Tuesday, June 18, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 8

Christian and Ana finally have sex and then Christian plays a piano while sad. 

Warnings: This chapter contains both extremely vague and extremely specific descriptions of Ana lying perfectly still while CG does sex to her / lectures her about different things. There will be blood. It will be terrible.

So, here we are, at the point that you've either been dreading or awaiting eagerly. The part where they start having sex. After one hundred pages of notsex, they finally give in and do the thing that we've all known they were going to do. Yay.

Here's a little game to play! Just something for me to talk about for a moment while I stall for time before I have to actually talk about this chapter. Help me procrastinate. Think about who ought to play these crazy kids in the inevitable film adaptation! This is a test, there are right answers. Or, rather, there's at least one right answer, which we'll share after the jump!

Okay! Pencils down. Let's start with CG. Trade papers with the person next to you. If their paper says anything but (drumroll!) Benedict Cumberbatch they are wrong and get a zero.

I know this will make you like Christian more, but you also know I'm right.
Next, take a look at the quiz in front of you and see what your fellow quiz-taker put down as their choice for Ana. Award full credit if their choice is A) In Ana's relative age range, and B) A woman, or a person who could convincingly portray a woman.

(Editor's note: If the quiz-taker just wants to recast the stars of Twilight, they get a B+. No points for originality, but credit for thinking like a Hollywood producer, at least.)

That's it! That's all you need for full credit! Why? Because Ana's characterization is so vague and bland that she could easily be played by basically anybody. CG is terrible, and not particularly believable, but at least EL gives him a certain amount of specificity. He's basically Sherlock Holmes, only with less homoeroticism, and also instead of loving him even though you kinda hate him (Sherlock), you hate him even though you really, really hate him.

So where were we?

  1. Ana meets Christian, the dreamy billionaire, for an awkward interview. 
  2. She then encounters him a few days later when he buys supplies for his sex dungeon at the hardware store where she works. Ana gets his phone number and decides to help her friend Kate set up a photo shoot with CG because that somehow makes more sense than just seeing if he wants to hang out like a regular person. 
  3. Ana's admirer José joins Ana and Kate to photograph Christian, after which Christian takes Ana to a cafe, where they both act awkward. Christian starts to push Ana away, for reasons she does not understand. Then, Ana is nearly hit by a bike, but Christian yanks her out of harm's way.
  4. Christian tells Ana that they're incompatible and she gets sad. Ana drunk-dials Christian and he freaks out and traces her phone Batman-style, just in time to chase off José, who's acting rape-y. Ana passes out at the bar.
  5. Ana awakes in Christian's hotel room. Christian explains that he brought her there because he didn't want her to puke in his car. He says that they can't take things further until he's explained his secrets, so they arrange a helicopter ride together to Seattle and make out in an elevator.
  6. Ana and Christian fly to Seattle in a helicopter. Ana signs a non-disclosure agreement and then opens up the door to the sex dungeon.
  7. Ana and Christian tour the sex dungeon and we see some of his much-discussed paperwork, which is an agreement far more all-encompassing than, say, a typical marriage, even though they met less than two weeks ago. CG gets super angry when he learns that Ana is a virgin. 
Note from last week:
I received some criticism from a reader who thought I was scoring some easy laughs by mocking a subculture which I don't understand. And it's true! Easy laughs are the easiest, and so I gather as many as I can, and I can claim nothing but ignorance when it comes to dominant / submissive relationships. But, neither can Ana, is the thing. So if Christian Grey has done a poor job selling me on this arrangement, it's only because he's done a poor job convincing Ana Steele, too. And therein lies my principle complaint about this whole thing: Ana is not a person who seems to derive particular pleasure from submitting to Christian's whims. She's crazy about him, and she likes having sex with him, and but she's distressed and fearful the rest of the time. 

Let me say, then, that the actual sex part of their relationship is the least troubling. I'll be analyzing it in hyper-detail, but Ana does enjoy having sex with Christian, and I still think he's pretty weird and gross, but I'm not sleeping with him so what do I care, really. But she only intermittently seems to enjoy just being around the guy, and often seems scared, and not in a way that she's deriving satisfaction from. I never get the impression that fearing CG's mood swings is just her thing or that that's a dynamic within their relationship that I don't understand but should accept because it's working for them. On the contrary, it seems like it's not at all working for them. 

I have read only a little bit of criticism of this book from the standpoint of people who actually engage in BDSM, but will try to familiarize myself with this more as we get the rest of the contract and so on. (My general sense being that many think the book an unfair representation.) I take this seriously because this book troubles me. It troubles me that Ana feels unsafe, and it troubles me that she so consistently seems coerced, but I don't wish to extend judgment past Ana and Christian. 

I am, admittedly, a little weirded out by any arrangement that seems to be about emphasizing the way that our society rigidly marks off certain territory for boys and certain other territory for girls. "Hey you know how in general men have more authority than women in our society? Wouldn't it be hot if it were like, even more that way?" I personally think not, but I'll try my best to remain open-minded. Except where this particular book is concerned. I've already decided that it's terrible and that I hate it. (Sorry.)

Carrying on:
If nothing else, this books gets some credit for subverting (certain) expectations in the most hilariously dumb ways imaginable. The lead-up to their first sex-scene is one of the most outrageously unsexy things I've ever read, and I read basically nothing but science fiction until I was old enough to vote. 

The chapter break hits mid-scene again, and CG is still angry. "Christian is running his hands through his hair and pacing up and down his study. Two hands--that's double exasperation." EL is in the habit of assigning each character one particular gesture for any given emotion, and then recycling it each time that emotion is felt again. Very efficient! Even more efficient for Ana, since everything makes her blush / fall down. Same action used for each and every scenario.

Ana, for once, is asking herself the right questions, even if she doesn't reach the obvious conclusions: "Why am I feeling guilty? Why is he so mad?" The answer to both is, "Because CG is a shameless manipulator of your emotions, and you should get the hell away from him." But she does not reach this conclusion. "My subconscious has reared her somnambulant head. Where was she when I needed her?" You never listen to your subconscious anyway, Ana, so don't go blaming her! Also: who's with me in assuming that EL was using a Word-a-Day tear-off calendar while writing this book? It's the best explanation for her vocabulary, which is limited, but wildly idiosyncratic. 

"How have you avoided sex? Tell me, please." This is a fun way of phrasing things! We've already established that, in the world of this novel, sex is a thing that is done to women, not a collaboration. The word "avoided" makes the same point. It's like saying, "Wow! How did you manage to avoid that virus that was going around the office? Lucky you!" 

Ana protests, slightly, which causes CG to say, "I'm not angry with you, I'm angry with myself." So angry that he has to splice clauses together haphazardly with commas! The poor man! I'm feeling really bad for him. Mostly I feel bad because the only way he knows to express the anger he feels at himself is to be a total asshole to Ana, which hardly seems fair. Also, he's a liar. He is angry at Ana. Because srsly. He flew her in a helicopter. Bros know what I'm talking about. You fly a lady in a helicopter? She better sign your sex contract. It's simple. If Ana didn't wanna be CG's sex slave, well, she shouldn't  have gotten into the chopper. Amiright, fellas? 

Then there's some more talk of lip-biting. Please do let me know if the idea of having your lip bitten or biting anyone's lip has ever seemed sexy to you ever. I associate lip-biting with intense pain. You know, like when you bite your lip, and then there's like that little sensitive part? And then you keep accidentally biting it again? And it's so terrible every time? And you're mad at yourself while you're in pain? Oh hey it's kind of like how I keep reading this shitty book. METAPHOR!

"Come," he murmurs.
"We're going to rectify the situation right now."
"What do you mean? What situation?"
"Your situation. Ana, I'm going to make love to you, now."

Oh, man. I love this conversation so much. We finally get to the first sex scene, and CG makes it sound like such a chore! Can't someone else do it!? He offers to have sex with Ana the way I would offer to cover someone's shift at work. "Okay, fine, I'll do it. But remember! You owe me!"

"He gives me a wicked grin, the effects of which travel all the way down there." Ick. "Down there." This is what I'm talking about when I describe the sex as somehow both vague and weirdly specific. Here, of course, we get vague. Down there. In a few pages, we'll get so clinical that EL might as well just switch over to full-on Latin. The combined effect is a little jarring.

But, once Ana's down there is involved, it's on.

If you've read this book and thought this scene was sexy, that's fine. Enjoy what you enjoy! And even if you liked this whole terrible book, who am I to argue that you shouldn't? Life is awfully hard, and if reading 50 Shades made your life more enjoyable, then I am honestly happy for you, even if I am confused. I will admit that (big surprise!) this scene did little for me. Here are my primary complaints:

  1. Your enjoyment of this scene will be conditioned by a number of factors, but the biggest variable is going to be how you feel about a sex scene in which one of the participants literally never does anything the whole time. Although CG said earlier that he wasn't interested in necrophilia (ew) Ana does more or less participate in this encounter the same way a dead person would. Her only contribution is to say "Please, sir, I want some more" in between rounds one and two. She doesn't actually use those words but she might as well have. Whatever.
  2. In second place: how do you feel about the conventions of sex scenes in romance novels? This scene also sticks closely to one convention in particular, which is kind of dumb and not very sexy. We will explore this in tedious detail later on, so don't worry! 
  3. We've seen CG tell Ana when to breathe, tell her when to eat, help her walk, and so on. In this chapter, he starts telling her when to have an orgasm, and she does, which is convenient. If only he'd known he had such power earlier, he maybe could've saved himself all the trouble of actually having sex with her. Since that was such a chore, and all. 
  4. This scene is filled with a lot of dumb, nonsense details. Drama in fiction (even in sex scenes!) is about the gap between the expected and the actual. It's about anticipation. There isn't any of that in this scene. It's just a bunch of sex stuff that happens. Yawn. As an experiment, try sitting and watching a video of two (or any number! I don't care!) people having sex with each other for, let's say, fifteen minutes, without skipping ahead. Whatever feelings you might have about watching people having sex, pro or con, I expect we can all agree that you sort of "get" whatever it is you're going to get out of it quite early on, after which it's just more of the same, and you're like, "Oh hey maybe somebody posted something new on Facebook!" and that's the end of that. That's kind of how I feel about this scene--it could use quite a bit of "less is more" in order to make its point. Not that it ought to be less explicit, necessarily. A few, well-chosen details are far more interesting than an excess of unsorted details. 
And now: the sex!

(Editor's note: Alden seriously let like, hours pass while he procrastinated from writing more of this.)

CG is great at romance: "'You are one brave young woman,' he whispers. 'I am in awe of you.'" This is a fun continuation of the trend where people are always telling us how great Ana is, even though EL never does anything to ever show us that Ana is anything but one of the absolute least-interesting people on earth. It's also a horrible threat: "You are so brave for going ahead with the stuff I'm going to do to you over the course of this novel and its sequels." (Editor's note: we haven't read that far ahead, so honestly, we're assuming that the sex is going to be pretty ordinary, but that there will be some spanking. Yawn.)

"Please, Ana, let me make love to you." I'm going to try to stop highlighting each and every instance where EL makes it clear that she thinks sex is a thing men do to women, rather than an experience people engage in together, but I have a really hard time letting these pass without remark, because it's pretty gross. 

They move into the bedroom, and, true to form, Ana takes a break to talk about CG's interior design choices. EL keeps wanting me to know what kind of furniture people have, and I keep being bored by it. 

Then, CG does the worst-ever striptease: "He removes his watch and places it on top of a chest of drawers that matches the bed, and removes his jacket, placing it on a chair." But what about the chair? Does it match other pieces of furniture??? TELL ME!!! "He steps out of his Converse shoes and reaches down and takes his socks off individually." But no mention of where he puts the shoes or the socks! But hey. CG is just a regular Joe! He takes his socks off one sock at a time like the rest of us! Question: have you ever taken off your socks off any way other than individually? Maybe. But if you did, you weren't standing up, which CG is, so of course he does it individually. 

Also: Chucks are not exactly shoes you can just step out of. They got all those laces and everything. Also: wearing Chucks is the one thing that CG has done so far in this entire novel that I can imagine a 27 year-old doing, and so it seems completely at odds with everything else we know about him. Whatever. Maybe Converse paid for some product placement. 

"Christian Grey's feet . . . wow . . . what is it about naked feet?" Okay, so I'm no expert here, or anywhere, really. But if there's one thing I know about women, it's that women love the sight of a man's naked feet. They really, really cannot get enough of men's feet, which is honestly kind of gross. I mean, give it a rest, ladies! We're people, not just feet! I wear Chucks, too, and I can't tell you how many times I've had to be all, "Ahem. My eyes are up here, lady," to some lady who's like, totally checking out my feet. Totally mentally taking off my socks individually. And Chucks, in particular, are good for leaving your feet sweaty and smelly, which is exactly why a woman like Ana can't get enough of CG's feet right after he's taken off his Chucks. So good job, EL! You got this one right! No question there! 

CG interrupts his erotic footwork to really set the mood: "I assume you're not on the pill." Yeah! Of course she isn't. But what if she were, brah? Go ahead and use a condom. You have a sex dungeon! People with sex dungeons always have to use condoms. It's one of the tradeoffs that come along with owning a sex dungeon. Look it up! 

At this point CG starts taking off Ana's clothes now that he's removed a few of his own, because sex with Ana is kind of like a plane crash, and you should attend to your own oxygen mask before assisting others who may need extra help. She is incapable of taking off her own clothes, or! perhaps doesn't know that you take your clothes off when you have sex? It seems entirely possible that she's not only managed to "avoid" sex but doesn't know how it works at all, and so part of why she's so intrigued by CG taking his socks off is due to the fact that she doesn't even know what parts he'll be using. 

She's turned on though. "My blood's pumping through my body." Good! If you notice that it's stopped, please dial 911. "Desire, thick and hot, pools in my belly." That's a gross sentence, right? That sounds kind of like food poisoning, right? At various points, I worry that EL is using "belly" as a synonym for "down there" and I find it way, way gross. Whatever. 

CG takes off Ana's jacket (not a coat! a jacket! see Chapter 1) and "He places it on the chair." I'm sorry but this is going to be a very, very long "summary." I don't even know why I keep using the word "summary," since I'm now devoting a whole paragraph to point out the simple fact that EL thought it was important to note precisely where CG decided to place the garments he removed from himself and Ana. I disagree with her opinion that this sort of detail is important, but then, EL and I disagree about quite a few things. 

Sometimes, CG follows a sexy line with a threat. 1: "Do you have any idea how much I want you, Ana Steele?" It's nice of him to acknowledge, finally, that she prefers to be called "Ana" and not "Anastasia." Great! This is the most human thing this guy has done all book. That would probably be a legitimately exciting thing to hear, I imagine. You know, if your name were Ana Steele. If you hear this and your name is anything other than Ana Steele, probably run away? 

But here's what he says next: "Do you have any idea what I'm going to do to you?" Ugh. On the one hand, no, probably not. All evidence is that she literally has no idea how any of this works, so maybe it's a legit question. But on the other hand, it's terrifying. It's some real, hardcore villain shit. And doesn't she get any say in the matter? No? CG acts as though Ana's general expression of consent to sex with him opens her up to any weird surprise. 

"The muscles in the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delicious fashion." Weird. Also, as a rule, one clenches one's own muscles; they tend to not do things on their own. Seek medical attention if you're having unexplained muscle spasms. Also, in Chapter 3 it seemed like maybe Ana was using the phrase dark, unexplored place to refer to her vagina, and this sentence just continues that weird trend. This phrasing sort of turns CG into a 19th century, pith-helmet wearing British colonist, which kind of totally makes sense so, sure. Fine. Carry on! 

They're making out for a while and it's fine or whatever. Who cares. But then periodically, EL's bad writing offers up some real confusionism. Take this phrase, for instance: "He holds me against his hips, and I feel his erection, which he languidly pushes into me." What! They aren't even undressed yet! It's particularly confusing since Ana starts the next paragraph by moaning. The first time I read this paragraph (And I've read it several times. What is wrong with my life? Something!) I was all like, damn! That was fast! But I guess it's just a poor choice of preposition. "Against" instead of "into" would've made this whole thing a lot better, but we established long ago that no editing was happening so I don't know why I'm trying to improve this terrible prose at this stage. 

It also took me several reads before I understood that CG hadn't removed Ana's jeans and then removed her shoes, which would be ridiculous and impossible. Instead, CG tugs down Ana's jeans until they're around her ankles, I guess, then pushes her back onto the bed, then takes off her shoes, then takes off her jeans the rest of the way, because why not, I guess. And he does all this, of course. Ana is trying to set some kind of world-record as least-engaged lover. 

"He leans forward, running his nose up the apex between my thighs. I feel him. There." Okay! It's been a while since I took geometry or whatever, but words mean specific things. An apex is a specific point. Also, it seems like she's talking about the space between her thighs. So where is his nose, exactly? Is his nose just enjoying her thigh-aura? Just chilling in the space between? Or what? And what about the end of this quotation? "I feel him. There." Well, logically, if we think of Ana's thighs as two intersecting lines, the apex of these two intersecting lines would be, well, it'd be her down there now, wouldn't it? So is she feeling him there because he literally is there? Or is he some other place, but it's all exciting or whatever, and so Ana feels him there even though he isn't quite there yet? Bad writing is not just unpleasant to read. It's also confusing!

Side discussion / apology / rationalization
I can't just copy Ana and use the word there every time I need to talk about her lady situation. I can't discuss EL's lack of specificity without, on occasion, needing to use greater specificity. So let me reword part of the previous paragraph for greater clarity, and to practice pretending like I possess any maturity. "Well, logically, if we think of Ana's thighs as two intersecting lines, the apex of these two intersecting lines would be her vulva, wouldn't it? So is she feeling him there because he literally is there?" Phew. I feel good about this. Well. I feel as good about this as I feel about any of this. See what I did there? Try to figure out what this means. It's fun to write like EL James! It makes words into a puzzle!

Side-side note: EL, for reasons unclear, only lets Ana uses language that is super-vague or highly specific. So later, we get a phrase like this: "He palms my clitoris" which could not be more direct, but whenever Ana is telling us how she feels, it's always there or something equally vague. EL, I suppose, is simply incapable of writing simultaneously about thought and action. Ana can tell us how she feels (vague) and she can tell us what's happening (specific, unless she screws it up and makes things all ambiguous) but Ana can't tell us how she feels about a thing that is happening. This is why Ana's feelings are all "down there" even though CG is capable of doing specific things to specific parts of her body. I think this is just bad writing, but as a bonus, it gives off the impression that CG is far more "in charge" of Ana's body than she is, even before she's ceded all authority to him. It's not like she's choosing to hand control off to CG. It's more like nobody was in charge. It's like there's a power vacuum in Ana's life! That's why someone needs to intervene! She's like one of those "tribal areas" we hear about! Send in the troops!

Where were we? Oh! More foot stuff! "Not taking his eyes off mine, again he runs his tongue along my instep and then his teeth. Shit. I groan . . . how can I feel this there?" Gross. If you'll recall, Ana worked all day at a hardware store. And is now getting her feet licked. Also, glad she isn't ticklish, at all! If CG licked my foot he'd end up getting kicked in the face, because I'm ticklish and also because I'd really like to kick him in the face, and if his face were already right next to my foot, that'd be a pretty good opportunity. 

Ana's jeans are still around her ankles at this point, which is dumb, but then he finally takes them off. Also, this is such a talkie sex scene. One-sided, of course. CG does all the talking, all the removing of clothes, all the moving, all the everything. "You're very beautiful, Anastasia Steele. I can't wait to be inside you." Me: rolling eyes. 

And then here's the next thing he says: "Show me how you pleasure yourself." We learn now that Ana doesn't masturbate, which I guess we already knew if we cared enough to think about it at all. But more important, srsly CG? You literally haven't even been naked together yet. This isn't like, first-sexual-encounter type of stuff, is it? 

Moving on from that dead end, we hear CG tell Ana to "Keep still" for the first time, but not the last time! "We're going to have to work on keeping you still, baby." This is dumb as hell, because Ana literally could not be more still unless she were to stop breathing again, which she does periodically, so I guess maybe that's what CG wants? She hasn't done anything to remove any of her clothes or any of CG's. She's let him guide her to the bed, and then she's just been lying on the bed. She hasn't moved at all. Is that hot to anyone? I guess it is, but it's doing nothing at all for me. 

Next, CG plays with Ana's nipples, which results in her first-ever orgasm. I'm just going to let you think about that for a minute. That's a thing that happens to Ana. It's believable, is what I like about it. Also, Ana's orgasms are always preceded immediately by CG telling her to have an orgasm. Gentlemen, take notes! Is your technique lacking? Well then! Perhaps it's timed you took a page from the Christian Grey playbook and simply told your partner to experience orgasm. Tell me if it works!

Here's a fun thought Ana has after CG tells her to have an orgasm and she obeys: "Now I know what all the fuss is about." Until this point she was all like <seinfeld voice> What is the deal with sex?</seinfeld voice> but seriously, it's a weird thing to say. It's one of the many statements Ana makes throughout this book that make her seem like an alien in disguise, sent to understand human feelings.

Here's a patronizing thing CG says, in which the word "that" stands for "enjoying sex": "You're going to have to learn to control that, and it's going to be so much fun teaching you how." Seems like a reasonable goal for your shared sex life--figuring out how to get less out of it.

Let's compare two cuttings against each other that appear on the same page. (116 for those of you consulting your own copy at home.)
  1. His hand moves down my waist, to my hips, and then cups me, intimately . . . Jeez. His finger slips through the fine lace and slowly circles around me--there.
  2. He thrusts his finger inside me, and I cry out as he does it again and again. He palms my clitoris, and I cry out once more. 
I'm just having a difficult time squaring "there" with "palms my clitoris." Right? Like, how is this all the same book? First, a pair of sentences that barely hold together as language, and then a totally unadorned, "Just the facts, ma'am" take on things a moment later. 

Also: what is wrong with her underwear? "His finger slips through the fine lace." Uhm. Usually if you're talking about fabric being "fine" you're talking about a tight weave, which suggests smaller holes. So does CG's finger have, like,  panty-piercing-power? Did he straight-up rip her flimsy underwear? Or, since this is the stuff he bought her, did he buy her men's panties? You know--the ones with the quickie flap? Like we all wear from time to time, right guys? Right? But seriously: this underwear is mysterious!

Then CG puts on a condom and this gross thing happens: 

"Don't worry," he breathes, his eyes on mine. "You expand, too."

Oh, puke. This is like, one step away from him literally explaining to Ana where he plans to stick Christian Jr. This scene is like some sex ed class gone horribly wrong, and I can barely stand it. Every time I read a paragraph and start to feel like, "Oh, okay. I can see how people might like this," EL follows it with some atrocity. Something confusing, or something gag-inducing. "You expand, too." Ugh. Tell me more, Professor! Gross. 

Hey and remember the other week when I flipped out over EL's use of the word "breathes" in a speaker tag? Here it is again! And here's me flipping out again! And now I have even more reason for it--who knows what connotations we're meant to take from "breathes." Last time, it seemed like EL wanted us to mean that CG was speaking in a scary, angry-guy whisper. So now what does it mean? Something different, I expect, but what? Just "quiet"? That's the problem with stupid word choices--they might sound neat or artsy or something, but if readers can't figure out what you're trying to express, you've chosen poorly. 

Also, we learn that CG kept his shirt on, which is the first hint that he's a never-nude, which is my favorite part of this stupid book. Time for me to cash in on Arrested Development mania!

"Let go, baby," he murmurs.
His never-nudiness will be important later, because there's all this stuff about how CG is psychologically damaged (duh!) and that's why he wants to dominate Ana. On the one hand, yeah, dude is a total piece of work and needs some manner of professional help. On the other hand, two people can, of course, enter into a consensual, mutually-fulfilling kinky relationship if that's what they're into. And they don't need anyone to come "cure" them. But, CG doesn't take his shirt off, which is the first hint that Ana is going to get to "cure" him, rather than simply stick him with a restraining order. This is our first hint that the arc of this story is not going to be Ana finding that she enjoys CG's lifestyle, but rather Ana "converting" CG.

Once Ana is reassured that CG's penis will fit inside her, Ana immediately suffers the sort of virgin-related injury that happens to all women in every romance novel ever: "'Argh!' I cry as I feel a weird pinching sensation deep inside me as he rips through my virginity. He stills, gazing down at me, his eyes bright with ecstatic triumph."

So, that happens. Now, we all know that the very notion of "virginity" is about men policing women's bodies, right? Women aren't DVDs. There isn't like, a factory sticker that a man has to remove before he can take the disk out and insert it into the player. (Editor's note: This weird anti-analogy is actually kind of great, right?) 

. . . except for in romance novels. I kind of enjoy EL's phrasing here, because it's strangely honest.  What is CG ripping through? Ana's "virginity" which is basically metaphorical, so why not. Mr. Grey, tear down this metaphor! I don't care. Of course, I can only assume that first sexual encounters vary widely amongst women, but "romance" fiction is pretty locked into one version: "It was pretty good, and then it hurt, but like in a good way, and then I liked it again." Convenient! I feel like there's more to say about this, but I'm getting really, really sick of this chapter / book so just note that I hate this book for doing that dumb thing that all romance books do.

(Editor's note: This takes place on page 117. 117 is the number of adult film stars with the last name "Steele" according to search results at Adult Film Database. So that's fun!)

So what was CG's "ecstatic triumph" about? Pretty gross, coming, as it does, right after the ripping. But then he plays dumb. "You're so tight. You okay?"

Fortunately, Ana is having a great time: "He stays still, letting me acclimatize to the intrusive, overwhelming feeling of him inside me." Lemme just go sit on my fainting couch because it's getting hot in here!

"I'm going to move, baby," is what CG says next and that's like, a real dumb thing to say, but it's his go-to line, pre-thrust. The young lovers then bore me by literally discussing each thrust for the next several lines. It also takes several paragraphs for Ana to remember to remind us that she's enjoying any of this. I mean, sure, intrusive and overwhelming? That does sound pretty great, sure. But eventually, Ana does remind us that she is, indeed, not merely miserable.

And honestly, we get a longish paragraph of them doing sex, and it's not so bad. The prose is pretty overwrought, but it's the kind of paragraph that I can read and be like, "Hey, not doing it for me, but sure, I get it, if this is what you like." But of course, it's immediately followed by a terrible paragraph, and I'm miserable again.

"Come for me, Ana," he whispers breathlessly, and I unravel at is words, exploding around him as I climax and splinter into a million pieces underneath him. And as he comes, he calls out my name, thrusting hard, then stilling as he empties himself into me.

For reals? For serious? 1) I know I've already complained in great detail about how Ana has orgasms when CG tells her too but I'm not going to get tired of complaining about it because I hate it so thoroughly. 2) CG is wearing a condom, we've established, so I really dunno about the phrase "empties himself into me." I mean, I know that it's a phrase I hate. I just don't know why it's in this book.

EL can't decide if any of this hurts Ana or not. Here's her reaction when CG pulls out: "'Ooh.' I wince at the unfamiliarity." What do you think? Is that supposed to signify pain? It seems like it, but Ana doesn't spend any time thinking about it at all, so it's difficult to say. They have a nice moment together, which EL ruins with another terrible paragraph. This one I'll only quote in part:

"Now I know what all the fuss is about. Two orgasms . . . coming apart at the seams, like the spin cycle on a washing machine, wow." 

Really, EL? She uses this same sentence, "Now I know what all the fuss is about," on page 116 and then 118. This is the worst bit of lazy cliche-recycling since she doubled up on "Cheshire cat grin" a few chapters ago. But "coming apart at the seams, like the spin cycle on a washing machine, wow"? That's just the worst. The worst, worst, worst. Has Ana just never done laundry? Is that the problem here? OH NO! It rhymes. Now I have to write it out as though this paragraph were the worst poem ever written. I'm sorry, poets, but it just isn't fair that this book assault fiction alone. It's terribleness is too great to be contained by a single genre!

now i know what all the fuss is about
        by ana steele

i stretch out
beside him feeling
loose limbed my
bones like jelly but
      i'm relaxed

deeply relaxed
i grin at him i
can't stop grinning
       now i know what all the fuss is about

two orgasms coming
apart at the seams like
the spin cycle on a washing
       machine wow

i had no idea what
my body was capable of
could be wound so tightly and
released so violently so
     gratifyingly the pleasure

was indescribable

Actually, I maybe just improved it? I honestly can't tell anymore. This whole thing is just making me come part at the seams like the spin cycle on a washing machine. Also, it's on permanent press! So that's even spinnier, right? Sorry--I really just use the regular settings, so I don't know what "permanent press" means or whether that's a thing on washers or dryers because I forget and my research is as lazy as EL's. (Editor's note: just did laundry, and, yeah, "permanent press" is a dryer thing.)

Ana asks to do it again, which is literally the only bit of initiative she takes in this scene. This time, though, CG makes her roll over, insuring that, no matter how involved she seemed for round one, she'll be even less active for round two.

"'Would you now, Miss Steele?' he murmurs dryly." I don't really have anything to say about that. It's just that I'm sort of doing this whole "shitty prose scavenger hunt" and I've been waiting for someone to murmur dryly. It was kind of inevitable, since almost everything anyone says is murmured and dryly is the other main way people communicate, so eventually these two words were bound to be paired together. A fun trick is feeding a particularly obnoxious pairing of words into google, bracketed in quotation marks so you'll only get results in which the words appear consecutively. Nearly all the results for "murmurs dryly" are 50 Shades results, because most people are not so terrible at writing.

So, they get ready to have sex again, which makes sense, because like all men, CG requires no rest whatsoever in between ejaculations. Because CG is a terrifying, dangerous man, Ana wonders to herself what he has in mind instead of asking him what he's doing.

Here's another paragraph, which I'm including because I need you to suffer with me:

"I'm going to take you from behind, Anastasia," he murmurs, and with his other hand, he grasps my hair at the nape in a fist and pulls gently, holding me in place. I cannot move my head. I am pinioned beneath him, helpless. 

For those of you keeping tack at home, that's three murmurs and two whispers on this page alone. I'm going to have to make up a new swear again, this time with "murmur" which is going to be hard because the word "murmur" is so soft that it really doesn't feel very satisfying as a curse, but I'll try to figure out how to work it into one. So he's murmuring. There's something unsettling to me about the verb "to take" but whatever. I've been unsettled basically this whole process, so why change now?

Most important, though, is the fact that CG is trapping Ana while she's already effectively immobile. What's the point, exactly? She's essentially already submitted as much as she can. She wasn't moving anywhere.

Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. -Rosa Luxemburg

Makes you think, right? No, seriously--this is a real question I'm having. Ana is so yielding, so passive, so still, that I wonder whether or not there's any point to all of CG's rules and paperwork or whatever. Ana has given every indication that she'll just do whatever CG says, which is why I hate both of them.

"Reflexively, my hips start to circle, mirroring his hand, as excruciating pleasure spikes through my blood like adrenaline." Tell me if you can do anything with the last part of that sentence, because I cannot. Anyway, she moves a little bit, and CG is all like, "Keep still" because anybody who's ever been intimate with anybody else knows full well that the worst thing that can happen in bed is when, like, you're touching someone, and that someone expresses enjoyment by moving in such a way as to emphasize your touch. That's the worst, right? I believe what we all want is someone who's going to act super bored and then be like, "More, please," at the end.

"Keep still," he orders, his voice soft but urgent, and slowly he inserts his thumb inside me, rotating it around and around, stroking the front wall of my vagina.

Well. Sorry-ish to burden you with that, but come on. There's something ridiculous about Ana telling us this after she's said "down there" so many times.

Now, I know I'm being unfair, obviously. Almost any sex scene will seem ridiculous if you pick it apart like this. So let me give you three full paragraphs, uninterrupted by my snark:

"Open your mouth," he commands, and thrusts his thumb into my mouth. My eyes fly open, blinking wildly.

"See how you taste," he breathes against my ear. "Suck me, baby." His thumb presses on my tongue, and my mouth closes around him, sucking wildly. I taste the saltiness on his thumb and the faint metallic tang of blood. Holy fuck. This is wrong, but holy hell is it erotic. 

"I want to fuck your mouth, Anastasia, and I will soon," his voice is hoarse, raw, his breathing more disjointed.

See? I can be fair! There you go! Unedited. Just kidding--I know full well I'm still not being fair. But this is terrible, and even in the context of the whole book, it still seems pretty terrible. Content aside, just look at word choice for a moment. EL is working with such a limited vocabulary. Look how she uses "mouth" again and again. Four times in three paragraphs. You could easily swap out the first three instances. Have him say something different, like maybe just "Open up." Swap "into my mouth" for "between my teeth." And then swap "mouth closes" for "lips close." And she's blinking wildly, and then sucking wildly. Maybe she could suck some other way? "Hard" for instance. (Editor's note: this book sucks hard! Ha!) What I'm saying is not that EL needs complicated words. She could get by simply by alternating simple words in such a way as to keep the reader from noticing how mutterblushing repetitive she's being.

Also, EL really should let me explain to her how speaker tags work, because she just doesn't do it right. If you end a section of quoted speech with a comma, you've got to have a speech verb!

"It's not complicated," he says.
"Unless you're an idiot." He sounds impatient, like he's tired of this book and knows he still has four hundred mutterblushing pages to read.

I suppose now we should talk about the actual action of this scene and not just the word choice. I do hate it, I will say. Just so we're clear. I don't want to dwell on it because we're already on track to hit ten thousand words for this chapter "summary" and that is kind of outrageous. (Editor's note: Alden is a huge exaggerator. This thing is only eight thousand words.) But I will note first that blood is really only sexy if you're a vampire, and no one is, because vampires aren't real. And also CG is already breaking his "hard limits" from his sex contract by making Ana taste the blood seeping from her wounded vagina. I'm literally cringing while I type this! It pains me to type this shit but it's true! I'm just rewording what's in the book already!

Next, I should mention that CG, like many terrible people, does not take his own advice when he tells Ana, "See how you taste." There wasn't some part where he went down on her that I didn't tell you about. I'm not hiding anything from you! Somehow, I find that as repulsive as it is for CG to stick his bloody thumb into Ana's mouth, the fact that he hasn't done anything of note with his own mouth makes the whole scene even worse, and makes me hate him even more. Ana is into it, I guess. But srsly. Ew.

That was pretty bad, right? Let's move onto the next terrible part. I'll let you decide which is worse. So, they're fucking again. CG can't shut up. He's on top of her. Making sure she doesn't move, because sex is just like taking x-rays. Moving totally ruins it!

"I want you sore, baby," he murmurs, and he continues his sweet, leisurely torment, backward, forward. "Every time you move tomorrow, I want you to be reminded that I've been here. Only me. You are mine."

So. Here's a thought that I have about all this: maybe say the opposite? Maybe something more like, "I want you to feel nice, baby." Something more along those lines, right? Would that maybe be a better thing to say? I can't put myself in Ana's place, exactly, but I will say that if, in an intimate moment, I heard someone murmur, "I wanna make your dick hurt," I just don't feel like that would do it for me, you know? I feel like instead of making me want to have more sex, that might make me want to find a different place to be. No judgment! I'm simply saying that for me, "sore" is not what I'm going for.

Fortunately for Ana, CG tells her to have another orgasm, so she does, and then falls asleep.

Lucky you, though, that's not the end of our chapter! Pretty great, right? I bet you're pretty excited about how there's still more of this for you to read! I know I'm excited that there's more of this for me to write about! Just kidding. I'm depressed about how the next chapter is just the same thing again, only CG's mom shows up at the end. (Not joking! Wish I were!)

This is the part where Ana wakes up in the middle of the night and CG is playing the piano because he has so many feelings or whatever. "I hear music. The lilting notes of the piano, a sad, sweet lament. Bach, I think, but I'm not sure." EL likes to switching things up--usually Ana doesn't know anything about anything, but on occasion, Ana knows about things that she seems like she ought not to. EL comes off as being knowledgeable about classical music, but I expect that's just because I don't know anything about classical music. More likely all the pieces that come up in this book are on some "Romantic Classics" CD that EL got in a cereal box.

Rather than getting dressed like a regular person, Ana wraps herself up in a blanket and walks to where CG is playing the piano. "He sits naked, his body bathed in the warm light cast by a solitary freestanding lamp beside the piano. With the rest of the large room in darkness, it's like he's in his own isolated little pool of light, untouchable . . . lonely, in a bubble."

Awwwwww! He's sad! Maybe he should stop being such an asshole all the time? I love how Ana says it's "like he's in his own isolated pool of light" when it seems like he is quite literally in an isolated pool of light. Whatever. Mostly I just hate this image because it's so bland and obvious. He's feeling feelings! 

They talk about music for a minute because who cares, and CG is all bossy about how Ana needs to go back to bed. He does this, I presume, because this is the sort of thing that parents tell toddlers, and he treats her like a toddler. (Editor's note: except for when they're having sex, obviously.) 

And then there's blood on the sheets. Much to my surprise, CG responds to the sight quite tenderly. He's worried about Ana and apologetic and more than a little regretful. Just kidding! He just says, "Well that's going to give Mrs. Jones something to think about," which should make Ana worry that CG has a Patrick Bateman-style arrangement where he has people who clean up murders for him. I might not have mentioned Mrs. Jones. She's one of CG's many live-in assistant types.

CG changes the subject by freaking out when Ana touches his chest, further proof that he has some kind of weird thing about his chest that we'll learn all about. Just as the first plot wears off (will they or won't they? of course they will) this new, even less interesting one arrives to take over: what is it that made him kinky, since EL would have us believe that it must be the result of some disease, rather than just a thing he's into. Whatever. This is why EL can't serve as the standard-bearer for BDSM. She thinks it's a disease that people get.

This is literally the last line of this chapter: "Christian Grey has a sad side."

You know what would make it better? It would be better if the last sentence were, instead, "Christian Grey haz a sad."

The end of this chapter really hits me right in the feels, guys. 

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