Shameless self promotion time! As you may remember, I was asked to contribute an essay to 50 Writers on 50 Shades of Grey, a compendium of literary criticism of the 50 Shades series collected by Lori Perkins and published by Smart Pop Books. Shameless Amazon.com Link. The good news is that you could win a copy for absolutely free! Smart Pop Books is doing an amazing launch for this title, and they’re calling it Fifty Days of Fifty Shades. Fifty days, pff. I’ve been doing this for like six months.
I bring up this book not just because I have an essay in it, but because there is an entire section of it about BDSM. I’m excited to see what the BDSM experts contacted for this book have to say about the BDSM in 50 Shades, especially after this particular chapter of 50 Shades Darker. Because sweet punch drunk Jesus, what the hell did I just read?
While the last recap was my absolute favorite chapter, and I laughed at its absurdity until my sides ached, shit got decidedly unfunny in chapter fourteen. If this gets too preachy, well, sorry. But it’s difficult to find something funny to say in the face of so much “kink is bad/love your man to wellness” propaganda.
We last left Ana and Christian in his apartment, where he’s just assumed his World of GOR submission pose:
Christian on his knees at my feet, holding me with his steady gray gaze, is the most chilling and sobering sight I have ever seen – more so than Leila and her gun.
So, right away, things aren’t off to a great start. She would rather be confronted with a crazy woman with a gun than see Christian as a submissive.
I inhale sharply with shock. No. No, this is wrong, so wrong and so disturbing.
What’s so wrong about it? In the first book, Ana willingly submitted in this exact way. Now, Christian is doing it and it’s wrong and disturbing. Is this because Ana is uncomfortable with the usually dominant Christian in sub mode, or is it the idea of a man being submissive that bothers her? Let’s keep reading and find out:
Tears begin to ooze down my cheeks, and suddenly it is too much to see him in the same prostrate position as the pathetic creature that was Leila. the image of a powerful man who’s really still a little boy, who was horrifically abused and neglected, who feels unworthy of love from his perfect family and his much-less-than-perfect girlfriend… my lost boy… it’s heartbreaking.
So, it is the fact that he’s a submissive man that’s bothering her? Oh, that’s… progressive of you, Ana. Look at the wording used there. Leila, the submissive woman, is a pathetic creature. Christian is a powerful man, and to see him in the same position as a woman is heartbreaking and evidence of past emotional trauma.
A lot of people have pointed out, rightly so, that this series paints BDSM as some kind of obstacle to be overcome, that it’s therapy for people who have fucked up pasts and that no “normal” or “healthy” person would want to participate. Defenders of this series have said, “No, it’s just that Christian is fucked up and into BDSM, she never says everyone is fucked up if they do it.
Except for right here, where Ana basically says that everyone who participates in BDSM is fucked up:
The thought of me dominating anyone is appalling. The thought of dominating Christian is nauseating. It would make me like her – the woman who did this to him.
If Ana dominated someone, it would make her as nasty and bad as Mrs. Robinson. Domination is nauseating and appalling, probably because in Ana’s world, a world in which Tess of The D’Urbervilles is a great romance, a woman being superior to a man is entirely unacceptable. If Ana dominates someone, she’s no better than the evil people who do it.
So, what is such a forward thinking woman like Ana to do, when faced with a submissive man? Of course, she has to submit right back:
As my thoughts clear, I can see only one way. Not taking my eyes off his, I sink to my knees in front of him.
Then she thinks:
Like this, we are equals. We’re on a level. This is the only way I’m going to retrieve him.
This is the only way. Christian is clearly suffering from some kind of psychotic break, if he’s gone full fugue-state sex slave mode, but rather than call Dr. Flynn, you know, that guy with the medical degree whose job it is to help Christian Grey with his mental state, Ana is going to break him out with the power of love.
Oh Jesus. Christian going catatonic sub… is the equivalent of Edward’s suicide by sparkle.
“Christian, you don’t have to do this,” I plead. “I’m not going to run. I’ve told you and told you and told you, I won’t run. All that’s happened… it’s overwhelming. I just need some time to think… some time to myself. Why do you always assume the worst?” My heart clenches again because I know; it’s because he’s so doubting, so full of self-loathing.
Ana remembers how Mrs. Robinson knew this side of Christian, and she decides the best course of action is to… talk about herself and her feelings some more:
“I was going to suggest going back to my apartment this evening. You never give me any time… time to just think things through,” I sob, and a ghost of a frown crosses his face. “Just time to think. We barely know each other, and all this baggage that comes with you… I need… I need time to think it through. And now that Leila is… well, whatever she is… she’s off the streets and not a threat… I thought… I thought…” My voice trails off and I stare at him. He regards me intently and I think he’s listening.
Full disclosure, I just got edits back on the last manuscript I turned in. I used fifty-five ellipses in a 24k novella. I blame this book. I have only ever seen more ellipses used in one novel, and that was an erotic retelling of another popular monster story in which I was pretty sure the heroine was having an asthma attack every time she orgasmed. But I digress from my real point, which is that Ana is the shittiest possible person to have with you in a mental crisis situation. Rather than going to get help, she’s going to handle things on her own, and when she does, she’s going to use the opportunity provided by your catatonia to unload all her insecurities on you. Oh, and she’s going to express her jealousy about the way you handled the extremely tense situation you diffused earlier in the day. Because her feelings? They’re more important than whatever you’re going through right now:
“Seeing you with Leila…” I close my eyes as the painful memory of his interaction with his ex-sub gnaws at me anew. “It was such a shock. I had a glimpse into how your life has been… and… ” I gaze down at my knotted fingers, tears still trickling down my cheeks. “This is about me not being good enough for you. It was an insight into your life, and I am so scared you’ll get bored with me, and you’ll go… and I’ll end up like Leila… a shadow. Because I love you, Christian, and if you leave me, it will be like a world without light. I’ll be in darkness. I don’t want to run. I’m just so frightened you’ll leave me…”
So… that’s healthy. And so very Twilight. In New Moon, Edward says this to Bella:
“Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night. Very dark, but there were stars – points of light and reason. …And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty. When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black. Nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light. I couldn’t see the stars anymore. And there was no more reason for anything.”
So, the darkness/light theme from the Twilight series is heavily, heavily borrowed for 50 Shades. I just thought I would point that out, in case you forgot you were doing a read-a-long for a plagiarized book. Also, while looking for that particular quote, I found another interesting point. Remember how Ana is always saying people over thirty are old? Thirty was the age that Edward wanted Bella to wait for before being turned into a vampire, and Bella found that impossibly old. So, there’s yet another cribbed Bella trait to add to our plagiarism tally.
But back to 50 Shades Darker:
I realize as I say these words to him – in the hope that he’s listening – what my real problem is. I just don’t get why he likes me. I have never understood why he likes me.
You, and about a million other readers out there. For fuck’s sake, at least Bella was somewhat likable, even if only in hindsight when compared to Ana.
Because Christian’s break down is all about Ana, as literally everything in this book seems to be, she goes on some more about herself. Keep in mind, he still hasn’t spoken, and still seems to be entirely mentally broken down when she starts piling this on him:
“I don’t understand why you find me attractive,” I murmur. “You’re, well, you’re you… and I’m… I shrug and gaze up at him. “I just don’t see it. You’re beautiful and sexy and successful and good and kind and caring – all those things – and I’m not. […]”
In fairness to E.L. James, she couldn’t just say, “You’re a vampire and I’m not,” because that would be plagiarism, and plagiarism is wrong.
Ana continues to list the reasons Chedward should not find her attractive, and she goes through all of this emotional angst and darkness, until she’s tired of it, because somehow, despite all her efforts to talk about herself until Christian either snaps out of it or just dies from boredom like Brenda at the end of Six Feet Under, he doesn’t have a miraculous recovery from his sub state.
Oh, he is so exasperating. Talk to me, damn it!
“Are you going to kneel here all night? Because I’ll do it, too,” I snap at him.
Ugh, sooooo exasperating. I mean, she’s tried literally everything. She’s talked about how she feels. She’s blamed him for making her feel that way. She’s even cried about how ugly she thinks she is. Why is none of this working? I guess we’ll just have to put poor Chedward down.
I could reach across and touch him, but this would be a gross abuse of the position he’s put me in. I don’t want that, but I don’t know what he wants, or what he’s trying to say to me. I just don’t understand.
She’s so afraid that she’s going to accidentally dominate him, she won’t touch him, so she just sits there until her knees hurt, at which point he finally snaps out of things:
“I was so scared,” he whispers.
Were you in the bad place, Chedward? Seriously, this is the most overwrought and ridiculous thing I can even imagine. I cannot wait for the movie, for this scene specifically, because holy god, I am going to be laughing my ass off. Let’s look at what really just happened here, okay? Ana asked Christian for some space to think about things, so he drops to the floor all dramatic like a toddler who doesn’t want to put his coat on, and Ana figures the only cure is to talk about herself for like, twenty minutes straight, until his tantrum is done.
Because you know what, reader? I’m sorry, I don’t care how deeply you are “in the life,” if your response to a high stress situation is to go full on sex robot, to the point that no one can snap you out of it, then you have real problems and you need to get them tended to. And not by your girlfriend who thinks she can solve any problem by making it all about her. By a real person, like a Dr. Flynn. I’m torn between horror that this is what passes for gripping plot these days, and horror because I’ve known people who actually behave like this, going into some dramatic silent state that forces everyone around to worry about them until they feel they’ve gotten the requisite amount of attention. You know what? Christian wasn’t catatonic. He was waiting. He was waiting for Ana to beat herself down about how not pretty, not worthy she is, and he was waiting for her to become worried enough that she won’t think of leaving now. Not even to go home to her apartment for the night. He’s faking emotional fragility to manipulate her, and she’s too naive to see it. Instead, she’s blaming it on the fact that he used to be a sub in a D/s relationship.
Ana is predictably grateful that Chedward is talking again, so she listens to him tell her all about his problems, at least, for a little bit:
“When I saw Ethan outside, I knew someone had let you into your apartment. Both Taylor and I leapt out of the car. We knew, and to see her there like that with you – and armed. I think I died a thousand deaths, Ana. Someone threatening you… all my worst fears realized. I was so angry, with her, with you, with Taylor, with myself.”
That’s some misplaced anger, then, Chedward. You can’t be angry at Ana. She did nothing but go upstairs to her apartment. You can’t be mad at Taylor, because he was driving you around, as per your orders. You didn’t even send him inside with Ana to be extra superdeedooper sure she’d be safe. And while I suppose it’s okay to be a little angry with the woman holding the gun, this entire situation happened because of you, because while you pay so much attention to little details like legally covering your ass, you can’t even manage to put a fucking lock on your filing cabinet full of personal information about every woman you’ve ever fucked. Or, you know, treat them like people.
He shakes his head revealing his agony.
Whaaaaaat? How does that reveal agony? Yesterday, my husband asked me if I wanted a glass of wine, and I shook my head because my mouth was too full of delicious, delicious schnitzel to answer him, and he dropped the bottle and rushed to my side, begging to know why I was so agonized. Or not, actually, because shaking your head doesn’t mean you’re agonized. Give us some other physical representation of this alleged agony.
“Seeing her in that state, knowing that I might have something to do with her mental breakdown…” He closes his eyes once more. “She was always so mischievous and lively.”
I call bullshit. He doesn’t want anyone mischievous and lively, he wants them naive and easily exploited. He made a big deal about not wanting to get involved with Ana because of her virginity, but what was it that made her attractive to him in the first place? Her grace and poise? Not likely, since she exhibited neither. He can’t prey on women who are self-assured and confident, so either Leila was never mischievous and lively, or she was mischievous and lively in exactly the same way that Ana is strong and smart. I guess these things are in the psychopathic eye of the beholder.
Christian says that if Leila had hurt Ana, it would have been all his fault. I think he certainly would have a hefty share of the blame, what with his not calling the cops and stuff. I’m not saying the police could prevent a crazy person from stalking Ana, but they could have helped find her. And yes, as a commenter pointed out, some times the police are heavy handed with the mentally ill and calling the police becomes tantamount to a death sentence, but I’m guessing that in Seattle, if you’re a billionaire, you can buy the appropriate police response.
I realize this is getting a bit long winded, but there’s no help for it. The book is just really this full of plot holes and inconsistencies.
Ana tells Christian that it’s not his fault Leila is the way she is, but that’s only because Ana is currently in an abusive relationship, so she can’t recognize the fallout of Christian’s previous, probably also abusive, relationship.
Then it dawns on me that everything he did was to keep me safe, and perhaps Leila, too, because he also cares for her.
But how much does he care for her? The question lingers in my head, unwelcome. He says he loves me, but then he was so harsh, throwing me out of my own apartment.
Let me get this straight. Even though Chedward goes (allegedly) catatonic with the thought of her leaving, even though the situation she’s describing involves a highly unstable person in mental crisis who had a gun drawn on Ana, Ana still believes that Christian’s reaction – removing her from the situation – is a sign that he doesn’t love her and he really loves Leila more?
Oh, I get it now. There is no fucking plot to be had here. The entire “plot” of this series has already wrapped up. We know, without a fucking doubt, that Ana and Christian are going to end up together. And really, they deserve each other. But that’s the end of the story. See, at least in Twilight there were new dangers and things popping up all the time, so that by the time Bella and Edward were really, truly together forever at the end of New Moon, there were outside forces trying to rip them apart. E.L. seems to really want to set up the same kind of “outside forces are ripping them apart” tension for Chedward and Ana, but it’s not working because she is unwilling to let her characters participate in any plot that isn’t staring soulfully into each other’s eyes, crying, and later fucking. Because this isn’t a book. It’s an author’s mental masturbation.
Christian returns to normal pretty quickly, once Ana assures him she’s not going to leave. Oh my gosh, it’s almost like… like he was faking that whole thing to get her to do what he wanted.
I choke and my tears start anew. “I thought I’d broken you.”
“Broken? Me? Oh no, Ana. Just the opposite.”
“I was faking the whole time, to manipulate you,” he said, and Jen was like, “Aha! I knew it!” No, just kidding. He says she’s his lifeline, and then he lets her touch him:
With his eyes wide and full of fear, he gently tugs my hand and places it on his chest over his heart – in the forbidden zone.
I gasp. Oh, my Fifty! He’s letting me touch him. And it’s like all the air in my lungs has vaporized – gone.
Oh my sweet baby Jesus. Really? The oxygen you’re breathing can’t vaporize. Vapor only refers to the gas state of a substance that can exist in a solid or liquid state at around the same temperature (think boiling water and steam). Unless Ana’s lungs are running at a brisk 90 degrees Kelvin and she normally breathes liquid oxygen, this metaphor is stupid. And it’s stupid anyway, because who refers to gas as vaporizing? Especially when in prose, we tend to use the words “vapor,” “ether,” “gas,” and “air,” about interchangeably.
Ana decides to heal him through more touch, which gives us the opportunity to read the most awkwardly worded passage ever. At least, since the last one we read. As always, emphasis mine:
Gently I start to undo the buttons on his shirt. It’s tricky with one hand. I flex my fingers beneath his hand and he lets go, allowing me to use both hands to undo his shirt. My eyes don’t leave his as I pull his shirt wide open, revealing his chest.
Since all I’m seeing right now in my mind is a shirt with hands all over it, or a shirt made out of hands, or a shirt with human hands sewn to it, and then I just snap back to Buffalo Bill –
Gently I start to undo the buttons on his shirt. It’s tricky with one hand. I flex my fingers beneath his and he lets go. My eyes don’t leave his as I pull the fabric wide open, revealing his chest.
You know what’s really depressing? E.L. James was so in-demand from her first small-press publishing run, she most likely had total freedom to just blithely ignore edit suggestions when Vintage put this book out. Now, she’s outsold Harry Potter, so guess what kind of freedom she’s going to have to say, “No thank you, publisher, I don’t think I’ll be doing these edits after all.” Soooo much freedom. Here’s an insider secret: you know why there were so damn many unnecessary semi-colons in the Harry Potter series? Because they knew that people would buy the books whether or not they were edited for grammar. In fact, it probably saved them money not to spend time fixing the semi-colons. When you get to a certain level in publishing, everyone tells you that what you’re doing is golden, keep doing it, because it’s making them money, and the bigger the profit margin, the better. It’s going to be the same thing with E.L. James’s next book, and the real downside is that she is nowhere near as skilled a writer as J.K. Rowling. So we’re in for the most epic shitfest to ever debut at #1 on the NYT list. Winter is coming, is what I’m saying.
Ana keeps touching Christian and asking permission to do so with her eyes:
“Yes,” he breathes – again with the weird ability to answer my unspoken questions.
Because he’s a vampire.
There is a lot of back and forth mentally about whether or not touching him like this is good for him, blah blah blah:
His eyes are screwed up so tightly. This must be agony. It’s truly tormenting to watch.
It’s not a picnic to read, either. And it just keeps going on, for a total of two long, overwrought, adjective-filled pages where his eyes blaze and she gazes and there are painful kisses and one emotional “No!” so, you know, drink ’em if you’ve got ’em, and then Christian reveals the big secret, the really biggety big one that we’ve been waiting for from this “beautiful, fucked up man” since the very first time we saw the Red Room:
“I’m a sadist, Ana. I like to whip little brown-haired girls like you because you all like the crack whore – my birth mother. I’m sure you can guess why.”
Oh my god. Was ever there a “big reveal” so thoroughly ridiculous? Honestly, when I read that, I laughed, first a loud, surprised bark, as though I had become a beagle or other kind of small-game hunting dog. Then it was just a long, gasping, red-faced, wheezing nightmare of side-hurty laughter I could not control. Really? That’s the big “secret”? That he likes to beat women who all look the same? I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING.
Except for where I totally saw that coming. And you did, too, probably.
I really love the way he tacked, “I’m sure you can guess why,” on the end. Like, of course! Who doesn’t refer to their mother as a whore and seek out women who look like her to beat them, am I right? Of course, Ana understands what it’s about.
So, he’s admitted to being a sadist, and Ana decides now she really can’t give him what he needs, drama, drama, silly drama, drama, drama, goose, until Christian tells her how he’s a changed man:
“Ana, believe me. After I punished you and you left me, my worldview changed. I wasn’t joking when I said I would avoid ever feeling like that again.” He gazes at me with pained entreaty. “When you said you loved me, it was a revelation. No one’s ever said it to me before, and it was as if I’d laid something to rest – or maybe you’d laid it to rest, I don’t know. Dr. Flynn and I are still in deep discussion about it.”
So, there you have it, ladies. If your man beats on you, you just have to love him harder, and he’ll change! This isn’t a destructive, frustrating, infuriating message at all! Keep reading these books and telling everyone how you realize how problematic they are, but you’re going to recommend them to all your friends, anyway, because after all, it’s just fantasy!
Someone asked recently why I “hate” on the readers who liked this series. I don’t “hate” them. I’m just pissed off at them for making excuses for this blatant anti-female, anti-sex propaganda that tells women that kink is only for fucked up people, and if their guy is physically and emotionally abusive, they’re just not loving him hard enough. And you know, I don’t feel like I need to be particularly nice to women who want to further that message in our culture, just like I wouldn’t be nice to Paul Ryan if he emailed me asking why I just can’t be more civil about his policies regarding abortion. Because I can’t, because if you’re civil and nice about this shit, people take it as tacit agreement with whatever fucked up thing they’re trying to say.
Hope flares briefly in my heart. Perhaps we’ll be okay. I want us to be okay. Don’t I?
Oh good, now all the conflict will be internal again! I was so bored of the heart-stopping external conflict.
Christian and Ana argue a bit about whether or not he can be happy in a relationship with her, and does she meet his needs and all the boring shit we’ve been over a thousand times before.
“You’re still here. I thought you would be out of the door by now,” he whispers.
“Why? Because I might think you’re a sicko for whipping and fucking women who look like your mother? Whatever would give you that impression?” I hiss, lashing out.
That’s a pun.
Here’s the thing about Ana. She says she wants to know this shit, that nothing he can do is going to push her away, but the second Christian confides in her, she mocks him cruelly. That’s not really helpful, Ana, if he truly doubts himself as much as you think he does.
And unbidden, I recall the photograph in his childhood bedroom, and in that moment realize why the woman in it looked so familiar. She looked like him. She must have been his biological mother.
His easy dismissal of her comes to mind: No one of consequence… She’s responsible for all this… and I look like her… Fuck!
Um… how is his mother responsible for all of this, exactly? The only thing she ever did was die in front of him. Granted, overdosing while home alone with your kid isn’t exactly the most responsible parenting, but she was a drug addict. She was a sick person. And it’s not like there hasn’t been ample opportunity and resources for Christian to work through this. Did his parents not get him therapy as a child, what with his whole not talking and having been left in a room with a corpse for four days? Maybe some of the blame lies there, instead of the poor, dead addict.
Ana asks if they can talk about this all in the morning, because she’s really tired from her long day of self-obsession, and Christian is surprised that she isn’t leaving him. I’m thinking he probably already knew the outcome, because he was emotionally manipulating her.
Can I leave him? I left him once before, and it nearly broke me… and him.
I figured out where the “leaving/left” thing came from. Edward talks about how he left Bella in New Moon. But you know what? That was actual leaving. He packed his shit up and left town. He went to a different continent. That’s “leaving,” and what you did, Ana? That was breaking up.
Ana asks Christian what she can do to make him believe that she won’t leave him, and he’s like:
“Marry me,” he whispers.
BAM. YOU JUST GOT TWILIGHTED RIGHT IN THE DICKHOLE, READER.
Ana starts laughing hysterically, which makes it the very first time in the entire series that she and I are doing the same thing for the same reason at the same time. And then she starts crying, and I’m like, “Exactly, Ana, we must be reading the same book.”
He’s leaning over me. His mouth is twisted with wry amusement, but his eyes are a burning gray, maybe wounded.
His eyes are always burning, or blazing. I’m beginning to think he smokes as much pot as I do.
I shake my head at him. “Whatever happened to delayed gratification?”
“I got over it, and I’m now a firm advocate of instant gratification. Carpe diem, Ana,” he whispers.
Carpe that diem, Ana, and move really quickly to a step in a relationship that you’re already not sure you still want to be in, because that’s what love is!
Ana asks him for time to think about it, and he’s all, “‘So, that’s not a no?'” and I’m all,
Since Mrs. Jones is off, Christian decides he’ll just make Ana mac and cheese, even though when he offers just cheese she says “‘Not at this hour,'” but I guess the macaroni makes it different somehow.
Who would have thought? Christian Grey likes nursery food.
You know us Americans, E.L., we do so pine for whatever reminds us of the nursery that we totally had because we’re all secretly British.
Speaking of Britishisms, after Ana expresses disbelief that he knows how to use a microwave, Chedward says:
“If it’s in a packet, I can usually do something with it. […]”
You know us Americans, E.L., always referring to our food as being in packets.
Christian asks Ana if she’s still down to go to New York over the weekend, because he still doesn’t get that she wanted to go to New York as a part of her job, to advance her career, because he never had to work for anything in his fucking life and just has had everything handed to him. Christian also mentions that Taylor was upset and looking for her:
“I didn’t know where you were. You left your purse, your phone. I couldn’t even track you. Where did you go?” he asks. His voice is soft, but there’s an ominous undercurrent to his words.
So, here he is, admitting that he makes it a habit of tracking her via cellphone. Ah, the romance. I can hardly bear it.
Christian is all jealous and possessive about her being out with Ethan, so she asks him what he did with Leila. Because, like I said before, there’s no plot here, so we just have to rehash pointless fights over and over again to give the illusion that this book is well-written and going somewhere.
“We talked, and I gave her a bath.” His voice is hoarse, and he continues quickly when I make no response. “And I dressed her in some of your clothes. I hope you don’t mind. But she was filthy.”
“What was I doing in your apartment with my ex-girlfriend who wanted to murder you? You know, the usual. I gave her a bath in your bathtub, used your shampoos and toiletries, then I figured, gosh, you know, she looks so much like you, she could wear your clothes, too. I hope this doesn’t set off some jealous response in you.”
That cool, intellectual part of my brain knows that he just did that because she was dirty, but it’s too hard. My fragile, jealous self can’t bear it.
Suddenly, I want to cry – not succumb to ladylike tears that trickle decorously down my cheeks, but howling-at-the-moon crying.
Don’t you have a werewolf friend-zoned somewhere? He could help you out with that.
This is just too much to absorb. I’m like an overflowing tank of gasoline – full, beyond capacity. There is no room for any more.
Thanks for cluing us into what “overflowing” means. I really needed the added context to grasp that.
“Don’t. It doesn’t mean anything. It was like caring for a child, a broken, shattered child.”
What the hell would he know about caring for a child? This was a woman he had a very full-on, deviant sexual relationship