I have to admit, it's all starting to blur together for me. In the first part of the book, things were already horrible, but at least they moved a little. Ana worked, went out with friends, graduated school, moved to a new city. Now we've entered this vague Timeless Zone where the pacing becomes an undifferentiated dribble of "we had really icky un-fun coercive sex... and then later we had some more." I don't know the month, much less the day of the week, and the relationship isn't developing one inch past the "I want you to submit to me but I don't actually like you" point we were at a hundred pages ago. Trying to enjoy this book as a piece of fiction is like trying to paddle a canoe through gravel.
Content warnings for this chapter: Emotional abuse and manipulation, bigtime. Workplace sexual harassment. Trying to help an abused friend. Sparkly GIF.
A glorious Seattle morning greets me – sunshine pouring through the full-height windows and flooding the room with too-bright light. [...] I lie back for a moment staring through the windows at the lofty vista of Seattle’s skyline.Which way do these damn windows point? If she's at the actual location of Escala, the big "skyline" buildings are south of her, and the sunrise is blocked by First Hill. Even if we say it's an imaginary building with the same name, I still don't know where you can go in Seattle that you're downtown, you can see the skyline, and the sunrise shines straight in your face.
...A half mile offshore on the Bainbridge Island ferry, I guess.
Life in the clouds sure feels unreal. A fantasy – a castle in the air, adrift from the ground, safe from the realities of life – far away from neglect, hunger, and crack-whore mothers. I shudder to think what he went through as a small child, and I understand why he lives here, isolated, surrounded by beautiful, precious works of art – so far removed from where he started… mission statement indeed.I had a kinda crappy upbringing too, but I'm not a super-billionaire-vampire, so I have to settle for living on the second floor and having some interesting fridge magnets and an xkcd poster.
An elegant middle-aged woman is cleaning in the kitchen area. The sight of her stops me in my tracks. She has short blonde hair and clear blue eyes; she wears a plain white tailored shirt and a navy blue pencil skirt. She smiles broadly when she sees me. “Good morning, Miss Steele. Would you like some breakfast?” Her tone is warm but business like, and I am stunned. Who is this attractive blonde in Christian’s kitchen? [...] “Oh, I’m terribly sorry – I’m Mrs. Jones, Mr. Grey’s housekeeper.”Oh no, not a blonde woman! "Blonde woman" is universal shorthand for "sexual competition" and that's terrible!
I'm not sure whether to be baffled by Ana's constant jealousy or sympathetic. On the one hand, she can't get rid of this guy and he's slowly closing a Darth-Vader-like chokehold on her life--she has a lot of things to fear from him, but him forgetting about her isn't one of them. Since they met he's constantly been obsessing over her and spending about 90% of his waking life either screwing her or screwing with her. It's not bloody likely that he'd suddenly forget all about her because his housekeeper is blonde.
But on the other hand, for all that he makes his presence and sexual demands inescapable, he's a master at withholding affection. The simultaneous messages of Biff Tardigrade are "you can't leave me" and "you can't have me." So, okay, I can't really blame Ana for being insecure, not when she has to live in such a maelstrom of mindfuck.
Do wish she wouldn't focus it all on blonde women, though.
[Darth Sufferable is on the phone talking about Important Manly Business Things]: “Unless that company’s P&L improves, I’m not interested, Ros. We’re not carrying dead weight… I don’t need any more lame excuses… Have Marco call me, it’s shit or bust time... [...] “Clear my schedule this morning, but get Bill to call me. I’ll be in at two. I need to talk to Marco this afternoon, that will need at least half an hour… Schedule Barney and his team in after Marco or maybe tomorrow, and find time for me to see Claude everyday this week…"It's intentionally written to be incomprehensible and all blur into a bunch of Manly Business Not To Worry Your Little Head About, but man, even in sloppily written half-conversations Colt FootStomp sounds like a horrible CEO. He swears at his subordinates, he works for about an hour a day, and his idea of management is barking a lot of orders at people and then hanging up.
I mean, I'm not saying it isn't realistic, but it does not serve to endear him to me.
I throw my arms around his neck and my fingers twist in his still damp hair. Pushing my body flush against his, I kiss him back. I want him. My attack takes him by surprise, but after a beat, he responds, a low groan in his throat. His hands slip into my hair and down my back to cup my naked behind, his tongue exploring my mouth. He pulls back, his eyes hooded.I'm getting confused by the specifics of the "no touching Dick WangPeen" rule. It obviously doesn't mean no skin contact. And apparently it doesn't mean no contact that she initiates. And it doesn't mean she can't put her hands on him. Except when it does. I have no idea what definition of "touching" we're working with here, except "whatever he says it is," which is really boring because that's his definition for everything.
“Well, sleep seems to agree with you,” he murmurs. “I suggest you go and have your shower, or I shall lay you across my desk, now.” “I choose the desk,” I whisper recklessly as desire sweeps like adrenaline through my system, waking everything in its path.And then they have shockingly not-horrible sex. Both of them explicitly say they want it, Ana (wonder of wonders!) internally admits to wanting it and enjoying it, and Louse GropeGroin doesn't hit her or insult her or do anything else randomly shitty during the act. It's an actually okay sex scene.
I'm still not turned on--I mean, the writing is like "It’s so raw, so carnal, making me so wanton."--but I am sort of goggling with astonishment.
“You. Are. Mine,” he says, each word a staccato. “Do you understand?” He’s so earnest, so impassioned – a zealot. The force of his plea is so unexpected and disarming. I wonder why he’s feeling like this. “Yes, yours,” I whisper, derailed by his fervor. “Are you sure you have to go to Georgia?” I nod slowly. And in that brief moment, I can see his expression change and the shutters coming down. Abruptly he withdraws, making me wince.Oh, silly me, thinking for one goddamn second that they were having consensual sex because things were temporarily okay. It was just another piece of manipulation. Just another crumb of "maybe we could have the kind of relationship you want" that he dangled out in front of her only so he could immediately snatch it back to punish her. For wanting to see her own mother.
I've been wrong before, but is there anyone who finds this kind of manipulation sexy? Is there anyone out there whose BDSM fantasy is "guy who pouts and throws tantrums until I obey him out of exasperated guilt and fear?" Nothing against you if you're into that and you pursue it consensually, and I mean that. It's just so far I haven't met anyone who's into that.
“Have you bought your air ticket?” “No, I’ll buy it when I get home – over the Internet.” He leans on his elbow, rubbing his chin. “Do you have the money?” Oh no. “Yes,” I say with mock patience as if I’m talking to a small child.I'm not going to copy the whole conversation, because it's long and annoying, but the key points are:
1) Every time these two talk it's like pulling teeth. The rhythm is: pointed question, terse answer, angry question, defensive answer. It doesn't feel like the way that couples or friends usually talk. It's the way that teenagers tell their parents that their day at school was fine, okay?
2) Bold ZapFino insists Ana take his private jet (of course he has a private jet) to Georgia, and she declines and says she'll book her own flight. He then insists Ana tell him where she's applying for jobs, and she refuses. Since I am an Amazing Book Psychic, I predict with a million percent certainty that Ana will end up on the jet. The job thing's a little less certain, because it's a toss-up between her working for Gort BaradaNikto, her working in a job that seems independent but turns out to be all about him, or her not working at all because that would just distract her from licking his boots all the time.
How could he mean so much to me in such a short time? He’s got right under my skin… literally.Ew.
Christian has ordered me to take my BlackBerry and the Mac. I roll my eyes at the memory of his overbearing bossiness, but I realize now that’s just the way he is. He likes control over everything, including me.But she doesn't like to be controlled, that's just the way she is, and why doesn't that carry equal weight? I mean, I know damn well why not, I'm just saying.
A woman with long, black, pre-Raphaelite hair standing by the reception desk distracts me from my introspection. She has the same bohemian, floaty look as the receptionist. She could be in her late thirties, maybe in her forties. It’s so difficult to tell with older women.So now Ana is at a job interview at some place called Seattle Independent Publishing and it seems pretty unremarkable so far. So please enjoy this description of "pre-Raphaelite hair" and the fathomless age of a wizened thirty-nine-year-old.
“Have you traveled far?” he asks pleasantly. “No, I’ve recently moved to the Pike Street Market area.”Pike Place Market! Pike PLACE! How can you screw this up? This is not esoteric local knowledge!
(Side note: I used to work there! Whoo.)
“So why would you like to intern for us at SIP, Ana?” he asks. He says my name softly and cocks his head to one side, like someone I know – it’s unnerving. [...] “You have a very impressive GPA. What extra-curricular activities did you indulge in at WSU?” Indulge? I blink at him. What an odd choice of word. [...] “And where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” he asks. With Christian Grey, the thought comes involuntarily into my head.I realize this isn't a book about job interviews, but for chrissakes, Ana, contain yourself.
We do learn that she was a campus librarian, though, which is kind of cool. It's one of those precious little scraps of humanizing detail. I mean, I think the actual librarians on college campuses are professionals with advanced degrees and not moonlighting undergrads, but whatever. I'm so glad for Ana to do anything interesting with her life.
Jack Hyde asks sharp, intelligent questions, but I’m not thrown – I keep up, and when we discuss my reading preferences and my favorite books, I think I hold my own. Jack, on the other hand, appears to only favor American literature written after 1950. Nothing else. No classics - not even Henry James or Upton Sinclair or F Scott Fitzgerald.She seems awfully scandalized that a man whose job is publishing contemporary books would like contemporary books.
(And Upton Sinclair? Really? I mean, nothing wrong with him I guess, but he's not really a Designated Stuffy Literary Author. Whatever, I'm sure he just happened to be the second Google hit on "what are some old-timey authors to make my character sound smart and stuff.")
And now we get a conversation between Ana and her friend Kate that's just... well, it's legitimately good, in a way, but... oh, just look at it.
[Ana:] “Incidentally – will you please stop winding Christian up? Your comment about José at dinner yesterday was out of line. He’s a jealous guy. It doesn’t do any good, you know.”
“Look, if he wasn’t Elliot’s brother I’d have said a lot worse. He’s a real control freak. I don’t know how you stand it. [...] But – if you don’t want me to interfere, I won’t,” [...] “Ana,” she pauses staring at me. “You’re okay, aren’t you? You’re not running to your mother’s to escape?”
I flush. “No Kate. It was you who said I needed a break.”
She closes the distance between us and takes my hands – a most un-Kate thing to do. Oh no… tears threaten. “You’re just, I don’t know… different. I hope you’re okay, and whatever issues you’re having with Mr. Moneybags, you can talk to me. And I will try not to wind him up, though frankly it’s like shooting fish in a barrel with him. Look, Ana, if something’s wrong, you will tell me, I won’t judge. I’ll try to understand.”
This is (except for a bit I snipped out where Kate says she was trying to make him jealous so he'd value Ana more, which is terrible, but I forgive her because she's still the best person in this book) a really excellent model for how to talk to a friend who's being abused. Kate expresses her concerns, but also respects her friend's boundaries. She understands that her actions could worsen the abuse, so she isn't pushy and doesn't demand that Ana leave, and she ends by saying that she's open to talk no matter what.
The scene is brilliantly handled, except... how could you possibly write this and then deny that you're writing an abusive relationship? I mean, Kate does everything short of slipping Ana a women's shelter's card, and good for her, but this whole dialogue and the things that made it necessary are not a place that erotic romances should be visiting.
[It's been a few chapters since we had email bickering, so here's Ana:] Dear Sir, The morning was exemplary for me too, in spite of you weirding out on me after the impeccable desk sex. Don’t think I didn’t notice.
[And here's Crud NoseFlake:] ‘Weirding’ is not a verb and should not be used by anyone who wants to go into publishing. Impeccable? Compared to what, pray tell?
Picking on her grammar (incorrectly) instead of answering the actual issues? I swear, if you wrote a manual on "how to make a character hateable," you'd leave this one out because it seems too obvious.
And it's dickish beyond all human imagining that his response to "the sex was good" isn't "why thank you, I enjoyed it too," but "pfft, how would you know?"
[Ana, still concerned about blonde women and their man-stealing ways:] Is Mrs. Jones an ex-sub of yours?
[Burn FlintNugget:] Mrs. Jones is a valued employee. I have never had any relationship with her beyond our professional one. I do not employ anyone I’ve had any sexual relations with. I am shocked that you would think so. The only person I would make an exception to this rule is you – because you are a bright young woman with remarkable negotiating skills.
God what a slime.
Honey, you're fooling yourself if you think "I wouldn't have sex with an employee... except for a very special one" isn't the line he gives everyone.
“Ticket please?” The bored young man behind the desk holds up his hand without looking at me. Mirroring his boredom, I hand over my ticket and my driver’s license as ID. I am hoping for a window seat if at all possible. “Okay, Miss Steele. You’ve been upgraded to first class.” “What?” “Ma’am, if you’d like to go through to the first class lounge and await your flight there.” He seems to have woken up and is beaming at me like I’m the Christmas Fairy and the Easter Bunny rolled into one. “Surely there’s some mistake.” “No, no.” He checks his computer screen again. “Anastasia Steele – upgrade.” He simpers at me.
Of course. I told you I was psychic.
(The "oh my heavens, a first class passenger, what an honor to be in her presence" thing seems weirdly reminiscent of Left Behind, if you've seen Fred Clark's reading of it. Fifty Shades has lots of class issues, what with the extended fawning over Snort OinkPig's private helicopter and ginormous penthouse and ultra-luxury everything, but this scene is particularly weird about "someone with money is just the most impressive thing ever.")
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to lose myself in an extended fantasy where Ana gives up her seat to a standby passenger and books herself a new flight--coach class, thank you very much--to Alaska and drops her cellphone in Eklutna Lake and flees for the hills and is safe forever. Mmmm. Now that's wish-fulfillment.