movie is out, and here's my mini-review
. (And one more thought on it
.) I have a weird mix of glee and sorrow that they're making a movie out of this. I am looking forward to it being so-bad-it's-good, a Showgirls
for our time--but I'm also terrified that it's going to give millions of people the idea that BDSM is "abuse but they're perverts so it's okay." I don't want that.
Based on the trailer, it seems like it will be very faithful to the book, which might work in my favor. The audience consensus might end up being "wow, when you see this stuff actually acted out it's miserable," and then the whole thing will sink beneath the murky waves from which it arose. I can hope.
Anyway, we still have four chapters left in this book. Let's get slogging. As a reminder, when we left off, THE EMAIL WAS COMING FROM INSIDE THE BAR!!!
Content warnings for this chapter: Emotional abuse, do I even have to say it? Stalking, bigtime. Weirdness around drinking. Child molestation, molestation apologism, and implied (?) physical child abuse. Period sex.
Also, this is another long-ass entry.
I glance nervously around the bar but cannot see him. “Ana, what is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” “It’s Christian, he’s here.” “What? Really?” She glances around the bar too. I have neglected to mention Christian’s stalker tendencies to my mom.
"There are certain things about our relationship that sound like abuse, so I can't ever tell other people because they might think it was abuse, which it's not, but it's important I watch my words because if he thought I was calling him an abuser he might really do something awful." That's one of your classic warning signs.
(If I sound sardonic, it's only because I've lived it. Hell hath no fury like an abuser who trusted you with their little secret.)
His bright gray eyes are shining with – anger? Tension? His mouth is set in a grim line, jaw tense. Oh holy shit… no.
"Hooray, my lover's come to surprise me while I'm on vacation! Look at his smile! He's coming in for a big hug! Oh, I'm so happy we can vacation together, we'll have so much fun!"--a purely hypothetical book I would much rather be reading.
He turns to greet my mom. “Mrs. Adams, I am delighted to meet you.” How does he know her name? He gives her the heart-stopping, Christian Grey patented, full-blown-no-prisoners-taken smile. She doesn’t have a hope. My mother’s lower jaw practically hits the table. Jeez, get a grip Mom. She takes his proffered hand and they shake. My mother hasn’t replied. Oh, complete dumbfounded speechlessness is genetic – I had no idea. “Christian,” she manages finally, breathlessly. He smiles knowingly at her, his gray eyes twinkling.
What the hell? She saw him rage-glaring at her daughter like five seconds ago.
Although maybe she missed that, which makes this even creepier.
Crap – Is he mad? Maybe the Mrs. Robinson comments? Or the fact that I am on my third, soon to be fourth Cosmo?
Every time I think Gorp RaisinNut can't get any more controlling... he gets angry that his girlfriend might have had one too many drinks while she was 3000 miles away from him.
This is one of those "not actually a dominant" things, too. Like, correct me if I'm wrong, but he never gave her any kind of order about how much she was allowed to drink. (And when they're together he's usually pouring wine down her throat as fast as he can.) He just gets all glarey when she breaks the imaginary rule in his head that he never told her about. She can't win.
There's nothing wrong with playing that way if it's consensual, but I'd classify it more as "emotional sadism", "mindfuck," or "humiliation" than as dominance as I usually understand it.
He reaches over, takes my hand, and squeezes it gently, running his thumb across my knuckles to and fro… and I feel the familiar pull. The electric charge zapping beneath my skin under the gentle pressure from his thumb, firing into my blood stream and pulsing around my body, heating everything in its path.
I glance quickly at Mom who is staring at Christian… yes staring! Stop it Mom. As if he’s some exotic creature, never seen before. I mean, I know I’ve never had a boyfriend, and Christian only qualifies as such for ease of reference – but is it so unbelievable that I could attract a man? This man? Yes, frankly – look at him – my subconscious snaps. Oh, shut up! Who invited you to the party? I scowl at my mom – but she doesn’t seem to notice.
Ana, I'm pretty sure your mom is staring at him because he flew from Seattle to Georgia unannounced to glare and paw possessively at her daughter.
Also, wow--that grammar--sentence structure--was there an editor?--wow.
“I don’t want to interrupt the time you have with your mother. I’ll have a quick drink and then retire. I have work to do,” he states earnestly.
Even if this weren't a milk-spittingly outrageous lie, "earnestly" still wouldn't be the right word.
The waiter arrives with our drinks. “Hendricks, sir,” he says with a triumphant flourish.
"Et voila! It is... a moderately priced gin! TA-DAAA!"
“Anastasia, your mother will be back shortly. I’m not comfortable talking about this ["Mrs. Robinson"] now. Later maybe. If you don’t want me here, I have a plane on stand-by at Hilton Head. I can go.” He’s angry with me… no.
"I flew across the country to see you, but hey, no pressure."
It would be so great if she told him to go, though. Really so great. Taking people at their word is a powerful tool against passive-aggression, and there's a great satisfaction to be found in resisting the pressure to say "oh, no, please don't go" and instead saying "Wonderful! I'm so glad you gave me this choice. Call your plane."
(It's on standby? Like the crew are actually in it poised to leave at any moment? Being on Dash BlitzDance's air crew must be exasperating. Especially since Hilton Head is a good long way from Savannah.)
Ace Rimmer then gets into a long conversation about "Mrs. Robinson"--which I'm not going to quote much of because it's in that trademark "lots of pained, snippy questions and answers" conversational style I love so much--where he basically says that they're still friends and business partners, and she's not a child molester because he says so.
“I think of her as a child molester, Christian.” I hold my breath waiting for his reaction. Christian blanches. “That’s very judgmental. It wasn’t like that,” he whispers, shocked.
So. On the one hand, survivors react differently. It is not immoral or Failing At Feminism or anything else for a survivor to decide how to feel about what was done to them. If an adult doesn't interpret their experience as molestation, I am very uncomfortable running in and telling them that they're wrong about their own life.
However, Ructabunde Quisquilian is not a real person. He's a character and the author is the one who decided he should forgive his abuser, and that's not such a simple situation. In a book with more subtle characterizations, this might be an illustration of "survivors don't always stick to the script." In this one, I'm worried it really is "hey, sometimes kids don't mind being molested."
...You know, this erotic romance novel really didn't need a child molestation side plot. We could've avoided all of this and been much happier.
Christian sips his drink, watching me closely, his expression guarded. What is he thinking? Did he love her? I think if he did, I will lose it, big time. “Well ladies, I shall leave you to your evening.” No… no… he can’t leave me hanging like this.
Well, what did you expect? It's not like Mr. Fancy RichPants is going to go home with you and sleep on the futon in the guest bedroom. So he goes to a hotel room for the night. You'll live.
I don't like being too harsh on Ana, but she does a whole lot of complaining in this chapter about how they've been apart for two whole days and she's dying for lack of his touch and oh my gosh Ana, you're not a stalker but you might have some minor cling issues of your own.
“Well strike me down with a feather, Ana. He’s a catch. I don’t know what’s going on between you two though. I think you need to talk to each other. Phew – the UST in here, it’s unbearable.” She fans herself theatrically.
Whoa. Ana's mom ships them. Whoa. Weird.
Ana's mom gives Ana a long speech about how obviously she (Ana) is super in love with Christian Bale and all they need to do is talk their problems out, and more or less demands her daughter go up to his hotel room and maybe stay the night.
Holy shit, Ana's mom, way to sell your daughter out when she's very visibly uncomfortable and also this guy just stalked her for 3000 miles.
He’s in a suite, like the one at the Heathman. The furnishings here are ultra modern, very now. All muted dark purples and golds with bronze starbursts on the walls. Christian walks over to dark wood unit and pulls open a door to reveal a mini-bar. He indicates that I should help myself, then wanders into the bedroom.
Either it's "ultra modern, very now" or it's purple and gold and bronze starbursts. It's not both. (The Savannah hotel isn't named, but the Heathman is a real place
and its suites are mostly cream and gray.)
For someone who was growling at her for her drinking earlier, he sure was quick to go right back to encouraging her to get drunk as soon as it serves his purposes.
“You were so mad at me,” he breathes. “Yes.” “I don’t remember anyone but my family ever being mad at me. I like it.”
The only proper response to "you're so cute when you're angry" is "then right now I'm fucking adorable."
He runs the tips of fingers down my cheek. Oh my, his proximity, his delicious Christian smell. We’re supposed to be talking, but my heart is pounding, my blood singing as it courses through my body, desire, pooling, unfurling… everywhere.
This is concerning. Maybe you should lay down for a little bit until your heart rate stabilizes and we've dealt with those pools of singing blood.
“Are you bleeding?” He continues to kiss me. Holy Fuck. Does nothing slip by him? “Yes,” I whisper, embarrassed. “Do you have cramps?” “No.” I flush . Jeez… He stops and looks down at me. “Did you take your pill?” “Yes.” How mortifying is this?
Very mortifying. Not because she has her period--that's just nature--but because of how incredibly weird he's being about it. Like, my partner will ask me if I have cramps, but that's because he'll give me Advil if I am. Men O'Rrhagia here seems to just be asking lots of questions because he wants to make her cringe.
He takes my hand and leads me into the bedroom. It’s dominated by a super-king size bed with elaborate drapes. But we don’t stop there. He takes me into the bathroom which is two rooms, all aquamarines and white limestone. It’s huge – In the second room a sunken bath, big enough for four people with stone steps that lead into it, is slowly filling with water. Steam rises gently above the foam, and I notice a stone seat all the way round.
Summary of this passage:
He squeezes my nipples between our thumbs, pulling gently so that they elongate further. I watch in fascination at the wanton creature writhing in front of me.
I once had a contest with Rowdy to see who could get further in reading a FSoG sex scene while hooked up to a speech jammer
. I highly recommend this as a form of "it's 3 AM and nothing seems like a bad idea anymore" entertainment.
He guides my hands down the sides of my body, past my waist to my hips, and across to my pubic hair. He slides his leg in between mine, pushing my feet further apart, widening my stance, and runs my hands over my sex, one hand at a time in turn, setting up a rhythm. It is so erotic. Truly I am a marionette and he is the master puppeteer.
Oh God it's just so beautiful.
He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string… what! And… a gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy fuck. Sweet mother of all… Jeez.
They should've sent a poet.
He uncurls from around me, placing me on the floor as he makes to stand. As he does, I notice again the small, round, white scars on his chest. They are not chicken pox, I muse absentmindedly. Grace said he was hardly affected. Holy shit… they must be burns. Burns from what? I blanch at the realization, shock and revulsion coursing through me. From cigarettes? Mrs. Robinson, his birth mother, who? Who did this to him? Maybe there’s a reasonable explanation, and I’m over-reacting – wild hope blossoms in my chest – hope that I am wrong.
In the real world, some spotty burn scars could mean anything from "grease explosion in the kitchen" to "really bad medication reaction." But in this ultra-simplified world where all things are plot relevant at all times, of course it'll turn out to be from all the horrible trauma that made him into a kinkster. (I'm guessing birth mother, because she's a cartoon evil woman, whereas Mrs. Robinson is being played unnervingly close to "society just doesn't understand.")
Man, E.L. James really had fun with this guy's history. "Trust fund baby or tragic deprived past? Let's do both!"
“I would probably have gone the way of my birth mother, had it not been for Mrs. Robinson.” Oh! I blink at him. Crack addict or whore? Possibly both?
Wow, real sensitive reaction there, Ana.
“She loved me in a way I found… acceptable,” he adds with a shrug. What the hell does that mean? “Acceptable?” I whisper. “Yes.” He stares intently at me. “She distracted me from the destructive path I found myself following. It’s very hard to grow up in a perfect family when you’re not perfect.”
You know what? I can kind of buy this. For all the Cullens are nice and rich and... rich and nice, I can see them not being well equipped to care for an adopted son with trauma and abandonment issues and disgracefully unrefined table manners. And I can see him feeling pretty alienated in his adolescence if people at the country club are getting all "the poor dear is from a disadvantaged background, you know" on him.
It doesn't excuse Mrs. Robinson's behavior and it doesn't excuse how he goes on to treat Ana. But it does give a pretty relatable explanation for why it might've been easy for someone outside the family to seduce him with a "I'm the only one who really understands you" story.
Anyway, then they have about twelve more rounds of Ana asking variations on "do you like her more than me?" and E. Edward Grey saying stuff that works out to "no, but you should still feel jealous." They go back and forth for a while before settling back into their usual groove: pressuring Ana to do BDSM.
“You can always safe-word, Anastasia. Don’t forget that. And, as long as you follow the rules, which fulfill a deep need in me for control and to keep you safe, then perhaps we can find a way forward.”
This is one of those paragraphs that's great if you just imagine that it has anything to do with the rest of the book.
Just use your safeword and follow the rules and it'll go great for you! What do you mean, nobody ever actually gave you a safeword or a workable set of rules? Pointing that out is topping from the bottom and I won't have any of it.
“Why do you need to control me?” “Because it satisfies a need in me that wasn’t met in my formative years.” “So it’s a form of therapy?” “I’ve not thought of it like that, but yes, I suppose it is.” This I can understand. This will help.
Ergh. No. BDSM is not an illness nor is it a therapy. (And it sure as hell isn't both, because how would that even work.) BDSM can be therapeutic in some ways, but that isn't more important than the need to play safely and consensually, and it isn't ethical to use people for therapy without their knowledge.
Anyway, this seems to imply that the need that wasn't met in his formative years was to get everything he wanted whenever he demanded it. So, um, poor dear.
They fuck some more in the bathtub and it's pretty standard. He calls her "baby" a lot. Not much to say about this except that it's pleasant and consensual (as consensual as things can be when we all know how it would go if Ana said no to him). Which just makes me worry when the next shoe is going to drop.
And I come, my orgasm ripping through me, a turbulent, passionate, apogee that devours me whole.
If you're playing the home game, that's five metaphors in sixteen words! Ms. James may have just set a regional record!
“What do you want to do?” he asks.
“What about me?”
This is why I don't copy most of their conversations. They're so guarded and tight-lipped with each other, even their pillow talk reminds me of those scary notices on Armed Forces Radio about how if you're captured you should only give your name, rank, and serial number.
Whenever they talk, you get the whole page but you only need the left three inches.
“All submissives in training, when I was training. There are places in and around Seattle that one can go and practice. Learn to do what I do,” he says.
HEY! NO! PARTY FOUL! You do not get to mention the CSPC in this book!
The CSPC ("The Wet Spot") is the Seattle playspace where I began my kink career. (Which is very different from "being in training." I mean, they provided a space, safety guidelines, and occasional classes. They weren't, like, putting me through organized Submission Exercises until I earned my black hankie.) It's a very nice space and resource for the community and I don't want it even being mentioned in this book, much less reduced to some sort of weird Sub Training Facility.
Ah well. Odds are E.L. James didn't actually mean the CSPC, because:
Doylist - That would've required research. Easier to handwave and just say "there's places."
Watsonian - The CSPC has standards of behavior and would've kicked out a creeper like Kidney BoneThrust five minutes into his first party.
What? “Oh.” I blink at him. “Yep, I’ve paid for sex, Anastasia.”
Okay, they'd better not mean the CSPC, because I am absolutely certain the CSPC does not provide rent-a-sub services.
Not a lot of places do, really. Professional subs exist, but as far as I know, they're a lot less common than pro-doms, and very unlikely to have sex with their clients. (EDIT: Some pro-subs do have sex with their clients.)
Sex and sex work do happen in a lot of BDSM spaces, but the main purpose of the spaces is for kinky people to mingle and play. They're not like... whatever E.L. James thinks they're like. They're not places you can drop in and book the next available sub you want to practice angry sex on.
“You didn’t wear your panties to meet my parents.” “Did that shock you?” “Yes.”
She didn't wear her panties because you'd stolen them and wouldn't give them back, dick. Way to get all "whoa, that sure was wild of you" about something you forced her to do.
The rest of this chapter isn't half bad, though. (It's all bad! OHOHOHO
!) Ana and Yeasty PottleDeep have something resembling emotional intimacy--he coughs up some actual details about his life and emotions, and she says she enjoys some of the BDSM stuff they do, and asks for more.
It's all a lot of E.L. James going "Ana had some character development where she became more open to BDSM. She did. Right back there. You must've missed it." But at least it means a break in the overt abuse, and I'll take that however I can get it.