Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 17)
This chapter is so bad I put off finishing the review for about a week. I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly awful chapter for this book, but, hell, it was bad enough.
Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter Seventeen
We begin the chapter with yet another dream sequence. It’s another Icarus-flying-too-close-to-the-sun metaphor. This is a terrible metaphor, but the author seems to think it’s quite clever and won’t shut up about it.
Ana wakes up to find Grey still fast asleep. He’s wrapped around her in his sleep, which is possibly why she dreamed about burning up. Ana decides to take advantage of his being asleep to run her fingers down his back. This wakes him up. He disentangles himself from her; as he does so, Ana notices he’s got an erection. Christian tells her he thinks they should wait until Sunday to have sex again. This is Ana’s reaction:
I flush, but then I feel seven shades of scarlet from his heat.
Wait, what does that even mean?
Christian realizes he’s late for a meeting and gets dressed quickly. He kisses her goodbye, tells her Taylor will come by to sell the Beetle for her, and that he’ll see her on Sunday (time to be decided via email).
Ana’s in a good mood because she knows sleeping with people isn’t something Christian normally does, yet he’s done it multiple times with her now. I guess she’s feeling like maybe she has a chance at a romantic relationship with him. Also, her butt is no longer sore.
She gets ready to work her last day at Clayton’s, but realizes she’s got time, so she decides to email Christian. Isn’t he driving? Not even half an hour has passed since he left, and he’s driving from Vancouver to Seattle. That’s a distance of one hundred and sixty-five miles.
Not that emailing is the same as instant messaging; it’s just that these two treat it like it is.
Ana writes to Christian and explains how she felt about the spanking. I really have to run her email here line-by-line, because… well, take a look:
You wanted to know why I felt confused after you – which euphemism should we apply – spanked, punished, beat, assaulted me.
First of all, those aren’t euphemisms. Especially not the last one; “assaulted” is a rather harsh term for what happened, as this was a rare example of Grey not assaulting her. Her agreeing to the contract was granting consent, and at no time did she revoke it, though she could have. However, it’s still valid for her to feel that way, and if she really felt assaulted, then it seems clear that spanking is a hard limit.
Well during the whole alarming process I felt demeaned, debased and abused.
In a good way? In a bad way? There can certainly be something hot about debasement, if that’s your thing. I know it isn’t Ana’s thing, but Christian has likely heard past subs of his use these terms to describe their experience in a positive sense. She needs to tell him that it was scary and she didn’t enjoy it at all, and that she doesn’t want him to ever do it again.
And much to my mortification, you’re right, I was aroused, and that was unexpected.
What? No, you weren’t. I read your narration. You talked beforehand about how you were turned on, but once the spanking started the only thing you were thinking about was how much it hurt.
As you are well aware, all things sexual are new to me – I only wish I was more experienced and therefore more prepared. I was shocked to feel aroused.
It makes sense that she’d be shocked and in-denial about her arousal during such a situation, but, swear to god, nothing in her narration indicated that.
I’ve said it many times before, but this is not a subtle book. If Ana likes something, she won’t shut up about how great it is. She’s also not intended as an unreliable narrator; we’re supposed to take what she says in her narration as the actual fact of what happened or what she experienced. If she had liked that spanking scene, it would have come through loud and clear.
The only complexity here is that she was turned on beforehand, which maybe indicates that she likes the idea of being spanked but would prefer it to happen differently (I can imagine that she might enjoy a milder form of discipline; the unpleasant aspect of this spanking, and of BDSM in general for her, is the pain).
The author may have been aiming for Ana to have a reaction of “this is really painful, but on some level also enjoyable and arousing”, and, wanting to emphasize the painful part, failed to communicate the enjoyable part. Certainly the writing’s bad enough for that to be possible. It also seems likely that this sudden change in attitude between chapters is due to the story’s fanfic past; fanfics are generally published one chapter at a time, and audience feedback on the spanking chapter may have made the author decide to take the story in a different direction, which she then did without going back and editing said spanking chapter. (This book clearly saw little editing; I mean, there are obvious typos and grammatical errors throughout the text, and the prose reads like a bad first draft.)
What really worried me was how I felt afterwards. And that’s more difficult to articulate. I was happy that you were happy.
Ana’s said stuff like this before, but I need to take a little time to comment on why her saying stuff like this is bad. Doing something for someone else’s benefit is, of course, okay, but not everything Ana does should be about whether or not Christian enjoys it. It should be about their mutual enjoyment. She’s been trying so hard to please Christian that she hasn’t been able to figure out what she’d really like.
Plus, this stinks of “good girls only care about pleasing their man”. Hooray for outdated gender roles!
I felt relieved that it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be.
Bullshit. Ana’s reaction clearly showed she was surprised by how painful it was.
And when I was lying in your arms, I felt – sated. But I feel very uncomfortable, guilty even, feeling that way. It doesn’t sit well with me, and I’m confused as a result. Does that answer your question?
Again, this makes sense as a reaction, it’s just that this was clearly not Ana’s reaction.
I could go on forever about how this doesn’t line up with the spanking scene as written, but you get the picture. Let’s move on to Christian’s reply.
In regards to Ana’s feeling debased, Christian says:
Do you really feel like this or do you think you ought to feel like this? Two very different things. If that is how you feel, do you think you could just try and embrace these feelings, deal with them, for me? That’s what a submissive would do.
He has a legitimate point about how she feels vs. how she thinks she feels, but that’s totally undermined by the last two sentences. No, that’s not what a submissive would do! Subs are supposed to enjoy this as much as the Dom does! Jesus christ, I’ve made so many comments about how this book makes it unclear that the sub is supposed to have fun too, but this really cements it. Christian doesn’t give a shit about the wellbeing and enjoyment of his subs; it’s all about his pleasure.
This is really horrible because it’s what Ana was already doing during that scene — trying to cope with the pain for Christian’s sake — and now, instead of doing what any good partner would do and telling her that her needs are as important as his, he tells her that she needs to keep coping. For his sake.
There are so very very many things wrong with this book, but I think this is particularly egregious.
The next thing he says is egregious, too:
I am grateful for your inexperience. I value it, and I’m only beginning to understand what it means. Simply put… it means that you are mine in every way.
My first thought was “Okay, that’s creepy as hell”, but then I got to thinking about Ana’s inexperience some more, and that made it even worse. When Christian says “inexperience” here, he really means “innocence”, right? Inexperience on its own doesn’t mean much. All it really means is that Ana’s never had any other sexual partners. Coupled with the fact that she’s so innocent, though, it gets a lot creepier. Christian is taking advantage of someone who’s naïve, gullible, trusting… in essence, he is taking advantage of someone at the mental level of a child.
Something about Ana has been disturbing me through the book in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. I think I’ve figured out why, though. She’s childish. Her narration doesn’t read like a college graduate’s; in fact, most of the time she sounds like a kid younger than me (I’m eighteen), and sometimes she sounds even younger than my little sister (who’s thirteen). The constant exclamations of “Holy cow!” and “Holy crap!” make her narration read as very young. Her occasional childish behavior doesn’t help, either. (See: dancing in the kitchen, giving Grey attitude in the form of eye-rolls, nervousness around “authority figures” like Grey, etc.) Though this is probably more to do with the bad writing than with a conscious characterization choice, Ana’s narration and speech is frequently simplistic, which makes her sound younger as well.
Oh, yeah, and there’s the fact that she basically has two imaginary friends. Subconscious? Inner goddess? Arguing with yourself is one thing; creating two distinct personalities whose physical appearances are described and who are frequently mentioned as doing some activity or another (inner goddess dances, subconscious hides under the couch, etc.), is another. Bad enough when you take it as a sexually repressed young woman distancing herself from her sexuality; worse when these “coping mechanisms” are imaginary people whom she consults with when she has to make a decision.
Ana wasn’t given time to come into her sexuality on her own; Grey seduced her at a time when she had never had sexual feelings before. What’s that sound like? Child rape? Yep. And now he’s basically admitted to getting off on taking her innocence. This reads as even worse when you consider he himself was raped as an adolescent. The abused often become the abusers; it’s a way of taking their power back.
Was Ana (Bella, in the original) initially written as younger and then aged up? Is this author intention or just super creepy unintentional subtext? Did Satan write this book and is that why everything that happens in it is hellishly bad?
PS: Remember the pigtails scene from a previous chapter? Ana put her hair in a little-girlish style to keep herself “safe” from “Bluebeard”; Christian later commented on how he liked her pigtails and they made her look young. At the time it was weird and slightly creepy; now it seems about five thousand percent worse.
Ugh. Anyway. I have to move on or we’ll never finish the chapter, let alone the book.
Christian says that after spanking Ana, he felt “ecstatic joy”. I feel like he’s trying to emotionally manipulate her into letting him spank her more by telling her how much he likes it. After all, she’s made it clear she was glad to have pleased him.
Okay, finally, a more positive note. Christian explains to her the difference between spanking as punishment and spanking in a scene. He says the latter doesn’t hurt nearly as much as the former, and that what she experienced was about as hard as it gets. (Though didn’t he tell her he was going to take it slow with the pain, to ease her in?)
Then he tells her not to “waste [her] energy” on “guilt, feelings of wrongdoing, etc.”, because they are consenting adults and “what [they] do behind closed doors is between [themselves]”. He’s right, but how is this supposed to change how Ana feels?
Ana writes back saying that if she listened to her body she’d be in Alaska by now. Is this supposed to be a joke, or…?
Oh. This is bad. These two like to change the subject line on their email exchanges every time they reply to each other. After Christina’s last email, Ana changes the subject line to “Consenting Adults!” Christian’s next email has the subject line “You Didn’t Call the Cops”.
Christian. No. If a partner tells you she didn’t give consent (even though, in this case, she did), your first order of business should be making sure she’s okay! Jesus christ. These two aren’t ready to be having sex with anyone, least of all each other.
Anyway. Christian points out that Ana never safeworded, although she could have at any time. He tells her that “[she’s] an adult, [she has] choices”. Then he tells her she’s not listening to the right part of her body. (What? Is she not supposed to think rationally about whether or not she’d like to be spanked?) Oh, and then he tells her that “Alaska is very cold and no place to run. [He] would find [her].”
ARE THEY JOKING AROUND, BOOK? BECAUSE IT IS NOT READING THAT WAY AT ALL.
Ana asks him if he’s sought therapy for his stalker tendencies. He says he’s seeing a therapist. I’m not sure his therapist is any good if this is Grey after therapy. (Ana agrees.)
They have some more banter, some of which is actually non-problematic and approaches actual humor. I’ll spare you it, though.
Ana drives to work in her new car, which she enjoys immensely because it has power steering and her old car did not.
While driving, she thinks about Christian:
The problem is, I just want Christian, not all his… baggage – and right now he has a 747 hold’s worth of baggage.
But that’s not how it works. His baggage is part of him. You want a guy with less baggage, you go find a different guy. This mindset that you can “fix” your lover’s issues through the Power of Love is the same mindset that encourages people to stay with their abusive partners, and I don’t ever want to see it in a romance novel.
While at work, a package arrives for Ana. Christian has sent her a BlackBerry.
I’m reasonably sure that in 2011 BlackBerry devices were no longer cool. He should have gotten her an iPhone, considering she’s already got a Mac. And considering that, in my admittedly limited experience with them, BlackBerries suck.
Christian emails Ana telling her he needs to be able to contact her at all times, hence the phone. She writes back and tells him his stalker tendencies are running wild, suggests he call Dr. Flynn (his therapist), and asks him why he’s always buying her stuff. He says Dr. Flynn is on vacation and that he does this because he can. Asshole.
Seriously — once again, Ana’s not happy to be receiving these presents. He ought to take a hint on this.
Actually, Ana seems particularly unhappy about the BlackBerry, possibly because it represents a constant link with Christian. Ana, if that’s how you feel, get the hell out.
When Ana gets home from work, Kate remarks on the car, and Ana explains Christian bought it for her. She calls him a “generous, over-the-top bastard”. Except it’s not generosity, Kate. He’s not trying to make her happy with these presents. He’s buying them for her because he can.
They head inside to finish packing. Taylor shows up not long after to take Ana’s old car to be sold. She asks him how long he’s worked for Grey (four years — has everyone in this story been doing something for four years?), and considers asking him some questions about Christian, but decides not to because he’s probably signed an NDA as well. Ana decides she likes Taylor because he’s quiet, like her dad. Okay, sure.
Taylor tells Ana that Christian is a good man. I was just starting to think you might be a cool guy, Taylor, but I guess not.
José comes over for dinner, and the three of them sit around watching shitty TV, drinking beer, and loudly reminiscing about the past four years. Elliot shows up and he and Kate start getting romantic. This makes Ana and José uncomfortable (and there’s more than a hint of slut-shaming in Ana’s narration, too), so they decide to take a walk down to the bar. On the way, José asks Ana if she still wants to come to the opening of his show. She does.
This José thing is kind of puzzling, actually. Everything has returned to normal between them, without even a sense that their friendship is any stronger or weaker because of it. In a situation where there would normally be character development, there’s nothing at all. It’s bizarre and makes one wonder why the scene was even needed in the first place. (Oh, right — so Christian could step in and be a big hero.)
We skip everything that happened at the bar, and — wait, why is Ana not the slightest bit wary of going to a bar with José, given that last time he was intoxicated he tried to sexually assault her?
When Ana gets back from the bar, she can hear Kate and Elliot having loud sex. Blah blah, let’s hate on Kate for having good sex with a nice guy. Ana checks her email. Christian’s upset because she said she’d email him when she got home from work, and she still hasn’t. He also left a voicemail expressing the same sentiment.
Ana calls Christian, who’s over his anger with her. He just tells her he was worried, and she apologizes for not getting back to him sooner. But, look, this shouldn’t have been an issue. She said she was going to email him after work, she forgot to, it happens. It’s a little annoying at worst, but it’s not something worth getting angry over. And, well, if Christian was angry because he was worried, then that doesn’t really make it better; that just means he has yet another issue. Being worried over something this minor isn’t normal behavior.
Despite that, they end up having what actually amounts to a pretty cute conversation; Ana tells him about her evening, he tells her about his, there’s a lot of “no, you hang up”-ing.
If we saw this side of Christian more consistently, and if he didn’t do enough awful things to outweigh the good, I might be able to get behind this relationship. Might.
Actually, forget Christian. If we saw both of them conversing as equals and seeming to enjoy each other’s company more often, I might be down with this.
Ana and Kate move into their new apartment with Elliot’s help. Kate and Elliot are cute and lovey-dovey around each other again, and Ana is very very jealous. Ana, there are plenty of guys out there who are into cutesy vanilla relationships. Just ditch Christian and find someone who’s into what you’re into.
They’re sitting around eating pizza when a delivery boy shows up. He’s got a present from Christian – just a bottle of champagne this time, with a helicopter-shaped balloon attached. It’s a housewarming present for the two of them. Kate remarks on the helicopter balloon, and Ana explains that Christian has a helicopter. (She seems proud that he’s got one and can fly it himself, so I suppose it’s good that she actually likes something about him other than his looks.)
Oh, and then it’s revealed that Ana never gave Christian her new address. He found it out somehow. Stalker.
The next day is Sunday. Ana wakes up excited to see Christian that afternoon. She heads over around one, wearing a dress she borrowed from Kate. Christian is sitting on his couch reading the newspaper. In case you were wondering, he’s still hot. He shows her a picture in the news of the two of them at the graduation ceremony. The caption refers to them as “Christian Grey and friend”. Both of them find this very amusing.
Ana wants to have sex right away, but Christian reminds her she’s got a doctor’s appointment scheduled in half an hour with “the best Ob/Gyn in Seattle”. Ana says:
“I thought I was seeing your doctor, and don’t tell me you’re really a woman, because I won’t believe you.”
That comment a) doesn’t make sense, b) isn’t funny, and c) is vaguely transphobic. Well done, book. I now hate you even more.
Christian tells Ana that his mother invited her to a family dinner that evening. Kate and Elliot are also going to be there. He says it’s a bit odd for him because he’s never introduced a sub to his family before.
During this conversation, Christian rolls his eyes at Ana, and Ana asks him why he’s allowed to do that if she’s not. He says he wasn’t aware that he rolled his eyes; she says she usually isn’t, either. This probably-quite-important conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the doctor, and a couple paragraphs later, by the ending of the chapter.
Holy Cow! Alert:
Holy cow – the doctor.
Also, one “Holy hell!”, two “Holy crap!”s, one “Holy shit!”, one “Holy mackerel!”, and one “Holy Moses!”
And Now, A Word From Ana’s Subconscious Alert:
- [The Claytons give a farewell speech on Ana’s behalf; she’s surprised that she makes it through without crying] My subconscious is in awe.
- [Ana wakes up in the new apartment and stares at the boxes of her things] You should really be unpacking these, my subconscious nags, pursing her harpy lips together.
Does “Inner Goddess” Mean What I Think It Means? Alert:
- [Ana thinks that the atmosphere between herself and José has gone back to normal, and his attempted sexual assault has been forgotten] Well, it’s been swept under the rug that my inner goddess is lying on, eating grapes and tapping her fingers, waiting not so patiently for Sunday.
- [Ana decides to ignore her subconscious telling her to unpack, because…] No… today’s the day. My inner goddess is beside herself, hopping from foot to foot.
- [Ana is feeling good about her appearance for once] Go girl! My inner goddess has her pom poms in hand – she’s in cheerleading mode.
Oh My! Alert: Twice.
Great Prose Alert:
- Everything deep in my body uncurls and then clenches in delicious anticipation, the feeling is exquisite.
- Hmm that’s a whole world of unknown pain.
- It buzzes once against my behind… how apt, I think ironically, but summoning all my willpower, I ignore it. [Oh my god author do you have any idea what irony actually is.]
- I decide to email him once we’ve finished packing, he can be such fun one minute, and then he can be so formal and stuffy.
- Goodby,, Wanda. Thank you. I caress her roof as I close the passenger door.
- We are too uncomfortable with the unrestrained sexing unfolding in front of us.
- I don’t know when I’ll see him again, probably his photographic show, and once again, I’m blown away that he finally has an exhibition. I shall miss him and his boyish charm.
- He grins a wide white-toothed smile at Kate, and she almost literally dissolves into the couch.
- He’s warm, open, physical, very physical, too physical, with Kate. They can barely keep their hands off each other – to be honest it’s embarrassing – and I am pea-green with envy.
- Butterflies flood my belly – as well as a darker, carnal, captivating ache as I try to imagine what he will do to me… and of course, I have to sign that damned contract or do I?
- I can drive the Audi in high-heels!
- “Welcome back, Miss Steele,” he whispers, and clasping my chin, he leans down and proffers a gentle light kiss on my lips.
- “I’m so glad you’re here,” he whispers. “I can’t wait to get you naked.”
Thoughts So Far:
I don’t know what else there is to say. Not much happened in this chapter. Ana and Christian still have a creeptastic relationship, the secondary characters still have no character motivations outside of helping the plot along, Ana is still a doormat, Christian is still a rapist, and the author is still a terrible writer.
I guess next chapter we’ll finally get into the real BDSM stuff — scenes and all that. I honestly have no idea what to expect. It could be terrible because of consent issues; it could be terrible because it simply doesn’t make sense; it could be terrible because of being poorly written; it could be terrible for some other reason entirely. I guess the only thing we can count on is that it’ll be terrible.