And I spent that free time reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because dammit, there's only two chapters left now and I've already left you hanging for like four months.
When we last saw our heroes, they were in Georgia, because Ana went there to get away from this confusing relationship and clear her head and talk things through with her mother--and Punch ThunderMeat stalked her there and totally prevented any head-clearing by taking her away from her mother and monopolizing her time. ROMANCE.
Content warnings for this chapter: Stalking, gaslighting/mindfuckery, graphic sex and BDSM, and do I even have to mention emotional abuse.
“Oh, Mom.” Hot, unwelcome tears prick my eyes as I cling to her. “Darling, you know what they say. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.” I give her a lopsided, bittersweet smile. “I think I’ve kissed a prince, Mom. I hope he doesn’t turn into a frog.”This is backwards. She kissed a frog, and the frog gave her a big song and dance about how maybe if she's very good he'll consider being a prince. One day a week. Maybe. And his princehood is going to involve a lot of being green and hopping.
She thinks Hank BeefSaw loves me, but then she’s my mother, of course she’d think that. She thinks I deserve the best of everything. I frown. It’s true, and in a moment of startling clarity, I see it. It’s very simple: I want his love. I need Slab CrumpleMuscle to love me. This is why I am so reticent about our relationship – because on some basic, fundamental level, I recognize within me a deep-seated compulsion to be loved and cherished.Break my fucking heart, why don't you. "This relationship would work great, except that I lucidly understand he doesn't love or value me." God, it's not even that. It's "this relationship would work great, except for my gosh-darned inconvenient need for him to love or value me."
I've been there. I've spent years in the land of Don't Ask For Love, You'll Ruin Everything. I got out. I got into a relationship where my romantic advances aren't rebuffed with an eyeroll and a muttered "cliiiingy," but returned with cuddles and affirmation that my emotional needs are valid. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
[Ana and Chuck StagBlast exchange emails while she gets on a plane. His emails are weirdly cold and distant and refer to some vague "situation" that's bothering him. On a writing level, this is meant to make the audience anxious and thus emotionally invested, but within the book, it comes off as Gaston ThornJaw deliberately making Ana anxious and thus emotionally invested.]
As I mentally flick through all the scenarios that could be ‘the situation’, I become aware that once again the only empty seat is beside me. I shake my head as the thought crosses my mind that Christian might have purchased the adjacent seat so that I couldn’t talk to anyone. I dismiss the idea as ridiculous – no one could be that controlling, that jealous, surely.JESUS H. CHRIST ON A JETLINER! SOMEBODY HELP THIS WOMAN.
And seriously, let's talk about love. When you say you love someone, it isn't purely an abstraction, a declaration of relationship. It also means that you actually love them--you strongly like them and think good things about them and want good things for them.
If what someone thinks about you is "you are so likely to betray me that the only way I can trust you is when you're physically isolated from all possible co-conspirators," that's not love. That's a hostage situation.
The journey [from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle] is slow, caught up in rush hour traffic. [...] I sit back as we drive slowly but steadily along the I-5 into Seattle. Twenty-five minutes, later he drops me outside the impressive façade that is the entrance to Escala.Twenty-five minutes is slow? At the peak of rush hour on I-5? Were they in the Hovercar Lane?
I stand paralyzed as he closes the distance between us, devouring me with his eyes. Holy shit… something’s amiss – the strain in his jaw, the anxiety around his eyes. He shrugs out of his jacket, undoes his dark tie, and slings them both on to the couch en route to me. Then his arms are wrapped around me, and he’s pulling me to him, hard, fast, gripping my ponytail to tilt my head up, kissing me like his life depends on it. What the hell?What the hell indeed. Once again, I'm sort of caught between the Doylist and Watsonian implications here. The Doylist one is "what could cause this mysterious man's tempestuous brooding? read on to find out!" But the Watsonian one is "gawd, if he milks this Dramatic Mainpain any harder, he's going to chafe something."
He steps out of his shoes and reaches down to take each of his socks off, never taking his eyes off me. I am rendered speechless by the look of hunger in his eyes. Wow… to be this wanted by this Greek god.Yeah, but not so much in the "perfect marble muscles" sense. More in the "he'll turn into various barnyard animals and assault women who are then also turned into animals" sense. I thought you were into classic literature, Ana.
Also, he's bending over and taking his socks off without breaking eye contact. That seems awkward.
“Wrap your legs around me, baby,” he commands, his voice urgent, strained. I do as I’m told and wrap my arms around his neck, and he moves quickly and sharply, filling me.
So they have sex or whatever. It's pretty generic, neither offensive nor arousing, which makes me nervous, because the last time Ratchet RocketCock had sex without being a dickweed about it, it meant that he was warming up to be a major dickweed immediately afterwards.
And he is! Ana (nervously) tells him she has a job, he asks where, she says something to the effect of "pfft, like you don't already know," and:
“With your stalking capabilities, I thought you might have… ” I trail off as his face falls.“Anastasia, I wouldn’t dream of interfering in your career, unless you ask me to, of course.” He looks wounded.
How dare you accuse me of being a stalker! Never mind that I tracked you down while you were drunk at a bar, found out your address to send you unwanted gifts, followed you to your mother's home uninvited, and threatened that I could find you anywhere if you tried to run away--How dare you use a word as cruel and hurtful as "stalker"? I am wounded, ma'am, positively shattered.
“I have something else to tell you,” I murmur as his hands start on my shoulders. “Oh, yes?” he asks mildly. I steel myself with a deep breath. “My friend José’s photography show is opening Thursday in Portland.” He stills, his hands hovering over my breasts. I have emphasized the word ‘friend.’“Yes, what about it?” he asks sternly. “I said I would go. Do you want to come with me?” After what feels like a monumental amount of time, he slowly starts washing me again. “What time?” “The opening is at 7:30 p.m.” He kisses my ear. “Okay.” Inside my subconscious relaxes and then collapses, slumped into an old battered arm-chair.“Were you nervous about asking me?” “Yes. How can you tell?” “Anastasia, your whole body’s just relaxed,” he says dryly.
Gosh, why ever would she be nervous? Maybe because the last time someone brought up José, you threatened to beat her but graciously allowed her to bargain you down to a hate-fuck instead?
Sure is really fuckin' hilarious that she's nervous right now. That silly, silly girl.
Like most things in this book, this is a bona fide abuser tactic--switching rapidly between "I might hit you" and "oh my God, did you seriously think I would hit you?" is a great way to keep someone completely unsure of what reality they live in.
“I want you ready and waiting in my playroom in fifteen minutes.” He stands and gazes down at me.
Against all my better wisdom, the page that follows is actually kind of hot. Ana kneels in the Red Room waiting for Hank PorkThud, and E.L. James builds up a relatively decent sense of anticipation as she looks around the various furnishings and implements wondering what exactly he has planned. It's the first bit of the book that I could actually relate to as a kinkster. Except for sentences like this:
Closing my eyes, I try to calm myself down, to connect with my inner sub. She’s there somewhere, hiding behind my inner goddess.
Oh geez, Ana, you already have two people in your head giving you nothing but grief and bad advice. Do you really want a third?
But more importantly, I've never felt desperate to connect with my inner sub during a scene, because I wouldn't even be there if I wasn't already an outer sub. If there's a single sentence I can say to destroy Fifty Shades of Grey, I think it's this:
I bottom because I like it.
Not because I can tolerate it, and that means I have no excuse to say no. Not because it's the only chance I have to experience love or relationships. Not because enduring it is my only way to escape worse punishment. Not because I can't turn down my partner.
I bottom because I am a kinky, horny little bottom who likes the smack of leather on his ass, who fucking gets off on it, who goes out of his way to find people who will tie him up and hold him down and pound fist-shaped bruises into his skin. Who snuggles up against his lover in the night and whispers "I want you to bite me."
I bottom because I like it.
This is so… I want to think wrong, but somehow it’s not. It’s right for Flint PlankThrust. It’s what he wants – and after the last few days… after all he’s done, I have to man up and take whatever he decides he wants, whatever he thinks he needs.Ana does not.
“We don’t have a signed contract, Anastasia. But we’ve discussed limits. And I want to re-iterate we have safe words, okay?” Holy fuck… what has he got planned that I need safe words?E.L. James, seriously, if you were going to write a whole book about it, you could've at least read the Wikipedia page on BDSM the whole way through instead of skimming.
Safewords are for any kind of play, because you might need to stop any kind of play. Hell, you might need to safeword cuddling if you get claustrophobic and they're restricting your movement too much. Saying "ooh, this play must be scary if we need safewords" is like saying "ooh, this car must be fast if it has brakes."
“Good girl,” he pauses as he stares at me. “My intention is not that you should safeword because you’re in pain. What I intend to do to you will be intense. Very intense, and you have to guide me. Do you understand?”No. No no no no no. You don't get to tell someone when they should and shouldn't use their safeword. Someone using their safeword is revoking consent to play with you, and you don't get to tell them when they're allowed to say no to you. That's not how "no" works.
“I am going to tie you to that bed, Anastasia. But I’m going to blindfold you first and,” he reveals his iPod in his hand, “you will not be able to hear me. All you will hear is the music I am going to play for you.” Okay. A musical interlude, not what I was expecting. Does he ever do what I expect? Jeez, I hope it’s not rap....As I've said before, Ana has my sympathies, but I don't like her.
Leaning down, he nuzzles my neck. Tracing his teeth and tongue from the base of my ear to my shoulder. He hums softly as he does, and the sound resonates through me. Right down... right down there, inside me. Unbidden, I groan quietly.Down where? Your toes? Your knees? Is the humming sound making you have sexy feelings inside your knees? Are you a cicada?
(Note: please do not do this to real people who say "down there," as they may have genuine issues with talking about their genitals and mocking them will be hurtful. Please do this all you like to fictional characters who have been contrived by the author to say "down there" for some goddamn reason.)
“Hush now,” he breathes against my skin. He holds up his hands in front of me, his arms touching mine. In his right hand is a flogger. I remember the name from my first introduction to this room. “Touch it,” he whispers, and he sounds like the devil himself. My body flames in response. Tentatively, I reach out and brush the long strands. It has many long fronds, all soft suede with small beads at the end. “I will use this. It will not hurt, but it will bring your blood to the surface of your skin and make you very sensitive.”Like hell a flogger with beads on it won't hurt. Soft suede might be a nice warmup, sure, but solid beads? Either he's going to have to use the lightest little bunny taps ever, or he's going to leave serious marks and possibly break her skin. Beaded floggers are not beginner toys--they concentrate a lot of force into very small impact points. The difference between suede tails and solid beads is like the difference between being hit with a snowball and being hit with a stone.
“What are the safe words, Anastasia?” “Um… yellow and red, Sir,” I whisper. “Good girl. Remember, most of your fear is in your mind.”In fact, all of it is! That's how minds work! But just because something is in your mind doesn't mean it can't be in there for a damn good reason.
Abruptly, the soft silent hiss and pop of the iPod springs into life. From inside my head, a lone angelic voice sings unaccompanied a long sweet note, and it’s joined almost immediately by another voice, and then more voices – Holy cow, a celestial choir – singing acapella in my head, an ancient, ancient hymnal.Okay, this is actually kind of cool. Except for the cringe-inducing "holy cow, a celestial choir!" And the belief that turned-off iPods "hiss and pop." Is she thinking of cassette tapes?
Anyway, he ties her down all spread-eagley and then takes a fur glove and rubs it all over her. And then he takes a glass tube and rubs it on her, and discovers the electron. Or something like that.
No, he doesn't really do that, he just puts the fur away and whaps at her with the flogger. Once again, I'm a little embarrassed to find some good writing hidden in these scene:
I want to move, to writhe… to escape, or to welcome, each blow… I don’t know – it’s so overwhelming… I can’t pull my arms… my legs are stuck… I am held very firmly in place… and again he strikes across my breasts – I cry out. And it’s a sweet agony – bearable, just… pleasant – no, not immediately, but as my skin sings with each blow in perfect counterpoint to the music in my head, I am dragged into a dark, dark part of my psyche that surrenders to this most erotic sensation. Yes – I get this.I find that almost disturbingly relatable. Being pulled into bottomspace is a darkening and deepening for me, a folding back into my own head while the physical sensations on my skin transform from pain to sex. So yeah, I get this. It's the first thing that makes me wonder--96% of the way into the book--if maybe the heroine of this kink story has a little potential spark of kink inside her.
I just wish it was something Ana could have come to under her own terms, instead of being the meager bit of pleasure she managed to squeeze out of a miserable situation.
“Please,” I beg, and in one swift move, he lowers me back onto the bed, and he’s lying on top of me, his hands on the bed beside my breasts as he supports his weight, and he thrusts into me,.as A the music reaches its climax, I fall… free fall… into the most intense, agonizing orgasm I have ever had, and Christian follows me… thrusting hard into me, three more times… finally stilling, then collapsing on top of me.Gosh, three whole thrusts? Look, I don't want to mock people who have premature ejaculation, I realize it's not something they can control and it's not funny... but at the same time I have to wonder a little about E.L. James' personal experiences and if she even knows that intercourse sometimes lasts more than fifteen seconds.
Post-coitally, Buck FizzleStain gives her aftercare in the form of a half-hearted shoulder rub and an immediate turn back into demanding she tell him all her private thoughts so he can use them against her. She asks him if she said anything revealing in her sleep, it turns out she didn't, and then things get ugly again:
Torch LargeKnob stops his heavenly massage and shifts so that he’s lying beside me. His head propped up on his elbow. He’s frowning. “What did you think you’d said?” Oh crap. “That I thought you were ugly, conceited, and that you were hopeless in bed.” He crease on his brow deepens. “Well, naturally I am all those things, and now you’ve got me really intrigued. What are you hiding from me, Miss Steele?” I blink at him innocently. “I’m not hiding anything.”[...] “You are hiding something, Anastasia. I may have to torture it out of you.”And on that cheery note, we're on to the last chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey! We're almost there! The finish line is in sight!
I'm going to try really, really hard not to wait another four months to get there.