Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 16)
Sorry there was a bit of a delay in getting this one up. It was no fault of the chapter this time; I was just away for a few days.
That’s not to say this chapter isn’t bad. It is. It’s just bad in the run-of-the-mill Fifty Shades way.
Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter Sixteen
Ana is lying on top of Christian, thoroughly spent from the sex they just had. He’s apparently okay with having her rest her head on his chest, but as soon as she reaches out a hand to touch him he pushes her off. (But, to his credit, gently.) She asks him again why he doesn’t want to be touched, and he tells her “Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up”.
Title drop! Sorta! Though, given that this story was called Master of the Universe back when it was a fanfic, I expect this line predates the title of the book.
Christian tells Ana he had a tough introduction to life and doesn’t want to burden her with the details. She’s still curious, but decides not to press the subject. Does she ever press the subject?
Then we get this line:
“Miss Steele, you are not just a pretty face. You’ve had six orgasms so far and all of them belong to me,” he boasts, playful again.
Wait, what? “You’re not just a pretty face, you can also have orgasms! I’ve been keeping count of how many you’ve had, too, because that’s a perfectly normal thing to do! Also, I am taking full responsibility for all of them!”
This book is frequently terrible, but it’s almost as frequently plain ol’ weird.
Ana makes a nervous face and I guess he assumes she’s been masturbating or something, because he sternly asks her if she has something to tell him. She explains about the wet dream. He asks what she was dreaming about, so she says she dreamed about him with a riding crop. He finds that interesting and tells her there’s hope for her yet, as he has several.
Their banter has actually been pretty cute couple stuff up till this point, but that doesn’t undo the fact that I hate Grey. He’s still a rapist.
Christian asks Ana when her period’s due, because he doesn’t like wearing condoms. What if she doesn’t like having sex on her period? (Besides, it’s still possible to get pregnant while on your period, it’s just less likely.) He then tells her she’s got to start taking birth control, and says he’ll arrange for her to see his doctor next Sunday.
By this point he’s dressed and ready to go. Ana doesn’t want him to leave, but of course she doesn’t tell him that. She instead asks how he’s getting back, and offers to drive him. He says she probably shouldn’t, because she’s been drinking. She then asks him if he was trying to get her drunk on purpose. He was:
“Because you over-think everything, and you’re reticent like your stepdad. A drop of wine in you and you start talking, and I need you to communicate honestly with me. Otherwise you clam up, and I have no idea what you’re thinking. In vino veritas, Anastasia.”
Oh, come on. Overthinking isn’t a bad thing in this situation — preferable, at least, to the reverse. Also, lots of people are reticent, and there are ways to get them talking without getting them drunk. Making sure Ana feels comfortable enough to say what she’s thinking should be one of Christian’s priorities if he really wants to have honest, open communication with her. (And she’d probably feel a hell of a lot more comfortable around him if it weren’t for his temper, mercurial behavior, and, oh yeah, raping her.)
Not to mention that, as I’ve said before, people don’t think and act the same drunk as they do sober. You don’t want to have an important discussion with someone who’s drunk, for reasons that should be obvious.
Ana confesses to Christian that she’d like him to stay so they can have more sex. He smiles but tells her he’s got to go, and he’ll see her on Sunday. By that time, he’ll have the revised contract ready for her to sign, and they can do a scene together.
Ana asks, probably half-jokingly, if she could get more vanilla sex from him if she put off signing the contract. They then proceed to have a really disturbing conversation about how Christian will “crack” under the “strain” of not being allowed to have kinky sex with Ana, at which point he’ll kidnap her and force her to have kinky sex with him anyway. They’re joking around, and Ana thinks the idea of being kidnapped and being Christian’s sex slave is pretty hot, but please keep in mind that this man actually raped her.
If these two had a healthy relationship, this would be silly couple stuff and I’d be 100% fine with it. But they don’t, so this is just alarming.
Ana rolls her eyes at one of Christian’s comments and he reminds her that he said before he’d spank her next time she rolled her eyes at him. She gets simultaneously turned on and scared, and for a minute considers saying no before deciding to let him spank her.
Brief side note: Christian’s done a lot of talking about how they need to sign the contract before they can do kinky stuff, but when it comes right down to it he doesn’t seem to care if they’ve signed or not. This isn’t bad, exactly, just weird considering how much emphasis the book places on the contract.
Anyway, then he takes her across his lap and spanks her eighteen times. She doesn’t enjoy it at all — it’s scary, it hurts — but she doesn’t want to safeword for some reason. Maybe she’s testing her own limits? I guess that’s fair enough. Still, I’m not sure how the reader is supposed to find this hot if Ana doesn’t.
It’s notable that this is the first sex scene where Ana’s expressed no enthusiasm at all. Even after he’s done spanking her, when they have penetrative sex again, she doesn’t seem to be enjoying it nearly as much as she did with previous sex scenes. In fact, when she finally comes she calls her body “traitorous”.
Maybe this is meant to contrast with the previous sex scene. I guess that makes sense. Ana doesn’t really want a BDSM relationship, or to be a sub, so she was having a lot more fun when they had vanilla sex with her on top.
Afterwards, Christian tells her “well done” and Ana thinks that the sex was “not so bad”.
Christian is sweet to her afterwards — calls her beautiful, says he’ll take her shopping for some nicer pajamas, kisses her head, etc. Ana’s very tired and almost dozes off. Finally, Christian gets up and tells her he has to go. Before leaving, he asks her if she’s okay. She says she is, though her butt is sore. Also, her narration says she feels “radiant”, which I guess is just the endorphins from coming, because she didn’t enjoy the sex much at all this time around.
Ana gets up and puts her sweatpants back on. She thinks that, though she didn’t enjoy being spanked, the feeling afterwards is weirdly satisfying. I don’t know if that’s just because she came or because sometimes feeling sore can be pleasant — like after exercise — but either way it feels like a justification for the scene. Which, sorry, she still didn’t enjoy it when it was happening, so nothing she can say after the fact is going to convince me it was good for her.
Christian fetches some baby oil from the bathroom and offers to rub it on Ana’s behind to help with the pain. She refuses, but he rubs it on her behind anyway, then leaves. (Taylor’s already arrived.)
Ana feels lonely after he’s left and decides to call her mom, despite the hour. It’s ten-thirty Pacific time. Her mom lives in Georgia, which is three hours ahead. So she is calling her mother at one-thirty in the morning. For some reason — probably the author forgetting what time zones are — her mom is awake and picks up.
Ana cries over the phone about how she’s met this guy and fallen for him but he’s so different from her and she doesn’t know if she should be with him. Ana’s mom (we still don’t know her name) says that “[men are] a different species, honey”. If this book goes into some “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” bullshit I am seriously going to go out and buy a physical copy just so I can set it on fire.
Ana’s mother asks Ana how long she’s known Christian. Upon hearing that it’s been only three weeks, Ana’s mom points out that it’s hard to get to know someone in that little time, and advises Ana to keep him at arm’s length until she decides whether he’s worthy of her. Ana is surprised, because she’d always thought of it the other way around — whether or not she’s worthy of him.
This deserves closer examination, eh? It doesn’t surprise me, of course. Ana’s self-esteem is dreadful. But, come to think of it, her dreadful self-esteem is contributing to making this relationship suck. If she didn’t feel that Christian is the only possible one for her, the only guy she could get, if she didn’t become so easily dependent on his occasional flattery and nice behavior towards her — in short, if she saw herself as having value independent of this relationship — then she wouldn’t take all this shit from Christian. She only does so because she’s afraid to stand up for herself, because she doesn’t realize that she’s worth standing up for.
If this wasn’t such a shitty book, I’d assume this to be her path of character development — towards being someone with healthy self-esteem. However, it’s Fifty Shades, so I’m guessing this will go nowhere. Or, possibly, just get worse.
Ana’s mother invites her down to Georgia to visit her and Bob. Ana says she’ll think about it, but first she has to go to her internship interviews. Kate enters then, so Ana says goodbye and hangs up.
Noticing Ana’s been crying, Kate asks if “that obscenely rich fucker” has upset her. Ana admits he has. Kate tells her to just dump him since he’s making her miserable. Ana thinks:
The world of Katherine Kavanagh is very clear, very black and white. Not the intangible, mysterious, vague hues of gray that color my world.
I know we’re being clever with the title and all, but, really, there’s no gray area here. Christian makes Ana miserable much more often than he makes her happy. She only really enjoys being around him when they’re having sex, and she only enjoys the sex when it’s vanilla anyway. Very few issues are black-and-white, but this one is.
Ana sits down gingerly, and Kate takes notice and asks if she’s okay. Ana says she hurt herself falling down. Kate buys this because Ana’s clumsy. Yeah, except her clumsiness has only ever cropped up when it’s convenient for the plot.
Ana thinks back on the time Christian told her that “if [she] were [his], [she] wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week” (this was after she’d passed out from drinking too much):
He said it then, and all I could concentrate on at the time was being his. All the warning signs were there, I was just too clueless and too enamored to notice.
This isn’t a subtle thing, though. He was direct in saying he wanted to spank her. Hell, Christian’s been pretty direct in general, at least after she signed the NDA. Besides, she’s just agreed to a contract that says that Christian gets to spank and otherwise discipline her! That’s not a “warning sign”, that’s just a straight-up warning!
Kate fetches Ana a glass of wine because when your friend is crying and slightly tipsy the only thing to do is to try and get them drunker, I guess. She advises Ana once again to dump Christian if he’s a “jerk with commitment issues”, but adds that from the way Christian acts around Ana she thinks he’s completely smitten and maybe just has a funny way of showing it. Ana changes the subject by asking Kate how her evening went, and Kate, completely forgetting about Ana’s troubles, launches into a recap. These two are lousy friends to each other, eh?
After drinking some more wine, Ana decides to call it a night. She checks her laptop before going to bed. Christian’s sent her an email telling her how great he thinks she is (rings a little false considering he’s never said anything this nice to her before she let him spank her), ordering her to take some Advil, and instructing that she not drive her old car anymore.
Ana writes back saying his flattery will get him nowhere, “but since [he’s] been everywhere the point is moot”. This is probably the closest to actual witty banter they’ve ever come in these email exchanges. She also tells him she’ll need to drive her car to a garage in order to sell it, and that she wants to add caning to her list of hard limits. He accepts the hard limit, but won’t allow her to even drive her car to the garage, saying Taylor can do that for her. This, remember, is a car that Ana has driven for four years without incident, and now Christian says she can’t even drive it to a garage to be sold.
They banter some more until eventually Ana tells Grey “I’m not sure I like you anyway, especially at the moment”. He asks why, and she says it’s because he never stays with her. She then shuts off the laptop, gets into bed and begins sobbing into her pillow.
Of course, after that last email Christian heads back over to see Ana. Kate tries to bar him from entering, yelling at him about how he makes Ana cry all the time etc. Good for her. Christian ignores her and bursts into Ana’s room anyway. Kate follows and offers to kick Christian out, but Ana declines and Kate grudgingly leaves the two of them alone.
Christian seems completely nonplussed as to why Ana is crying and thinks that maybe it’s because he hit her. He seems not to understand why she might be upset or overwhelmed after all that’s just happened. I mean, I get he’s been with experienced subs before, but this just seems like basic human emotion stuff. Have none of his subs ever wanted him to stick around and cuddle after a scene?
He tells her he’d never have left her if he thought she was upset and admonishes her for not being honest with him about how she felt. Okay, I’ll give him that one.
Christian asks Ana how she felt during and after being spanked. She says she didn’t like it and would rather he not do it again. He tells her she wasn’t supposed to like it. Uh, yes she was?
Look, I get that she was spanked as punishment, and that there’s a difference between spanking as part of a scene and spanking as discipline. But, in the context of a BDSM relationship, both are ultimately supposed to be enjoyable. Even if the enjoyment comes from the idea of being punished or controlled rather than from the pain itself, and even if the pain part is unpleasant, the sub is still supposed to be getting something out of this. So, yeah, when Ana says she didn’t like being spanked, Christian needs to either a) stop spanking her or b) see what it is she didn’t like about it and thus see if a compromise can be arrived at.
Ana asks him why he likes spanking her. He explains that he likes being able to control her behavior through punishing her when she doesn’t behave how he wants her to. No surprises there. She presses him for more explanation, and he says that spanking her also turns him on. Again, no shit.
There’s more blabbing about how Christian likes being able to control Ana and no really we get it.
Christian asks again how Ana felt after being spanked. She says she felt confused, to which he tells her that she was turned on by it. Uh, you don’t get to tell her that. If she says she didn’t like it, she didn’t like it. Besides, I read her narration and she definitely was not enjoying the spanking bit. The anticipation beforehand, yeah; the sex afterward, yeah; the spanking itself, no.
Christian points out that Ana has no difficulty being honest with him in their email exchanges, and asks if he intimidates her so much that she can’t do that face-to-face. She tells him that he “completely overwhelms” her, which I’ll take as a yes. He tells her to email him her thoughts on the spanking.
Both of them are tired, so Christian asks if he can stay the night. He can. I guess it’d be a sweet moment except I still hate him.
Holy Cow! Alert: An unprecedented twice this time!
- Holy cow, men carry a lot of crap in their pockets.
- Holy cow. Christian Grey is sleeping with me, and in the comfort and solace of his arms, I drift into a peaceful sleep.
Bonus: one “Holy crap!”, four “Holy shit!”s, one “Holy fuck!”, and one “Oh, for the love of all that’s holy”.
And Now, A Word From Ana’s Subconscious Alert:
- [Christian pulls down Ana’s pants so he can put baby oil on her] Up and down like whores’ drawers my subconscious remarks bitterly. In my head, I tell her where to go.
- [Ana lies in bed and wonders why Christian is so “fucked-up”] Perhaps if he was more normal he wouldn’t want you, my subconscious contributes snidely to my musings… and in my heart of hearts I know this is true.
- [After Ana gives Christian lip, he warns her to be careful; she wonders if he’ll spank her again, but he says he isn’t going to] Phew… my subconscious and I both breathe a silent sigh of relief.
Does “Inner Goddess” Mean What I Think It Means? Alert:
- [Ana and Christian are flirting] My inner goddess has woken and is paying attention.
- [After Christian finishes spanking Ana] My inner goddess is prostrate… well at least she’s quiet.
- [Christian says that Ana has “bewitched” him] Bewitched… my inner goddess is staring open-mouthed. Even she doesn’t believe this.
That’s Too Many Inner Voices For One Sentence Alert:
- [Ana debates whether or not to let Christian spank her] Do it! My inner goddess pleads with me, my subconscious is as paralyzed as I am.
Oh My! Alert: Twice.
Thoughts So Far:
It’s clear at this point that the main conflict is that Ana wants a romantic, committed, vanilla relationship, while Christian wants a casual D/s relationship (I say “casual” because this is supposed to be an only-on-the-weekends deal, at least according to the contract, and it’s only about sex). As romance story plots go, that’s fairly decent. Problem is, Ana refuses to stand up for herself, and whenever she tries Christian ignores her anyway. The author has set up a situation that, for Ana, should be unwinnable. If these two had equal pull in the relationship, it’d be conflict. As it is, Christian’s overly controlling and Ana’s a doormat.
Take, for example, the spanking in this chapter. The scene itself wasn’t badly done; I actually liked that, while Ana seemed (somewhat) enthusiastic about the idea of being spanked, the spanking itself was unenjoyable and scary to her. It served to illustrate that there’s a difference between liking the idea of something and liking the thing itself. Save for the part where Ana tries to justify the experience by talking about how much she enjoyed it after the fact (in the hands of a better author this could’ve read as her being in denial, but E.L. James has no concept of subtlety), the spanking scene was actually okay. What makes it considerably less okay is that Christian is going to keep spanking her, even though he now knows for sure that she doesn’t like it.
Christian seemed notably kinder and more sympathetic in this chapter than in previous chapters, but that doesn’t make up for the damage done in previous chapters. Nor is there any real reason for it. It’s not character development, it’s just OOC.
I’m wondering about where this book (and, by extension, the trilogy) is headed. As I see it, there are a few possibilities:
- Ana eventually “adapts” to Grey’s BDSM lifestyle and enjoys being his sub. (Problematic because the implication is that Grey knows what Ana wants better than she does, which is distinctly rape-culture-y.)
- Ana “cures” Grey of his kinks and the two go on to have a romantic vanilla relationship, eventually leading to marriage and, probably, children. (Problematic because the implication is that kinky people need to be, and can be, “cured”, and that their kinks are the result of traumatic experiences.)
- Ana and Grey reach a compromise of some sort. Probably, they end up in a romantic relationship, but with a D/s power dynamic still at least partially in place. Grey is “cured”, to some extent at least, of the need to control/discipline Ana, probably through the power of Twoo Wuv. (Problematic because… well, if I tried to list the reasons why this one is problematic, we’d be here all day.)
My money’s on possibility #3 at this point, but we’ll see.