Call Mara Wilson a "sad fuck", will you, E.L. James? Well, I've got some news for you: all of the fucks in your book are sad.
In fact, we're heading into a particularly sad one right now, as when we last left our heroes, Gaston Von RockThrust was angrily dragging Ana into a boathouse in his parents' backyard to punish her for offenses consisting of:
A) Making plans to go visit her mother.
B) Having drinks with a male friend.
C) Not letting him finger under the table during dinner with his parents.
And don't worry, she's genuinely terrified and trying to deflect or escape him the whole time. Now that's how you make a fuck sad.
Content warnings for this chapter: More or less outright rape. More detailed emotional abuse than usual, including some real-life stories.
“Please don’t hit me,” I whisper, pleading.
You have to wonder if E.L. James ever had a moment of self-awareness writing lines like that.
Unfortunately, I think she mostly channeled it into "yeah, it sounds bad, but they're kinky." Which would be fine, except that being kinky doesn't actually change what's ethical to do to people. Consent can change that. Ana may be kinky (although so far it seems like she's emphatically not), but she sure as hell isn't consenting to anything going on here.
Stepping forward so I am flush against him, I pull gently on his hair, bringing his mouth down to mine, and I kiss him, forcing my tongue between his lips and into his mouth. He groans, and his arms embrace me, pulling me to him. His hands find their way into my hair, and he kisses me back, hard and possessive. His tongue and my tongue twist and turn together, consuming each other. He tastes divine.
This would be sexy, except that it comes directly after "please don't hit me" and it's pretty clearly an attempt to distract and defuse him, so it becomes just another one of those unpleasantly realistic details James manages to slip into an otherwise slapdash book.
It's also a good illustration (really, this whole scene is) of the weirdly inconsistent way Ana is written. She spends three paragraphs telling us how terrified she is of Buck SlamKnob, then tosses in "he was so gorgeous and I was so turned on." I think it's supposed to represent a mixture of fear and attraction, but the "attraction" parts are so much less frequent and less convincing than the "fear" parts that it comes off more like Ana trying to make excuses for him.
“You said no.” “What?” No to what? “At the dinner table, with your legs.” Oh… that’s what this is all about. “But we were at your parents’ dining table.” I stare up at him, completely bewildered. “No one’s ever said no to me before. And it’s so – hot.”
Really? He had fifteen play partners before Ana and not one of them ever told him no? Even when "making unreasonable demands" is clearly his primary kink?
I'm choosing to believe he's lying, because the alternative is fucking terrifying.
(Actually, in E.L. James's mind, the explanation is probably "yeah, but they were fifteen submissives who were all fucked-up and into that stuff, so of course they wouldn't say no," which is also terrifying, but in a different way.)
"I’m mad because you went drinking with that guy who tried to seduce you when you were drunk and who left you when you were ill with an almost complete stranger. What kind of friend does that?"
Yeah, that was pretty shitty of José. So maybe you should go talk to fuckin José about it.
“I want you, and I want you now. And if you’re not going to let me spank you – which you deserve – I’m going to fuck you on the couch this minute, quickly, for my pleasure, not yours.”
At this point, we all know this is rape, right? I'm too sick of this stuff to even go into it. I want them to go driving or something so I can make fun of the bad writing and research. I don't want to watch another damn "it's consent, it's just... non-optional consent!" scene.
"Don’t come, or I will spank you,” he says through clenched teeth.
You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of the "nice guy" thing. That's where a guy is an asshole to women who won't date him, women who will date him but don't precisely meet his standards, women who will date him and precisely meet his standards but they seem like they're trying to meet them... but then explains that because he would be nice to the theoretical perfect woman, he's a nice guy. Because a condition technically exists where he might be nice, he's nice.
Buff MacSlamGroin is a respecting-consent guy. As long as you consent to everything he wants, he'll respect your consent! What a champ.
“Here. You may put these on.” From his inside pocket, he produces my panties. 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. My inner goddess nods in agreement, a satisfied grin over her face – You didn’t have to ask for them.
At this point, I'd've let him keep the damn panties. They sell panties at Wal-Mart. You can get a six-pack for like eight bucks. That's a small price for not having to grovel to this asshole for your own clothes back.
“Well, Miss Steele, I feel better for that – but I still want to spank you,” he says softly. “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. I purse my lips. “It was attack as the best form of defense.” “Defense against what?” “You and your twitchy palm.”
Oh jeez, they're actually spelling it out. This is a thing I did occasionally with Benny. I'd try to cut off his nastier behaviors by making myself extremely sexually available. Insult me? Maybe if you see my boobs you'll forget about that! Hold me down? Maybe if I play with your dick you'll get distracted and let me go!
(A sticky part of this dynamic, which Ana also experiences, is that I usually did enjoy the ensuing sex. Partly in a "relieved" way, but also partly in the regular way. Which obviously doesn't make it okay, but it complicates the tidiness of the "I was only doing it to escape greater suffering" narrative.)
Not only is this a terrible thing to put in a romance novel, it's even a terrible thing to put in a fetish novel. Like, there are circumstances where I can get into the fantasy of "he can take me whenever he wants." I cannot ever get into the fantasy of "I'm starting to learn how to defuse him when he gets into his moods."
Kate hugs me hard. “I need to speak to you about antagonizing Christian,” I hiss quietly in her ear as she embraces me. “He needs antagonizing, then you can see what he’s really like. Be careful, Ana – he’s so controlling,” she whispers. “See you later.” I KNOW WHAT HE’S REALLY LIKE – YOU DON’T! – I scream at her in my head.
But she's... completely right? I'm really curious what Ana thinks she knows about Slab PlankCrunch that Kate doesn't, because he is incredibly controlling, and Ana's said as much.
Unless what she means is "don't antagonize him because he takes it out on me every time," which is true but incredibly depressing.
It’s obvious Grace adores him with a mother’s unconditional love.
His mother loves him in an almost motherly way. She's like a mother to him.
“Anastasia, I’m delighted that you’ve met my parents. Why are you so filled with self-doubt? It never ceases to amaze me. You’re such a strong, self-contained young woman, but you have such negative thoughts about yourself."
"All I do is constantly rage at you and abuse you and tell you that you only exist to meet my needs and you're not even good at that... and for some reason you have low self-esteem! What's your problem?"
Anyway, then he goes on to demand Ana take him along on her visit to her mother, because God forbid something in her life not be about him.
I have never felt as alive as I do now. It’s a thrill to be sitting here beside him. He’s so unpredictable, sexy, smart, and funny.
This is one of those sentences that seems to be imported from a different, much more pleasant book, because we haven't seen Smash ThudChest be any of those. Hell, he's not even all that unpredictable, as long as you remember to always lay your bets on "I predict he'll do something terrible."
“I still want more,” I whisper. “I know,” he says. “I’ll try.” I blink up at him, and he relinquishes my hand and pulls at my chin, releasing my trapped lip. “For you, Anastasia, I will try.” He’s radiating sincerity.
“Come on, Miss Steele, you have a big day tomorrow. Sooner you’re in bed, sooner you’ll be fucked, and sooner you can sleep.” “Mr. Grey, you are a born romantic.”
Sometimes Ana just does my job for me.
Anyway, they're about to have sex, but then Ana asks if she can touch him (she doesn't do it, she just asks, and respects it when he says no), and he flips out and gets all snippy at her, because it's been like five whole minutes since the last time he threw a tantrum over trivial shit.
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.Oh yes, let's feel lots of guilt about pushing this guy too hard by politely asking if you could touch him, while he goes right ahead and repeatedly forces you into sex and beatings. That seems fair.
I don't want to be mad at Ana about this, because I can understand her feeling this way and I don't want to blame her for Punch ThornCheese's behavior or her reactions to it, but... I am mad that she was written this way. I am very mad that "girls trying to seek a little affection from your boyfriends, you need to check those wild megalomaniacal impulses and continue letting him use your body until he's good and ready" is the message written here.
I shake my head resigned and grasp Christian’s toothbrush. My subconscious is right of course. I’m rushing him. He’s not ready and neither am I. We are balanced on the delicate see-saw, that is our strange arrangement – at different ends, vacillating, and it tips and sways between us. We both need to edge closer to the middle. I just hope neither of us falls off in our attempt to do so.
Ew, she's still using his toothbrush. Ewwww.
Ew, "he'll beat me a little less, and I'll ask for affection a little less" being presented as a fair compromise with concessions on both sides. Ewwww.
He holds out his hand, and in his palm are two round, shiny, silver balls, linked with a thick black thread. “These are new,” he says emphatically. I look questioningly up at him. “I am going to put these inside you, and then I’m going to spank you, not for punishment, but for your pleasure and mine.” He pauses, gauging my wide-eyed reaction.
When he's mad, he spanks her for his pleasure, but when he's happy, he spanks her for her pleasure! What a... reasonable... arrangement.
Fuck, this is sexier than the toothbrush.
...I technically agree with this statement.
His touch against my sensitized skin is all sensuous tingle. It’s overwhelming, and he starts again. A few soft slaps then building up, left to right and down. Oh, the downs, I groan.
Because of all the abuse and misery, I don't spend enough time criticizing the writing in this book. But it really is awful. It's an endless flat gray swamp of telling-not-showing, grammatical abominations, and complete poverty of imagery. I've seen more color and texture in a sheet metal catalogue. I've gotten more aesthetic enjoyment out of minor surgery. I've felt more engrossed in the prose of IKEA assembly directions. And literally the only word in those is "IKEA."
“The woman who brought me into this world was a crack-whore, Anastasia."
And now it's time for a little "He only hates women because his mother was terrible, but I'm no good at writing terrible people on purpose, so what's the laziest possible way to say a woman is bad? Crack whore? Sure, that'll do."
“She died when I was four. I don’t really remember her. Carrick has given me some details. I only remember certain things. Please go to sleep.”
So Carlisle told his adopted son "your birth mom had sex for crack?" Ouch. He couldn't phrase it as "your mother was a troubled woman" or at the most explicit, "your mother was addicted to drugs" or something? What the hell, Carlisle.
And I slip into a dazed and exhausted sleep, dreaming of a four-year-old, gray-eyed boy in a dark, scary, miserable place.
Well, she does know what dark, scary, miserable places look like. She's in one.