Readthroughs and Random Thoughts

Writing about what I'm reading…

50 Shades of Grey, E. L. James; Chapter Fifteen

I’ll be completely honest with anyone reading this: I haven’t picked up my copy of Shades in awhile. Between working a different shift and worrying about a whole heap of RL stuff, and becoming hooked on a certain online puzzle *cough* Candycracksaga *cough* game, I’ve barely been online that much, let alone writing much of anything.

Thankfully, this is one of those books you can pick up fairly easily after you’ve put it down. And I mean that sincerely; this isn’t one of my typically bitchy comments: there’s so little really going on that if you ignore it for awhile you can go back to it and go, “Aw, yeah: stalkery guy who was like Jacob in Twilight, rich power dude with enough money and issues to keep a therapist’s kids in education through their own doctorates, really sad uber-girl who might be a Mary Sue who loves powerful dude and she just graduated and they’re playing with some sort of bastardised version of BDSM.” And then there are some things, like references to The Lion King and references to genitals as ice lollies which will probably still haunt me even when I’m in a nursing home and horrifying my grandchildren by asking them to sneak in porn because Australian Women’s Weekly just ain’t cutting it for this fangirl. I think those are the things about the book which the blurb tells me will

obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

One outta three ain’t bad. If I get possessed by this thing, though, and start writing like a preteen who doesn’t know what Google is and how to turn the Safe Search off, then I’m going to be pissed.

 

Anyway, Ana’s graduated and back at home, and Grey has rocked up, wearing a leather jacket and his jeans.

“Hi,” he says, and his face lights up with his radiant smile. I take a moment to admire the pretty. Oh my, he’s hot in leather.

Given that he’s hot in jeans, in pyjamas, in nothing at all and in various shirts and ties and other outfits I’ve forgotten, I’m pretty sure you could dress the guy in a fucking safari suit from the 70s that even an op shop would kindly refuse, and he’d still be hot. We. Get. It.

He walks in and offers her Bollinger because apparently they have something to celebrate, and I think it’s that she’s now going to be his BDSM prop rather than that she graduated, and because Ana’s packing and I’m sure E. L. James thought it would be quirky and cute in a Zooey Deschanel kind of way, she can only offer him teacups to drink it out of.

I head into the kitchen. Nervous, butterflies flooding my stomach , like it’s having a panther or mountain lion all unpredictable in my living room.

What the everloving fuck was that, people? I actually had to re-read that sentence because I thought I’d mis-typed it because it… doesn’t make sense.

Butterflies don’t flood, for one thing. Nor do they tend to hang out in stomachs, but I get the idea of panicky, rapid fluttering in one’s torso region. I will accept that.

It’s the next bit that I’m WTFing about. Like what’s having a panther or a mountain lion all unpredictable in my living room? Her stomach? I thought her stomach was flooded with butterflies. And what’s it like having a big cat in your living room, anyway? How would Ana know about this? (My guess is that big cats would be like any other felines: mostly sleeping in the most comfortable—or inconvenient position, or wandering through to the kitchen waiting for someone to open the fridge or peeing on stuff because they’re annoyed they aren’t allowed outside.)

Anyway, this sentence does NOT sound like the sort of thing a Lit. graduate would be saying. Or thinking. Hell, it sounds like the sort of thing I’d have WTFed at when I was in high school.

Anyway, while Ana’s finding tea cups for them to drink out of, Grey notices the package of books and comments. Ana explains they’re for him, but he’d deduced that already either with his powers of ESP or authorial laziness. Ana’s worried they’re going to have a fight, Grey does that thing where he’s pissy with her but he compliments her on her delivery (and what is with that? Who does this unless they’re not really that pissed off or they’re just incredibly into having fights with other people? Most people won’t even give a dry laugh and an “Okay, you won this round” and a golf clap when someone’s said something vaguely insulting let alone pissed them off).

Ana says she’s worried he won’t go easy on her. He says he will if she just accepts the books.

I swallow convulsively.

Does E. L. James know what that word means?  I’m trying to work out how you swallow in a jerky fashion or as though you’re having a fit, but I can’t see it. Any more than I can see a mountain lion being unpredictable in someone’s living room, but hey.

“Christian, I can’t accept them, they’re just too much.”

“You see, this is what I was talking about, you defying me.

Well, actually he’s used that term when Ana’s expressed any kind of concern about her safety and trusting him haphazardly, not about thinking first editions are an insane present, but then again, let’s just agree that Grey didn’t do an English Lit degree either and leave it at that. Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe, amirite?

I want you to have them, and that’s the end of this discussion. It’s very simple. You don’t have to think about this. As a submissive, you would just be grateful for them. You just accept what I buy for you because it pleases me to do so.”

Interestingly enough, now I’m starting to get reminders of something else I’ve been reading. This something else, however, isn’t fluffy and happy. It makes Mind Fuck look like a lighthearted chick flick that you wouldn’t feel bad about your kids watching. The Flesh Cartel is… I don’t know what it is.  But it’s about a disturbingly abusive relationship (and “relationship” is a very generous description), and about a character who basically breaks and trains people as sex slaves.

The series, from my understanding, was too spicy for Amazon, who, while they’ll happily host guides on how to be a pedophile and groom potential victims, flipped out and refused to sell it just before it was due to go up for sale. There is explicit, fucked-up sex. There are so many mind games going on that you, the reader, start to get drawn into them. And you know what? Christian Grey sounds not unlike the creepy dude in that series. (And to its credit, I have NEVER seen it described as romance, hailed as saving marriages, or the sex in there referred to as BDSM. It’s fucked up abuse, and the readers are made fully aware of it. But seriously, if you’re curious and it takes a metric fucktonne of things to disturb you, it’s probably worth a look-in. If not anything else, it’s a great example of how to write fucked up explicit sex without excusing it as BDSM or romance or perfectly normal.)

Anyway, in The Flesh Cartel, the dominant abusive dude actually has a similar discussion with one of “his” “slaves” about buying stuff for said slave because it pleases him to do so and that the recipient should be a good little submissive party and bloody well be grateful for it.

“I wasn’t a submissive when you bought them for me,” I whisper.

“No, but you’ve agreed, Anastasia.” His eyes turn wary.

That doesn’t sound promising. I don’t know about ANY contract EVER being retroactive, either,  hence why people do things like date contracts and why he was so anxious for Ana to sign the damn thing, and even in a bodgy sex contract, making it retroactive seems both unfair and to kill the whole mood-setting point of the damn thing. It’s a bit like hooking up with someone and then deciding that all the times they hooked up with people prior to you, they were cheating on you.

To me, that sounds really fucking ominous. Once again, I have this sense that I’m going to have a great deal of fun when this becomes a movie because getting to re-cut it as a horror trailer is going to be awesome.

Anyway, Ana realises she’s not going to win this one, and offers to donate the books to a group helping Darfur. Grey’s disappointed, but Ana says she’ll think about it, which seems to cheer him up a bit. Rail-fucking-roaded. Again.

And then he tells her not to think. Not about this, and we get this:

How can I not think? You can pretend to be a car, like his other possessions.

Other than the fact that I have visions of her running around going “Brrrrm, brrm brrrrrrrummmm!” like she’s a presenter on Playschool pretending to be a car, I’m just shaking my head going, “Huh?” about the whole thing.

My subconscious makes an unwelcome vitriolic return. I ignore her. Oh, can’t we rewind? The atmosphere between us is now tense, I don’t know what to do. I stare down at my fingers. How do I retrieve this situation?

Why are his immature little passive-aggressive moods your responsibility, Ana? He might be the dominant here, but he’s still responsible for keeping himself in check and not doing things to you which might hurt you: didn’t that stupid fucking contract state this sort of thing?

He tells Ana he will buy her lots of things and that she has to get used to it, Ana goes all inwardly slut-shamey again, and then agrees to it and it all feels very de ja vu, but with Grey telling her not to overthink things or worry about what other people might think of her.

Which is contradictory to an insanely stupid level, because all Ana seems to DO is worry about what other people think of her, be they Grey, or Kate or Jose or a couple of random girls at her graduation. Apparently when Grey tells her this, though, it’s different and he wants to buy her stuff. They enjoy their champagne in teacups, and then he congratulates her on the graduation.

I’m a bit surprised, because I wasn’t expecting him to do that. It’s, like, the first time this guy has actually thought about stuff Ana’s doing for her. And then in the next breath, she’s reminding him of what they should be celebrating and asks about the soft limits.

Grey kind of ignores that and they have dull nothing conversation about how bare the place looks and about Ray and about the wine at the graduation, and Grey says he’d help her move but he’s getting his sister from the airport the next day. (I forgot about Alice and Rosalie in Twilight, I figured E. L. James would have left them out because they’re just useless female characters or something, but nope.) The conversation shifts from that to Kate and Elliot. And then, to move things along, Ana mentions she’s gone for a few internship roles at publishing houses and she’s so damned evasive about where and what and what she wants to do that you wonder why she even mentioned it to begin with. She knows he’s going to be peeved about it, and yet she brings it up, and THEN she gets all coy about it.

Ana’s career aspirations, by the way, after however many years and dollars of study, boil down to “something in publishing.” I hope she interviews better than that, because more likely in this economy, it’s going to be “something in retail” for a little while, until of course, management realise she doesn’t actually have a personality.

After this, Grey decides they’re going to talk about the limits. He conveniently has a copy of the email and the list on hand, and gets ready after giving Ana more booze and asking if she’s eaten. (Which would be your cue, dear reader, to take a drink in the 50 Shades of Alcohol Poisoning Drinking Game.)

I’ll be honest: I’ve never actually heard of “hard” and “soft” limits in BDSM play, so I assume this is something that E. L. James had researched, and possibly researched more thoroughly than anything else in this book. Or she’s found, like, the one BDSM website that mentions it and has a whole heap of really fucked up stuff on it, and used that as her fountain of knowledge. I don’t know. My understanding of “No” means, “No,” though later down the track the person saying “No” might want to change their mind and give something a try, but until they do that, it still means “No,” and if something’s hit a point where they’re safewording, it means “Stop this right fucking now and let’s not even go close to that again until there’s been some proper discussion about it and the person who’s safeworded has indicated that they want that activity.” I don’t know if that’s normal or not, and I hope I’m not pathologising or shaming anyone here, but for a book that is meant to be about romantic escapist fantasy, there is a hell of a lot of this sort of discussion which is getting really kind of boring. This thing is so unrealistic and the depiction of BDSM is so flawed already that inclusions like this just look like a padded NaNoWriMo novel. But brace yourselves, folks, we’re in for more of this.

I want purple prose and LOLsex. Really. (Actually, I’ll be honest: I want to go back to reading The Administration. And I’ll be a bit more honest: I read Pancakes last night because I wanted some sexy fluff.)

And I’m wondering something here: does E. L. James have to work herself up to writing sex? I’ll admit: I started out doing that, and there are still some sex scenes that I get really twitchy about writing. In the early days, where I was writing much more innocent stuff, though, writing full blown explicit sex was nerve-wracking for me. I may or may not have indulged in particular substances in order to relax a bit to be able to silence the inner editor. (Which was fine for a bit and then I became utterly paranoid about EVERYTHING and would start remembering every mistake ever from the most minuscule social blunder from ten years ago to embarrassing fuckups from a few hours ago to terrible things I’d written as a kid and wound up having one of those life-affirming don’t-do-drugs,-kids moments of clarity and realised that I didn’t need drugs and excessive levels of paranoia and self-loathing in order to write the ol’ in-out. I’m glad I had this realisation early in my life and got that out of my system rather than had such a revelation and all that performance anxiety in my forties or something.)

I seriously feel like she does, and it’s like she’s delaying it for as long as possible and then she bites the bullet and does, and goes all giggly and weird and we get “down there”s this and man-popsicles that and everything being fervent all the damn time.

(Or maybe, she’s more accustomed to writing slashfic, and this was her first go at het fanfiction, hence the awful. I could forgive her for that except for this: I haven’t tried to get any of the hideous het I’ve attempted to wrote published.)

Anyway, this is part of that delay.

 

He smiles that oh-so-smug private smile of his, holds the champagne bottle up, and pauses.

“Have you eaten anything?”

 

Instead of going, “I’m not some starving child in Darfur, dude,” like I probably would have, Ana thinks to herself

Oh no… not this old chestnut.

I’ve never heard that phrase before. It doesn’t sound very… Ana. But hey. It’s better than some of her other thoughts.

“Yes… I had a three-course meal with Ray.” I roll my eyes at him. The champagne is making me bold.

He leans forward and holds my chin, staring intently into my eyes.

“Next time you roll your eyes at me, I will take you across my knee.”

What?

“Oh,” I breathe, and I can see the excitement in his eyes.

“Oh,” he responds, mirroring my tone. “So it begins, Anastasia.”

Two things: a) when they make Fifty Shades of Grey on Broadway, there so needs to be a song called So It Begins, because that’s like this book’s catchphrase, since the glorious Mr. Takei has dibs on “Oh my.” And thing b) Congratulations, Mr. Grey: you’ve effectively shown Ana how to top from the bottom if she’s so inclined. (My money’s on Ana later deciding to “act up” so she gets attention-in-the-form-of-punishment from Grey, personally.)

My heart slams against my chest, and the butterflies escape from my stomach into my constricting throat. Why is that hot?

Um, whatever diddles yer skittle, Ana, but the thought of insects getting crushed in my throat (after reflux) while I’m experiencing something that sounds like a panic attack brought on my asthma doesn’t sound hot at all. Maybe asphyxiation should be on your list of things you’re into, girlie. Again, no judgement from me, but seriously, you could have gone with a sexier description. It’s a bit like that time I was reading a yaoi manga and in one sentence the writer (or the translator) managed to use a description which involved comparisons to a child, to urination and which described something that sounded like a really bad STD. For pre-cum. Can we say, “Moodkilling, 101, ladies and gentlemen”?

 

He fills my cup, and I drink practically all of it. Chastened, I stare up at him.

“Got your attention now, haven’t I?”

I nod.

“Answer me.”

And I’m nodding, too. Nodding off, that is. I hope the biggest complaint about this-as-a-movie will be “They changed all the dialogue,” because that, folks, read like the non-script of the opening few moments of a porno.

“Yes… you’ve got my attention.”

“Good,” he smiles a knowing smile.

(Just a side point, but I believe that should be a full stop after “Good,” and that it’s the start of a new sentence describing his smile. But hey, I dropped out of school when I was 14, what the fuck would I know?)

“So. Sexual acts. We’ve done most of this.”

Which is precisely why I believe that E. L. James is nervy about writing the rumpy-pumpy. Even her characters are admitting that they’ve already gone through this, and unless this is modern literature where you’re superimposing themes over one another to make a godamned point, this is all superfluous and should have been red-penned by the editor well before the book got printed.

Anyway, we get another Sex Contract List, which includes stuff they most definitely haven’t done (unless I really managed to skim that much of the painfully bad sex scenes) and which Grey is most likely hoping she’ll skim over and say yes to as well, I’m guessing, but, well, Anal fisting.

Even Ana isn’t stupid and oblivious enough to not notice that. I can hope. I don’t know: I await the next page and her reaction with anticipation…

“Anal intercourse doesn’t exactly float my boat.”

Given that she was saying she didn’t even know how to get off prior to Grey, I don’t think Ana knows what floats her boat. But I’m siding with Ana on this one, for one reason only, and that reason is this: I have read a lot of really bad slashfic sex scenes. I haven’t read anal sex written by E. L. James yet, and I’m guessing that it’s probably something someone could live a perfectly awesome life without reading.

“I’ll agree to the fisting, but I would really like to claim your ass, Anastasia. But we’ll wait for that. Besides, it’s not something we can dive into. Your ass will need training.”

Oh, puh-lease. Someone’s got an enormously overrated idea about the size of their equipment, don’t they?

“Training?” I whisper.

I’ve only ever come across “training” being used in fictions in this manner when people have been working up to sticking stuff in there which is, like, a whole lot bigger than what tends to come out of it. Like enormous Hagrid-sized dildos. (I’m sure everyone’s thanking me for that visual. No worries, folks, I’ll be here all week.) Or their fists, which Ana’s already said a serious “No way, bro,” to.

“Oh yes. It’ll need careful preparation.

Dude: two basic concepts: lube, and timing. *rolls eyes* Seriously, I’m wondering if E. L. James only did minimal research on this, too.

Anal intercourse can be very pleasurable, trust me.

Unfortunately, this isn’t really much of a safety endorsement given Grey’s previous behaviour. Because yeah, dude, you’re totally trustworthy.

But if we try it and you don’t like it, we don’t have to do it again.” He grins down at me.

That was interesting to me: notice the use of words: “If we try it” and “if you don’t like it.” Way to put the tilt of everything onto Ana’s concept of the activity. Frankly, if I was doing something with someone and they weren’t enjoying it, odds would be that I wouldn’t be enjoying it much, either, particularly if it was an activity which was meant to be enjoyable for both parties.

It reeks of Grey’s creepy blame game thing that he does where everything becomes about him and Ana “defying” him even when she’s not. Also, hello: even if they both have a wonderful time with it, if Ana doesn’t want to go in for an encore performance, guess what? She doesn’t have to, because sex, and BDSM games are bout this thing called consent.

Anyway, Ana cottons onto the very thing I was thinking about and wonders how the hell Grey knows that it “can be pleasurable” and asks Grey about it.

“Have you done that?” I whisper.

“Yes.”

Holy crap. I gasp.

And, folks, that’s where I giggle, because I’ve been on the internet and in some of the interesting fandoms for far too long. (There’s a GIF of Trucy Wright that was doing the rounds where she’s gasping, and someone’s added the text “But I poop from there!” to it, and now, that has popped into my mind.)

“With a man?”

“No. I’ve never had sex with a man. Not my scene.”

Well, damn, Grey: if Ana has to try all this new fandangled stuff she doesn’t think floats her boat, maybe you should, too. I vote Jose. Or Toreth, especially if it’s in an Administration interrogation room and Sara gets to type up the transcript.

Ahem.

“Mrs. Robinson?”

“Yes.”

Holy shit… how? I frown. He moves on down the list.

He doesn’t explain. And I wanted an explanation initially …and then remembered that he was, like, a kid when he hooked up with Mrs. Robinson, (and holy shit The Graduate was never this fucked up, was it?)—and now I’m more than perfectly fine not having details.

Ana then asks about swallowing semen.

To which, I present this link http://www.winextra.com/wacky/semen-the-mystery-ingredient-in-your-cooking/ (Which is, actually, safe for work. Though probably not safe for work if you’re in the middle of eating something, but hang on, this blog is not safe for work). And then http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/michael-douglas-oral-sex-caused-my-throat-cancer/story-e6frfmq9-1226655871366 this one, about what Michael Douglas says about swallowing semen.

But in all fairness, I think the Michael Douglas one might be a little bit over the top, not to mention, Shades was written before Douglas came out and said that.

Anyway, it’s of little interest to the discussion, since Grey has already awarded Ana an “A” (presumably for “Awesome,” rather than “Acceptable”) for her, erm, semen-swallowing skills. Because I’m prone to be an overachieving perfectionist at times, of course I wonder what she’s to do in order to get an A plus? Gargle while singing I Will Always Love You with it?

I flush, and my inner goddess smacks her lips together, glowing with pride.

This is the same inner goddess who was slut-shaming her a few paragraphs ago because Grey wanted to give her stuff. Apparently when Grey wants to give her semen, that’s okay.

“So?” He looks down at me grinning. “Swallowing semen okay?”

I nod, not able to look him in the eye, and drain my cup again.

“More?” he asks.

“More.” And suddenly I’m reminded of our conversation earlier today as he refills my cup. Is he referring to that or just the champagne? Is this whole champagne thing more?

I love how Ana is so seriously naïve about, you know, pretty much everything, and then over analyses something as clearly obvious as him offering her more grog. And speaking of that: how many glasses of champagne are in this bottle? And how many has she had already? Remember: this is the girl who went seriously kaput after five margaritas. From personal experience: champagne can send me right off like a complete nutter. (I might be able to have a normal conversation with someone after half a bottle of gin or whiskey or one of those margaritas that’s bigger than my head, but a couple of glasses of champagne and it starts getting very embarrassing for me.)

‘More,’ it seems, in Greyspeak, means sex toys, so we get a list of sex toys and a discussion thereof.

“Butt plug? Does it do what it says on the box?” I scrunch up my nose in distaste.

I dunno what else she thinks something with such an obvious descriptor could do, and upon reading this, I sigh heavily, expecting a blow-by-boring-blow of what various sex toys do. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. She figured out what nipple clamps were, didn’t she?

Grey’s sex toy list has that loophole of “other” listed, which he assures Ana means things like “beads and eggs” and we get a description of that, of course, because Ana assumes that eggs means the kind laid by chooks. And I’m pretty sure someone’s already called a Rule 34 on that on, so I’m not going to go looking for it, though all I can hope is that if people get into that shit, those eggs are hard boiled. Otherwise, my initial reaction of “Ew” goes a whole lot more “Ew.”

Anyway, Ana’s confusion about the eggs makes Grey laugh. This offends her.

“Anastasia,” he cajoles. “I am sorry. I don’t mean to laugh. I’ve never had this conversation in so much detail. You’re just so inexperienced. I’m so sorry.” His eyes are big and grey and sincere.

At least his eyes don’t change colour: E. L. James gets points for that.

From there on, the discussion moves on to bondage equipment, and there are, like, another ten pages of this, so I’m going to hurry things along now. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the internet, and so does Ana, presumably, and therefore research on BDSM sex gear should have happened.

Before we get to that list, though, Ana’s inner goddess deserves a mention for this gem.

I examine the list and my inner goddess bounces up and down like a small child waiting for ice cream.

Yet again, E. L. James does that thing that icks me out where she makes references to little kids in sexytimes. It’s really fucking unnerving. Also, how can Ana get excited about a list of stuff she’s unfamiliar with?

Luckily, the list ain’t too difficult. “Bondage with [blah blah blah] is pretty much what it consists of, of course with the loophole of “other,” so theoretically, while Ana’s agreed to “bondage with rope,” if Grey wants to tie her up with Jose’s small intestine, she’s agreeing to that if that since she’s agreed to “other,” I guess.

There I was, thinking all that was over when Ana said “Fine,” but then we get into positions.

“Does the submissive agree to be restrained with [insert poses and positions here]” is pretty much the go there, with a few implements added in and the suggestion of suspension. Frankly suspension with Grey seems like a risk since he’s admitted that he fucked that one up quite honestly before, but then again, a relationship with a dude who implies that cable ties are a good sex toy seems risky as well.

Oh, and there’s a mention of blind folding and gagging. Which makes me hope like all hell that there’s some sort of plan b) because what happens when Ana needs to safeword when she can’t speak, right?

Afraid he’ll laugh, Ana asks what a spreader bar is.

“I promise not to laugh. I’ve apologised twice.” He glares at me. “Don’t make me do it again,” he warns.

I’m raising an eyebrow here. She might be a submissive, but she deserves to be treated with basic respect, douchepie, and that includes apologising when you’ve come across as thoughtless or mean or rude.

Anyway, Ana worries that she won’t be able to safeword if she’s gagged, and Grey offers this:

“First of all, I hope you will never have to use them.

(Yeah, I honestly hope I’ll never have to use the ambulance cover my health insurance has, but you know what? It’s there and usable just in case I need it. )

But if you’re gagged, we’ll use hand signals,” he says, simply.

Ana thinks exactly what I was thinking on this, too: how the fuck do you use hand signals if you’re also restrained and likely to have issues moving? Good question. But because Ana doesn’t voice it, or E. L. James hasn’t thought of a way for her romantic hero to answer, or there’s no way Grey could answer that and not sound like a cretin, we simply get him noting that he’ll take into account that she’s nervy about gagging.

“Do you like tying your submissives up so they can’t touch you?”

He gazes at me, his eyes widening.

“That’s one of the reasons,” he says quietly.

“Is that why you’ve tied my hands?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t like talking about that,” I murmur.

“No, I don’t. Would you like another drink? It’s making you brave and I need to know how you feel about pain.”

Oh, wow. Firstly, the explicit Do Not Talk About My Aphephobia schtick is getting old. Secondly, plying someone with booze in this sort of discussion is just as awful as Jose filling Ana with margaritas in order to wear down her defences and assault her. Seriously, this is why I’m sailing the good ship Kate-Ana. (It could also be named—you know how fangirls name their ships?— it could be called Katana. And that’s fucking awesome.) Because nearly all the men in this book suck.

Anyway, they then get to talking about pain, because that’s what you do when you’re Grey and you don’t want to talk about something: you change the subject quite obviously like any other mature adult would, right?

“So what’s your general attitude to receiving pain?” Christian looks expectantly at me. “You’re biting your lip,” he says darkly.

I’m reminded by those times I’ve beta read and said that “try not to use adverbs that liberally…” but there was no beta reader here let alone an editor.

I stop immediately, but I don’t know what to say. I flush and stare down at my hands.

“Were you physically punished as a child?”

“No.”

“So you have no sphere of reference at all?”

“No.”

 

You know, that’s possibly a good thing, because making someone relive possibly traumatic childhood stuff during sex play might not be the smartest and best idea. While I’m not really of the opinion that the occasional smack destroys a kid’s psyche, I’m also not of the opinion that it’s a fair, effective way to discipline kids. But I can only imagine someone who was hit– especially if it was with stuff– as a child, by a parent, for “disciplinary” reasons might react to this sort of thing. (One would think Grey would have a bit more sensitivity and familiarity since there have been fifteen other women in his life. But apparently not.)

“It’s not as bad as you think. Your imagination is your worst enemy in this,” he whispers.

Hmmm. Not sure about that one. There have been cases of people being seriously abused in what some said was “BDSM play,” because it was “consensual,” and even with my pain tolerance, I’ll say this: some things go beyond what the imagination can come up with. I don’t think I could have imagined how much a fractured sacrum hurts—initially the pain was so bad that I couldn’t sleep even though I was tired and had chugged down a heap of painkillers—if I hadn’t actually done it myself. I didn’t think something could hurt so much that I wouldn’t even swear when it happened. Another one—which actually makes me cringe thinking about it: mastitis. Imagine every cell of your body is on fire and there is absolutely no end in sight. And I’m pretty sure both of those are absolutely nothing on some particular torture techniques utilised over time. I know it’s depressing, but no shit, sometimes there is shit you don’t even want to imagine. Maybe there’s shit you can’t even begin to imagine because if you did, trying to deal with it would fuck you up so enormously that the mind needs to protect itself.

So… yeah. I call horseshit on that one, Grey. Especially if you’re trusting a dude who shows no respect for boundaries to be the one metering out pain with his self-centred worldview.

 

“Do you have to do it?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Goes with the territory, Anastasia. It’s what I do.

Hang on: it’s punishment. Theoretically, then, Anastasia could avoid it. If it’s “what you do,” then punishment ceases to be a reason for it and it comes down to being about someone getting off on it. Oh, I forgot. I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?

I can see you’re nervous. Let’s go through methods.”

He shows me the list. My subconscious runs, screaming, and hides behind the couch.

The list includes the usual variations on “getting hit in some form or another with some object or another” and basic clamps and temperature sensation stuff. And then includes that nice little loophole of other. This is why internet research is a good thing, Ana: surely I’m not the only person who noticed that there was nothing on any of those lists about figging or sounding, right?

“Well you said no to genital clamps. That’s fine. It’s caning that hurts the most.”

I blanch.

“We can work up to that.”

“Or not do it at all,” I whisper.

Yeah. Wasn’t some of that stuff negotiable? It’s not like there aren’t other “hits Ana with stuff” options on the menu.

Apparently I’m wrong.

“This is part of the deal, baby, but we’ll work up to all of this. Anastasia, I won’t push you too far.”

Right. You’ll just push her, then wait for her to say no, then ignore her for a bit, wait for her to come back apologetic and scared you’re going to leave, and then give her a reworded proposal for what she just said no to. I’ve seen this before, wiseguy.

Grey then puts his nice guy face on and Ana admits she’s scared, he says they’ll work up to it eventually, and that they won’t start out with caning, and then he says there’s one more thing before he takes her to bed.

“Bed?” I blink rapidly, and my blood pounds through my body warming places I didn’t know existed until very recently.

Anyone would think with a reaction like that that “bed” was a place she didn’t know existed until very recently.

Also, speaking of things that you don’t know exist until recently, did you know that a lot of people don’t know that the little dangly bit on your tonsils on top of your mouth is called the uvula? Apparently there are a whole heap of people who don’t know that until they’re in adulthood.

See? Fun AND educational.

“Come on, Anastasia, talking through all this, I want to fuck you into next week, right now. It must be having some effect on you, too.”

I squirm. My inner goddess is panting.

What the fuck? I feel like I’m coming across as a judgmental arsehole, but was this meant to be sexy? Because it was about as sexy as reading a shopping list while my kids are arguing about who gets to go on the computer and who’s been playing Minecraft all day. Maybe I’m really not cut out for this chick lit stuff, because lists of BDSM stuff and this dialogue surrounding negotiation isn’t making me feel hot.

“See? Besides, there’s something I want to try.”

“Something painful?”

“No—stop seeing pain everywhere. It’s mainly pleasure. Have I hurt you yet?”

I flush. “No.”

Anyway, this stunted and awkward conversation goes to a new territory, because apparently Ana is The Different One, and Grey then comes out with:

“Well then. Look, earlier today you were talking about wanting more,” he halts, uncertain all of a sudden.

Oh my… where is this going?

RUN. Run run run run run and don’t turn around, don’t look back, just run. Now I know this chick lit stuff really doesn’t work on me because this sounds like the ultimate nightmare other than the bit about Grey wanting to buy her stuff. I think this is meant to be romantic and shit but arrrrrrrgh no no no run run run—

He clasps my hand.

“Outside of the time that you’re my sub, perhaps we could try. I don’t know if it will work. I don’t know about separating everything. It may not work. But I’m willing to try. Maybe one night a week. I don’t know.”

Hang on, one of his nights, or one of her nights off? This hardly seems equal and fair: more like a carrot he’s dangling in front of her so she’ll agree to stuff she might not otherwise want to agree to. While she’s been drinking. Nice going, arsehole.

Ana, of course, doesn’t even consider this and gets all excited about the prospect of more with Christian Grey.

“I have one condition.” He looks warily at my stunned expression.

“What?” I breathe. Anything. I’ll give you anything.

Here’s the bit where I’m inwardly groaning: my inner psychic is predicting a My First Anal Sex section. I’m bracing myself for horrid names for body parts that I had never considered before.

 

“You graciously accept my graduation present to you.”

“Oh.” And deep down, I know what it is. Dread spawns in my gut.

He’s staring at me, gauging my reaction.

It’s something that wasn’t on the list and that falls under one of the “other”s, isn’t it?

“Come,” he murmurs and rises, dragging me up. Taking his jacket off, he drapes it over my shoulders and heads for the door.

Parked outside is a red hatchback car, a two-door compact Audi.

“It’s for you. Happy graduation,” he murmurs, pulling me into his arms and kissing my hair.

 

Did Ana really expect that? To be honest, that one actually threw me, because even though I knew he bought her a car at some point, I was expecting the gift to be in the form of a new experience given all the talk about that stuff earlier on, so E. L. James gets a nod for surprising me. I love, though, how non-descript the car is: when Ana was describing Grey’s car, we had so much information even the Top Gear dudes would have been bored to snores. Now we know very little about this car except that it’s more product placement for Audi.

He’s bought me a damned car, brand-new by the looks of it. Jeez… I’ve had enough trouble with the books. I stare at it blankly, trying desperately to determine how I feel about this.

She has to analyse this feeling? No shit, this ain’t complicated. He bought you a fucking car. Yanno, personally, I’d be driving that thing interstate once I had my name on the registration, but your mileage may vary (I know, I know: I couldn’t resist).

I am appalled on one level, grateful on another, shocked that he’s actually done it, but the overriding emotion is anger. Yes, I’m angry, especially after everything I told him about the books… but then he’d already bought this.

Dude. He said he’d buy you stuff and that he was worried about the car you’re driving being a death trap. Yanno, if I had to tolerate this douchebag, I’d be accepting the car quite happily.

Meh. It all gets pretty boring from there on out: he explains that Ray was all for it, that the Beetle wasn’t safe, and Ana says she’s happy to accept it as a loan, like the laptop.

Anyway, he’s angry, and we get that whole hot and heavy “I want to fuck you on the hood of this car I just bought you” thing and Ana thinks yet again about how she wants him and then he goes all scary and possessive and cave-man-y and drags her inside, and Ana gets scared of her because he’s angry.

It’s like some sort of bastardised masochism tango. And I feel like I’ve devoted way too much time to this chapter because it’s all de ja vu anyway and just arrgh. By now, the complete lack of character development and growth for these central characters over the last, what, three hundred pages I’ve been reading about them seems painfully evident, too, and I’m just getting seriously pissy now.

Ana apologises to him. Ana’s fear and complete lack of self-esteem are so obvious here that it’s cringe-inducing to read, to be honest, and it’s pretty much the complete opposite of romance.

Grey ignores her fear and tells her to turn around because he wants to get her naked. He takes her dress off, there’s yet another reference to her flawless skin, and then he does his trademark exploring her body with his nose and hands thing and I think I read this same sex scene a few chapters ago and I wonder if my lives in Candy Crush Saga have regenerated and oh my god, sex scenes should not be this tedious. Ever. The fact that this book is apparently saving marriages is depressing, especially since, well: if this is fixing years of sex that was worse than this, well… it begs the question “Why would anyone WANT to save this marriage?”

Maybe I’m being mean. I don’t care. Apparently this book is full of E. L. James’ personal fantasies, and while part of me wants to cheer her on for having the moxie to jot all that down and make cash out of it, that’s quickly shot down by the fact that crappy self-esteem and shame and insecurity seems to feature heavily in these fantasies. And if that’s E. L.’s bent, fine. But just like Mary Sue fanfiction inserts serving a fantasy role: it’s a bit fucking arrogant to assume that your readers are going to be down with that shit as much as you are. It’s a bit like masturbation: good for you, but you don’t need to do it in public.

Anyway, Grey gets her partially undressed.

Leaning down, he inhales my hair.

I’m not sure how you inhale hair. Inhaling air is possible, though “he inhales my air” sounds like fart fetish play, but since the next sentence is him describing how good she smells, it sounds more logical that this is a typo rather than that Grey is inhaling her hair. (How do you inhale hair? You inhale oxygen. You inhale gases. You inhale that not-so-glorious stench of a fellow public transport user who doesn’t know what deodorant is or who has no concept of “too much perfume.” You inhale cocaine. You do not, ladies and gentlemen, inhale hair.)

“You smell so good, Anatasia. So sweet.”

I’m guessing this is more evidence of this having been a Twilight fanfic because Cullen would be saying that about Bella’s blood, right, though why he would be smelling her hair is beyond me as well.

What follows this is some sort-of foreplay which gives me another case of de ja vu where he plays with her breasts and compliments her and stuff, only this time he asks her if he should make her orgasm by just touching her nipples.

“You like this, don’t you, Miss Steele?”

“Mmm…”

“Tell me.” He continues the slow, sensuous torture, pulling gently.

“Yes.”

“Yes, what.”

NB: Not my typo, there is in fact no question mark after “what” in the above sentence.

“Yes… Sir.”

“Good girl.” He pinches me hard, and my body writhes convulsively against his front.

I’m trying to work out how this actually works: one minute Ana is scared of pain, next thing, she’s getting off on it. From my understanding, you hurt someone when they’re not expecting it completely, say, when you’re doing sensuous sexytimes stuff, and there’s a bit of shock and “ow” and an interrupt, not what’s looking suspiciously like an orgasm. Unless they’re really into getting off on pain. And usually, if that’s the case, they’re not scared of pain and would be a bit more open to the BDSM stuff than Ana is.

This brings me to another pet hate of mine in writing: when there’s no conditioning or buildup to responses. This book has had so much build up to the first sex scene—and then, there’s all this naivete and “innocence” and suddenly Ana fucks like a very experienced porn star. One minute Ana detests pain, next thing, she gets off on it. No, ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t work like that. But it can be delightful—or intimate—or character-building—or just plain interesting to see a couple doing that “getting to know one another’s bodies” first times awkwardness stuff. Or it can be awesomely head-fucky. Again, I refer to that epic Ace Attorney fic where there are messed up people doing the pain-and-pleasure thing with sex, but that’s written far better than this because there’s a gradual progression for the character who basically comes to associate pain with sexual energy and attention and care. It’s beautifully done and this sort of stuff fascinates me, so I feel really fucking cheated that E. L. James really hasn’t explored that.

I gasp at the exquisite, acute pleasure/pain. I feel him against me. I moan and my hands clench in his hair pulling harder.

“I don’t think you’re ready to come yet,” he whispers, stilling his hands, and he gently bites my earlobe and tugs at it. “Besides, you have displeased me.”

Oh… no, what will this mean? My brain registers through the fog of needy desire as I groan.

I’m groaning, too. At how fucking clichéd this is sounding.

Grey threatens to not let her come—hmm—orgasm denial, where have we seen that one before? I KNOW: it’s like, the number one punishment Grey meters out. Newsflash: orgasm denial isn’t torture. Not in the way Ana seems to think it is. It’s annoying, yes, but compared to punishment that physically hurts someone, it’s not exactly comparable, especially not for someone like Ana.

His fingers hook into my panties at the back, stretching them, and he pushes his thumbs through the material, shredding them and tossing them in front of me so I can see… holy shit.

Holy shit is right. For one thing, I’m trying to imagine the positioning of them now, for another: is this guy fucking Wolverine? Seriously, underwear isn’t that fucking flimsy, and shredding underwear is yet another thing I don’t think belongs in a romance fic. Actually, given what we know about Ana and her fastidiousness about non-wrinkled clothing and needing to wear clean knickers all the time, I’m pretty sure this would hardly be romantic for her.

His hands move down to my sex, and from behind, he slowly inserts his finger.

“Oh yes. My sweet girl is ready,” he breathes as he whirls me around so I’m facing him. His breathing has quickened. He puts his finger in his mouth. “You taste so fine, Miss Steele.” He sighs.

Holy shit. His finger tastes salty …from me.

Firstly, how the fuck does she know? Oh, because he had her tasting her emissions in a previous chapter. Secondly, on that: what’s with that? Anyone’d think this is one of those awkward not-so-subtle authorial TMI moments for James where she’s unwittingly revealed a bit of a thing for this. Thirdly, the dialogue is painful.

(And fourthly: I have a copy of Zero Dark Thirty, fresh from the DVD shop, sitting next to me. Because of my crazy work schedule and me having friends who tend to generally like more upbeat films (and kids who I’d rather not freak out), I didn’t get to see it at the cinemas and I really wanted to. The temptation to just go “Screw it” and stop reading and watch the film instead is enormous.)  I also have an adorable foster cat who is advocating strongly for me to get off the computer because she wants TV time cuddles with me.)

Grey then asks Ana to undress him. Ana’s nervy because she hasn’t undressed a man before, so she reaches for his t-shirt, which is apparently the wrong thing to do.

“Oh no.” He shakes his head, grinning. “Not the T-shirt. You may need to touch me for what I have planned.” His eyes are alive with excitement.

Oh… this is news… I can touch with clothes. He takes one of my hands and places it against his erection.

“This is the effect you have on me, Miss Steele.”

I gasp and flex my fingers around his girth, and he grins.

 

Um, again: de ja vu. Also, one would think Ana has realised this. Does Grey think she’s really that dim or is she actually that dim? (I suspect the latter since she gasped at his erection. It’s not like this is unfamiliar territory.)

“I want to be inside you. Take my jeans off. You’re in charge.”

Holy fuck… my in charge. My mouth drops open.

Hmmm… interesting. He’s bottoming from the top, I guess. And fucking around a bit with Ana’s head. And it was kind of unexpected, so the whole effect is interesting. Unfortunately, the remainder of the sex scene isn’t, so I’m going to give you a skimmed version:

She pushes him onto the bed, tells him that he has to keep still, he commands her to put a condom on him, he chastises her for (glug, glug) biting her lip, and she pulls down his pants. Unsurprisingly, there’s an erect penis in there.

Holy Moses, he’s all mine to play with, and suddenly it’s Christmas.

And we all know that Christmas only comes once a year, Ana. Urrgh. That was a pretty bad comparison.

Ana starts doing the blowjob thing until he eases her off and says he doesn’t want to come, which sort of undermines her being in charge, but hey, consistency ain’t something I’m expecting any more here—and then he tells her to get on top of him and put a condom on him.

Holy crap. How?

This is precisely why we need to have safe sex education in high schools.

Luckily, even though it seems that Ana didn’t get any, Grey gives her a quick instructional on how to use frangers, which kills the moment. I realise promoting safe sex is a good thing. I like it when writers do it and add some human *issues* with contraception awkwardness. But in porn, instructions feel awkward.

And very slowly, concentrating hard, I do as I’m told.

“Christ, you’re killing me here, Anastasia,” he groans.

I admire my handiwork and him. He really is a fine specimen of a man. Looking at him is very, very arousing.

I would rather know why looking at him is so arousing rather than just be told that it is, but hey.

Anyway, sex happens.

“That’s right, baby, feel me, all of me,” he growls, and briefly closes his eyes.

Achievement unlocked: Woman on Top sex successful.

That’s really all that needs saying about that. It should be obvious by now that Ana has picked that up like a pro, and is having a magical moment with him. Their eyes even lock.

I am fucking him. I am in charge. He’s mine and I’m his. The thought pushes me, weighted with concrete, over the edge.

HUH? She hasn’t been in charge except for pushing him onto the bed—and that was pages ago—and when the fuck did she get weighted with concrete? I’m over the weird random metaphors, James. One thing is clear though: the orgasm-inducer is the idea of fulfilling the clingy tendencies. So it’s kind of creepy and sad rather than sexy, from my angle.

Anyway, he orgasms, and I sigh with relief because it’s the end of another chapter.

 

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