Jul 252012
 

I have neglected to mention Christian’s stalker tendencies to my mom.

I see him. My heart leaps, beginning a juddering thumping beat as he makes his way toward us. He’s really here – for me.

Yes, he’s here “for” Ana, the way the Terminator was there “for” Sarah Connor.

I am thrilled to see him, but completely thrown off balance, my anger about Mrs. Robinson simmering through my veins. I don’t know if I want to shout at him or throw myself into his arms – but I don’t think he’d like either – and I want to know how long he has been watching us. I’m also a little anxious about the email I just sent him.

So she’s angry about Mrs. Robinson, but not about Christian stalking her to the other side of the continent. Whatever anger she’s feeling, it dissipates in the presence of his relentless animal magnetism.

When Ana’s mother steps away to powder something, Ana and Christian argue about Mrs. Robinson. Strangely, Christian retreats on this point, avoiding her challenge and offering to leave.

So, basically, Ana avoids acknowledging Christian’s craziness (stalking) so she can indulge her own craziness (jealousy).

Ana’s mother advises her to go to Christian because it must be true love. Thanks, Mom. A few Cosmopolitans later, Ana goes to Christian’s hotel room. Any attempt to discuss their relationship is forestalled by sex. Either Ana is doused in Christian Grey-catnip, or he is bent on flattering her for some reason.

This leads to the notorious tampon scene.

“When did you start your period, Anastasia?” he asks out of the blue, gazing down at me. “Err… yesterday,” I mumble in my highly aroused state.
“Good.” He releases me and turns me around.
“Hold on to the sink,” he orders and pulls my hips back again, like he did in the playroom, so I’m bending down.
He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string… what!  And…  gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy fuck.  Sweet mother of all… Jeez.

[…]

“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.
“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.
“I noticed.” I can’t keep the dryness out of my voice.
He tenses slightly.
“Does it bother you?” he asks softly.
Does it bother me? Maybe it should… should it? No, it doesn’t.

I think this is a large part of the appeal of this book: this man is completely and utterly obsessed with the woman and the woman doesn’t have to wait or compete for attention. Christian is into her even when she’s having her period. The need to be needed, the desire to be desired, is understandable, as is the wish to have a lover so utterly smitten they would never reject you. It’s a little like the appeal of the Tarzan scenario for women. Tarzan is the perfect combination of environment and heredity, but he’s never seen a woman until he meets Jane, and therefore has no basis for comparison. (Make that never seen a white woman, but the race/gender politics of Tarzan is another issue.)

Ana finds a hidden passage in the Christian Grey Gothic mansion when she realizes the scars on his chest are cigarette burns. This finally gets him to talk about his past and his childhood, which Ana has been yearning for from the start. (Note that Christian apparently has little interest in Ana’s past, or perhaps he’s just learned everything he wants to know through other means.)

The conversation works back to Mrs. Robinson:

“She loved me in a way I found… acceptable,” he adds with a shrug.
What the hell does that mean?
“Acceptable?” I whisper.
“Yes.” He stares intently at me. “She distracted me from the destructive path I found myself following. It’s very hard to grow up in a perfect family when you’re not perfect.”
Oh no.  My mouth dries as I digest his words. He gazes as me, his expression unfathomable. He’s not going to tell me any more. How frustrating. Inside, I’m reeling – he sounds so full of self-loathing. And Mrs. Robinson loved him. Holy shit… does she still?

[…]

“I need advice.”
“And you take advice from Mrs. Paedo?” I snap. The hold on my temper is more tentative than I thought.
“Anastasia – enough,” he snaps back sternly, his eyes narrowing.

This is a rare moment when Christian sounds reasonable and Ana sounds crazy. Remember that Ana has never had any kind of relationship before, so does she really have a right to judge Christian’s prior relationships? If you’re a reader with a narrow and traditional view of what a proper relationship should be like, you might very well think Ana does have the right to judge.

Add on that Ana stops asking him about this because she’s too afraid of him to ask any more questions.

Then he asks her about his proposal:

“I don’t think I can do it for an extended period of time. A whole weekend being someone I’m not.” I flush and stare at my hands.
He tips my chin up, and he’s smirking at me, amused.
“No, I don’t think you could either.”
And part of me feels slightly affronted and challenged.

This is what I and other kink-experienced people find so baffling about this book: it’s a book about kink in which one of the two leads is almost completely vanilla, and doesn’t change about this. This makes it basically not a kink book at all. I was prepared for Ana being coaxed into acknowledging her submissive nature (after all, Christian first sees her on her hands and knees), followed by rapturous flogging and bondage scenes, until she and he reach a kinky happily-ever-after. In other words,  a classic sexual initiation narrative.

Instead, I get this strange story of passive resistance. I’m 80% through the first book, and despite doing research, Ana’s understanding and opinion of BDSM has changed by only the tiniest of increments. She’s still opposed to kink on vague moral grounds, she doesn’t physically enjoy kink, and she’s still bent on the idea that Christian will eventually come around to her hearts-and-flowers-and-2.5-kids way of thinking. To repeat her see-saw metaphor, Ana is clinging to her end of the see-saw and refusing to budge, in hopes that Christian will slip down the slope towards her end.

For this particular relationship equation to make any sense, you have to take it on faith that Ana and Christian are utterly smitten with each other, beyond reason, and that neither will say, “This isn’t worth the hassle,” and look for somebody else. This is courtship as steel cage death match: only one of them can win, and neither can quit,  or so Ana apparently thinks.

The end result of this is a book that, to a kinky person, comes across as a tease. We get a lot of potential kink, but very little actual kink play, and significantly more vanilla sex scenes, plus a lot of other character interaction scenes. It’s possible that with this book, EL James (perhaps unwittingly) hits the sweet spot for people who want just the teeniest dash of BDSM with their heteronormative, vanilla romance; the kind of people who would completely freak out if they ever read anything like, say, Anne Rice’s Exit to Eden.

BTW, Christian’s constant use of “baby” as a nickname for Ana make me think of the ending of David Mamet’s Oleanna.

  One Response to “The curious kinky person’s guide to Fifty Shades of Grey, chapter 23, part 1”

  1. This post finally made me realize why I disliked the book so much. “This makes it basically not a kink book at all”. All my friends and family were talking about how hot and ‘risque’ this book was but then it turned out to be dryer then a high school text. And I was so irritated and Cristian and Ana I didn’t really care to finish the first book. He’s the worst dom ever.

    Oh, ‘Oleanna’. Maybe Christian will beat Ana with a chair in the final book?

    Actually, Oleanna and 50 Shades would make for a good comparison essay. The manipulation, the obsession, the passive aggression, and of course the hubris. I now wish I’d read 50 shade three months ago. John v Christian is so much more interesting the John v Macbeth.

    Anyways thank you for all of the interesting posts so far.

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