grade school to me. Like Mr. Grey is her algebra teacher. Which seems rather fitting actually, as Ana continually compares herself to a child next to him. Which, again, feels like statutory rape. Especially when she seems so naive and unknowledgeable about anything sexual. Again, I know I mentioned it before, but James keeps making the same weird writing choices over and over again.

Tell me, why are Ana's sex dreams so vague? Even as a very young virgin, I'd seen movies and read books; I knew what sex looked like. Even at 12 years old, I could imagine what it felt like. But the 21-year-old, college-educated Ana sounds thoroughly baffled by the act. Like it's something alien. She keeps referring to "shadowy places" and "unexplored territory" as if her own body were a complete, sci-fi-ish mystery to her. As if she'd never seen, much less touched, her own genitals. Not even in a basic shower setting. I could describe the far side of Pluto better and in more concrete detail than Ana could describe her own undercarriage.

Ana also knows nothing about rather basic steps in the modern human mating dance. Grey asks her out for coffee and she wonders if he thinks she looks tired. He's asking you out on a date, you ridiculous twit! On that date, she blushes over imagining running her fingers through Grey's hair in the middle of a coffee shop. Dear deity! She didn't even do it, just thought about doing it and she's freaking out over it?! Do you have any idea what I'VE done in a coffee shop. I'm pretty sure her head would burst into flames—Salem witch-burning flames, if her communist red blush is any indicator—if she was merely whispered the idea. She needs to get the fuck over things.

Like the question about whether Grey's gay! Why is she STILL obsessing over it two chapters later? It wasn't even her question! And is it really such a big deal? I get that it was gauche and odd, but what in this book isn't? Why does she "need intensive therapy to not feel this embarrassed every time I recall the moment"? Get. Over. It. I beg of you!

As you can probably tell, I'm not terribly fond of this chapter. But there was one detail that amused me greatly—not the way James intended, I'm sure, but I still liked it. Ana's idea of tea is to put the bag in the water for a second and then quickly fish it out again. It's essentially slightly colored water with the barest hint of flavor. Even her preference in tea is painfully weak and vanilla. Ana can't even stand the insinuation of flavor or taste or really anything that would make anything interesting at all. No, all she wants is the most boring, banal form of bland. At least, James is consistent in this.

I also love that Grey calls Ana mysterious. She's not mysterious; she's awkward. If there's anything mysterious about her, it's everyone's fascination with her. Why do three seperate men seem to be in love with a bumbling, stammering, blushing, silly, little, childish girl. 

He also is intrigued by how "self-contained" she is. She's not self-contained, she's just vapid and empty. And even Ana herself knows it. Ana's response to Grey's "self-contained" comment is, "Am I? Wow… how am I managing that? This is bewildering. Me, self-contained? No Way." Self-containment implies that one is actively employing disciplined self-control to hide, or contain, things about themselves. Ana isn't hiding anything. She appears fairly bland and plain because she's pretty much an empty shell.

I don't understand it. Everyone is so enamored by her and all I can wonder is why? What is so intriguing? So attractive? With each passing page, each passing awkward, irritatingly blah moment, Ana's bust size increases and her waist size decreases in my head. It's page 37 and my mental image of her has the proportions of a porn star. I shudder to think what Ana will look like by the end of this beast—Barbie and blow-up dolls will have nothing on her. It's the only way I can keep a modicum of realism in this illogically ridiculous piece.

And James doesn't even do anything to contradict this. We get as much—LESS, actually—descriptions on Ana as we do everyone else in this story. Which is to say, next to nothing. Ana is a walking, talking, tripping, stumbling, bumbling, bimboed blow-up doll filled with nothing but air.

You want proof? Not even SHE is interested in herself. Grey and Ana try to talk about their personal lives. Try to get to know one another more. Try to build a basic foundation for any kind of relationship with each other. But James can't even give us that. Neither of them will give much more than the basic history—a barebones profile—of themselves. You get more information from a Wiki page or an OKC profile. Grey does this—rather knowingly—because he's such a secretive, manipulative control-freak who cowardly hides anything personal from everyone—even someone who he's seeking to build a relationship with. But Ana won't speak about herself because even SHE finds herself dull and uninteresting. She can't even conceive of why Grey would want to know about her; as if she's never played the very basic get-to-know-you game of basic social convention. How do they expect to make and maintain a conversation if no one is willing to actually say something?

Oh, yes—as with everything else in this novel—painfully and staggeringly awkwardly.

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