Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 20)
Yes, folks, we’re twenty chapters in. Out of a total twenty-six. We’re approaching the end, and I could not be happier about it.
Warning: there’s more rape in this chapter. The author still refuses to present it as such.
Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter Twenty
Grey sets Ana down inside the boathouse, which is a two-story wooden building furnished in a “nautical New England” style. Does the Pacific Northwest not have its own beachy/nautical style they could use? No, really, I’m curious. Why New England?
Ana asks him to please not spank her, then pulls him into an embrace and begins kissing him. I feel like she’s trying to show him that vanilla kissy stuff is nice too, but they’ve already done vanilla kissy stuff together and both enjoyed it, so this seems kind of pointless.
Christian suddenly pulls back, confused, and asks Ana what’s going on. Seems that this is all about Ana’s pulling away from him at dinner. He doesn’t understand why she’s coming onto him now, when earlier she closed her legs to him. Ana, understandably bewildered, points out that they were at dinner with his parents earlier.
Then… oh, fuck, this is bad. Then Christian says this:
“No one’s ever said no to me before. And it’s so – hot.”
Let’s start with the obvious. No matter how hot you are, someone is going to turn you down at some point. It may be nothing to do with you; they may just not be in the mood, or not in a place where they feel comfortable having sex, as was the case with Ana at the dinner table earlier. Even a guy like Christian — super-hot and only has sexual relationships with subs who obey his every command (in theory) — is going to get told “no” or “not now” from time to time. It happens. It’s normal.
Moving on to the real issue here. Ana pulled away from Christian’s advances, and his response, so it seems, is to get angry and turned on because she said no, so he carries her off at the nearest opportunity to have sex with her anyway. Author, do you not realize that you’ve written Christian as a rapist? Do you not realize how problematic it is to have a character whose reaction to being told “no” is to get even more aroused and drag his partner off so he can fuck her anyway?
Not only is Christian going to force sex on Ana even though she said no earlier, he’s going to force sex on her because she said no earlier.
That’s rape. That is straight-up fucking rape. Christian Grey is a rapist.
Christian goes on to detail the many reasons why he’s mad: because she never mentioned the trip to Georgia to him (understandable), because she went out drinking with José (somewhat understandable), and because she closed her legs on him (fucking creepy, you rapist).
He tells her he’s going to fuck her on the couch, and she’s not allowed to come. If she does, he’ll spank her. Oh, but first, he starts fingering her, and he says:
“This is mine,” he whispers aggressively. “All mine. Do you understand?”
The author seems not to understand that, while this kind of stuff works fine as part of a roleplay, when it’s not roleplay (as this isn’t) it’s just disturbing. Christian really thinks Ana’s body is his possession, or ought to be, and it’s that mindset which allows him to justify getting angry when she exercises her right to say no.
Anyway. They do the sex. Ana thinks it’s super hot, but that doesn’t make this scene less disturbing. After Christian finishes, he tells her she’s not allowed to masturbate because he wants her frustrated, as punishment.
Uh, Grey? You don’t actually own Ana. She also never agreed to this beforehand. If it was a scene you two came up with together, or that you proposed to her earlier on (and I don’t mean two seconds before going ahead with it, with the implication being that Ana didn’t have a choice in the matter), then it’d be fine. As is? Not fine.
(I can’t help but think this scene would be improved if, after Christian left the room, Ana decided “fuck that” and got herself off anyway. Of course, she’s not going to because her sexuality depends entirely on Christian.)
Christian gives her back her panties, and Ana is pleased because she didn’t have to ask for them back:
I don’t grin as I take them from him, but inside I know – I’ve taken a punishment fuck but gained a small victory over the panties.
Oh, yeah, being raped was definitely worth getting your underwear back, Ana.
Christian tells Ana he still wants to spank her. She says:
“I don’t believe I deserve it Mr. Grey, especially after tolerating your unprovoked attack.”
“Unprovoked? You kissed me.” He tries his best to look wounded.
Fuck you straight to hell, book. A kiss is not an invitation to rape. Nothing is an invitation to rape. To make things worse, Ana explains that she kissed him to try and distract him from spanking her again. She intended the kiss as self-defense.
Mia shows up then and mentions that Kate and Elliot are heading home because they’re horny and are going to have some nice consensual sex together. Why can’t we read about that relationship instead of this one? She asks what Christian and Ana have been doing and Christian says he was showing Ana his rowing trophies. As soon as Mia turns to leave, Christian swats Ana on her ass and says he’s going to spank her again, and soon.
Fuck this book. Fuck Christian Grey for thinking his desire to spank Ana trumps her desire not to be spanked. Fuck this shit for getting popular and glorifying abusive relationships.
They make it back to the house just as Kate and Elliot are about to leave. Ana tells Kate she needs to talk to her about her antagonizing of Christian earlier. Kate says, “He needs antagonizing, then you can see what he’s really like”. Ana responds thusly:
I KNOW WHAT HE’S REALLY LIKE – YOU DON’T! – I scream at her in my head.
Sure. You know what he’s really like. You know he’s a rapist, you know he’s abusive, manipulative, volatile, and controlling. Kate, on the other hand, hasn’t seen much, if any, of this behavior, yet she has a clearer perspective on it than you do.
How does this read as anything other than Ana being Stockholmed on Christian?
Kate and Elliot leave, and Christian decides he and Ana should leave too so she can get a good night’s sleep before her interviews tomorrow.
Christian’s interactions with his parents when saying goodbye are strange. Though both his folks are very affectionate towards him (and Ana, when they say goodbye to her), he seems stiff and awkward around them. Is it just that he’s uncomfortable showing emotion? Is there something else going on?
They leave, and Ana confesses to Christian that she thinks he only invited her along because Elliot invited Kate. Christian assures her that this isn’t the case and tells her she ought to be less insecure, because she’s a “strong, self-contained young woman”.
I want to say it’s nice of him to reassure her, but he’s wrong. She isn’t strong or self-contained in the slightest, and his behavior towards her is breaking her down and making her dependent. I doubt he’s aware that he’s contributing to her insecurities, but he sure as hell is, and his attempt to reassure Ana doesn’t really make up for it.
Ana then tells Christian that she only brought up her potential trip to Georgia because Kate was talking about Barbados, and that she hasn’t made up her mind about the trip. Is she lying to him? Because that’s not the impression I got from reading her narration.
Grey asks her if he can come with her on the Georgia trip. Ana says she’d prefer he didn’t, as she wanted a break from “all this… intensity” to think things through. They have a bit of actually decent banter after that and joke around with each other. Then Grey asks her if she’s having second thoughts about their relationship, and when she says “Possibly” he asks her why.
Ana thinks about it for a minute. She decides she doesn’t want to lose him, but she wishes she could see more of his good side and less of his bad side. What she ends up telling him is “I still want more”, which is… pretty vague, and I’m not sure if he’s on the same page as her when she says stuff like this. However, he tells her he’s going to try, for her sake. (Haven’t they had this conversation at least twice before?) Ana reacts by climbing onto his lap and kissing him, then telling him she’ll sign the contract that night. He tells her to wait until after she’s back from Georgia, to give herself time to think about it.
At this point, though, does the contract even matter? They’ve both been proceeding as if they signed it anyway. Ana verbally agreed to it numerous times, and, as it isn’t legally binding, who gives a shit if she signs?
They arrive at Christian’s apartment. Christian proposes that they have sex again; vanilla sex this time. He’s developed an interest in it since having it for the first time with Ana the Saturday before last.
Ana and Christian banter a bit once they’re in the bedroom, and Christian, picking up on the subtext of something Ana said, asks her if she wants to fuck or not. She says no, she wants to make love, which entails letting her touch him. He tells her it’s a hard limit, and says that maybe they should just go to sleep instead.
So you’re allowed to have touching be your hard limit, but Ana’s not allowed to have spanking be hers? Fuck you, Christian Grey.
Grey is annoyed for a bit, but calms down quickly. They have some more actually decent banter, then Ana tells Christian that she’ll let him spank her if he tells her why he doesn’t like to be touched. He doesn’t seem keen on the idea at first, but apparently he warms to it fast, because he gets up, leaves the room, and returns with a pair of… hell, I’m not even sure what these are called. Ben Wa balls? They’re a pair of silver balls (we’re not told how large), linked together with a black cord. Christian explains to Ana that he’s going to spank her, but it’ll be a pleasure-spanking, not a punishment-spanking, and that this toy is going to help it feel good. Afterwards, they’ll have sex, and then he’ll tell her about his early childhood. Okay.
Christian puts the toy into Ana’s vagina and makes her walk around with it in. She seems to like it, so that’s good, I guess. Then he spanks her, more gently this time, and she actually enjoys it and almost comes during it. Then they have penetrative sex, as usual.
Afterwards, Christian gives Ana what has to be the lamest explanation ever:
“The woman who brought me into this world was a crack-whore, Anastasia. Go to sleep.”
He then elaborates slightly to say that she died when he was four, and he doesn’t really remember her. This explains nothing about his issues regarding being touched. So she was a crack addict and a prostitute. So what? That doesn’t automatically make her a bad person. I doubt she’d be winning any awards for good parenting, but what do I know? This tells us close to nothing about her.
What I can assume is that she was abusive, and that’s why Christian has the scars on his chest (cigarette burns?) and dislikes being touched. However, I could have assumed that before being told the crack-whore detail.
Basically, this explains nothing and if Ana has half a backbone (spoiler: she doesn’t), she’ll make Christian give her a better answer. They did make a deal, after all. Fair’s fair.
Holy Cow! Alert: Four “Holy shit!”s, two “Holy crap!”s, one “Holy hell!”, one “Holy fuck!”.
And Now, A Word From Ana’s Subconscious Alert:
- [Christian’s expression darkens after Ana asks him to make love to her] Give him a minute! My subconscious snaps.
- [Ana is surprised to still look the same after everything she’s done that day] What did you expect – that you’d grow horns and a little pointy tail? My subconscious snaps at me. And what the hell are you doing? Touching is his hard limit. Too soon, you idiot, he needs to walk before he can run. My subconscious is furious, medusa-like in her anger, hair flying, her hands clenched around her face like Edvard Munch’s Scream. I ignore her, but she won’t climb back into her box. You are making him mad – think about all that’s he’s said, all he’s conceded.
Does “Inner Goddess” Mean What I Think It Means? Alert:
- [Ana is pleased that Christian gave her her panties back] My inner goddess nods in agreement, a satisfied grin over her face – You didn’t have to ask for them.
- [Christian asks Ana if she’d be up for some more kinky sex] My inner goddess pops her head above the parapet.
- [Ana tells Christian that she’d rather stick to vanilla] My inner goddess pouts at me, failing miserably to hide her disappointment.
- [Christian explains the sex toy to Ana] My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils.
Oh My! Alert: Four times.
Thoughts So Far:
I’m not sure what’s broken in the author’s head that she doesn’t realize how fucking disturbing this fictional relationship is. No, Christian’s behavior is not kinky, it’s abusive. No, Ana is not a strong-willed young woman, she’s a doormat who lets Christian Grey get away with raping, manipulating, and abusing her. Their relationship is completely imbalanced, dysfunctional, and horrific. I have no reason to be rooting for these characters to stay together. In fact, I am hoping for the exact opposite.
What makes this so frustrating as a reader is that, with a few tweaks, it could be okay. If Grey’s behavior was roleplay and Ana was down with it, it would be actual BDSM instead of abuse. If the story was presented as a tale of a girl trapped in an abusive relationship rather than a sexy romance, it wouldn’t be problematic (at least, not in the same way). If Ana stood up for herself, if Grey respected her as a person, if the two of them had convincing chemistry… well, it probably wouldn’t be great, but it might be okay.
Right now, though, this story and okay are on different planets.