Last night, I went out with my husband and his mom to celebrate Mother's Day. Our celebration ended up, as so many of them do, at the casino buffet. We were seated next to a table of women who, just as we got settled into our meals, started discussing 50 Shades. One of the women mentioned that a friend was reading it, but wouldn't refer to it by name. Another said she had read it, but she could never tell her husband, because he would be "furious". My first thought was, "Her husband is an English teacher." My second thought, and the one that is probably most accurate was, "He is probably a controlling freak of a man who would hate that his wife was exploring her sexuality in any way, because he feels inferior about himself and becomes jealous and unreasonable over stupid things he should have no desire to control."
So, if this recap seems needlessly morose and utterly humorless, bear with me.
Chapter fourteen begins with Christian standing over Ana with riding crop. He's wearing ripped jeans and she's wearing nothing but shackles. Then he hits her directly in the clit with the riding crop, and she goes off like a firecracker on July 3rd.
But oh, snap, it was just a sexy dream. She goes into the kitchen, where Kate can immediately tell that something is different about Ana. Because she vastly overestimates everyone's interest in her sex life, Ana is sure that Kate can tell she just had a sleep orgasm, and that's why she says that Ana looks "odd". Just off the top of my head, Ana, you're wearing pajamas and Christian's suit jacket. That might make you look slightly odd.
See how ridiculous that looks? And not just because it's on the guy from Chuck.
I also want to just backtrack a moment and point out that Ana has never had an orgasm in her sleep, and had no idea it could happen. It just seems unusual to me that in all of her teen years she not only never felt any sort of sexual feelings that might manifest in the urge to masturbate, she also never had an orgasm in her sleep? Don't get me wrong, I know that some people (some of whom identify as asexual, some who do not) just don't have much of a sex drive. What I find alarming about this scenario with Ana and Christian is that it perpetuates some myth of female sexual awakening happening only when the perfect partner presents himself. Ana's libido only activates when the man who should have access to her sexuality has become a part of her life. Now, I've refrained thus far about inferring anything about E.L. James's personal life from her writing, but I will say this: I am absolutely, 100% certain that somewhere in E.L. James's house, there is a veritable treasure trove of late seventies/early eighties historical romance novels.
Kate asks how dinner was, which Ana responds to with a mental, "So it begins." because remember, a friend asking you anything about your personal life is tantamount to being tortured by Torquemada. Ana has to dance around the questions:
What can I say? His HIV status is clear, he's heavily into role-play, wants me to obey his every command, he hurt someone he tied to his bedroom ceiling, and he wanted to fuck me in the private dining room. Would that be a good summary? I try desperately to remember something from my encounter with Christian that I can discuss with Kate.
"He doesn't approve of Wanda."
Who the fuck is Wanda? I assume she's talking about her car, here, but according to the search I ran on the book, the car is only ever referred to as "Wanda" right here. Ana distracts Kate from talk of Christian Grey by asking if she wants to practice her graduation speech. While Kate goes to get it, Ana does the dance of endless circles we've already seen a billion times already:
Last night I found it hard to sleep. My head was buzzing with various options. I am so confused. Christian's idea of a relationship is more like a job offer. It has set hours, a job description, and a rather harsh grievance procedure. It's not how I envisaged my first romance - but, of course, Christian doesn't do romance. If I tell him I want more, he may say no... and I could jeopardize what he has offered. And this is what concerns e most, because I don't want to lose him. But I'm not sure I have the stomach to be his submissive - deep down, it's the cans and whips that put me off. I'm a physical coward, and I will go a long way to avoid pain. I think of my dream... is that what it would be like? My inner goddess jumps up and down with cheerleading pom-poms shouting yes at me.
In case you were wondering, Ana's "inner goddess" is just the device by which the reader is going to be allowed to reason that Ana desperately wants the relationship she's only settling for.
Kate comes back into the kitchen with her laptop. I concentrate on my bagel and listen patiently as she runs through her Valedictorian speech.Maybe it would be more polite to concentrate on the damn speech you offered to listen to. Ana's dad arrives to take her graduation, and they greet each other in a wholly American fashion, both of them saying they're "pleased to see" one another. Then Ana offers Ray tea, and before he can answer, we're in the parking lot at the college with no other transition at all. They head into the "sports auditorium", where Ray notices that something is "off" about Ana:
"Good luck, Annie. You seem awfully nervous, do you have anything to do?" Holy crap... why has Ray picked today to be so observant?I think that if you're more excited about seeing the creepy guy you're pseudo dating than the fact that you're about to graduate from college (something that only a little over half of the people in this country get the privilege of doing), they should just keep your degree and force you to work at a women's shelter for the rest of your fucking life.
"No, Dad. It's a big day." And I'm going to see him
There are a few paragraphs about Ana's nerves as she's waiting for the ceremony to begin. She's not nervous about accepting her degree and symbolically stepping into a new phase of her life, of course, she's just nervous about seeing Christian Grey. Then, he appears:
Christian stands out in his bespoke gray suit, copper highlights glinting in his hair under the auditorium lights. He looks so serious and self-contained. As he sits, he undoes his single-breasted jacket, and I glimpse his tie. Holy shit... That tie! I rub my wrists reflexively. I cannot take my eyes off him - his beauty as distracting as ever - and he's wearing that tie, on purpose no doubt. I can feel my mouth press into a hard line. The audience sits down and the applause ceases.Ana's obsession with gayness is immature and gross. She's embarrassed to have asked him if he was gay in the first chapter, and her embarrassment continues through the first four, I believe. Now, she's saying he's gay to what? To weed out the competition? To make him seem foolish? It's almost like "he's gay" is, to Ana, the worst thing she could possibly say about someone. I don't find that funny. Because I'm not in fourth grade.
"Look at him!" One of the girls beside me breathes enthusiastically to her friend.
I stiffen. I'm sure they're not talking about Professor Collins.
"Must be Christian Grey."
"Is he single?"
"I don't think so," I murmur.
"Oh." Both girls look at me in surprise.
"I think he's gay," I mutter.
As the Chancellor gets to his feet and kicks off the proceedings with his speech, I watch Christian subtly scanning the hall. I sink into my seat, hunching my shoulders, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I fail miserably as a second later his gray eyes find mine. He stares at me, his face impassive, completely inscrutable. I squirm uncomfortably, hypnotized by his glare as I feel a slow flush spread across my face. Unbidden, I recall my dream from his morning, and the muscles in my belly do the delectable clench thing. I inhale sharply. I can see the shadow of a smile cross his lips, but it's fleeting. He briefly closes his eyes, and on opening them, resumes his indifferent expression.Or maybe you're staring at him, and it's making him uncomfortable? I think everyone has had the experience of someone staring at them and trying desperately not to acknowledge that they're being stared at. The very last thing you want to do is look at the starer when you're the staree.
Following a swift glance up at the Chancellor, he stares ahead, focusing on the WSUV emblem hung above he entrance. He doesn't turn his eyes toward me again. The Chancellor drones on, and Christian still doesn't look at me, he just stares fixedly ahead.
Why won't he look at me? Perhaps he's changed his mind?
Above: photograph of Ana at graduation.
Kate gets up to give her speech, and Ana is "so proud of her at that moment, my errant thoughts of Christian are pushed to one side." But then, in the next paragraph:
Her theme is What Next After College? Oh, what next indeed. Christian is watching Kate, his eyebrows slightly raised - in surprise, I think. Yes, it could have been Kate that went to interview him. And it could have been Kate that he was now making indecent proposals to. Beautiful Kate and beautiful Christian, together. I could be like the two girls beside me, admiring him from afar. I know Kate wouldn't have given him the time of day.Technically, Ana, you are like the two girls beside you, admiring him from afar. But let's not pick nits, as I am so prone to do. We can't get through even a little bit of Kate doing anything without being reminded how beautiful she is, in comparison to how utterly grotesque Ana is.
Christian gets up to give a speech about how his grant to the university is part of his goal in eradicating hunger world-wide. Because (and I know you didn't see this coming) he knows what it's like to go hungry. Ana begins to realize that maybe his entire life wasn't as full of privilege as she'd imagined.
Ana waits through over four hundred students before she is called up to the stage, and when she does, Mr. Non-Disclosure Agreement decides to have a personal conversation right there:
"Congratulations, Miss Steele," he says as he shakes my hand, squeezing it gently. I feel the charge of his flesh on mine. "Do you have a problem with your laptop?" I frown as he hands me my degree.She had to sign a form letter saying she wasn't going to tell anyone they were seeing each other or sleeping together or something, but he's going to openly jaw with her about ignoring his emails on a stage in front of like, a thousand students and a stadium full of their associated family and friends. I don't think Chedward actually knows what "discreet" means.
Then you are ignoring my emails?"
"I only saw the mergers and acquisitions one."
He looks quizzically at me.
"Later," he says, and I have to move on because I'm holding up the line.
The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It's interminable. Finally, the Chancellor leads the faculty members off the stage to yet more rousing applause, preceded by Christian and Kate. Christian does not glance at me, even though I'm willing him to do it.
My inner goddess is not pleased.
I wish I would have kept a running list of shit that Ana doesn't like. I actually did that when I first read Twilight, even though I quite enjoyed that book. At around chapter four I said, "This girl doesn't like anything," and I started writing stuff down. If I were doing this for Ana, I would add "graduating" to the list. Granted, I've only graduated once, and that was from a small Catholic high school, but I was pretty jazzed about it. I can't imagine pouring the time, money, and commitment into college and then finding graduation "interminable". I feel like literally nothing is good enough for Ana, except Christian. Maybe that's the point.
After the ceremony, Kate comes out to the audience and tells Ana that Christian wants to see her, and we get the obligatory line about some girls gaping at her, because being the target of another female's envy is every woman's life aspiration. Ana goes to see him, and then this happens:
"Thank you," he says, and before she can reply, he takes my elbow and steers me into what looks like a men's locker room. He checks to see if it's empty, and then he locks the door. Holy shit, what does he have in mind?and then he locks the door.
and then he locks the door.
and then he locks the door.
No! Unacceptable! But the fun continues:
"Why haven't you emailed me? Or texted me back?" He glares I'm nonplussed.Why hasn't she emailed you or texted you back? I'm going to go out on a limb here; since we know she has no problem with your repeated threats to rape or imprison her, or your recent act of actually imprisoning her, I'm going to guess that the reason she hasn't called or texted is because she had her college graduation to worry about. There are other things going on in her life that are not focused on you, Chedward. And beyond that, didn't she ask you for some fucking space? It's been less than twenty-four hours, and you've sent multiple emails and texts?
"I haven't looked at my computer today, or my phone." Crap, has he been trying to call?
Chedward goes on to explain that he's been worried about her because her car isn't safe. She tells him that it's fine, because Jose services it for her, since it used to belong to his mother. Of course, when she mentions Jose, Chedward is displeased. I'm displeased, because this whole "I'm worried about your car" thing is a blatant rip-off from Twilight, (wasn't Bella's unsafe old truck once Jacob's dad's?) and yet, here we are.
Bonus point for you checking off items on your abusive relationship bingo card: Ana actually apologizes to him for making for him worry.
Christian demands an answer re: BDSM from Ana, saying that the waiting is making him "crazy". I doubt that "crazy" is a shore he landed upon after only a few weeks of sailing, but justify your weirdness however you want, Christian. He wants an answer "by tomorrow", because love is patient, etc. Because this book is set in a universe where behavior like this is totally normal and romantic, Ana does not say, "Then my answer is no, dick, unlock the door." Instead, she agrees and tells him she needs to get back to her stepdad, because they have plans. Christian insinuates himself into those plans through blatant manipulation, because he wants to meet Ray:
"Your stepfather? I'd like to meet him."
Oh no... why?
"I'm not sure that's a good idea."
Christian unlocks the door, his mouth in a grim line.
"Are you ashamed of me?"
"No!" It's my turn to sound exasperated. "Introduce you to my dad as what? 'This is the man who deflowered me and wants us to start a BDSM relationship'. You're not wearing running shoes."
Christian glares down at me, and then his lips twitch up in a smile. And in spite of the fact I'm mad at him, my face is unwillingly pulled into an answering grin.
"Just so you know, I can run quite fast. Just tell him I'm your friend, Anastasia."
This is my friend, Anastasia. I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself.
Remember, Ana would never do anything she didn't want to do, but here she is, introducing Christian to her father. This is what those domestic violence pamphlets Kel gave me would call "quick involvement." Ana so greatly doesn't want to introduce the two of them that when she asks her dad to come have a drink, she's silently praying he says no and gets them the hell out of there. Ana clearly feels she has no say in how this goes down, and she's looking to her dad to rescue her, which he obviously can't, because he has no clue what's going on or that Ana wouldn't want to go get the drink she just suggested.
Here's another red flag that Ana is in an abusive relationship:
Ray hands me a glass of champagne or cheap fizzy wine, I suspect. It's not chilled, and it tastes sweet. My thoughts turn to Christian... he won't like this.Ana has no control over the cost, the temperature, or the flavor of the wine served at her graduation, but here she is, worrying that Christian won't like it. What happens if he doesn't like it? What's the consequence? That's a rhetorical question, of course, because there shouldn't be any consequences for things Ana cannot control.
Kate's gorgeous, blonde brother,
"Hello, Ray," Kate kisses Ray on both cheeks, making him blush. "Have you met Ana's boyfriend? Christian Grey."
Holy shit... Kate! Fuck! All the blood drains from my face.
"Mr. Steele, it's a pleasure to meet you," Christian says smoothly, warmly, completely unflustered by Kate's introduction. He holds out his hand, which, all credit to Ray, Ray takes, not showing a hint of the drop-dead surprise he's just had thrust upon him.
Thank you very much, Katherine Kavanagh, I fume.
Here's another interesting moment. It's Christian who has insisted upon meeting Ana's stepfather, and it's Christian who has left their relationship undefined as per his own terms. So Kate, when put in the position of introductions, selects the wrong terminology, who is at fault? Not Christian, because Ana can't blame him for anything. So, the blame must be shifted to Kate.
"And this is my brother, Ethan Kavanagh." says Kate to Christian.Kate isn't doing anything. Christian is getting jealous on his own, because he's a possessive, controlling, creepy, creepy guy. Yet Ana still interprets his "baby" as an endearment, despite the fact that he said it only to stake a claim.
Christian turns his arctic glare on Ethan, who still has one arm around me.
They shake hands. Christian holds his hand out to me.
"Ana, baby," he murmurs, and I nearly expire at the endearment.
I walk out of Ethan's grasp, while Christian smiles icily at him, and I take my place at his side. Kate grins at me. She knows exactly what she's doing, the vixen!
Christian and Ray have a little conversation that turns to fishing, and Ana realizes that Christian is charming her father just the way he charmed her. She goes and talks to Kate's parents, and then criticizes Kate for "outing" the relationship to Ray. Kate admits that she did it on purpose, because she thinks it will help Christian with his "commitment issues". Kate is clearly as romantically immature as Ana is. Then, Ana delivers one of my favorite lines of the entire book:
"I'd better go rescue Ray or Christian. I don't know which. You haven't heard the last of this, Katherine Kavanagh!"
Ray goes to the bathroom, leaving Ana and Christian alone together... in a tent full of people. So, naturally, this is the perfect time for Mr. Secretive to have a super secret discussion about the BDSM contract. He wheedles her, saying, "You know it's going to be good, don't you, baby?", which is, I'm pretty sure, how about 60% of all date rapes begin, and Ana confesses that her reluctance to sign the contract is because she wants more from the relationship. Christian again tells her that he doesn't really know how to do the romance thing, and then Ana agrees to the contract.
Yup. Just like that.
Then Ray comes back from the bathroom, and he and Ana are going to leave to have lunch.
They shake hands. I feel sick. Ray has no idea how Christian intends to look after me.Feeling sick is a pretty good sign that you've made the right choice, isn't it?
Ana goes home and finds the missed calls, no messages from Christian, and another email sent the night before inquiring about her safety. She emails him back, and they make plans to see each other that night at her apartment. She takes the first edition books he bought her and wraps them up, putting another quote from Tess of the D'Urbervilles on it:
"I agree to the conditions, Angel; because you know best what my punishment ought to be; only - only - don't make it more than I can bear!"Voila. Instant abusive relationship, just add water.