Chapter twenty-three opens with Ana sitting in a bar in Georgia and realising that her demented boyfriend has stalked her all the way from Seattle.
“It’s Christian, he’s here.”
“What? Really?” She glances around the bar, too.
I have neglected to mention Christian’s stalker tendencies to my mom.
I can’t think why.
He’s really here – for me. My inner goddess leaps up cheering from her chaise longue. Moving smoothly through the crowd, his hair glints burnished copper and red under the recessed halogens.
Don’t get excited, by the way. I know this paragraph looks like Christian Grey’s toupee got snagged on the tray of a passing waiter and is being borne through the rabble like a crowd surfer, but it’s nothing that exciting. Just another amusing lesson about the dangers of dangling participles.
His bright grey eyes are shining with – anger? Tension? His mouth is set in a grim line, jaw tense. Oh holy shit…no. I am so mad at him right now, and here he is. How can I be angry with him in front of my mother?
You can be as angry as you like. He’s a transcontinental stalker who promised to give you space and didn’t. Besides, I doubt your mother will mind. From what I’ve seen of her she’s probably nose deep in her fourth Cosmopolitan and babbling drunken profundities about men, to what she thinks is her only daughter but is actually a potted hibiscus.
Ana’s ‘ingrained manners take over’ (I know) and she introduces Christian to her mother. She wonders how he knows her much-married mother’s current name (Carla Adams), but it should be obvious to anyone who knows not to lick light-switches that Christian Grey can’t keep his nose out of anyone’s business for much longer than it takes the average person to say ‘J. Edgar Hoover’.
He gives her the heart-stopping, Christian Grey patented, full-blown-no-prisoners-taken smile…she takes his proffered hand and they shake. My mother hasn’t replied. Oh, complete dumbfounded speechlessness is genetic – I had no idea.
From now on I’m just going to pretend that Ana got her degree from the Derek Zoolander Institute For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Want To Learn To Do Other Stuff Good As Well. It’s the only way her characterisation makes any sense at all.
“What are you doing here?” My question sounds more brittle than mean, and his smile disappears, his expression now guarded. I am thrilled to see him, but completely thrown off balance, my anger about Mrs. Robinson simmering through my veins.
Wait. You’re not angry that he flew across the country to interrupt your private time with your family after you asked him to give you space? But you are angry that he had dinner with a rapist because you’re worried he might still be knocking boots with her?
What the hell is wrong with everyone in this book?
“I came to see you, of course.” He gazes down at me impassively. Oh, what is he thinking? “I’m staying in this hotel.”
“You’re staying here?” I sound like a sophomore on amphetamines, too high-pitched even for my own ears.
“Well, yesterday you said you wished I was here.”
I just don’t know any more. No wonder everyone in these novels drinks like a pissed fish. Speaking of…
“Won’t you join us for a drink, Christian?” She waves to the waiter who is at her side in a nanosecond.
“I’ll have a gin and tonic,” Christian says. “Hendricks if you have it or Bombay Sapphire. Cucumber with the Hendricks, lime with the Bombay.”
Holy hell…only Christian could make a meal out of ordering a drink.
And still forget to say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.
“So you just happen to be staying in the hotel where we’re drinking?” I ask, trying hard to keep my tone light.
“Or you just happen to be drinking in the hotel where I’m staying,” Christian replies. “I just finished dinner, came in here, and saw you. I was distracted thinking about your most recent e-mail, and I glance up and there you are. Quite a coincidence, eh?”
Not really. You’re supposed to be on the other side of the country. Giving her space. How’s that working out for you two?
He reaches over, takes my hand, and squeezes it gently, running his thumb across my knuckles to and fro…and I feel the familiar pull. The electric charge zapping beneath my skin under the gentle pressure of his thumb, firing into my bloodstream and pulsing around my body, heating everything in its path.
Basically I think she’s trying to say they stick to each other like a balloon on a sweater. Okay, so she’s probably not, but if authors will insist on using this tired old electrical bullshit then I’m going to keep drawing these inferences. Since I can’t actually hook the characters themselves up to car batteries.
Ana’s mother, meanwhile, is still staring at Christian…
…as if he’s some exotic creature, never seen before. I mean, I know I’ve never had a boyfriend, and Christian only qualifies as such for ease of reference – but is it so unbelievable that I could attract such a man? This man? Yes, frankly – look at him – my subconscious snaps. Oh shut up! Who invited you to the party? I scowl at my mom – but she doesn’t seem to notice.
Well, if genetic inheritance is anything to be believed, Mom’s probably also locked in her own strange, internal Gollum/Sméagol battle.
“I don’t want to interrupt the time you have with your mother. I’ll have a quick drink and then retire. I have work to do,” he states earnestly.
It’s a good thing he ‘stated’ that ‘earnestly’, or I’d never have believed him, what with following her across the country to interrupt her holiday.
The waiter arrives with our drinks.
“Hendricks, sir,” he says with a triumphant flourish.
“Thank you,” Christian murmurs in acknowledgement.
Well, there’s a first. Unfortunately it’s too late. The waiters have already dipped their dicks in your drink.
Ana’s mother disappears again to ‘use the powder room’ (coke problem) and Christian attempts to set Ana’s triangular mind at ease regarding the Mrs. Robinson situation.
“Our sexual relationship was over long ago, Anastasia,” he whispers. “I don’t want anyone but you. Haven’t you worked that out yet?”
I blink at him.
“I think of her as a child molester, Christian.” I hold my breath waiting for his reaction.
“That’s very judgemental. It wasn’t like that,” he whispers, shocked.
It’s not, actually. You could even ask a judge this question and he or she would say no, it’s not a knee-jerk piece of narrow-mindedness.
Of course, some people do have difficulty seeing themselves as victims, especially people who like to see themselves as dominant and in control. So you know, I have to give E.L. James some props for a halfway stab at actual characterisation here. Unfortunately it’s eclipsed by…well, everything else in this book.
Ana goes on to ask him how he would feel if the genders were reversed and Mrs. Robinson was a grown man taking advantage of a fifteen-year-old girl. He gets annoyed and then says,
“I’m not comfortable talking about this now. Later, maybe. If you don’t want me here, I have a plane on standby at Hilton Head. I can go.”
Right. So he just happened to be in Georgia, did he? It’s lucky for him that Ana is not remotely bothered by his coast to coast stalking or the fact that every time she says no or asks for space he either turns up in her bedroom or on the opposite side of the country respectively. She’s far too busy with her righteous indignation about Mrs. Robinson – well, half righteous. Like I say, it’s not so much that Mrs. Robinson raped him as the fact that he might still have feelings for her. This is Ana we’re talking about – the same woman who managed to do the whole ‘does he like her more than me?’ nonsense when the other woman in question was pointing a gun at Christian.
“You’re jealous?” He stares at me, dumbfounded, and his eyes soften slightly, warming.
“Yes, and angry about what she did to you.”
But more jealous. Let’s be honest here, Ana.
He says he hasn’t had to justify his actions to anyone for seven years, which is a vaguely terrifying admission coming from a CEO. And that he likes his ‘autonomy’, which is hilarious. He invites Ana to put himself in his shoes, but will never do the same for her because – like all psychopaths – he doesn’t feel empathy. Then he says Mrs. Robinson is a friend and a ‘business partner’, prompting Ana to work herself into a fresh layer of lather and start asking insane questions like ‘Did you love her?’
Christian sips his drink, watching me closely, his expression guarded. What is he thinking? Did he love her? I think if he did, I will lose it, big time.
Plenty of people have pointed out that the reasons why someone like Ana should never be in a relationship with someone like Christian Grey, but this right here is a good reason why she shouldn’t be in a relationship with anyone; she’s simply too immature.
After Christian leaves, Ana’s mother once again demonstrates that this particular womanchild apple didn’t fall far from the dingbat tree.
“Well, strike me down with a feather, Ana. He’s a catch. I don’t know what’s going on between you two though. I think you need to talk to each other. Phew – the UST in here, it’s unbearable.” She fans herself theatrically.
To be fair to Ana, that would probably be my reaction if my mother used fanfiction acronyms in general conversation. Or any conversation, actually. UST, for the uninitiated, stands for Unresolved Sexual Tension. If there’s one thing fanfic writers love even more than sexual tension – unresolved or otherwise – it’s acronyms.
Ana’s mom at this point starts displaying further characteristics of bad fanfiction – urgent and illogical match-making. This usually happens when a fanfic writer is so desperate for the main characters to fuck that her desperation bleeds all over the minor characters, causing them to turn into nuclear-powered hyper-yentas determined to do everything but tuck the designated fuck-pairing up in bed with one another and helpfully tear the corner off the condom wrapper.
“Go talk to him.”
“I can’t. I came here to see you.”
“Ana, you came here because you’re confused about that boy. It’s obvious you two are just crazy about each other. You need to talk to him. He’s just flown three-thousand-odd miles to see you, for heaven’s sake…”
See what I mean? If my daughter’s boyfriend flew cross-country to crash her vacation I would so not be saying these words.
“Ana, honey, you’ve always had a tendency to over-analyze everything. Go with your gut. What does that tell you, sweetheart?”
I stare at my fingers.
“I think I’m in love with him,” I mutter.
“I know darling. And he with you.”
Granted, Ana’s mother is not a normal mother and her track record with men speaks for itself, but this is just absurd.
“I don’t think he loves me.”
“I don’t care how rich you are, you don’t drop everything and get in your private plane to cross a whole continent just for afternoon tea…”
You do if you’re a fucking lunatic.
But we’re not done here. Brace yourself for the coup de grace, ladies and gentlemen.
“Darling, don’t feel you have to come back with me. I want you happy – and right now I think the key to your happiness is in room 612. If you need to come home later, the key is under the yucca plant on the front porch. If you stay – well…you’re a big girl. Just be safe.”
I flush stars and stripes red. Jeez, Mom.
“Let’s finish our Cosmos first.”
“That’s my girl, Ana.” She grins.
Let’s drink too much alcohol and hook up with men in hotels! Stalking is like, so romantic! I’m a cool mom, aren’t I? Am I a cool mom? Are you my best friend, honey? Please be my best friend, because that’s the whole reason I had children – I’m too fucking maladjusted to sustain a lasting relationship with anyone who didn’t actually come out of my vagina. Yay! Let’s sing Karaoke!
It’s one of those times in the book where I feel sorry for Ana again. Carla is certainly a piece of work. Stephenie Meyer’s work, to be precise. Carla may be turned up to eleven in true fanfic style, but she is still every inch Renee the flake from the Twilight series, right down to the urgent insistence that whiny co-dependency is the new True Love.
So, on her mother’s instruction to go upstairs and fuck her boyfriend, Ana does just that and wanders into a hotel suite where Christian Grey is once again yapping buzzwords down a phone in the random gibberish that passes for ‘work’ in this book.
I glance around the room. He’s in a suite, like the one at the Heathman. The furnishings here are ultra-modern, very now. All muted dark purples and golds with bronze starbursts on the walls.
To me that doesn’t sound so much ‘now’ as ‘every suburban dining room ever circa 1997/8’, but let’s pretend we care. He continues talking on the phone for a page or two and points Ana to the drinks, because she’s only had three Cosmopolitans at this point. Finally he hangs up and Ana – the eternally insecure – cuts straight to the twitchy, self-loathing chase.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I murmur.
“No. I didn’t,” he says quietly, his grey eyes wide and cautious.
“No, you didn’t answer my question or no, you didn’t love her.”
Because if it turned out he’d ever loved another woman in his life then it would mean that Ana could never ever be the perfect one true queen of his heart forever and ever. Or something. I don’t know.
“No. I didn’t love her.” He frowns at me, amused yet puzzled.
I can’t believe I’m holding my breath. I sag like an old cloth sack as I release it. Well, thank heavens for that. How would I feel if he actually loved the witch?
Older? Wiser? Saner? Oh – who am I kidding?
“You’re quite the green-eyed goddess, Anastasia. Who would have thought?”
I would. She makes Bridget Jones look centred and secure. And nice to see that the demented standards for relationships cut both ways in this book, by the way. She thinks that coast-to-coast stalking is charming and he thinks her obsessive and ridiculous jealousy is just fucking adorable.
“I don’t remember anyone but my family ever being mad at me. I like it.”
He runs the tips of fingers down my cheek. Oh my, his proximity, his delicious Christian smell.
She says they’re supposed to be talking and he’s all ‘later’ because they haven’t swapped body fluids for almost two whole chapters. I’m actually relieved that they’re about to get busy, because while the sex scenes are awful, they still don’t make me want to self-immolate in the way that the e-mail exchanges do.
He asks her if she has her period and asks her to have a bath with him. Oh yes – you know what’s coming, don’t you? You’ve heard all about this.
He takes me into the bathroom which is two rooms, all aquamarines and white limestone. It’s huge. In the second room a sunken bath, big enough for four people with stone steps that lead into it slowly filling with water. Steam rises gently above the foam, and I notice a stone seat all the way round. Candles flicker to the side. Wow…he’s done all this while on the phone.
Ana, would you be astonished to discover that some people can walk and chew gum at the same time?
He undresses her for several paragraphs and then says “I’m going to have you in the bathroom, Anastasia.” Again, still not a euphemism for anal. There is no anal in Fifty Shades of Grey, people. Although that notorious nasty bit with the tampon is coming up shortly, so you might want to keep reading for that.
He holds her hands and makes her touch herself, but not actually enough to let her figure out how to take care of herself because then where would he be? Then we get one of those random ‘it is so erotic’s dropped into the middle of the sex scene, which I think is some kind of strange short-hand for ‘start masturbating now’. Speaking of which, he puts her hands on her down-there parts and steps away.
“Carry on,” he orders, and stands back watching me.
I rub myself. No. I want him to do it. It doesn’t feel the same. I’m lost without him.
Is this an actual admission that the heroine of this book is too stupid to figure out how to masturbate? Because at this point I would have no problem believing that.
Anyway, let’s get to the reason why we’re really here.
“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 onto 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 then gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy fuck. Sweet mother of all…Jeez.
Incidentally, this is just a small foretaste of the swearing that occurred when the hotel maid came in to clean the room and – on flushing the toilet – discovered that it was clogged with tampons because some nitwit didn’t seem to understand the sign above the bin clearly labelled for that purpose.
So. That was the tampon scene. If you were expecting something far more gross and messed up than him simply yanking out her tampon to make way for his angry little wiener, then welcome to Fifty Shades of Grey. You’re late to hop aboard the sexual disappointment train, but you’re in good – and numerous – company.
“Oh, Ana!” His breathing is ragged in my ear, in perfect synergy with mine.
Synergy (also synergism)
n. [mass noun] the interaction or cooperation of two or more organisations, substances or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. (Oxford English Dictionary)
The OED also goes on to say that synergy is a 19th century word derived from the Greek, which is all very interesting but from the dictionary that now contains the word ‘twerking’ I feel like ‘synergy’ deserves an updated etymology, including its use as a word frequently employed by thick people who are trying to make themselves sound more important in the boardroom. Or the bedroom. Or the bathroom, as the case may be.
Will it always be like this? So overwhelming, so all-consuming, so bewildering and beguiling?
In a word? No.
I remember that I have my period.
“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.
“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.
Wait until she sneezes and a big clotty lump sploops out and floats between your toes in the bath.
What? You wanted gross and the tampon scene didn’t deliver. I’m just making up for it here.
She notices he has…wait for it, plot point incoming…little round scars on his chest, and promptly starts wondering if they’re cigarette burns, which chimes in nicely with the Dave Peltzer childhood she’s been avidly imagining for him in between banal e-mails. Of course, plenty of people have scars that are not signs of horrible childhood abuse, but don’t tell Ana that. Just imagine if he’d had his appendix out at some point.
“Don’t look at me like that.” His voice is colder and scolding as he lets go of my hand.
I flush, chastened, and stare down at my fingers, and I know, I know that someone stubbed cigarettes out on Christian. I feel sick.
Oh Ana. You are sick. From this point on she spends most of the books getting down with this particular sickness, because it gives her some kind of twisted thrill to imagine Christian as an abused child. This is mainly so that she can a) feel sorry for him and congratulate herself for loving someone so damaged and b) excuse all the rotten things he does to her.
Ana asks him if Mrs. Robinson burned him with cigarettes and he says no, and that Ana doesn’t have to ‘demonise’ the woman who molested him when he was fifteen. Then Ana – once more – gets to the heart of her problem with Mrs. Robinson.
“I just wonder what you would be like if you hadn’t met her. If she hadn’t introduced you to your…um, lifestyle.”
So, you know. Raping a vulnerable adolescent = bad. Ruining that vulnerable adolescent for future relations by introducing him to badly researched BDSM so that he’ll never be the boyfriend Ana wants him to be = worse.
Christian then decides it’s finally time to share some plot points and tells her that had it not been for Mrs. Robinson he would probably have become a crack-whore like his biological mother. Then he has a little whinette about how it’s so hard to grow up in a perfect family when you’re not perfect, and if you believe that then you’ll believe anything.
Fortunately for him, Ana does.
She is determined to shake him down for even more plot points, because the book is nearly over. He gets angry and then Ana begs him not to be angry with her.
“I am not angry with you, Anastasia. I’m just not used to this kind of talking – this probing. I only have this with Dr. Flynn and with-” He stops and frowns.
“With her. Mrs. Robinson. You talk to her?” I prompt, trying to rein in my own temper.
“Yes, I do.”
And then Ana gets jealous of Mrs. Robinson and we are right back where we started at the beginning of the chapter. It’s little things like this that make me think the ancient Greeks missed out on these books not existing all those years ago, so that they could add reading them to the numerous torments of Tartarus. Seriously – three weeks of the Fifty Shades Trilogy and Sisyphus would be begging to get back to his boulder.
Somehow they get to yabbering about their stupid ‘arrangement’ again, and then it’s time for more terrible sex, this time in the bath.
And the water…it’s swirling around us, our own whirlpool, a stirring vortex as our movements become more frantic…sloshing everywhere, mirroring what’s happening inside me…and I just don’t care.
Feel free to imagine the Nomi Malone swimming pool sex scene from Showgirls at this point, by the way. I know I did.
“That’s right, baby,” he breathes.
And I come, my orgasm ripping through me, a turbulent, passionate apogee that devours me whole. And suddenly Christian crushes me to him…his arms wrapped around my back as he finds his release.
“Ana, baby!” he cries, and it’s a wild invocation, stirring and touching the depths of my soul.
I can honestly say that this book contains some of worst written sex I have ever read in all my years of following the annual literary Bad Sex Awards. Apogee? Invocation? Give me a fucking break.
Oh my God, and the chapter isn’t even over yet. I think they’re actually getting more bloated as we reach the end of the book. The next scene they’re lying around in bed wittering about nothing. We learn that his favourite movie is The Piano and that he’s paid for sex. Not in the same sentence, but “I like whores and that movie The Piano,” wouldn’t actually be out of character for Mr. Mom-Was-A-Crack-Whore-Goodnight-Darling.
He was apparently shocked when Ana wore his underwear, prompting her stupid fucking inner goddess to take up the pole vault. By the way, I am going to be severely disappointed if they don’t find a way to add the inner goddess parts to the movie of this book. If you’re going to commit yourself to making crap then you should do so wholeheartedly.
Anyway, end of chapter, so it’s time to go to sleep.
“Sleep,” he commands, then switches off the light.
And in this quiet moment as I close my eyes, spent and sated, I think I’m in the eye of the storm. And in spite of all he’s said, and what he hasn’t said, I don’t think I have ever been so happy.
Talk about damning with faint praise. I think this is the first time mopeface Ana has ever been happy.