Tag Archive | Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Clueless Hottie

DarkerWarnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

Having been derailed by fibromyalgia and Internet drama during the fall, I skipped four months’ worth of Fifty Shades posts.  But I had some requests to continue the series.  Because I love my friends (even if I don’t love Fifty Shades), I am enduring the pain.  You’re welcome.

We begin chapter 3 with Ana looking for the silver lining.  She says,

The one good thing about being carless is that on the bus . . . I can plug my headphones into my iPad . . .

I’ve been carless.  That seems like reaching.

Apparently, though, being able to listen to her Special Christian Grey “Mix-Tape” is a good beauty secret, because her boss remarks that she looks “radiant.”  Ana finds this inappropriate.  Now, if he were stalking her and giving her expensive gifts and taking her to his Red Room of Pain, that might have been another matter.  But how dare he say she looks radiant!  Everything in this story is some kind of innuendo, so that’s why she deems it inappropriate.  This is because Ana is a Clueless Hottie:  She goes on and on about how unattractive she is, but every man in her sphere is pining away with desire for her.  That might be the single most annoying thing about Ana, even worse than her Inner Goddess and her overuse of certain phrases.

Next, we get a series of emails between Ana and Christian.  I’m sick of these, too.  Can we just dispense with them?  They’re boring, for one thing, and for another, E. L. James isn’t an expert enough writer to pull them off without making Christian sound worse than he already is.  In today’s installment, Christian reminds Ana that she needs to eat (again) and tells her she’s going to need energy for begging him to give it to her.  Yeah.  I think it’s supposed to sound like naughty role-playing, but given the tone of their relationship, it definitely doesn’t come across that way.

After more boring and pointless stuff about work and another set of emails (including one about hers being monitored), Ana finishes her work day and her boss invites her to join the staff for a drink.  Because she’s a Clueless Hottie, she immediately imagines he’s hitting on her again.  She’s “relieved” when she finds out it’s not just the two of them.  This whole thing with every man wanting her reminds me of how we women are taught that all men everywhere are predators and we should protect ourselves.  The whole book series kind of implies that this is true, even though it’s not.

In what I’m sure is supposed to be a bit of humor, the bar is called 50s.  Ana tells Jack to order her a beer.  For a moment, that surprised me, but then I realized something.  She only does the high-end putting on airs thing when she’s with Christian.  By herself, she’s pretty down to earth.  She even drinks beer.  It’s too bad she can’t find someone who might like her for who she is, not who she could become.

Another series of emails later (I seriously think E. L. James was creating filler to make this into three whole books) and Ana is off from work.  She checks herself out (Clueless Hottie) and notices that she looks better than she has been.  (Incidentally, this is probably why her boss commented–wouldn’t you notice if your employee suddenly looked like the walking dead and then equally suddenly looked decent again?)  If the only thing she has keeping herself together is Christian Grey, that’s a scary thought indeed.

This is emphasized in the next few paragraphs, where she meets a woman who knows who Ana is but refuses to reveal her own name.  Ana describes her as looking like a ghost, and there’s an implication of this woman’s self-injury.  Ana immediately thinks this must have something to do with Christian.  Now, why would she automatically draw that conclusion?  That would seem like a stretch, but it’s the most self-aware I’ve seen Ana in this entire series so far.  She recognizes something in the woman that reminds her of herself, and she connects it to Christian.  If only she would make the leap that if he leaves women as shells of their former selves, he is someone to stay far, far away from.

I’m not wild about the way it sounds like women never recover from their encounters with him.  This is a dreadful combination of whatever abuse she suffered (and subsequently internalized) and the idea that we are nothing without our men.  Even if the story is supposed to be about Christian’s redemption, this whole scene would have been so much better if the woman had not been haunted and harming herself because she wished she were still in Ana’s shoes.  I’m not comfortable with the implication that Ana would have ended up like this woman if she hadn’t chosen to let Christian back in her life–and therefore it’s a good thing she did.

So that I don’t drag this post out too long, I’ll stop there.  Join me next week for Fun at the Bar with Christian and Jack.  Should be fascinating to watch two men fight over Ana like she’s an uncharted island and whoever wins gets to plant a flag.

Fifty Shades of Bad Lines

So, I really did mean to write a post on Friday.  Instead, I had my pupils dilated at the eye doctor’s office followed by the Day from Hell.  I was all proud of myself for getting my chores done before lunch so my daughter and I could go pick out new glasses.  It was a good thing I did, since the rest of my afternoon was filled with one stupid frustration after another.  Anyway, I’m making up for it by snarking about Fifty Shades.  That always makes me feel better.

I’m tired of rehashing the plot of these novels week after week by saying, “Christian is abusive, Ana shows signs that she’s a victim of domestic violence, and they are two of the most self-absorbed people on the planet.”  So I’m going to list my least favorite phrases in this chapter and offer commentary.  All grammatical errors are the author’s.

I allow myself a moment to examine his godlike profile…

Um. Ok.

“Happy now? He’s [Taylor, Christian's driver] listening to his iPod. Puccini. Forget he’s here. I do.”

So, basically, he treats his employees like crap.  Got it.

My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication begging me.

Gah! It’s the Return of the Inner Goddess!  There needs to be a Fifty Shades drinking game for every time “Laters, baby,” “oh, my,” inner goddess, and subconscious make an appearance.  Wait–there probably already is.  I want in.

My anxiety has shot up several magnitudes on the Richter scale.

So anxiety and orgasms are both earth-shaking.  I’ll keep that in mind.

Those photos the boy [José, emphasis mine] took…

There’s so much wrong with this.  Should we start with the racism or the infantilization?

My subconscious nods with satisfaction.

Drink!

If that isn’t a declaration of love, I don’t know what is.

Christian has just listed things he likes about her and has said he wants her, but he never said he loves her.  A declaration of love is usually, oh, I don’t know, maybe saying “I love you”?

“Christian, why do you think you have a dark soul?…you’re a good man…you’re generous, you’re kind, and you’ve never lied to me.”

Is that all it takes to be a “good man”?  Giving people things and/or money and not lying?  Huh.  I’d have thought “not stalking people” and “not abusing people” might make the list.

“Then, after I left, it dawned on me that the physical pain you inflicted was not as bad as the pain of losing you.”

Said many an abused partner.

“Sometimes you’re so closed off…like an island state.”

Uh, what?  I think that’s a good description of “isolated,” not for shutting people out.

“You intimidate me. That’s why I keep quiet.”

How again are people missing the abuse here?

“And you’re prepared to do all this for me. I’m the one who is undeserving, and I’m just sorry I can’t do all those things for you.”

This is how it works, people.  She shouldn’t have to put up with his shit, but he somehow manages to turn it around, make it look like he’s being noble, and suddenly she’s saying she’s “undeserving” of having him NOT FUCKING ABUSE HER.  No, I didn’t read it wrong.

“…I am not going to touch you again, not until you beg me to…so that you’ll start communicating with me.”

Nice manipulation there.

He…pulls out a large gift-wrapped box.

So, he had this whole thing planned out, despite the fact that they had broken up.  Because it’s not at all creepy for your ex to buy you expensive gifts in order to bribe you.

“Laters, baby.”

Ugh.  I completely hate this phrase.  Hate.  Drink!

Holy shit…an iPad.

Because the rest of the gifts aren’t good enough?  And why is she more shocked by the iPad than the other things?  Also, why does she have a Blackberry if all her other stuff is Apple products?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Holy cow.  I have a Christian Grey mix-tape in the guise of a high-end iPad.

Is there even such a thing as a “high-end” iPad?  I’ve been checking out iPads in order to make a purchase later this year.  They’re basically all the same, other than size and memory.  I’m not sure that’s the term I’d use to describe the difference.  Also, “mix-tape”?  Seriously?  Do people even use that term anymore?

…he’s put a great deal of thought into this gift.

She describes how he’s built the model plane she gave him when she left, photographed it, and made it into the background on her iPad.  So, actually, this quote is true.  I would actually find the gesture very romantic and sweet.  That is, if Christian weren’t such a stalker who did all this after she had broken up with him.

…my inner goddess curls up hugging herself on her chaise lounge…

Drink!

With a swipe of my finger, the icons shift, and several new ones appear…

How much is E. L. James being paid to be free advertising for Apple?

Words–whatever that is

I found exactly one app called “Words,” and it’s a word search puzzle game.  Maybe she means Words with Friends, but how she doesn’t know that one is beyond me.  I don’t even play it and I know what it is.  For someone working in publishing, Ana is kind of a Luddite.

She starts to sing, and her voice is a silken scarf wrapping around me, enveloping me.

The over-the-top metaphors are wearisome.  Maybe we need a drinking game for those, too.

If this isn’t an apology, what is it?

She’s listening to the music on the iPad.  Somehow, the whole thing seems sort of like the way very young people interact when they’re dating.  Teenagers and people in movies make music mixes and think that suffices for an apology.  Adults actually, you know, apologize.

My subconscious nods at me, trying to hide her pity.

First of all, what?  Ana, it’s your own damn subconscious–it can’t “hide it’s pity” from you because it is you.  Second, drink!

I’m glad you like it.  I bought one for myself. [email to Ana about the iPad]

Yeah, okay, that totally sounds like the way some guys interact.  “I love this new gadget!  I bought one for you too, honey!”  It made me laugh.  Also, my husband would never do that, but I’ll bet he smirks inside every time he gets a new thing, lets me check it out, and I say, “Hey this is awesome.  I want one too!”

His response made me smile, still so bossy, still so Christian.

Yep. Bossy reply to the woman who just said she loves you.  Good going, dude.  (Ana ended her email with “I love you,” which Christian did not say back to her.)

I drift slowly into sleep, marveling at how the world has righted itself in one evening…

That’s certainly not what I got out of this chapter.

Up next week: Chapter 3.  Dun, dun dun!  Laters, baby. (Drink!)

Fifty shades of immaturity

Darker

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

Why, hello, Monday!  Time for another round of Fifty Shades.  If you’re new to this blog, I’m reading through the Fifty Shades series and forcing everyone to suffer along with me on Mondays.  If you want to know what I’ve written about it before, click the link on the right and you’ll find all my Fifty Shades posts in reverse order.

Please just put me out of my misery now.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m on Christian’s side for once.  I honestly hate myself right now, both for feeling that way and for admitting it in public.

Chapter 2 starts with Christian taking Ana to a restaurant any normal couple would like for its semi-casual, romantic atmosphere.  It’s beneath Christian, of course, which is how we are reminded once again that he is a super rich, refined person and that we should admire him for his taste.  They’re in a hurry, so he takes the liberty of ordering for Ana–who reacts as though he hadn’t just done this for an entire previous novel.

I get the sense that’s not what she’s really reacting to, though it probably should be.  I’m with her that she ought to be allowed to order her own dang food.  My husband knows better than to do this for me unless I’ve asked and preferably supplied him with a list of acceptable choices.  On the other hand, my husband and I don’t have the kind of relationship where he stalks me and controls me, we break up, and I stop eating.  So there’s that.

Here’s where I’m on Christian’s side.  He’s picked up on the fact that Ana has no interest in José but is using him to make Christian jealous.  He’s correct that this is juvenile behavior.  It’s the kind of thing very young or inexperienced people do sometimes.  Christian is right that it’s hurtful to José (I wonder if it just killed him to actually care about José’s feelings).  Immature people sometimes don’t consider the effect on someone else.  Given that this describes a lot of Ana’s interactions with the world, it’s not too surprising.

The reason it just destroys me to have to side with Christian on anything–ever–is that he is, like everything else, such an ass about it.  I don’t mean that he’s angry; that’s actually reasonable.  It’s that in a healthy relationship without power struggles, Ana would not feel “chastened” by him as though he were her parent.

Their discussion quickly progresses to their last interaction.  I have a hard time getting past the unnatural dialogue, but at least they’ve gone there.  It just keeps getting weirder.  It’s like E. L. James has sort of forgotten what she actually wrote.  Christian asks Ana why she didn’t use a safe word the last time they were together.  As I recall, it’s because she asked him to show her the worst he could give, and they weren’t actually having sex; they were arguing, and she demanded to know what he would do to her.  They weren’t playing–he was providing her a demonstration.  Maybe that shouldn’t have mattered, but when you have poorly-defined boundaries for your relationship, that makes it hard to know how to use things like safe words.

She tells him that she didn’t use a safe word because she was overwhelmed with trying to be what he wanted.  Again, this doesn’t really fit with what happened.  She wasn’t trying to be what he wanted–she was trying to find out what would happen if she wasn’t what he wanted.  There’s a pretty big difference.

Ana concludes that she could have avoided the break-up if she had just used her safe word.  Of course!  Because the best way to handle an abusive, controlling jerk is to blame yourself for his behavior.  I mean, why don’t more people think of that?  Oh, wait.  They do.  And, like any decently abusive and controlling jerk, Christian is pissed at Ana for not stopping him from being an abusive, controlling jerk.  Because safe words.

I am utterly confused and horrified by his next words to her: “How can I trust you?”

This is a thing that abusers use.  It’s what gets said to people everywhere whose partners are harming them.  “How can I trust you not to do something that’s going to set me off?”  Christian failed to provide a safe learning environment for a naive young woman and then blamed her for not grasping the rules properly.  What a complete dick.

In any other kind of book, I could actually love the next part.  He confesses that she told him in her sleep that she loved him and would never leave him, and he tells her how much that meant to him.  It’s like this tiny little spark of genuine romance that would have worked perfectly in a book with flawed but ultimately decent characters.  Sadly, this is not that book.

And just like that, the moment is ruined by Christian telling Ana that she has to eat or he’s going to spank her, and it won’t be in a sexual way.  Because threatening abuse is absolutely the best way to get someone to take care of herself.  Probably only works on self-centered, immature recent college grads, though.  Too bad.

I’ll leave it there for this week.  Join me next week for another installment, or stick around and see what else I’ve got planned this week.

50 Shades of Photography

DarkerWarnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

Happy Monday!  It’s time for today’s episode of Dysfunctional Relationship Dynamics.  (You should imagine that in a melodramatic radio soap opera voice.)  When we last saw our heroine (of sorts), she was in a helicopter on her way to her not-boyfriend’s photography show with her no-longer-boyfriend.  We catch up with them at the gallery.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have no idea how a relationship largely built on being jealous of other people could survive.  Back when I was dating my husband, I was well aware that other women found him attractive.  He is objectively very good-looking.  The thing is, we had–and still have–a great relationship.  I don’t find other women’s interest bothersome in the least; it’s a huge ego boost to know that he loves me, even though there are other attractive, nice, wonderful women out there.

Ana is an idiot.  No, really.  We have to hear constantly about how annoying it is that these other women are flirting with “her” man.  Well, honey, if he decides to dump you for one of them, then your relationship wasn’t going anywhere.  And if he’s with you, then quit complaining.  The whole “keep your hands off my man” thing is old now.

The jealous lover thing goes both ways, though.  Christian can’t stand it that anyone else might find Ana attractive.  It doesn’t matter that he apparently has nothing to worry about; he’s still going to be a jerk about it.  That would drive me up the wall after about five minutes.  Ana is no more able to control other people’s reactions to her than Christian is–or than any other human on the planet.  Does he expect Ana to say, “Stop finding me attractive”?  Why isn’t it enough that she says she’s not interested?

Along with that, Christian keeps doing this one really irritating thing.  He refers to José as “the boy.”  I remember being in my late twenties (hey, it wasn’t that long ago).  At no point did I think of college graduates–at age 21 or 22–as anything other than adults.  They are not “boys” or “girls.”  Christian doesn’t sound like a fellow young adult; he sounds like a middle-aged man going through a crisis, being intentionally condescending to make up for his own wasted youth.  He’s infantilizing José, which I find distasteful–it implies José isn’t mature enough to exist in the adult world.

I did find one thing on which I agree with Ana–the photographs José has taken of her are invasive.  I’m not sure what the rules are about these things and if there’s any legal ramifications.  Whenever I’ve seen people photographed and their images posted online, I’ve typically seen disclaimers that the people’s photos were used with their permission (unless they were professional models).  Ana has every right to be pissed off, and I don’t blame Christian one bit for buying them.  I’m fairly sure Christian could afford a lawyer good enough to ruin José for using the photos in his show without Ana’s written consent.  This just proves my point from the last book in the series where I think José is every bit as much of a creepy stalker as Christian.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t honestly think women want to be treated the way men treat Ana in these books.  We might see it as romantic while reading the story, but in real life?  No way.  I wouldn’t be able to handle dating a man who could track me the way Christian does.  Someone like José wouldn’t stand a chance after continuing to push after I’d said no or using photos of me without asking.  I sure as heck wouldn’t date my boss, and I’d be looking for new employment the second I sensed inappropriate advances.

Dear Ana:  The world is full of much better men, regardless of what you’ve read on the Internet.  Don’t settle for one of the bad ones.  Also, normal people own more than one dress.  Love, Me.

50 Shades (Darker) Monday

Darker

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

It’s August, and my hiatus from reviewing Fifty Shades is at an end.  I’m sure you’ve all been waiting anxiously by your computers for this, right?  Admit it, at least two or three of you have.  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Fifty Shades Darker begins with what I assume is Christian’s dream-memory of childhood abuse.  This is the first real glimpse at Christian’s prior trauma that we’ve had.  Since the story is first-person from Ana’s POV, and he won’t ‘fess up about it, we haven’t been privy to that information.  Naturally, this is our indication that Christian likes to hit women til they cry as part of “BDSM.”  Because, you know, no healthy, rational people would ever be into D/s play.

The scene is brief; we return to Ana’s Brain immediately after Christian wakes up thinking, “Oh, crap, I had that dream again.”  Ana is busy distracting herself from pining away by going to work.  She’s started her new job at the publishing company, and right away, she lets us know that the boss has the hots for her.

I’m not going to be shy about saying that I don’t think I could ever be friends with Ana.  She is the worst combination of “I’m so plain and boring!” and “All men want me anyway!”  As it is, I don’t do well with people who are constantly on about how they attract men like flies.  I really don’t care how many men think you’re hot.  What makes Ana worse, though, is that she’s not even honest about it.  All the other women I know who brag about their conquests at least know that they are magnetic, and they have goo-gobs of confidence in themselves.  I may think it’s boring, but I respect healthy self-esteem.  Ana goes out of her way to assure us she’s not boasting about being a Man Magnet–she reminds us constantly that she’s plain and dull.  It’s not convincing.

As if to drive this point home (Ana’s hotness, that is), in one day she gets hit on by Jack (her boss; did I mention I hate that he has my son’s name?), José, and Christian.  I think the worst part in all of this is that Jack is probably the best option of the three.  Of course, I don’t think much of a boss who makes moves on his brand-new employee–that reeks of power and control.  Seems like all the men in Ana’s life are plagued by this issue.  Doesn’t she know any truly nice men?

Remember the part in the first book where Ana thinks she makes a lousy sub?  I disagree.  She seems to get off on being surrounded by men with a need to dominate her in one way or another.  She’s always reminding us how many of them want her, yet all of them have indicated a wish to wield their power.  José tried to take what he wanted by force; Christian likes to hurt women; and Jack is behaving in a way a boss should not act toward an employee.  The subtext here is the definition of D/s–she’s actually the one in control here, but she’s intentionally placing herself at their mercy.  Unfortunately, all of what could be good here is lost in horrible writing, BDSM-as-cover-for-abuse, bad psychology, and characters no one likes.

Moving on, we get to see Ana’s inner turmoil over breaking up with Christian.  Oh, the drama.  You would think that he’s sucked her soul and left her dry, almost like a vampire…oh. Wait.  Anyway, her misery is completely out of proportion with reality.  She left him because she finally recognized his abuse (or at least she appeared to).  His hold on her seems to have been so deep that she’s coming across as clinically depressed.  I don’t say that lightly or to make fun of depression; I really mean it.  The way she talks about it leaves me thinking she probably needs to see a professional for help, because it’s actually not a healthy response.

She has all the signs that something is very seriously wrong: She’s not eating, choosing to live on cola and coffee; she’s letting her brain spin endlessly on the situation; she won’t talk to friends or family.  She finally figures out that her messages are being diverted to the Blackberry, but she does nothing to change that.  It doesn’t help that she’s alone in her apartment without even Kate to talk to.  It’s no wonder that her solution to her funk is to agree to let Christian escort her to José’s show.

I’m going to leave it here for now.  I think I’m back on the blogging train now, so hopefully you’ll stick around this week for whatever pops into my head.  Join me again next week as we continue the exciting saga of Does Amy Hate Fifty Shades Darker More or Less Than Fifty Shades of Grey?

50 Shades of goodbye

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

This is it, people.  My last post on Fifty Shades of Grey.  I “enjoyed” being tortured by this book.  I’ve blogged my way through it as I read, and now I’m taking a break from writing about this series for the rest of July.  During that time, I’ll be reading the second book.  Don’t worry–I’ve also got some good books to read during that time.

I have mixed feelings about the end of this book.  First, let me sum up what happens (warning: spoilers):

  • Ana gets up way too early to find Christian playing moody piano music
  • He wants to have sex on the piano; she wants to talk
  • She asks about the contract she never signed, and he tells her it’s moot
  • He still wants her to obey all the rules in the contract (you know, the controlling stuff about what she eats, her exercise, etc.); he says he’ll punish her if she disobeys
  • She eventually demands that he show her how painful it can get
  • He beats the crap out of her butt with a belt
  • She realizes he has “needs” she can’t fulfill and she leaves him

It’s a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea.  There is something deeply creepy about the fact that Christian admits that he’s not really into BDSM and playing so much as he’s into causing women pain.  He knows why he does it, but he won’t tell Ana because he’s sure that if he lets her in on all his secrets she’ll leave him.  Except the fact that he needs to hurt her but won’t tell her why really does cause her to leave.

I’ve read other reviews that have suggested her reaction to their break-up is over-the-top and out of proportion.  I don’t think it is, actually.  Under the circumstances, I would have expected no less.  She’s invested everything in trying to keep from drowning in this relationship, and now that it’s come apart, she feels like her whole world is gone.  That actually makes some sense.  It wouldn’t if this relationship wasn’t an abusive, tangled mess, though.

We finally have some proof that this book is not about consensual BDSM.  It’s about one person’s need to control and hurt others.  The author’s own confusion is the real problem here.  It is certainly possible that someone who has been deeply traumatized could find healing through the sort of release experienced with BDSM.  That’s not what’s happening here.  Instead, we have a man who cannot work out his own inner issues in a healthy way, so he’s taking it out on women.  I will say that he might have been able to pass this off as BDSM, but I’m not sure how, given that his former subs seem to have been vastly more experienced than Ana.  It’s possible that’s why none of them ever lasted or why he put time-limits on every relationship–not giving anyone enough time to figure it out.

It should be noted here, also, that he doesn’t seem to need to cause pain in order to find sexual release.  According to the story, he’s apparently been able to get off plenty of times, and most of those outside his “playroom.”  No, his need to punish, to cause pain, seems to be at least in part separate.  I count that as doubly creepy.

The frustration I have with the ending is my own knowledge that since this is the first book, we can obviously look forward to two more novels in which she goes back to him–and eventually stays.  I’m also bothered by the fact that while real-life women are trying every day to escape controlling, abusive jerks like Christian, millions of women are reading this book and rooting for Ana and Christian to get back together and have their happily ever after.  I’m upset by the way that unlike what happens to real women all the time, he magically realizes the error of his ways and stops being abusive.  Do any of the people practically worshiping these books have any idea at all how many victims return to their abusers because the abusers have promised to stop?  Maybe Christian really does change, but that’s an unlikely scenario at best in real life.

For every person who now wants to say, “But it’s fiction!” I’d like to remind you all that I know it’s fiction.  I am perfectly capable of suspending disbelief.  I’m well aware that vampires don’t sparkle (or exist), 11-year-old boys don’t find out they’re wizards, you can’t get to other countries through a closet, and there are no rings that rule them all.  But Fifty Shades isn’t fantasy, it takes place in our very real world.  And the best fiction–real-world, fantasy, and everything else–is not a glimpse at what we wish would happen (though there may be elements of that; see The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis*).  Rather, it offers a look at the underlying beliefs and values of both the writer and the society in which it’s written.  Fifty Shades isn’t a story about the transformative powers of love; it’s a wish-fulfillment story about what many people believe would happen if victims just cherished their abusers enough.

So there you have it.  Thank you all for sticking with me through this.  I’ll continue to blog on other topics throughout the rest of July, and then I’ll pick up where I left off in August with the second book in the series.  Catch you all later!

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*In The Magician’s Nephew (warning: spoilers), Diggory Kirke brings a magic apple back from Narnia which heals his mother’s illness.  Many have speculated that C. S. Lewis wrote into the story what he wished could have been done for his own mother.  In my opinion, this is a better version of wishful thinking than what’s found in Fifty Shades.  People know that magic healing apples don’t exist, but a lot of people believe that abusers can change if they just get what they want/need or receive enough love.

 

50 Shades of Hamster Wheel

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

I’ve reached the point where I’m not sure I can take any more of this story.  It’s on an endless loop of screwed up interactions followed by intense sex.  Both Ana and Christian seem to have on-off switches in their personalities, enabling them to have only two possible positions options.  She’s either thinking about having sex with him or actually having sex with him; he’s either controlling and abusive or a sex god.  Every chapter contains Ana and Christian in both modes, but I think this penultimate chapter is possibly the worst because it’s more distinct.

After Ana’s mother, sounding like a Hallmark card, sends her home, we have to endure pages of Ana in “thinking of you” mode.  All she does for the entire trip is worry about Christian’s “situation” and his lack of warmth when she emails him.  Doesn’t she have anything else to occupy herself, such as her new job?  I remember what it was like to be in a new relationship (or even just have a new crush).  Yes, I spent plenty of time thinking about the other person.  However, I was also capable of training my mind on other things.

Meanwhile, when Ana returns, we get Christian in Angry Control Freak mode.  It’s not directed at Ana this time–he’s preoccupied with his business.  I suppose this is probably one of the things that’s put him ahead in business, but it’s pretty much standard operation for him outside the bedroom (or the Red Room of Pain or the bathtub or the kitchen…).

Naturally, once Ana’s back, there are pages and pages and pages and–yep, you guessed it–pages of the two of them having sex in a variety of ways.  We get it; it’s “erotica.”  And if I didn’t want to read endless and repetitive sex scenes, I should have picked up a different book.  It’s not the sex that bothers me, though–it’s the fact that it isn’t just sex scenes with some semblance of a plot for filler.  It’s the layers of absolutely terrible commentary on relationships present throughout.

I’ve read other erotica for comparison (yes, really; I don’t care for erotica).  Most of the time, there’s some excuse for the sex woven into the narrative: circumstances, an established relationship that experiences a change of some sort, and so on.  What troubles me is the narrative in Fifty Shades that provides the excuse.  A naive young woman being preyed on by a controlling man with a troubled past could be done well, if the writer were to tread carefully.  E L. James does it with all the grace of an elephant in a tea shop.  What we should read is screwed up people screwing up and then just screwing.  Instead, we skip the “screwing up” part entirely–which just makes it appear that “fucked up” is a desirable state of being in a relationship and “fixing you” is an admirable way to handle life.

The second-to-last chapter is nothing more than a recap of the previous chapters.  I probably could have skimmed the rest and simply read this one, and I’d still have the general plot of the book down.

50 Shades of Pancakes

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

Is it me, or is it a little obsessive to be so fixated on sex that one doesn’t want to do anything else?  I understand being in love.  I understand wanting to have sex.  But at the exclusion of everything else whenever you’re with the person?  That doesn’t seem realistic.  Or healthy, actually.  Increasingly, this story is coming across like it can’t decide whether it’s erotica or something else.  I’m leaning toward something else.

After Christian takes Ana flying and then kisses her until she wants to forgo breakfast in favor of humping in a field, they do the most romantic thing ever: they go to IHOP.  No, really.  Even Ana seems surprised.  It’s made even better when she describes the restaurant as smelling like “sweet batter, fried food, and disinfectant.”  Thanks for that disturbing thought, Ana.

Ana says what the rest of us are thinking: “What the hell is Christian Grey doing in IHOP?”  (Okay, not in those exact words.)  Given what we’ve seen of him so far, it does seem a little strange.  Still, that could be a great set-up for something romantic and fun…except that it’s not.

That’s one of the biggest problems I have with the awful writing in this book.  So often it seems like we’re going to get more, and then the author leaves us cold.  All of these great lead-ins end up being disappointing filler between sex scenes.  Instead of Ana and Christian taking this opportunity to get to know each other, all they do is imply that they’d both like to go at it like rabbits in the middle of IHOP.

Fortunately, the server interrupts them and gets all flustered when she sees Christian.  Of course.  I mean, it’s not like this happens every time Ana and Christian go out together because we all need to be reminded how hot he is.  We’re spared Ana’s usual jealous rage over it this time, but after the server leaves, we get Ana’s whining, which makes up for it.  She apparently thinks it’s unfair that he “disarms” women.

He’s apparently both confused and not confused about this.  He says it’s just his looks.  Ana explains that it’s more than that, to which he replies,

You disarm me totally, Miss Steele.  Your innocence.  It cuts through all the crap.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a compliment.

When they finish their meal, Ana offers to pay.  I just love Christian’s reply:

Are you trying to completely emasculate me?

Yes, Christian, that’s exactly what she had in mind.  She obviously knew that her offer to pay would make you feel very, very tiny inside.  I’m so glad we have this book, or we might never advance the cause of feminism, which has a clear goal of emasculating men by having women pick up the tab.

Naturally, Stalker Christian knows where to drop Ana off.  Instead of being completely weirded out by this, she’s disappointed that he can’t take her back to his hotel room and have lots of kinky sex.  She thinks,

Why do I want to spend every single minute with this controlling sex god? Oh yes, I’ve fallen in love with him, and he can fly.

Well, all righty then.

After several pages of annoying chit-chat, emails, and phone calls, Ana discovers that Christian has phoned her while she was accepting a job offer.  When she calls him back, he tells her he has to leave because of a “situation.”  She’s relieved that even though he sounds angry, it’s probably not at her.  On the other hand, she recalls that the last “situation” he dealt with was her virginity, which makes her think,

Jeez, I hope it’s nothing like that.

The chapter concludes with another series of exasperating emails.  The thing I hate about these emails is that they read exactly like things people send in real life.  That is, they really only make sense to the participants.  I hope Christian explains to Ana what she says in her sleep, because I don’t think I could take another round of Gmail.

50 Shades of Flight

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

This chapter is also known as The One Where Ana Dreams Christian Feeds Her Strawberries, Gets Up at the Crack of Dawn, Goes Flying, and Eats at IHOP.  All of that would be fine–good, even–if we were talking about anyone other than Ana and Christian.

The chapter opens with Ana dreaming that Christian, trapped in a cage, is trying to reach her with a bowl of strawberries, only he can’t reach her because something is gripping her and holding her back from him.  When the actual Christian wakes her up, she tells him she was dreaming.  He asks her about what, and all she says is that it was about his effort to feed her strawberries.  What strikes me as weird is when he tells her his therapist would “have a field day” with that.  Why?  I thought the whole “you’re dreams are a window to your soul” thing went out of fashion a long time ago.  I think Ana has enough waking-life problems that she doesn’t need to wonder if her dreams are trying to tell her something.

In the meantime, Ana notices Christian’s good mood.  Correct me if I’m wrong here, but isn’t it a little strange that she’s making note of his good mood?  She’s noticing because it’s unusual.  Some of the things she says that bother me about it (emphasis mine):

I gaze at him but he still looks amused . . . thank heavens. [She's grateful that she hasn't set him off.]

I notice the Twinings [tea] label, and inside, my heart sings.  See, he does care, my subconscious mouths at me. [She needs proof that he actually likes her, because it's not clear.]

He’s so loveable when he’s playful and carefree. [He's not particularly loveable at other times.]

He is in such a good mood. [She's making note of this because it's rare.]

Once they’re in the car, he turns on his iPod to play a selection from La Traviata.*  I think this scene is trying too hard.  First of all, while it comes across as Christian being pretentious and showing off his superior culture/knowledge, this is actually the author being pretentious and showing off her knowledge.  I genuinely hate when writers do that.  If you can’t work it seamlessly into your plot, don’t pour factoids into the story so that readers are keenly aware that you really, truly know your shit.

Second, even if one assumes that the music Ana and Christian each choose is some commentary on their relationship, it’s far too in-your-face.  As the Wicked Witch of the West says, “These things must be done delicately.”  You want to write some deep metaphor about this screwed-up relationship?  Awesome.  Just please, please do it more subtly, so that we readers have the chance to discover it for ourselves.  Your characters should not intentionally create the metaphor.

Third, the whole thing reads like that song about “to-may-to” vs. “to-mah-to.”  He plays opera; she plays Britney.  He’s had lots of women; she’s had one man.  He doesn’t do relationships; she wants more.  It’s annoying.  We get it–opposites attract when there’s kinky sex involved.  Who is the author trying to convince, us or her characters?

Eventually, they get to a fairly uninteresting scene where they go gliding.  Actually, I might have liked this scene in a better different story where the characters weren’t in an unhealthy relationship.  Instead, we have Ana, Christian, and her effing inner goddess.  Yep, she shows up again, this time to hide “under a blanket behind the sofa.”  So the Divine Miss G breaks out the pom-poms when she sees chains and a riding crop, but she cowers in fear over going gliding?

It turns out the reason Christian has taken Ana gliding is because he wants to give her “more” in their relationship, and this is his way of doing it.  In real life, that’s what we’d call a FAIL.  It’s true that she had to trust him not to get them both killed, but there’s no real deepening of their relationship.  The kind of trust Ana’s looking for (and rightly so) is on the emotional level.  She shouldn’t have to be surprised by his good moods, and she should be able to expect that he will trust her with what’s inside him.  Her trust in him should also run deeper than the knowledge that she won’t die if he takes her flying.  This is a good time to use that metaphor–let us see their emotional trust in the same way we’ve seen their physical trust.  Don’t use the gliding scene as the method of achieving more, let it be in parallel to the relational more.

I’ll leave it there for now.  Next week, we’ll join Ana and Christian at IHOP for some sexy pancake times.

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*La Traviata (which my spell check doesn’t like and wants me to change to “aviatrix”) was one of my mother’s favorites; I always hated it–it’s just so damn depressing.  The music is lovely, but if I remember right, that’s the one where the woman dies of consumption.  I remember watching a production of it with Mom once, and she was all impressed that they used a skinny performer in the role of the dying woman.  She said that the robust opera singers never looked much like they were suffering.  Um.  Well, there’s actually a reason why opera singers are mostly not petite–one needs a lot of power behind an operatic voice, and many very small people find that after years of singing, they start to sound like they’ve got consumption.  I don’t think the point is to look the part, anyway–it’s about singing the storyline.

50 Shades of Here We Go Again

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

I don’t know how your weekend was, but mine was a whirlwind of dress rehearsals and performances.  My son’s jazz band competed on Friday, followed by a full day getting ready for the first of my kids’ two dance recitals, which was yesterday.  My head is still spinning.  I’ll blog about the weekend tomorrow, but I didn’t want to deprive you all of my weekly Fifty Shades commentary.  You’re welcome.

I’m still stuck on this chapter in which Ana drinks too much with her mother, Christian shows up because he’s a stalker, and he and Ana have sex in the only scene that passes for something with a positive message.  Now we’ve arrived at the (literally) bloody aftermath of their coupling, and instead of enjoying the moment, Ana gets distracted by her curiosity.

It’s not the fact that Ana’s curious that bothers me–it’s her timing in asking Christian about it.  She notices the scars on his chest and realizes–gasp!–that those are not, in fact, chicken pox scars (duh).  They’re cigarette burns.  Amazingly, Ana leaps to the conclusion that Mrs. Robinson might have put them there.  Because it’s not enough, of course, that Mrs. Robinson is an abuser who turned a fifteen-year-old kid into her submissive.  Now she must also be prone to stubbing out her cigs on his chest.  That makes complete sense.

I’m not one to defend Mrs. Robinson here.  Clearly an adult in her thirties or forties who thinks BDSM sex with a teenager is a good idea is not a woman I want anything to do with.  I have zero sympathy, and I think Christian is pretty warped for thinking that relationship was anything resembling acceptable.  I do not, however, think that automatically makes her the sort who would inflict burns on her partners.  What she actually did is plenty bad enough without making further assumptions.

That said, the rest of this conversation between Ana and Christian is entirely disturbing.  Ana pushes Christian to explain himself, which he claims to be doing only to gain her trust.  Apparently, trust is a one-way thing and a tool for manipulation.  That is, he doesn’t care about trusting her, he only wants to make sure she trusts him so that she’ll comply with their agreement.  Good luck with that, Christian.

Ana, on the other hand, also doesn’t seem to actually care about Christian.  She just wants to know things about him because she feels like she’s in the dark.  She doesn’t leave me with the impression that she is genuinely building depth into this relationship.  She feels sorry for Christian, but it doesn’t seem to have triggered the kind of healthy concern normal people experience with their partners.  The whole thing has an unbalanced quality to it, as though this exchange is some kind of business transaction.  In a sense, that’s what this relationship is, but the story is set up to convince us it’s deeper than that.

Christian finally says his involvement with Mrs. Robinson steered him away from his destructive path toward becoming, as Ana puts it in her mind, a “crack addict or whore.”  He claims Mrs. Robinson “loved” him in a way he found “acceptable.”  This is apparently because his adoptive family was perfect and he was not.  Ana asks if Mrs. Robinson still loves him, and he says not the way she did.  I must stress again, however, that Mrs. Robinson did not love him.  Not then, not after it was over, and not in the now of the story.  At least, not in any way that resembles something good.

Anyway, they go back and forth on this issue some more.  I’m on Team Ana this time–I think the (apparently married, at least at the time) Mrs. Robinson is a predator, and the whole thing disgusts me.  We’ve now also arrived at the part where E. L. James most blatantly equates past abuse with BDSM.  She’s attempting to dive into the psychology of it without actually having any real knowledge of her subject.

It’s always hard for me, as I read this book, to figure out where the line is between bad writing and bad philosophy.  I honestly can’t tell if Ms. James believes what she’s written or if she’s just failing to express something.  I could probably write a whole blog post–heck, a whole series of posts–on how the way we use words reflects something much deeper than we may realize.  It’s those complexities that turn a ho-hum story into something that strikes a chord.  On the flip side, a seemingly bland novel (even an erotic one) can suddenly become an unintentional mirror of our own wrong thinking.

By the end of Ana and Christian’s talk, during which he’s threatened to spank her–presumably for some kind of insolence–he’s crossed the line on defending Mrs. Robinson.  If I were Ana, I would hightail it to the nearest exit.  Sadly, she doesn’t, and they continue their conversation until it morphs into bathtub sex.  Good job sticking to your boundaries, Ana.

Just three more chapters to go, folks.  I’ll pick things back up next week with whatever is happening in chapter 24.