Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let's Read Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter 19!

Last chapter Our Heroes had an ooky gynecologist appointment and a bunch of sex, and that was about it.  I always feel so indifferent and unaroused by the sex in this book.  It's like trying to read a sex scene starring Ted Bundy--even if the scene itself were great, the outside knowledge I have about these characters spoils any chance of it being erotic.

Content warnings for this chapter: Physical and emotional abuse, as always.  Child molestation, and Ana being a shit about it.  Eating disorders, somehow.  Horror movies, if that's a thing I need to warn for?

I roll my shoulders. They’re stiff. His demands for a personal trainer don’t seem so outlandish now, in fact, they’re mandatory if I am to have any hope of keeping up with him.
No.  Nothing is mandatory.  If you enjoy athletic sex then by all means train for it, but if you don't or can't--this guy's sexual demands are not immutable facts of the universe.  He doesn't have to make Ana do athletic stunts; he chooses to.

Sprocket WireCrimp seems to do this a lot, this total abdication of responsibility for his sexual desires.  He just declares "I'm a hitter so if you're around me you will be hit," like he isn't constantly making the choice to hit his partner.  And like "it's not really my choice" is an excuse that should earn him a special exemption from making compromises, instead of a goddamn terrifying problem that should earn him permanent single status until he figures out how to make it his choice.
I steal into the bathroom, bewildered by my lack of underwear. While drying myself after my enjoyable but far too brief shower, I realize he’s done this on purpose. He wants me to be embarrassed and ask for my panties back, and he’ll either say yes or no. My inner goddess grins at me. Hell… two can play that particular game. Resolving there and then not to ask him for them and not give him that satisfaction, I shall go meet his parents sans culottes.
Okay, I've done this.  It's not my proudest moment, but I've hidden Rowdy's briefs while he was in the shower.  His response was "oh grow up" and of course I gave his underwear back.  It was a goofy joke, not an actual humiliation power play.

So there's something really disturbing about seeing my goofy joke translated into this nightmare relationship where she's afraid to even ask him for her underwear back, and would probably be literally beaten for it if she said "oh grow up."

That's one of the invisibly horrible things about abusive relationships.  Not the beatings that happen, but the beatings that don't happen but would if the abused partner ever asked to be treated like a human.  It's easy to see that Solder TinSnip doesn't hit Ana in these scene.  It's terrifying to realize that's because he doesn't need to.
Christian is standing by the panoramic window, wearing the grey flannel pants that I love, the ones that hang in that unbelievably sexy way off his hips, and
that shirt that sexily hangs off his shoulders, accented by a tie that sexily hangs off his neck, and socks that sexily hang off his ankles.  His shoes hang off the tops of his feet.  Sexily.
We speed up the I-5,
Through downtown Seattle?  Not unless it's 3 AM.
“Where did you learn to dance?” I ask tentatively. He turns to gaze at me, his eyes unreadable beneath the intermittent light of the passing street lamps. “Do you really want to know?” he replies softly. My heart sinks, and now I don’t because I can guess. “Yes,” I murmur, reluctantly. “Mrs. Robinson was fond of dancing.” Oh, my worst suspicions confirmed. She has taught him well, and the thought depresses me – there’s nothing I can teach him. I have no special skills.
Yes, that's what's bad about your boyfriend being molested as a teenager.  That now you don't get to teach him how to dance.  Ana goes into a long reverie about how much she hates "Mrs. Robinson," and it's 100% jealousy that she got to do so much fun stuff with her molesting victim, 0% concern about the whole molesting issue.
“Ditto, baby,” he says softly as Taylor speeds into the night toward Bellevue.
Hey!  I lived in Bellevue for ten years!  I don't really have a thing to say about this, I just thought you should know.
Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey is on the doorstep waiting for us. She looks elegantly sophisticated in a pale blue silk dress; behind her stands Mr. Grey, I presume, tall, blond, and as handsome in his own way as Christian. “Anastasia, you’ve met my mother, Grace. This is my dad, Carrick.” [...]  “Is she here?” I hear a screech from within the house. I glance nervously at Christian. “That would be Mia, my little sister,” he says almost irritably, but not quite.
Mia.  Ana and Mia.  This is crossing the "coincidence" line and diving deep into "what the HELL" territory.  Is E.L. James trying to send a secret message?  Is she secretly involved with pro-ana?  Is she trying to imply this book is actually a metaphor for eating disorders?

Or--and this is so terrible I suspect it's the real answer--does she just think it's a cute in-joke?  Like, we all know she had to replace the names in a hurry so that they wouldn't be named "Bella and Alice."  I have a sinking horror that she was picking out replacement names for all the characters and thought naming a pair of them after an Internet trend she heard about would be cute.
I flush scarlet, and seeing Kate sitting with Elliot, it occurs to me suddenly that the only reason Christian invited me is because Kate is here. Elliot probably freely and happily asked Kate to meet his parents. Christian was trapped – knowing that I would have found out via Kate. I frown at the thought. He’s been forced into the invitation. The realization is bleak and depressing. My subconscious nods sagely, a you’ve-finally-worked-it-out-stupid look on her face.
Holy shit, I'm going to agree with Ana for once - that is depressing as fuck.
“We were just talking about vacations, Ana,” Mr. Grey says kindly. “Elliot has decided to follow Kate and her family to Barbados for a week.” I glance at Kate, and she grins, her eyes bright and wide. She’s delighted. Katherine Kavanagh, show some dignity!
Yeah, Kate, how dare you be happy about something you're doing with your partner!  Everyone knows all the cool kids are into misery these days.
“Are you taking a break now you’ve finished your degree?” Mr. Grey asks. “I’m thinking about going to Georgia for a few days,” I reply. Christian gapes at me, blinking a couple of times, his expression unreadable. Oh shit. I haven’t mentioned this to him. “Georgia?” he murmurs. “My mother lives there, and I haven’t seen her for a while.” “When were you thinking of going?” His voice is low. “Tomorrow, late evening.”
Okay, so not "thinking about" so much as "already booked a while ago," unless Ana thinks plane tickets are like bus tickets and she'll just pick one up at the station.  Not that I blame her for not telling Brass JumpRing.  Anyway, just wanted to catch you up on this because of course it's going to be the cause of his next freakout.

Good lord this guy is high-maintenance.  Can't fuckin' paint your nails without him crying and pounding the floor because you didn't ask him first and let him pick the color.  Even if he weren't so overtly abusive about it, dating this guy just sounds exhausting.
“For how long?” Christian asks, his voice deceptively soft. Holy crap… he’s angry. “I don’t know yet. It will depend how my interviews go tomorrow.” His jaw clenches, and Kate gets that interfering look on her face. She smiles over-sweetly. “Ana deserves a break,” she says pointedly at Christian. Why is she so antagonistic towards him? What is her problem?
 What is her problem?  What is her problem?  What is HER problem?!?!?!

Ana and Clamp HackSaw go on to have an excruciatingly miserable dinner with his family, which I don't feel like typing up in detail, but basically the entire thing is Caliper NeedleNose whispering furiously at her about how he hates every decision she's ever made.  (Kate mentions Ana seeing a male friend, which of course makes things a million times worse because nobody is even trying to make this not look like textbook abuse.)
Grace reappears carrying two plates, followed by a pretty young woman with blonde pigtails, dressed smartly in pale blue, carrying a tray of plates. Her eyes immediately find Christian in the room. She blushes and gazes at him from under her long mascara’d lashes. [...] So the Greys have staff, and the staff are eyeing up my would-be Dominant. Can this evening get any worse? I scowl at my hands in my lap.
Hey, waiter lady, being terrified of this guy and hating absolutely everything about our relationship is my gig!  You better not be trying to get in on this sweet deal!
“Shall I give you a tour of the grounds?” he asks me quite openly. I know I’m meant to say yes, but I don’t trust him. Before I can answer however, he’s on his feet and holding his hand out to me. [...]  “I’m going to show Anastasia the backyard,” Christian says innocently to his mother.
Oh god. This is like watching a horror movie.  No, Ana, no.  Don't go into that basement!
He bends down and scoops me over his shoulder. I squeal loudly with shocked surprise, and he gives me a ringing slap on my behind. “Keep your voice down,” he growls.
No, Ana, scream.  Scream.  Scream for his parents, scream for Kate, make a scene and get the whole fam-damn-ily out here.  He's the one with something to lose if you do that, not you.

I know that isn't really true, isn't really how it works.  I know he could make some "oh, this crazy girl" excuse that fooled everyone and then he'd retaliate against her later.  But I still wish she would scream.
“I need to be alone with you.” “What for?” “Because I’m going to spank and then fuck you.” “Why?” I whimper softly. “You know why,” he hisses. “I thought you were an in-the-moment guy?” I plead breathlessly. “Anastasia, I’m in the moment, trust me.” Holy fuck.
At least in horror movies there's usually a Final Girl.  There's one woman who escapes, who may be injured and terrified but she never gives up, who crawls out of the house of horrors and wipes the blood from her face to wave down a passing car, who lives to see the sun finally rising over the hills.

This book gives me no such hope.


  1. I live in Bellevue and all of the "driving" in these books is horribly inaccurate. There's a scene in one with a high speed chase down 520 and I couldn't stop laughing.

    1. Yeah, and in this chapter she goes north on I-5 to get from Seattle to Bellevue, and also I think Mercer Island doesn't exist.

      It's disconcerting.

      (Where in Bellevue? I used to live in Enatai! ...You don't have to actually answer that question. I'm just having a bad case of "omg hometown person, remember the old Dairy Queen off 405, that was like OUR Dairy Queen, maaaan.")

    2. I grew up in east Bellevue by lake Sammamish, but now I live by 405 and I-90, by Bellevue College. :)

    3. Oh cool! I took classes there. :)

    4. I've been reading your stuff (blog, tumblr) for a year now and I just had to comment finally. You're great, I love your style, and you've really helped me come to terms with my own kinkiness :)

      Also man, Bellevue has changed a TON lately, especially downtown. It's crazy!

    5. Have you been to the CSPC? Because it's so publicly known and semi-open, the community's a big of a mixed bag, but I used to be a semi-regular and had some good times there. Definitely worth checking out.

      I know! I was there just a couple weeks ago. It's sort of weird. I can remember when this was all strawberry fields... Not literally, but I can remember when it was an ordinary downtown with a run-down Safeway and a bunch of "teriyaki and milkshakes" shops, instead of a row of ultra-luxury yuppie towers.

      Went back to my old house and found it exactly the same, though. All the neighbors' houses had been torn down and replaced with MiniMcMansions, but the house I lived in was as scruffy as ever. They hadn't even fixed up our terrible lawn.


  2. I have only been to Seattle once, and I was STILL deeply entertained by the book going on about how GORGEOUS the Seattle sunset was. I remember only three things about Seattle with any clarity, and those things are: Seattle is cold, wet, and GRAAAAAAAAY.

    I don't even GET what the hell the Ana/Mia stuff is about. Can't tell if trolling, or just oblivious...

    1. To be fair, the book takes place right after Ana's graduation, so presumably around June, and Seattle in the summer really is gorgeous. It's solid gray nine months out of the year, but those other three, nope, full-on gorgeous.

    2. Seattle sunsets, when you can see them, actually are pretty gorgeous.

  3. The names for Grey are getting better and better!

    1. Thanks! This week's theme was "stuff I have on my workbench!" Tune in next week for me completely running out of ideas and calling him "Pencil DoritoCrumb!"

    2. You have noses on your workbench? I am very curious and slightly concerned.

    3. (Facepalm) Sorry, my bad.

  4. I may be fixating on a small point to avoid the overall terrifying abuse, but am I the only one who got super confused by the use of "sans culottes"? I don't know that I've ever seen that phrase used outside a French Revolution context.

    After some thought, the only explanations I have come up with are that either
    1) Ana usually wears french knee-breeches and [insert humorous name here] stole them as well.
    2) Ana's French is pretty terrible and she's trying to say "without pants." This scenario also requires that fictional traffic-less Seattle is actually in Britain so "pants" means "underwear."
    3) She decides to go meet the Grey family dressed as a revolutionary French peasant, which, I have to say, seems like part of a book I'd MUCH rather read (though that list includes basically all the books).

    1. Isn't culottes just the French word for underwear?

    2. Dunno about French 'cos I'm Italian, but here in Italy we use not-always-correct-in-their-original-meaning foreign words for underwear and "culottes" is one of them. It indicates female panties which cover almost all the hip and more than half of the buttock (http://www.chantelle.com/media/catalog/product/cache/23/thumbnail/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/C/H/CH-1938-1D-Paris_Paris_Culotte-BK.jpg )
      Maybe James heard some Italian guy/girl call panties "culottes" and she thought it was cool

      (We also use "slip" for classic female panties which is quite absurd because "slip" in English has nothing to do with panties. Or at least not that I know of)

    3. A slip is an undergarment that goes between the underpants and a dress or skirt. It's usually used like an undershirt but for skirts.

    4. "Isn't culottes just the French word for underwear?"

      It is now, which is what James was going for. It used to mean a kind of breeches which men wore cut off at the knee, which were historically an upper-class garment, though. Hence, 'sans-culottes' were French revolutionaries, who due to their class didn't wear them. Thus, the amusement.

    5. Locher's used to have a top and a locket that read "sans culotte", though it appears they don't carry those anymore. Still, this blouse suggests the use of culotte-as-panties is, in fact, a thing.


    6. Where I live, culottes are like a kind of loose, flowy shorts, almost a skirt.

  5. When you're done, we need to compile a comprehensive list of your names for Christian Grey and put it into some kind of something, put it to music or turn it into a performance work of some kind. If I didn't enjoy your writing generally, I would come back here for those names alone.

    "That's one of the invisibly horrible things about abusive relationships. Not the beatings that happen, but the beatings that don't happen but would if the abused partner ever asked to be treated like a human."

    This is a very important truth. It's a dangerous request to make, best done from a distance of several miles when you have money of your own and place to stay they've never heard of.

    1. My French skill is non-existent, but "culotte" does indeed seem to refer to modern underwear as well as revolution-era fancy-pants. So Ana's only mistake was pluralizing it, presumably rendering the meaning "without pairs of panties". Of course if you or anyone else here actually speaks the language regularly, I yield to your better judgement.

    2. Yes it means panties, "culotte" in singular I mean.

    3. Do you know the Elements song by Tom Lehrer? I believe a list of his names could potentially be worked nicely into that sort of format, although we'd need a very talented vocalist to be able to rattle them off that quickly.

  6. I started picturing the sex scenes with different characters. Some of them were kind of okay then, when all the surrounding horror was missing. I have to admit I didn't catch all of it though, so thank you for writing these and pointing it out. I don't know how I missed it, really. I think I just skimmed over some of it, and then assumed the rest was bad characterization and a mess of romance cliches (all the "I can change him!" stuff, for example).

  7. It's really bizarre to me that most mocking of 50 Shades, as these readings reveal, is completely missing it's actually horror. Like, I see so much 'it used to be a Twilight fanfic' and 'the sex scenes are badly written' - at the most serious stuff about how he tracked her cellphone (note: not in any way trying to trivialize that or imply that it isn't horrible). No one mentions things like *he dragged her out of his family's dinner to beat and rape her*. Thank you Cliff for going through this so that we all can know.

    On a considerably more minor note - "Christian gapes at me, blinking a couple of times, his expression unreadable."
    I'm pretty sure that is literally the opposite of an unreadable expression.

  8. Oh yeah this is the chapter where he gets all pouty-poo that she doesn't let him finger her during dinner WITH HIS PARENTS. God I wish somebody - anybody - would go full Lorena Bobbitt on this asshole and take him down a peg.

  9. Oh, look. Another young, pretty, blonde woman who is direct competition to poor brunette Ana. How utterly unpredictable.

  10. "That's one of the invisibly horrible things about abusive relationships. Not the beatings that happen, but the beatings that don't happen but would if the abused partner ever asked to be treated like a human."

    This really hit home. It's something people often don't understand. They say "But you didn't get beaten very often, it can't have been that bad." and they're right. I didn't experience all that much physical violence, a look was usually enough to remind me what was in stock for me.
    Abusers don't want to risk their public image all too often, it's so much more "convenient" when they can reduce their victim to a small heap of fear without any effort or risk of being confronted by witnesses.
    Bruises or not, the terror is what errodes the soul.

    And this is supposedly "romantic"... at first it was ridiculous, then it became unbelievable and now this book seriously worries me. Can sheer thoughtlessness really cough up such a pile of abusive propaganda and not notice it?

    1. People who tell you 'but you didn't get beaten that often so it wasn't that bad need to go drink gasoline. Not just for the reasons you mention - that the threat is there so the beatings aren't needed - but who on earth thinks beatings are no big deal unless they happen ALL THE TIME? Or it's OK if a partner beats you as long as they don't do it too much?

    2. THIS!
      (tw: abuse)

      I recently realized that I grew up with an abusive father. During my childhood and adolecence I never named it abuse in my head because my father NEVER hit anyone, neither me and my sisters nor my mother. Not what I know of, any way. But recently I realized that the reason that he never hit us was because we backed at the threat. During arguments or, occasionally, if I hadn't done something my parents had asked me to do - cleaning my room for instance, or doing the laundry - he would get this dark look, get a real nasty way of talking to you... and come closer, often with his fists clenched, sometimes with the hand raised as to slap you or punch you.

      He never did hit anyone of us. Maybe he would never had done it, but it's hard to say. Maybe if we didn't became quiet, more easy to control, if we didn't keep away from him, do what he wanted, maybe he would have taken the next step and carry out his threats. The most physical it ever got was when I had turned 18 and was so sick of being controlled like a little child and didn't back down and he grabbed my hair, and sometimes during childhood when he would grab one of my arms really hard.

      So, you can abuse a whole family for 20 years without one single punch. Just keep them sufficiently afraid that you maybe will hit them this time.

    3. I feel this. With me, it's my mom, and there were some physical elements, but mostly it was that she knew exactly how to make me feel I didn't deserve to live. I wanted to kill myself from the first moment I had the idea to do so--which was at age 8, for crying out loud.

      I remember the manipulation of her pressing all the right buttons until I felt I was lower than the lowest scum on the earth and any continuance of my presence on this planet could only make the world a horrible place.

      I remember thinking that surely my dad must know this went on (he actually had no clue, his head in the sand the whole time), that he must think it was necessary for me to feel this way in order to learn to be a better person and overcome whatever small portion of my awfulness I could. I remember overhearing them talk about me, Dad trying in a halfhearted way to argue on my behalf, and Mom hissing right back, "You're going to spoil her. She can't always have things her own way. You have to remember, you're a man; you don't have my instincts on this one. You know you're not very good with people, so you've got to trust me on this."

      In retrospect, the emotional abuse extended to him, too--I don't think I'd realized that until just now. It was subtler than what I got (I think; I don't know what went on behind closed doors), but still, there was an awful lot of gaslighting, trying to discredit him in his own mind every time he disagreed with her.

      She never even needed to threaten to hit us. She could completely undo us with words alone, and fear of this was more than enough to keep anyone in line. How fucked-up is that?

      Ugh, sorry, I didn't mean that to come off like a "mine-is-worse-than-yours"; I totally didn't mean it that way! I just related, was all, and of course abuse is abuse; we don't need some kind of scale to compare it to. God was I relieved when I finally learned the term "emotional abuse"--though poisoned by my mother's voice in my head telling me I'm a drama queen and I make a big deal out of everything, I spent a long time telling myself, "Oh, but that's not *real* abuse; that's just for complainers." Just knowing the phrase existed, though, gave me a strange kind of hope, a little like (pardon the ensuing nerd-out moment here) Sirius in Azkaban, kept sane with the bleak thought of his own innocence.

      Okay, enough of that...I can't stay too long down in the dungeon of my memories or I get trapped and entire days go by where I do nothing at all, lol. I wish they'd grant me my freaking disability already, but that's another story.

  11. "I always feel so indifferent and unaroused by the sex in this book. It's like trying to read a sex scene starring Ted Bundy--even if the scene itself were great, the outside knowledge I have about these characters spoils any chance of it being erotic."
    This! This is how I feel! It's like trying to get off on seeing the sorority girls with their tops off while they are screaming for their lives in terror!