Wednesday, April 18, 2012

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

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?

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.


  1. Every time there is a mention of how incredibly good looking Chedward is I always picture Zoolander. Does Chedward also have a Center for Kids Who Don't Read Good and Want to Learn to do Other Stuff Good Too?

    1. What is this, a school for ants?

  2. Regarding the permission to record: I was always taught - although I can't vouch for whether it's true or not - that if you're interviewing someone, you do need to get their consent to make a recording, so that later they can't claim that you secretly recorded them. One of my professors pushed that idea really hard: always ask for permission to record and to quote. Of course, if anyone has agreed to be interviewed, they're almost certainly going to let you make a recording and quote what they said, but it's still a good idea to ask.

    1. I record people for my work, and the thing about that permission is that the whole point is that you have to get the permission ON TAPE. Every interview starts out with some variation on "Do you understand that I'm recording this conversation? Do I have your permission to record this conversation?"

      If you don't record that, it means nothing.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Trying again-

    Loved this! Thanks for it.
    I read this whole series (waste of time), wondering when she (and he really) were going to start actually acting like people.
    And I have NEVER met an American college student who likes Earl Grey tea this much. Why not make Ana a Brit in the US for University? At least a few things get a little easier to swallow.

    So--thanks, looking forward to more.

    1. She doesn't like Earl Grey tea, she likes English Breakfast Tea. I'm British...

    2. That's also weird. Too weird.

  5. Btw, I added to the tie picture a little, would love it if you had a variation on your tees (I just added the quote, I know that's really lazy)

  6. Amazing! I couldn't make it much further than this with the book, but I'll happily read your trashing of it.

  7. An anonymous poster on my blog recommended yours as having some sound arguments about the damaging effects of Fifty Shades of Grey (I'm a fan of sorts) but I dunno if I am up to responding to the massive effort you have put into critiquing the book. I did have some thoughts on the points you bring up:

    1) Anna is a poor friend? Granted, she does not realize what a plum interviewing Grey is, but c'mon, she's a kid. If kids understood the world the way adults do there would be a LOT fewer fine arts majors out there. I can give her a pass for being clueless here. Nice bit of characterization when you think of it. A whip-smart careerist would have thought only about what she could get out of Grey's contract, not whether she should sign it at all. Anna is young and fuzzy-minded enough not to go for the main chance.

    2) The whole business with the fetching of the water was a nice bit of foreshadowing. It has a nice tinge of the slightly crazed dominance/submission behavior you get in BDSM porn about mysterious manors where wealthy men have a large female staff who wear fetishy clothes and are VERY strict about protocol. So I will say you called that one exactly wrong.

    3) You wrote: " like looking directly at the face of God if God were an orgasm dipped in chocolate and the perfect pair of jeans"

    Ok , that was fricking hilarious!


    And your comment regarding Anita Blake is spot on! That is one blonde hatin' bitch.

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  13. By the way, this really funny, with the way this book has clearly stated it's hate for blondes, and how evil they are etc., but in fact everytime I picture Ana, I picture her with dark blonde hair.

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