Tuesday, June 25, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 9

Ana and Christian have some more sex and also breakfast and also Christian's mom shows up. 

Warnings: This is just like the previous chapter, only less so, and with breakfast. Also, while Ana and Christian do have consensual sex, Christian says things periodically that can only be interpreted as rape threats. 

It's taking a lot longer than I expected to get offered a job editing romance novels, you know, considering how obvious it is that I'd be super good at it. Which means I have get to keep writing these! So that's really a win-win-win. So we all have something to be happy about!

Some thoughts on Domination / Submission and Reader Expectations:

One thing that's annoyed me about this mess from the beginning is the fact that Ana and CG are both exactly the same in real life as they are in the bedroom.  And whatever--maybe that's realistic. I don't know, nor do I particularly care. But wouldn't this book be way more interesting if CG weren't a demanding asshole literally all the time? If there were some moments, sometimes, when he wasn't threatening to beat anyone?

When I rewrite this novel (which I pretty much think maybe I should? At this point I expect I could do it in 200 pages instead of 500. And 200 might be generous.) I'm going to establish a gap between CG's public person and his private persona. Here are two angles, both of which I think would be upgrades:

  1. CG is still a demanding billionaire who orders people around and so on. But, secretly he wants a a lover he can submit to when nobody else is watching. Wouldn't it be way more interesting if we saw CG turn into a squirming pile of insecurity and desperation whenever he's alone with Ana? And then the whole book is about him convincing Ana to use the sex dungeon stuff on him? And then she'd grow through this transformative arc from boring, naive college student to secret dominatrix? That would be great! I mean, at least better!
  2. CG is a broke-ass chump living in his parents' basement and also he works at a cafe and plays ultimate frisbee and has a terrible band and is a shy loser. On the outside, I mean! But then he also wants to do all the sex contract stuff and talks to Ana as though he were a British vampire. 
Option 1 is far more appealing to me, personally, even though Option 2 is funnier. If their roles were reversed in the bedroom (and the elevator and the sex dungeon and wherever else) CG's crazier stunts would still come off as still stalkery, but his insecurities would be closer to the surface. He'd be more sympathetic when he chases Ana to her mother's house in Georgia (!) later on, for instance. Some of the more troubling things we're going to learn about CG's past would, I think, feel more believable if he wanted to get flogged by Ana rather than flog her. Mostly, though, I think this book would be so, so much better if Ana had something to offer CG other than holding still and having orgasms on command. 

Option 2 I could try to pitch to Seth Rogen, right? Option 2 is totally a serviceable summer comedy. Do you think the CG character should actually be a vampire, in the movie? Is that better? Or is it too obvious? Let me know thanks!

Ugh now I gotta tell you about all the sex these people are having again. The things I do for you, internet! For the literally several of you who look forward to these essays every Tuesday morning!

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. 
  8. Ana and Christian have sex and later, when Ana wakes up, CG is playing a piano because he has a case of the feels.
Ana wakes up in CG's room and starts to bore us straightaway. "It's a beautiful May morning, Seattle at my feet. Wow, what a view. Beside me, Christian Grey is fast asleep. Wow, what a view." Clever! She talked about one thing, and then a different thing. Then she talks about how CG looks like a little kid but like, in a sexy way. (No pedo!) "It's tempting to reach out and touch him, but like a small child, he's so lovely when he's asleep." I'm not sure which sleeping kids Ana is spying on. Also, I think I heard that there's lots of people watching people sleep in Twilight so this is probably because of that? Whatever.

"I could gaze at him all day, but I have needs--bathroom needs." There's only one way to interpret this sentence, right? The least sexy way imaginable! Good one, EL! Things are moving along nicely. Ana puts on CG's shirt and detours into a closet first and then into the bathroom which has--get this!--two sinks, which is more than the usual number of sinks! "Given he doesn't sleep with anyone, one of them can't have been used." True! There's no possible way that CG ever switched from one sink to the other! 

We never quite learn about Ana's bathroom needs, which is good because hard limits! Instead she's just thinking about nothing. "I feel a little sore, if I'm honest, and my muscles--jeez, it's like I've never done any exercise in my life." Well, since you were wounded and bleeding, the soreness makes some sense. But I like that Ana considers their sexy-time "exercise" since the whole thing was all about how she should never move at all ever. What's that kind of exercise where you don't move at all? (Editor's note: that's the kind Alden does. Not the sex part. The not moving at all part.)

There's a lot of thinking about things in the pages before CG wakes up and they start doing sex stuff, and it's so, so boring. Here's a sentence that I don't understand: "Honestly, fancy falling for a man who's beyond beautiful, richer than Croesus, and has a Red Room of Pain waiting for me." See, it sounds like Ana's asking the reader to imagine what it would be like to find oneself in her situation, particularly if we swap out the confusing Britishism "fancy" for "imagine." This is funny, because isn't this whole dumb book an opportunity for the reader to imagine experiencing these events? Isn't that the whole point of literature? This goes all the way back to The Odyssey when Odysseus is all like, "Honestly, fancy fighting a war for ten years, and then trying to get back home and that takes another ten years!" But then Ana moves from the implied "you" to "me" and the whole thing just collapses into a pile of nonsense. So, yeah. You tell me!

Ana notes twice on page 126 alone that she's going to need to decide what she thinks. She's thinking about thinking. Conflict drives narrative. Thinking about stuff is a time waster. Thinking about thinking is the most useless thing a character can do in a book. 

Ana puts her hair in pigtails. This is, I guess, the "bathroom need" she was worried about earlier. At this point we are introduced to the phrase "just-fucked hair" and it burns my eyeballs worse than anything in this book since "laters, baby." "Just-fucked hair doesn't suit me." It's weird, because I don't remember CG fucking Ana's hair and also, how? Anyway, the pigtails: "The more girly I look perhaps the safer I'll be from Blubeard!"

You guys know about Blubeard, right? The dude in the folktale who has a secret room where he keeps the bodies of his murdered wives, right? The moment you start comparing the dude you woke up with to Bluebeard is probably the moment you should leave! 

But instead, Ana decides to dance around the kitchen, where she cooks breakfast whilst listening to her Ipod. Page 127 is just a bunch of wasted space while we wait for breakfast to cook and for Bluebeard to wake up and murder her. The only song that Ana mentions is "Misfit" by Amy Studt, which I listened to for research. Or, at least, I listened to one minute of it. It's a good match for this book in that song-wise, it's super terrible. 

I'm having that problem where I just hate this book too much to talk about it very much, you know? CG shows up, and we get this dialogue, which I guess we're supposed to think is cute and clever? Here's the first part of their conversation, dialogue only:
  • Good morning, Miss Steele. You're very energetic this morning.
  • I-I slept well.
  • I can't imagine why. So did I after I came back to bed.
  • Are you hungry?
  • Very.
  • Pancakes, bacon, and eggs?
  • Sounds great.
  • I don't know where you keep your placemats.
  • I'll do that. You cook. Would you like me to put some music on so you can continue your . . . er . . . dancing? Please, don't stop on my account. It's very entertaining. 
Question: am I wrong in thinking that CG's arrival is kind of similar to that part in The Terminator where Linda Hamilton's roommate gets killed because she's dancing to her music or whatever? This chapter is kind of like that, in the way that CG sneaks in and Ana doesn't notice. Only instead of there being a murder, we just have this terrible, terrible dialogue that makes a reader yearn for the sophistication of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Look how awkward that first line is! Starting and ending with "morning" like that? I guess at this point I know better than to complain about the lack of editing, but I'll say this anyway: this book could use some editing. I also enjoy how quickly CG moves from lazy sarcasm -- "I can't imagine why." -- to total agreement -- "So did I after I came back to bed." I think this is a thing that happens when writers don't understand jokes. They just use sarcasm instead and try to be "quippy" and it always sounds contrived. 

I have a very hard time imagining CG speaking in anything but the most sarcastic possible voice. He sounds, in my head, like a British version of this guy:

Here's where things get real terrible again: 

He gently pulls at my pigtails. 
"Love these," he whispers. "They won't protect you." Hmm, Bluebeard. . . 
"How would you like your eggs?" I ask tartly. He smiles.
"Thoroughly whisked and beaten." He smirks.

Groan. Okay, let's break this little section down. Let's start with the worst thing, which is that CG threatens to rape Ana. This is something that he's going to do fairly regularly from here on out, since, you know, he's got no reason to be a gentleman anymore. (Pretend he was ever anything but a total asshole.) And Ana's response is so typically vague. I have no idea how we're supposed to interpret "Hmm, Bluebeard," but that's all we get. Oh, that, and she asks about breakfast "tartly." If this asshole is going to threaten to rape me, well, I'll just ask him how he wants his breakfast cooked in an unpleasant manner! That'll teach him a lesson! 

No, but seriously: if CG is going to say something like this, we really need Ana's reaction. It's her reaction that determines context. The same dialogue can be playful or terrifying, depending on tone, but since Ana's reaction is to remind us of a legendary murderer, it ends up coming across as scary instead of sexy. 

What's fun is that by the time CG says he'd like his eggs "whisked and beaten" Ana has already been whisking them, so it's kind of a dumb question. I mean, unless she's making omelets? And wants to know what to cook with the eggs that she's already scrambled? Also, saying he wants his eggs whisked and beaten is a combination stupid joke / annoying Britishism. In America, as you well know, we might whisk or beat eggs in preparation for baking something, but for breakfast, our eggs are goddammed scrambled. If you use any other term for evenly mixing yolks and whites with a whisk, you probably hate America and are basically spitting on the faces of our troops, who love freedom, apple pie, and scrambled eggs. 

I also just hate that Ana is cooking eggs, bacon, and pancakes. First of all, nobody does that. That's three breakfast items, and unless it's like, what, National Brunch Day or something, we're talking two breakfast items max. I also just hate that she's so good at cooking. This is literally the only area in which Ana has demonstrated any actual knowledge--cooking breakfast for her new boyfriend. Why wouldn't it be anything else? Why couldn't she actually be good at her hardware store job? Or smart at computers? Or anything that wasn't just so, so stay-at-home mom? The more this "edgy" book conforms to the oldest, most rigid ideas about boy stuff and girl stuff, the more it angers me. 

Ana considers all this fun banter playful and states that CG's "hard to stay mad at." Agree to disagree! I've been mad at this mutterblusher since the first time he showed up.

They sit down to eat breakfast, but before they eat anything we get to talk more about Ana's sore vagina. "I climb up and wince slightly as I sit down." Fun! CG inquires as to how she's doing, not because he feels bad about making her bleed and all that stuff, but because he wants to put his down-there into her down-there, and this book is great at setting up sex scenes in the least sexy ways imaginable. "I wondered if we should continue your basic training." Basic training! CG has a way of making sex with him sound like something out of Full Metal Jacket

Also, we get some more shit about how Ana needs to eat. She has this thing where whenever she gets horny, she she doesn't want to eat anymore. I guess Christian should just turn down the charm if he wants her to clean her plate! Groan. 

They discuss the rest of their morning sex plans like they're planning some yard work. "Well, as you're sore, I thought we could stick to oral skills."

I know that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is no British vampire, but you get the idea. The idea being that I like to distract myself from the actual writing of these essays by googling tangentially-related images and videos. I do it after pretty much each completed paragraph. It's kind of a reward system. 

After the phrase "oral skills" we get a page or so of nothing, and then some fighting over food again. I really hate CG's constant food lectures, but Ana does kind of baffle me in this instance. Just a couple pages ago she was the hungriest. She was cooking pancakes! and bacon! and eggs! And now she's all like, meh. I mean, eat what you want to eat, Ana. But you're now giving me the impression that 1) maybe I should entertain the theory that this whole thing is about anorexia and 2) that Ana is maybe just the sort of small child who's incapable of judging how much food will satiate her hunger. This is a basic skill that most of us learned at a young age, but there are a lot of basic skills that Ana lacks that other people picked up at young ages, so maybe this is just one of those cases where the problem is simply that our protagonist is really not smart. 

Kate calls Ana, and Ana gets her off the phone as quickly as she can. Ana is one of those unfortunate people who happens to hate their best friend. That's a thing, right? No? Because Ana never has anything but hostility toward Kate, even when Kate is trying to do something like, say, confirm that Ana wasn't murdered. And she wants to know about Ana and CG's sexy times. And Ana "can't tell her because [Ana's] signed a--what was it called? NDA." 

Later, I hope to bring in a lawyer as guest commentator to address some of the fake-legal questions of their fake contracts. But as a non-lawyer, I'm going to go ahead and suggest this: regardless of what she's signed or not signed, CG's lawyers would have a very difficult time suing Ana for telling Kate about having sex with CG. Whatever.

The happy couple go on to have an argument about whether or not it's okay for Ana to discuss sex with Kate, and CG says "no." Just a little advice: hey so if anybody ever tries to declare rules about whom you can talk to, run away! Exception: if you are a small, wealthy child, and your parents are like, "Hey, there's this dude who lives in the Escala Building with us, only one floor up? And he flies a helicopter and has a sex dungeon? You should never, ever talk to him." That's one case where, yeah, it might be appropriate for a person to tell another person not to talk to certain people. But that's an adult trying to look after the safety of a child. And here, once again, CG treats Ana like a child. 

Ana lets this argument drop without any real resolution because CG is all like, "Let's do more sex!" Here's how he rates their previous efforts: "I've never had vanilla sex before. There's a lot to be said for it." Now, we have no idea what CG means by "vanilla" but yeah I guess that at least the mechanics of their first encounter were pretty ordinary, except for the "suck my bloody thumb!" part and also the part where there was blood. I'm trying to figure out a better dessert analogy--what's a dessert where there are two flavors, and one just lies there doing nothing, and the other flavor is a huge asshole? If Christian Grey were an ice cream flavor, he'd be pralines and dick. (References!)

But also, this is foreshadowing about how CG has a secret, messed-up upbringing that we're sure to learn about later even if we don't care at all. (Editor's note: I don't care at all.) His first time was less pleasant. Yawn. But before that, bath time! "My heart leaps and desire pools way down low . . . way down there." No, I'm never going to stop being annoyed when something happens down there

(Editor's note: you can just show yourself out at this point if you don't want to read about them doing sex again.) 

"I take his hand, and he bids me to step into the bath while I am still wearing his shirt. I'll have to get used to it if I'm going to take him up on his outrageous offer." This is fun, because it makes it sound like CG is all like, "Hey! Be sure to keep my shirt on while you get into the bath!" When really he probably just, you know, "quirked" his eyebrow toward the water, and assumed that Ana would go ahead and take off the shirt herself before getting in. But you can't make that kind of assumption with Anastasia Steele! 

Also, I like how Ana says she'll have to get used to getting bossed around "if." We all know she's all-but accepted, and also CG has literally done nothing but boss her around the whole time they've known each other. Granted, that's only been two weeks, but still. Don't pretend like CG bossing you around is a new thing! It's the oldest thing in the world. 

I'm so sick of Ana and her lip-biting! Seriously, it's the worst. Let's see if we can get a list going of all the tics that are making this book unreadable for me:

  1. Ana biting her lip
  2. Ana blushing / flushing
  3. Murmurs
  4. Mutters
  5. Dryly
There are lots more, of course, but those are the ones that are literally on every page. If I had a staff of researchers, I'd have them calculate the average number of these actions / words appear on any given page. It's probably between 2 and 3, meaning that while we usually don't get all 5 at once, we usually get a combination of a few. Let me just look at the pages 132 and 133 because they're open in front of me, and do some quick math:

Page 132: flush, murmur, murmurs.

Page 133: lip, mutter, flush. 

I know that it's unfair to use these pages as data points, since they're the pages that inspired this calculation, but whatever. It's not fair that this book should be the most popular book in the world, and yet use such an embarrassing, repetitive vocabulary. You know how The Cat in the Hat was written as a fun way to acclimate readers to a relatively short list of words? This book is basically written at a fifth-grade level, but with all this sex and abuse-disguised-as-romance. In other words, not recommended for fifth graders, despite how easy it is to read. (Editor's note: in other, other words, not recommended for anyone ever.) 

Yeah so, the lip-biting: 

"I know that lip is delicious, I can attest to that, but will you stop biting it?" he says through clenched teeth. "Your chewing it makes me want to fuck you, and you're sore, okay?"

Groan. It's like CG learned nothing at all from SlutWalk! Seriously, though, CG is doing that thing where women get told they were being too sexy and that's why they got assaulted. I like how he's basically admitting that, even though he's supposed to be the "boss" in his sex fantasies, he has no control over his own impulses. Probably not the kind of person you should trust in the sort of relationship that requires extreme amounts of trust, Ana! Just a thought! 

Continuing with this scene exactly where we left off:

I gasp, automatically unlocking my lip, shocked.
"Yeah," he challenges. "Get the picture?" He glares at me. I nod frantically. I had no idea I could affect him so.
"Good." He reaches forward and takes my Ipod out of the breast pocket, and he puts it by the sink. 
"Water and Ipods--not a clever combination," he mutters. 

I want to make it clear that I didn't cut anything, so that you could agree with me that CG saying, "Yeah. Get the picture?" is a weird thing to say. Also, it's just another threat, right? The "picture" that Ana gets is of a dangerous sociopath who is, at any moment, ready to rape her. Her response is so sad to me: "I had no idea I could affect him so." She makes his threat about her. Pretty sure that's actually a problem that CG needs to deal with himself, maybe at some type of rich person rehab clinic or whatever. 

I am the one going around and writing Ipod that way, with the standard capitalization of proper nouns in English, rather than the stupid way Apple does it. You're in charge of a lot of stuff, Apple! But not the English language! We have a Queen for that, thank you very much? (That's how it works, right?)

But I included the end of this so we could all share in CG lecturing Ana about how she ought not drop her Ipod in the tub. Once again, EL keeps track of a dumb little detail that no one else was paying any attention to, for no reason. When last we heard of the Ipod, Ana was taking out her earbuds after being startled by CG sneaking into the kitchen, vampire-like. In other words, literally no one reading the book was like, "Wait, where did her Ipod go??" Maybe Ana left it in the kitchen! Maybe any number of things happened. Would've been so easy for EL to just drop it, but instead, she gives CG another opportunity to treat Ana like a toddler. Also, this strikes me as a specifically British use of "clever." Whatever. Glad that Ipod is safe! Not like Ana is sleeping with billionaire who could buy her a billion new Ipods if one got wet! 

So, Ana gets in the bath. CG tells her that she's sexy and it's kind of a nice moment, but then you remember that nobody ever says anything nice about Ana, other than to mention that she's good looking. Because she has no other redeeming attributes! Depressing. 

Ana invites CG into the tub with her, which is funny, because anyone reading this understands that he was going to get in anyway. "'Why don't you join me?' I ask, bravely I think--my voice husky." So brave! I think we should maybe give Ana some type of bravery medal, for suggesting that CG do the thing he was planning on doing, and that, probably, he would do even if she'd instead asked him not to, since he's the boss and all. (Because he's the boy.)

CG jumps in and it's sexy or whatever, I guess. Some soap happens and that sort of thing. "He moves down my arms, then beneath them to my underarms, washing gently. I'm so glad Kate insisted I shave." Whew! Dodged a bullet on that one! Thanks, Kate! And thank you, EL, for reminding me of what was maybe the dumbest part of this whole book--Ana learning from Kate about the exotic notion of shaving one's armpits. 

Moving on: "His hands glide across to my breasts, and I inhale sharply as his fingers encircle them and start kneading gently, taking no prisoners." Ha! This is another one of those sequences where a person could legitimately feel like things were getting hot, but then EL dumps some dumb, nonsense cliché on us. Taking no prisoners! Guh. What does that even mean in this context?

CG starts fingering Ana using the sexiest of all implements--a washcloth! Whatever. That's fine, I suppose. EL's punctuation gets worse and worse, but maybe that's because Ana is feeling so many feelings down  there and she can't be bothered to use commas properly? CG pisses me off again: "Feel it, baby." "Feel it for me." I can think of ten better things for him to say in the midst of this. You can too, I'm sure, so I won't pretend that any great skill would be necessary to improve this section. Also, just not saying anything would be way better, too. 

So, Ana feels it, but CG gets bored with washcloth sex and says the worst paragraph of the book so far: "I want you to become well acquainted, on first name terms if you will, with my favorite and most cherished part of my body. I'm very attached to this." 

Can we talk about dialogue for a minute? Great. First, "first name terms" is a Britishism that google translate would switch over to "first name basis" if you asked it to translate this dumb book from British to American. But more important is the fact that obviously no on talks like this. No one is setting off a clause in the middle of of a sentence like that while speaking. It just isn't happening! This is the sort of speech that totally fails the easiest test of dialogue--do you sound like an asshole when you read it out loud? I don't suggest that you read this out loud. I did, and saying these words, in this order, made me feel like a real asshole.

Yeah, so CG gets his dick sucked for a couple pages. "Hmm . . . he's hard and soft at once, like steel encased in velvet, and surprisingly tasty--salty and smooth." I quote this because a) smooth can be used as a taste adjective, sure, but in this context, it makes no sense and because b) you're in a bath, Ana. Every part of every person in the bathtub pretty much tastes like whatever fancy soap you put in the water. That's how baths work. 

So anyway, Ana is having a nice time, which is great. But please: "My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves." I will get a 50 Shades tattoo on my ass if EL is capable of telling me the difference between salsa and merengue, and how one would incorporate moves from one into the other, particularly since both of these dances traditionally require two people. Oh snap! Maybe inner goddess's dance partner is. . . wait for it. . . subconscious! Okay now I'm interested again!

CG warns Ana that he's going to ejaculate, which is literally the first considerate thing that he's done this whole book. Ana proceeds undaunted, because she's already great at every kind of sex thing even though she's never done any sex things before she started in the previous night. You may find it unlikely that someone incapable of walking consistently without falling down would be so competent at anything connected to using one's body in a precise way. I find it unlikely too, but who are we against this books millions of fans? (For the record--page 137, the page where CG ejaculates? One murmur, one lip-bite, so my claim of an average of between 2 & 3 EL cliches per page is holding up pretty well so far!)

I really can't handle all the silly tone shifts in this book. Any time the sex scenes manage any momentum at all, EL derails it. "Well, you get an A in oral skills. Come, let's go to bed, I owe you an orgasm."  "Orgasm! Another one!" This is like a parent telling a toddler that the toddler will get a cookie because the toddler was particularly well behaved. I used the word toddler so many times in that sentence a)because I'm drunk and b)because I really wanted to drive the point home that CG always treats Ana like a toddler and it's way, way gross. 

They leave the bathtub and CG is all "Trust me?" and Ana nods, maybe just because she's so shocked by how dumb the question is? Because he's totally untrustworthy and it's a silly question? Not sure. Anyway, you know that tie on the front page of the book? CG ties her up with it. 

I can imagine a hot scene in which someone gets their hands tied up with a necktie. I can! I won't describe it to you. You can use your own imagination, because this necktie scene in this actual book? Not particularly interesting.

  1. I am still baffled about CG's desire to subdue someone who's basically comatose. He's less like a guy having sex and more like an old-timey photographer who needs absolute stillness for a long time while his daguerrotypes develop properly. 
  2. He isn't wearing the tie. He grabs it from his closet. This distinction is important! In the sexy version of this scene--the one that's in my head and not in this book and that I'm mostly not going to tell you about--the tie gets removed from someone's actual neck before it becomes a sex toy. I think the way to make the tie work is to add some drama and urgency to the whole scene. Move the people involved out of a house that has an actual sex dungeon filled with rope and whatever and place them somewhere else, where they have to improvise in order to carry out their getting-tied-up fantasies. The tie should be the choice of last resort!
  3. I guess bonus points for symbolism--CG using part of his business-guy uniform to tie up a lady. Probably not what EL had in mind but whatever. 
  4. Ties are expensive, and when you use them for a sex-knot instead of a tie knot, you've ruined a tie. Brooks Bros will sell a person a pretty nice silver tie kind of like the one on the cover of this book for eighty bucks, but I'm guessing that a guy as fancy-pants as CG wears even fancy-pantsier stuff than that. Maybe he has a tie that he doesn't ever wear, though? One just for tying up people? Okay that's probably the actual situation, now that I'm thinking about it. Yeah, he has one tie just for sex, and so it's probably already all wrinkled from previous use, so this is all totally fine and I should quit complaining. 
So, Ana gets tied up and CG checks out her pigtails, and says, "You look so young with these. No pedo!" Just kidding, guys! I added in the "no pedo" part. That wasn't in the book because, let's be real here--there's some uncomfortable shit going down, and the pigtails are part of it. CG treats Ana like a child all the time, so it's not surprising that some of that is going to ooze into their sexy-time. (Editor's note: the fact that it isn't surprising doesn't make it any less gross, obviously.) 

An aside on "kink":
I should note that I haven't really seen anything real crazy happen in this book so far, and I kind of don't expect to. For all the kinkiness implied by the "Hard Limits" list, I kind of expect that this book is mostly going to be about regular sex, with some entry-level restraint and some mild-to-medium spanking. Yawn. 

Sorry. Dozed off there for a moment. What's gross is not the stuff that happens (exception: the part where there was blood) but that it's going down in the context of this relationship. In this relationship, we're constantly confronted with the fact that CG just might yet be outed as a serial killer. Ana herself keeps bringing up Bluebeard! So something like the necktie--it's not intrinsically unreasonable. What's unreasonable is that Ana is constantly out of control. Nothing ever happens on her terms, and she's yet to demonstrate any evidence that that's how she wants things to be--that she derives any extra pleasure from feeling out of control. Mostly, she just seems terrified, and not like, in a sexy way. 

I keep going back to that earlier section, where CG explains the sex dungeon, and, if you'll let me paraphrase--Ana is all, "So what's in it for me?" And CG pretty much just shrugs! 

And CG's threats--in a different relationship, the same words could seem playful, or sexy even. But in this relationship, with Ana so meek and passive, it just comes off as gross. If they had some kind of back-and-forth it could be fun. But they don't.

What continues to bother me about these scenes is Ana's passivity. And she's not passive because that's like, her thing. She's passive because she's naive, and somebody this naive really needs a different sort of relationship. 

Back to the necktie:
So, here's a paragraph from this book:

"Keep your hands up here, don't move them, understand?" His eyes burn into mine, and I'm breathless from their intensity. This is not a man I want to cross . . . ever. 

What the hell? This sounds like a villain who's tying a lady to the train tracks. Does Ana maybe have a fetish for men who act like they're going to maybe murder her? Maybe I've been reading this book wrong the whole time! Maybe that's the key to understanding the whole mess! Maybe Ana can only have a satisfying sexual encounter if she fears for her life? 

Here's the sort of sentence that I can't not share with you: "My heated blood pools low in my belly, between my legs, right down there." There's nothing at all sexy about that, right? I'm no doctor (Editor's note: Alden does live with a doctor, and she reads these essays on occasion, so he's guaranteed to post a correction if he gets anything too wrong.) but isn't your blood supposed to like, move all around? If your blood is stuck in one area, doesn't that make you die? This sentence just makes me imagine a bright red circle of blood just slowly enveloping the whole bed. Gross. 

Anyway, CG is kissing her and whatever. It's the kind of slow-motion thing that sounds kind of hot on the page but would probably be super boring in real life. Then we do a bunch more foot stuff, which is the kind of thing that sounds kind of gross on the page but would probably be super gross in real life. EL has a foot fetish going that rivals Quentin Tarantino's. I won't bother you with it. 

At one point, while CG is licking Ana's foot, Ana has this thought: "It's too erotic." Okay. So, this is allegedly an erotic novel. I feel like the one thing you can't do in an erotic novel is describe something as erotic. Isn't that cheating? That's like a mystery novel where something happens and people are all like, "Wow! Pretty mysterious!" Or a thriller where something dramatic happens and the hero is like, "Wow! That was too thrilling." You can't tell me that something's erotic, EL! You've got to prove it! And all this foot-licking? It's kind of bringing down the general level of sexiness for me, which was never that high, at least according to this reader. 

CG eventually makes his way up to Ana's down there and she flips out a little bit. It's weird how EL doesn't know that it was kind of a long time ago that people decided that oral sex was a prerequisite for intercourse. That's not just a weird thing that I think, right? That's a thing we all understand to be true, right? But somehow, Ana's all weirded out:

And I know what he's going to do, and part of me wants to push him off because I'm mortified and embarrassed. He's going to kiss me there! I know it. 

I mean, yeah he is! He owes you, girlfriend! Also, don't act so surprised since, like, you just went down on him in the bathtub. Anyway, what's the big deal? Is kind of what I want to know. 

"I like this." He gently tugs at my pubic hair. "Perhaps we'll keep this." 

Oh, is that why Ana is all agitated? Is Ana feeling nervous because this didn't come up in Kate's grooming advice a few chapters ago? You can tell us what you're really feeling, Ana. It's okay! You're the narrator! It's actually kind of your job to tell us what you're experiencing so we can follow the book! 

But, no. We don't get any explanation for Ana's specific concerns. She does have an orgasm, which is great, only because nobody tells her to, so I consider this Ana's least-annoying orgasm thus far. 

I have a hard time with how vague EL's prose is. Missing one little word can really throw you off. Look at this paragraph:

I am panting and vaguely hear the rip of foil. Very slowly he eases into me and starts to move. Oh . . . my. The feeling is sore and sweet and bold and gentle all at once.

I missed the word "foil" and it threw me off for the rest of the scene. Because the language is so vague, one little detail can derail the whole mess. Foil = condom = fucking. But srsly. Can't we do better than "starts to move"? And then a few lines later, "And he really starts to move." So, he wasn't really moving at first. But then he really starts to move. Come on! 

Also we had this whole thing about how they were going to have oral sex because of how CG literally injured Ana's vagina the previous evening. Seems like maybe some words should be exchanged before the foil gets ripped, right? Maybe a good moment for a little check-in? No? Fine then. Moving on. 

I read this part, so now you have to read it with me:

"Come for me, baby." His voice is harsh, hard, raw at my ear, and I explode around him as he pounds rapidly into me. 
"Thank fuck," he whispers, and he thrusts hard once more and groans as he reaches his climax, pressing himself into me. Then he stills, his body rigid. 

  1. Once again, Ana is told when to come, and it's the dumbest and I hate it.
  2. Can anyone make any sense of "Thank fuck"? Because you know what has two thumbs and doesn't understand that part? This guy.
  3. Look at how terrible that last sentence is: "and he thrusts hard once more and groans as he reaches his climax, pressing himself into me." Let's reword it with synonyms so that we can talk about how terrible it is! I'm going to cut the part where he groans for the sake of simplicity: "and he thrusts as he reaches his climax, thrusting into me." What I'm saying is that while CG is thrusting, he is also pressing himself into Ana, which is also thrusting. He is thrusting while thrusting. Oh no he's caught in a recursive loop! (Editor's note: I would not have let that shit make it into print. That is my promise to you.)
Speaking of shitty sentences: "Collapsing on top of me, I feel his full weight forcing me into the mattress." I don't have to point this out to you, dear reader, because you already know. But when you position a dependent clause at the beginning like that, prior to an independent clause, we expect the subject of the dependent clause to be the same as the subject of the independent clause. So it seems like Ana is collapsing on top of herself, which is dumb. 

At least Ana gets to feel content at the end of this. If only EL could master the present tense! "I pull my tied hands over his neck and hold him the best I can. I know in that moment I would do anything for this man. I am his." Lessee here. "I know in that moment." Which moment, exactly? Does Ana know a thing for a moment and then forget it? Is EL trying to express the idea of "now" without using the word "now"? It's confusing and silly, but she's happy for the moment, so whatever. It should maybe occur to her, at some point, that probably somebody else could have sex with her without being such an asshole about it. But, Ana has yet to demonstrate any skill in the area of noticing the completely obvious. 

Oh and then CG's mom shows up! That's literally how the chapter ends, with this bit of dialogue: "Shit! It's my mother." 

Next week, we meet CG's mom, and learn some stuff about CG's complicated past. I'm looking forward to it, just because it's been kind of a lot of work to deal with these sex chapters. I'm not going to lie. This has been awkward.

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