What Stephenie Meyer Hath Wrought: "The Muscles In My Belly Do The Delectable Clench Thing"

There was once a time when white people condescended to rap music:

A lot of times it seemed like the thinking was something along the lines of it was probably relatively easy to string together rhymes along to a vaguely rhythmic beat, thus rap was less important and more dismissible. This was back before the Beastie Boys were considered artists in their own right. This was back when you could "rap" by saying "My name is [blank] and I'm here to say . . ." and then rhyme something with "say" because the long "a" vowel sound is one of the laziest rhymes in the English language.

Anyway, point being, sometimes genres are deceptively simple. You never want to think that [X] medium is easy to do because that's exactly when you will realize that it's so basic, it's actually quite difficult to master. Haikus are probably like this. So is abstract art. You've probably heard someone say something along the lines of, "My four-year-old could do this!" Except not really. Except if you're talking about Ad Reinhardt, who is a freak-o charlatan creep.

Which is to say, you might find yourself reading a book, say, something along the lines of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, and say to yourself something along the lines of, "Jeez, this Mommy jerkoff fantasy genre is a fucking goldmine — we could absolutely do this!" Except that you can't. Writing something this inane is actually pretty difficult to pull off, and requires a lack of self-awareness that few actually possess.

Sometimes it's fun to read a book that is part of the cultural conversation or whatever. Sometimes it's a kick to read "trashy" things. Maybe you enjoyed Cecily von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl books. Perhaps you once killed some time on some beach or lake with something Nora Roberts shat out in a few weeks time. Maybe you snickered at the rapture porn of Left Behind. Maybe you even knew someone who got sucked into one or more of the Twilight novels.

And sometimes it's just a tedious slog through hundreds of pages of poorly written shit that you can't for the life of you see what the appeal is. It's depressing when you get to this point. Why are people reading at all? What is it about paragraphs, capitalization and punctuation that appeals to people? Why do bookshelves take up so much room in our homes? It's sort of like how Lana Del Rey sounds.

In fact, so much of Fifty Shades of Grey seems like Lana Del Rey. Fifty Shades could be the Lana Del Rey of popular fiction. Where did this come from? Why are so many of us reading it? Why are they going to make a movie out of it? It's just so fucking terrible . . .

How bad is it? For one, it suffers from that problem seemingly inherent in trashy books which is that it seems like it's a first draft. That's not the absolute worst thing, though it is a lot of what makes it such a slog to read. Who uses the word "clamber" at all, much much less 23 times in a book? It's distracting after a while. I had to look up "taciturn" because, well, I think the last time I saw it was during a SAT prep course. Then there's the Shift-F7-ness of the sex scenes: ". . . my thoughts are in riotous disarray. Wow . . . that was astounding." Or "The pressure is building slowly, inexorably inside me." Or "His breathing is mounting, his ardor . . ." Wow, hubba hubba — this could be the hottest use of the thesaurus this side of that porn site synonyms.net.

But the part that really drives home — hammers home! — the idea that it's a first draft is lines like these: "The pleasure was indescribable." Never, ever trust a writer who says something is "indescribable."

In some ways it's really cool to read a first draft. It's a straight shot into someone's mind, long before the better sense of editing or an editor comes into play. Can you imagine how interesting it'd be to see a first draft of The Corrections or Everything is Illuminated or something like that? They probably read like complete shit. I'll say this much: Those pussies hide behind "editors" and whatever. Not this lady.

In some ways you want to preserve all these quirks because they are what makes the book, or at least they are what makes the book so homespun. It's funny to read Britishisms peppered throughout the text: A "DIY" instead of a "hardware store," talk of "prams," a world where stepdads are actually distracted by MLS matches ("I call Ray, who is just about to watch the Sounders play some soccer team from Salt Lake City, so our conversation is mercifully brief"). In a way, it's kind of like the author is telegraphing that she's out of her element.

Which is useful to remember when people talk about how Fifty Shades is somehow bringing BDSM to the masses, because I'm pretty sure this is not what BDSM is about. I don't know what it's about. I don't care to know what it's about. Nothing seems more boring than tying up people and "torturing" them them with feather dusters or whatever the fuck people use. But I have a sense that BDSM isn't about men beating on women and then three-thrusting themselves to sleep. Seriously, if you omit the two or three "sexy" times when the characters "make love," the rest of it is a bunch of pound-pound-pound-squirt scenes where this carnal novice of a character somehow gets sexually satisfied. It's ridiculous. And when something is "hot," it's Q.E.D. hot, like "Why is that hot?" or "Jeez, this is hot" or "Demeaning and scary and hot" or "it's hot, freaking hot" or "He's harder, intractable . . . hot." If you say a word too much it sounds pretty ridiculous. "Hot" sounds like a bubbly moss roof or something similarly dopey. At any rate, so much of the book is "hot" because the character says it is. Which gets absurd after a while. Especially when nothing is particularly hot.

That's especially the case with the main character, Christian Grey. His only real defining features are his "molten gray" eyes. Other than that, he sounds like a real creep, who, if it weren't for his money, impressive girth and voracious appetite for breakfast, would just come off like a sanctimonious, humorless dick. But this is sort of nitpicking: Christian Grey's desirability is because the author says it is. Maybe the book is "smart" that way: "Fwachoo!" goes the whip! You will think this character is hot! Mama, so so hot!

But I guess "Christian Grey" isn't really the focus more than "Anastasia Steele" is since she's our guide into this "kinky" world. But she's also kind of unlikeable. All through the book — which, I should get out of the way right now, is just part one of a trilogy — she's complaining about how this aloof sexhound who is into BDSM and commands his submissives to sign non-disclosure agreements is somehow being less than forthcoming in their burgeoning relationship. As Angelina from the Jersey Shore once said, "Um, hello, are you fucking stupid?! They're taking their underwear off in the fucking Jacuzzi! Are you dumb? Hello!?" Or something like that.

We could go on — and on and on — but let's let it go. All of it. The product placement (who or what did Twinings have to blow to get mentioned six times in this thing?). The "long index finger" that, like Chekhov's gun, induces foreboding and fear. The ridiculous anthropomorphization of Anastasia's "subconscious" (I think she means something along the lines of "superego," but I can't quite tell for sure). The absurd elevation of WSU's Vancouver campus into some hallowed center of learning. "Charle Tango." The author's insistence on referring to a vagina as the character's "sex." "Right now, Miss Steele, I couldn't give a fuck about your food" (Location 6332 of 14900). Christian Grey "pouring" himself into Anastasia Steele. The wetness!!!! The list seems endless.

No, instead I'll close out with a couple of small points. One, the book works best when it's seen as a brutal indictment of the U.S. higher education system, degrees like "English" in general and the corrupt and decrepit intern-read-work-for-free racket that exists in the post-collegiate world. In short, Anastasia Steele is a perfect submissive because she's a high-achieving English major who has been trained for only one thing in her abbreviated life, which is to please others — specifically the world of publishing, which seems to be her one and only goal in life until Christian Grey's long index fingers come along. It's a subtle point that's lost alongside all of the groan-inducing sexalogue, but I held on to it.

Two, as a new father, I made a mental note not to spank my son lest he ends up some sort of Freudian example.

Three, and most important, Fifty Shades was originally written as as Twilight fan fiction, which underscores just how fucked up — "fifty shades of fucked up," as Anastasia Steele might say — the premise of Twilight is, and how hard it will be to walk back that whole thing. Because what's happening here is a character-for-character distillation of what that story is really about — an emotionally abusive stalker. In that sense, Fifty Shades might be the most important book of the year. Aw, fuck it — I'll just watch the movie. But it better star Matthew McConaughey, reprising his role as David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. And maybe Zooey Deschanel as Anastasia. That lady should really be spanked. Hrm. Maybe I could get into this after all . . .

Posted: April 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Books Are The SUVs Of Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Amazing Little Things You Never Forget About The Birth Of Your Child: His Precious Cry, The Thick Snap Of The Sinewy Umbilical Cord, His Tiny Little Fingers Gripping Mom's Chest, The Bizarre Depiction Of Rhinophyma In Domenico Ghirlandaio's "An Old Man And His Grandson" In The Maternity Ward Hallway

Like we mentioned before, in general, the hospital doesn't want to see you until you're having contractions of at least one minute long, four minutes apart and lasting for at least one hour. Jen started feeling some major contractions around 7 p.m. or so, but it wasn't until nearly 11 p.m. that we started to think this might be the day.

I don't know if other people's experiences are different — I imagine they are — but I wouldn't call the contractions "regular," or at least regular in the sense that they were all perfectly four, five, seven or ten minutes apart. Sometimes they were two minutes apart, sometimes six minutes apart. Part of me thought that we shouldn't bother getting the doctor on duty out of bed, but Jen's better sense prevailed and she paged the doctor around midnight. By 12:30 we were getting our stuff ready to go to the hospital.

We called the car service and told the dispatcher the address of where we were going. I worried — just a little bit — that a driver wouldn't want a lady in labor in his car, so I kept it vague. Which is stupid: You think a driver doesn't know what's happening when you emerge from your front door at 1:30 in the morning with a giant lady and a roller bag? "First Avenue and 33rd Street?" you think he wonders, "Gee, I don't remember there being a bus station or airport there"? Though he did sort of — it seemed like at least — have an epiphany of sorts about where he was headed when he turned onto 30th Street from Second Avenue. It was almost as if he signaled "Why didn't you just say you were going to NYU?"

Along the way the driver didn't say much, only asking Jen if she was warm enough. And no water broke in the back seat — it's funny how wrong the movies get it — so often in a movie, even movies that seem supposedly realistic, a woman will be sitting there and all of the sudden "boom" followed by fifteen Steve Guttenbergs or Tom Sellecks rushing around with towels and hot compresses to tend to the suddenly incapacitated hysterical lady-in-labor. Like they painstakingly repeated over and over at birthing class, no one's going to fuck up the leather bucket seats with baby juice. Which is to say, the Town Car was clean, or at least as clean as it was when we were picked up in it. Still, I think I gave the driver a good tip.

So we walk into the main lobby sometime just before 2 a.m. and the lone security guard at the desk hopped up and beamed, "Baby? You're our fourth one tonight." So everyone's clear, while it's exciting to think that several other happy couples are experiencing the same joy as you this evening, it's not really a good thing to have a maternity ward overbooked.

This is actually an interesting thing to consider: How do hospitals know how many beds and rooms to have in a maternity ward? Basically, they just assume that the averages work out and that someone will always have a place to give birth. At one point we asked whether there were busy times and less-busy times and the nurses sort of shrugged no; I was convinced there would be a lot of people on New Year's Eve, looking for a tax break, or an empty hospital on Christmas or something, but apparently it doesn't work like that.

So we take Jen up to the maternity ward, where she waits to get examined, and I return to the intake desk back on the ground floor, where they make sure we can pay for everything. Just kidding. I don't know what the paperwork really entailed because the computers were down just then. They told me that they'd come get me later.

When I returned to the maternity ward I had to ask the nurses what happened to my wife; they pointed down the hallway, where Jen was sitting on a bed behind some bedside screens — literally in the hallway. They had hooked her up to the fetal monitor machine under a print of Domenico Ghirlandaio's An Old Man And His Grandson, which you might remember as a strange picture featuring an old guy with Rhinophyma. Huh?

Domenico Ghirlandaio's An Old Man And His Grandson, NYU Langone Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, December 29, 2011

The fetal monitor is cool — you can tell when a big contraction is happening by the 0-100 meter, zero being no contraction and 100 being the uterus squeezing itself tighter than a Wall Street stress ball circa September 2008. Jen doesn't think it's funny or soothing or anything other than annoying really when I tell her "Wow, that was a big contraction!" By this point it's clear that Jen's being admitted. We're just waiting for an available room.

"These other women, I don't know what's going on with them," the night nurse said to us at one point, "They should just section them and send them home!" She's of course kidding; hospitals don't do this; or at least I don't think so.

At some point I walked away to get Jen some water and passed by the nurse's station. "We've got to do something about Hallway," one said to another. I like the sound of "Hallway," and make a point of telling Goober about Jen's new nickname. A little after 5:30 the nurse tells us to take a walk around for about 20 minutes while they prepare an available room.

Previously: Bascially A Human Head Is Forcing Its Way Through A Vagina.

Posted: March 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , ,