Tag Archives: bdsm

Grey: Fifty Shades as told by a Garbage-Person, chapter six recap, part one

I spent much of the last recap being irritated with Grey’s hypocrisy after he kidnaps Ana and strips off her clothes, and lucky for all of us, when we return for the next chapter very little has changed:

Nearly two hours later, I come to bed. It’s just after 1:45. She’s fast asleep and hasn’t moved from where I left her. I strip, pull on my PJ pants and a T-shirt, and climb in beside her.

I would remind everyone that, in the last chapter, Ana’s consent was so very important when somebody else was violating it, but completely irrelevant when Grey decides he wants to do stuff with her. Now, with not a single thought about whether it may make Ana uncomfortable to have a near stranger crawling into bed with her when she’s not wearing pants, Grey just kinda… does exactly that. Because fuck what Ana wants, right?

To be clear, the man has other options. This isn’t one of those contrived romance novel scenarios where there’s only one bed and they have to sleep together; there’s a couch in that goddamn hotel suite. Hell, he’s rich enough to rent another room, if he wanted to. There’s simply no reason for him to do what he’s doing, and nobody wants to comment on that.

This is another one of those scenes that’s so much worse from Grey’s perspective than it is from Ana’s, because Ana was unconscious for the entirety of this part; her account ends at the bar, and comes back the next day. But when we see what Grey did during the same time period, we get an uncomfortable look at a guy with no boundaries taking advantage of a vulnerable woman, in what skirts rather too close to a date rape scene.

For seconds, minutes, hours, I don’t know, I watch her.

So much worse in this book.

There’s another one of those stupid single paragraph scenes, and I don’t need to say any more about how bad those are; when we come back it’s morning.

When was the last time I slept this late?
Ana.
Slowly I turn my head, and she’s fast asleep, facing me. Her beautiful face soft in repose.

Can I just take a moment to point out how bad that last passage is? The last sentence is a fragment, that could easily have just been a part of the sentence before it with the addition of a comma, but I guess that doesn’t gel with the whole “I hate flowing prose and want my books to read like they’re going over a series of potholes,” aesthetic that James has, here.

Nobody edited this book, did they? Not a single soul laid eyes on it, from the time it was written, until publication.

Christian reflects that he’s never slept with a woman before, using language that it’ll continue to repeat until we all get bored with it; he’s had sex plenty of times, but never actually kept the woman in his bed afterward. He seems to like the experience, though, and he describes that in the single most eye-roll inducing line in the entire book:

My cock agrees.

Seriously?

I have read a lot of smut stories in my time. I have written more than I care to count. But never before have I seen a line as simultaneously lazy, uninspired, and skin-crawlingly grody as this one. I’ve read more than one reviewer of this book joke that Grey’s crotch halberd replaces Ana’s inner goddess as the source of the protagonist’s inner monologue, but frankly, that rationale would be too funny, too deliberate, to match what I know about how E.L James “writes.” Far more likely is the idea that this is all just lazy writing, that James just uses the penis as a shorthand for sexual thought, and has absolutely no handle on why repetitious wording is bad for prose.

With E.L James, incompetence is always more likely than deliberate design choices.

So Grey goes off to do other things, but whenever he’s in the room with Ana’s somnolent form he takes a moment to just totally perv out on her and get an erection. It’s at this point that I need to remind us all that he spent much of the last chapter looking down on Jose for possibly showing overt sexual interest in a drunk woman, but I guess it’s okay to do that once the woman has passed out and can no longer vocalize her objections.

This is another short scene, and the only events therein are Christian relating the shocking revelation that he’s attracted to Ana, and him getting her some aspirin. So, something we already know, and something so irrelevant and boring that there’s little point writing about it at all. While most books attempt to write about things that will stoke the reader’s interest, Grey is content to repeat the same two or three points over and over, and only ever depict terrible, boring things happening. And yet Grey is a huge bestseller, coming off the heels of three other bestsellers, while other authors struggle to get any form of name recognition at all, for the most part.

This is what I point to, when someone tries to tell me that the world has some sense of justice to it.

The scene ends with Grey going out for a run, and begins again with him returning, which is at least an appropriate scene transition for once, if still a little boring. Isn’t it sad that I have to point out every adequate design choice in this book, since there’s so few of them?

He orders some breakfast for the both of them, since he’s empowered himself to be the keeper of all her dietary decisions when he’s with her, and then this:

Time to wake the delectable Miss Steele; she’s slept enough.

Persistent sexual objectification aside, I don’t think it’s really Grey’s decision whether she’s slept enough or not. This man is such a control freak over the smallest of things, and I don’t want to hear that it’s a BDSM thing because it’s fucking not; it’s an abuse thing. I’m a dominant, and I understand that it’s not my place to control the actions of people I’m not in an agreed upon D/s relationship with; Christian is far more preoccupied with getting all of his kink shit in writing, and yet he’s more presumptuous regarding what he’s empowered to do than I’ve ever been.

Everything about the kink in this book just feels like a pretense for Grey to act like an awful person, and yet still get defended by people who mistakenly think they’re defending kink from close-minded anti-kinksters.

To my delight, she’s sitting up in bed. The tablets are gone and so is the juice.
Good girl.

Okay, I’m finding this “good girl” thing increasingly gross, because it’s becoming almost like a catchphrase. Whenever a woman does something that Grey approves of, he keeps saying that, like he’s patting her on the head and balancing a fucking treat on her nose. A: they’re people, not fucking dogs, and B: they oftentimes aren’t acting expressly to please Christian Grey, the unrepentant narcissist, more often than not they’re just doing their jobs, or obvious things, that Christian simply must make about himself, in the most sneering way possible.

There’s a time and a place, and being around any woman ever is not the time to be busting out the Dom stuff. It’s not sexy, it’s just sleazy. In any other story, the character making constant sexual come ons would be the gross secondary character who’s the butt of all the jokes, and adding BDSM to that doesn’t help any, that’s not some exception. In fact it actually reinforces a harmful stereotype, that dominants are overbearing on women that they merely want to be sexual with, under some belief that they can dominate them into, excuse the pun, submission. That may be true of some dominants in the kink community, but not the good ones; given the importance placed on consent in kink, the kind of dominant who would inject their sexuality into normal situations without that consent are the bad ones.

And hey: if it walks like a bad dom, and talks like a bad dom…

She pales as I saunter into the room.
Keep it casual, Grey. You don’t want to be charged with kidnapping.

Ahh, so he does understand that what he did last night could easily be seen as kidnapping, especially by the person he did it to! So he really doesn’t have an excuse for doing it; he knew it was wrong, but because it was what he wanted, he did it anyway, regardless of anyone else. Like a child would do.

Also, do take note of the fact that Ana sees him and goes pale; that’s a negative reaction. So Ana didn’t particularly want to wake up in this situation either. In fact, Ana spends the rest of this scene acting very uncomfortable in Grey’s presence, and on the one hand I have to congratulate E.L James for writing her very first realistic character reaction ever, but on the other, it means that this scene is way more evil and uncomfortable than she intended, so I guess she’s back to zero, potentially even negative one, since she doesn’t seem to realize that’s how it’s coming off.

Ana (tentatively) tries to feel out what happened to her after she passed out, and everything about the way she acts says “scared,” to me:

“We didn’t—?” she whispers, staring at her hands.
Christ, what kind of animal does she think I am?

Gosh, yes, where would Ana get the idea that you might have tried to have sex with her while she’s unconscious, after you kidnapped her and took off her clothes? And don’t think I’ve forgotten that you will literally rape her later in the book, so let’s not get too arch over her questioning, Grey. This is not the time for you to look askance at the woman, if for no other reason than that it’s honestly a pretty good question to ask; she doesn’t know Grey, she’s spent an extended period of time unconscious in his presence, and all the information in her possession points in that direction. We may not like it, but women do live in a world where rape is unfortunately very common, the idea that Ana’s wrong to even consider it here is directly contrary to the fact that, well, it’s pretty standard safety procedures, for many women. E.L James is a woman, it’s kinda surprising seeing her react to that question as though it’s unreasonable.

“Anastasia, you were comatose. Necrophilia is not my thing.” My tone is dry. “I like my women sentient and receptive.”

*Sigh* Okay, maybe this is a nitpick, but since it’s symptomatic of a larger issue with a lack of research in this damn book, I don’t care: necrophilia is a paraphilia focused on dead people, not unconscious or comatose ones. The word James is looking for is somnophilia.

Ana “sags with relief,” at hearing this, which, I mean… romance novel, right? That’s the kind of reaction you want from your heroine toward your romantic hero, eh? She apologizes, presumably embarrassed, and we get this from Christian:

Hell. Maybe I should go easy on her.

Why would you want to go hard on her? No, seriously: why is a course of action that would undoubtedly make her feel bad even on the table to him? Hell, why was it his first reaction before she causes him to rethink it? Why is that where he goes?

More than once now, we’ve seen Christian deliberately set down a path of antagonism or criticism of Ana, when he doesn’t need to, for no reason. It seems to be his basal assumption when talking to Ana, that he’ll take the route that causes her the most discomfort wherever it presents itself. He called it “fun” in the last chapter, and went there the moment she gave him an opening, without a second thought. Here, it was where he started, and only backed off when she was appropriately contrite. It’s like he enjoys humiliating her, and not in a kinky way, and that’s the behavior of a sociopath, not a romantic candidate for her. It’s a huge red flag of future abuse.

But let’s be charitable, and presume that he was merely going to henpeck her over her poor choices last night so she doesn’t repeat her mistakes in future: he still doesn’t have that right. He’s only known her for a few days, she’s an acquaintance at best: where does he get off, lecturing her like that? She’s a goddamn adult.

Thankfully, Ana herself seems to realize this shortly thereafter, and she points out something that she really should have done from the beginning:

“You didn’t have to track me down with whatever James Bond gadgetry you’re developing for the highest bidder.”
Whoa! Now she’s pissed. Why?

I love Grey’s response here, because it’s so delightfully insipid, questioning why she’s mad when she literally just got through telling him why she’s mad, but also when Grey himself has acknowledged that what he did was wrong. There’s no reason for that “why?” to be there, except to make Christian look like a derpy child sociopath, unable to understand why it is that he’s in trouble. Not that his “ooh, she mad now!” crap before it doesn’t do that job perfectly well, in its reductive flippancy, but the “why?” just makes him look like an alien attempting to understand why the hu-man is angry.

“First, the technology to track cell phones is available over the Internet.”
Well, the Deep Net…
“Second, my company does not invest or manufacture any kind of surveillance devices.”
My temper is fraying, but I’m on a roll. “And third, if I hadn’t come to get you, you’d probably be waking up in the photographer’s bed, and from what I can remember, you weren’t overly enthused about him pressing his suit.”

Christian gets all arch and attempts to defend his actions, and the results are predictably off point; his excuses center around correcting irrelevant technicalities and preening about how he’s totally correct in hindsight based upon equally irrelevant fantasies of what might have happened with the huge leap of logic that Jose is a rapist too, which Ana should have known better than to accept off hand. At no point does Christian even seem to understand the real reason why Ana’s upset which- and I shouldn’t have to tell you this- actually has nothing to do with whether Christian’s company makes the technology that he used to track her, and everything to do with the violation of her privacy and boundaries that the use of such technology on her represents. Ana isn’t mad because she was tracked with Grey Corp (or whatever the fuck that company is called) phone tracking software, she’s mad because she was tracked at all, like an animal.

Grey either doesn’t get that, or is trying to sidetrack to avoid getting in trouble himself, but none of those things absolve him. It’s just more important to ignore how poorly he handled the situation last night, so that the readers don’t get it into their heads that their precious main character’s actions were way over the line.

Anyway, Ana laughs at Grey because his speech patterns are increasingly becoming English to the point of absurdity, and Grey of course takes a moment to be a frowny little poo-baby over that, like he has to every time someone dares to express anything less than reverent worship in his presence. She says he sounds like some knight from an old story, and in the fine tradition of pretentious teenagers playing at misanthropy everywhere, Christian grumbles back, “Dark Knight maybe…”

Presumably Ana then goes on to swoon and write his name surrounded by love hearts in her trapper keeper.

Hopefully as embarrassed about what he just said as I am for him, Christian goes on to, yes, admonish Ana over her eating habits, so if you’ll all just cross that off your checklists you’ll see we’ve gone through all of the repetitious crap in this chapter that has been present in every other chapter. Ana, at least, calls him out on his infantilizing nonsense this time, if briefly, and Christian responds by slipping on his “I must never hint at my kink proclivities to anybody ever,” commitment, and nobody ever comments on it, which you’d think would be a sign for Grey to relax his weird, OCD deathgrip on his sexuality, but no:

“Well, if you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday. You didn’t eat, you got drunk, you put yourself at risk.”

But it’s at this point that I have to ask whether Grey’s trying to be Ana’s dominant, or her parent? Because policing eating and drinking habits and dictating when a girl can go out tend to be the jurisdiction of the latter, not the former, unless they’re engaged in a particularly old-timey variation on 24-hour power exchange, which Christian has not expressed any interest in before now.

Grey continues to make unfounded assumptions about how Kate wouldn’t have been there for Ana, and about Jose, and of course he dismisses Ana’s rebuttals, because obviously he knows more about her friends than she does, after all, he’s Christian Grey! How could he ever be wrong?

Because everything in this book is geared around Christian being into BDSM without ever configuring the plot so that any of that might seem natural and not forced, Ana calls Christian a “disciplinarian,” because that’s totally the way an American college student talks. There’s some more vague, second hand dancing around the idea that Christian’s into kink, and it’s now that I have to add that we’re six chapters into the book, and have been proceeding along mentioning Christian’s sexual fetishes for the bulk of the book, and yet nobody has yet written the word BDSM. Seriously, we’re so far into the book and nobody has bothered to explicitly note that Christian’s into kink, it just assumes that we should all already know that without having to be told. No new fans here, right?

I’m beginning to suspect that the consumer base for this series shrank rather noticeably after the release of this book, even considering the rather… broad tastes of the fans of the other books in the series.

An image of her shackled to my bench, peeled gingerroot inserted in her ass so she can’t clench her buttocks, comes to mind, followed by judicious use of a belt or strap. Yeah…That would teach her not to be so irresponsible.

I’ll be honest: I actually snickered when reading this line during my note-taking. The ginger root thing is a real thing, it’s not, you know, horrifying on its own or anything, but it really does feel like amateur hour to me. It’s the sort of thing I suspect a writer could find by hitting up Google with the phrase “secret BDSM tricks.” It’s not the kind of thing I’ve ever seen an actual, real life BDSM practitioner all fired up and pumped to do.

She’s staring at me wide-eyed and dazed, and it makes me uncomfortable. Can she read my mind?

I know this is supposed to be rhetorical, but consider that Christian spent an earlier scene telepathically telling Ana to break eye contact with him, so I’m entirely ready to believe that Christian is seriously asking if the woman can read his mind, which is a just hilarious consequence of how weirdly this book is written.

She’s hard to resist, and I grant myself permission to touch her, tracing the line of her cheek with my thumb.

Oh, you gave yourself permission, did you? And apparently that’s sufficient to perform the action too, since you just went ahead and pawed at her… so where’s Ana’s permission for that? Does it even matter, here?

Remember how Christian was all “she doesn’t want this!” when Jose was physically contacting Ana without her consent before? Remember how self righteous he’s still being about that, even earlier in this chapter? But when it’s him, all that matters is his own permission, apparently. Hmm.

In what strikes me as an act of the most sublime mercy, these two idiots are separated, and Christian wanders off to shower. While he’s alone, he wonders what to do with Ana, and this is problematic because the conversation is the exact same flip-flop that he’s engaged in every other chapter since he met her:

She’s still here, in my bed, so she cannot find me completely repulsive. I noticed the way her breath caught in her throat, and how her gaze followed me around the room.
Yeah. There’s hope.
But would she make a good submissive?
It’s obvious she knows nothing of the lifestyle. She couldn’t even say “fuck” or “sex” or whatever bookish college students use as a euphemism for fucking these days. She’s quite the innocent. She’s probably been subjected to a few fumbling encounters with boys like the photographer.

Leaving aside again the stupid assumptions about Ana being “innocent,” I’m getting pretty tired of being exposed to these roundabout “Clearly she likes me, but would she make a good submissive?” things. Christian never actually resolves this issue one way or another, he merely dances the same steps; Ana is inexperienced, she wants romance, maybe kink, so she could be a submissive, ad infinitum. James even writes it in the same words, nearly every time, and it’s all completely unnecessary, because James seems to know that she’s not going to be courting new readers with this book; if the only audience you’re interested in is the one that already knows what’s going to happen, then these conversations Christian has with himself really are just wasteful, repetitious nonsense.

I get that it’s an important question to ask, that from Christian’s perspective he has no idea whether Ana will be receptive to his kinks or not, but if it’s just going to be framed the exact same way, and Christian takes six chapters to actually resolve to progress the issue, then it’s all just sort of pointless. And that’s really frustrating, actually, because there’s an actual human moment to be had, that would be real and authentic and a good look at kink, in portraying a man getting increasingly nervous over revealing his kink to a sexual partner; that’s a sort of relationship milestone that I think many kinksters have had, filled with awkwardness and relief when it’s over, you know, relatable things that a human being might empathize with.

But once again, something like that gets passed over entirely, because this book doesn’t seem to know how to have an honest, real moment with its characters. Instead, we just get another boring, pablum conversation with Grey. It’d be sad, if it wasn’t so terribly expected.

We do get the slightest bit of progress however, in that Grey comes to the brilliant conclusion, after so much roundabout contemplation, that Ana can only react to his kinks, either positively or negatively, if she knows about them. Isn’t it interesting, how it took six chapters to get from “I’m imagining fucking this woman,” to “I’d better tell this woman I want to have sex with her?”

I know I’m recapping the chapter, but recounting the boring shit that happens here gets increasingly difficult; a recap is supposed to be about the highlights, but there are no highlights here, just endless mundane nonsense; Grey get out of the bathroom, and then Ana goes into the bathroom… How exactly am I supposed to make this interesting or fun to read?

Things begin to be, you know, about things when room service shows up, though mostly the thing they get to be is Christian’s delusional narcissism:

“Just call room service when you want the table cleared, sir,” Miss Dark Eyes says with a coquettish look, as if she’s offering more.
My chilly smile warns her off.

Just can’t have a woman who doesn’t fawn all over Mr. Grey, after all. Unfortunately for E.L James, having this book be first person means, by necessity, that everything we see is filtered through Christian’s subjective lens, and since she didn’t see fit to add any more detail that might actually establish that the woman is attracted to Grey, it just seems like he’s convincing himself that she totally is, so there. It’s hilariously desperate sounding, especially in light of the fact that he relies on a rich friend to supply him with women, whom he then contractually obligates to have casual sex with him for money and gifts.

Just… just thought I’d keep that in all of your minds: Christian gets his hook ups for submissives from Elena, he doesn’t charm them himself or anything. I submit that there’s probably a good reason for that.

Also, please note that Christian continues in his complete inability to refer to people respectfully; he’s always got to have some belittling or demeaning nickname for them, generally referencing their appearance, rather than just using pronouns or learning their names. His condescension extends to his internal narration too; he’s just that terrible of a person, and yet we’re supposed to be invested in him?

It’s at this point that Grey gets a text from Elliot:

My phone buzzes—a text from Elliot.
Kate wants to know if Ana is still alive.

I chuckle, somewhat mollified that Ana’s so-called friend is thinking about her. It’s obvious that Elliot hasn’t given his dick a rest after all his protestations yesterday. I text back.
Alive and kicking 😉

So, the book plays all this off like a big joke- “Ho ho ho, so did you murder the girl you kidnapped last night or not, you big japester you?”- but I really have my doubts that Kate actually meant it that way… there’s plenty of reasons for her to ask that question seriously, after all. From Kate’s perspective, Ana disappeared last night, apparently with a near total stranger to her, who spent the night studiously controlling the information that Kate got about Ana, receiving it only third hand through someone previously affiliated with Christian (Elliot). Kate hasn’t heard from Ana all night, and Ana does have a phone, so why could that be?

Grey is flippant about this, E.L James clearly wants us to think it’s quaint, but a little empathy with Kate shows that the question represents some very legitimate concerns she might be having, that are erased in this desperate march toward excusing Christian’s bad behavior.

When Ana returns she actually echoes my sentiment for a second, realizing that she hasn’t checked in with Kate to let her know she’s fine, but then she’s oddly trusting of Grey, her kidnapper, when he says (and potentially lies to her) that Kate totally knows where she is. I guess Ana might have been a bit distracted though, since a moment later she decides to cough up a bit of that dictionary she apparently ate the night before in a drunken stupor:

“I didn’t know what you liked, so I ordered a selection from the breakfast menu,” I mutter by way of an apology.
“That’s very profligate of you,” she says.

Okay, yeah, yeah, E.L James got a word-a-day calendar I guess, but this is still ridiculous writing; no human being speaks that way casually, let alone an American college student. It is, however, exactly the way a British housewife would write her Mary Sue self-insert fan fiction heroine in order to sound smart to the readers on fanfiction.net.

But I guess it’d be too much to ask for any pretense that this isn’t just a rehash of earlier, free work, wouldn’t it?

Ana questions why Christian keeps buying her shit, and though his internal narration makes it clear that it’s because he likes her and wants to keep seeing her, he continues to lie to her by saying the opposite, that it’s a “warning” to stay away, because isn’t it romantic for a guy to begin a potential relationship with a campaign of lies and stalking? Weirdly, the passage where all this occurs continues the theme of Christian suspecting Ana of being telepathic, because he genuinely wonders if she knows what he’s thinking a few times during it. Like, in a way that’s too specific to be just a “she sees right through me,” turn of phrase kind of deal.

Finally though, he does admit that he finds her irresistible, and I wonder why, because he knows so little about her as a person that even a Love-At-First-Sight storyline is straining it a bit. It’s taken us six chapters to get here, but Christian finally resolves to show her his kinks, in the most dramatic and pompous “I need a whole date with you to tell you I’m into bondage” way possible.

“Are you smirking at me, Miss Steele?” I can’t hide my amusement.
Oh, she’d be a joy to train…challenging, maddening woman.

Okay… So I know E.L James has never participated in BDSM, nor has she done even a single second of research into the actual interpersonal dynamics behind it, so this goes without saying, but what she’s written here is inaccurate. Christian assumes that because Ana isn’t being completely reverent to him right now, she would continue to “challenge” him were she his submissive, and it doesn’t surprise me that the subtleties of what’s happening here elude him, but you can’t actually make assumptions of how a person would act in one situation, based upon their actions in another.

Ana is giving Christian a hard time as an equal, she is talking to him in a less than perfectly respectful manner because she is in a situation where that is okay to do. There’s no reason to think that she wouldn’t act in ways that Christian wants should she agree to become his submissive. But that’s not even a thing that she knows is on the cards, because Christian is determined to make it into this huge, world-shaking secret that need only be spoken in hushed whispers, after sweeping the room for spy bugs.

The fact is, the role one takes on in a BDSM context is exactly that, a role that you play in a specific context. For the most part it’s not wise to take those behaviors outside of the bedroom (or playroom, or study, or kitchen…) because they’re specifically geared toward sexy play with particular people who have prearranged for those roles; people who haven’t consented for you to treat them in those ways probably won’t appreciate it very much when you do. Thus, who you are in your kink life and who you are in your real life are two distinct states that do not inform each other, or at least don’t have to, and frankly, this is something that anybody writing about BDSM should already be aware of. It’s already a cornerstone narrative trope of kink fiction- the assertive, loudmouth person longing to be dominated, the shy, quiet man who’s a dominant livewire once he gets you alone, that sort of thing- so much so that I refuse to believe that anybody who has actually read a good deal of kink fiction could come away with the reverse impression. But then, I suppose that’s the problem, isn’t it?

I am a shy person who is a BDSM dominant. My submissive is incredibly assertive in real life, so much so that she occasionally embarrasses me in public by being that way. In the bedroom though, she’s the perfect little submissive, and I act in ways that I never could in public; who you are as a kinkster does not have to imply things about your public persona, nor vice versa, and Grey is wrong to think otherwise.

Hey, at least something’s finally happening between these two, which is pleasant; it’s such a shock to see this pair stop just dancing around one another, never saying anything honest or of value. But then Christian says something dumb, and I remember what I’m reading, so I stop having positive thoughts:

“Because I’m not going to touch you, Anastasia—not until I have your written consent to do so.”

I’m just going to say this: Christian’s conception of BDSM is weird. Written consent is a fine thing, it’s something that you occasionally see crop up in real life kink in the form of a slave contract or somesuch, but Christian’s resistance to even discussing the subject without an ironclad written agreement of silence is so over the top as to be ridiculous. This book doesn’t take place, like, fifty years ago or anything. It takes place less than a decade ago; we live in an era where having a kink isn’t the instantaneous smear against one’s professional reputation, and even if it was, what does that matter to Grey? He owns his own company, he’s rich as fuck and, apparently, central to whatever industries he’s actually involved in, so what risk does he bear, here? What, is he gonna lose his job at his own company? Is he gonna have to pay the kink tax and end up broke?

What’s weirdest about all this is that it doesn’t even come up later; I can’t even accuse Grey’s secretive behavior of being a manufactured conflict for later in the series because once Ana’s in the fold it never comes up again, as far as I can recall. It’s certainly not central to the narrative. It is, in every sense, a throwaway thing, and the only conclusion that I can come to because of that is that E.L James really does think that BDSM is some shameful secret that needs to be buried deep and never spoken about in polite society, that what she describes as Christian’s precautions are necessary.

In retrospect, of course, we can see how laughable this notion is: Fifty Shades of Grey is a bestselling novel series that was adapted into a similarly successful movie, and it didn’t get that way because it’s a brilliant example of literature. People picked this book up- even read it in public!- because they were interested in the kinks contained in it. For a while, a little cottage industry popped up selling Fifty Shades-styled BDSM accouterments and romance stuff. One thing we can take away from all this is that, contrary to Fifty Shades’ own premise, BDSM is not some rare, dark secret that needs to be concealed from the public at all costs. We didn’t see a rash of housewives being persecuted in the streets because they picked up this series. E.L James did not face any serious public backlash for being a kinkster even when it became clear that she liked this stuff upon the book’s release. Hell, even the initial fan fiction version of the book evidently gained enough positive feedback to justify an attempt to publish it.

Christian Grey treats his kink like some great dark secret, fit to rend his life asunder if it ever got out, but the truth is that we’ve known this is false for a long time, certainly since the release of the first novel. All his theatrics are entirely unnecessary, and the self-seriousness with which the characters treat all this is far funnier because of that.

Not that it, you know, stops Grey at all:

“Well, we could go to Seattle this evening or next Saturday for dinner at my place, and I’ll acquaint you with the facts then. The choice is yours.”
“Why can’t you tell me now?”
“Because I’m enjoying my breakfast and your company. Once you’re enlightened, you probably won’t want to see me again.”

The assumption that a woman would be so repulsed by BDSM that she flees the practitioner permanently is pretty ridiculous on its own- especially when we factor in the maybe four meetings that Christian has had with Ana, none of which contained conversations on sexuality- but it becomes especially so when it comes from the mouth of a protagonist lusted after by millions of fans for precisely that kink. This series’ success undercuts central establishing premises of the narrative, and it’s actually kinda breathtaking how E.L James never seems to deviate from the clearly untrue things that inform the beginnings of her work. Grey, if nothing else, presented a chance to correct certain things that didn’t gel about the original series, and frankly any writer worth their salt would kill to be in that position, to have success enough to have an opportunity to go back and play with their work, but E.L James apparently doesn’t care and is content to just shunt out the same story once more. This commitment to isolation, to not caring, to refusing to experiment, either on her part or on the part of her publisher, is just… depressing.

This problem is only compounded by the dire, self-important tone that Grey himself insists on striking:

“Like Eve, you’re so quick to eat from the tree of knowledge,” I taunt her.

I get that this is supposed to be a little tongue in cheek, but the thing is that these sorts of references, delivered like they are, aren’t very common in normal conversation, let alone between a pair of American twenty-somethings. The dialogue is just stunted enough to seem unreal, the literary reference just a little too far-reaching, and so it ends up being just another line in a near endless series of lines where Christian takes himself way too seriously. Every time he calls some part of his personality “dark,” or likens himself to a figure in classic literature, he becomes a little more of a self-important try-hard. He’s little more than a pompous narcissist; nobody likes being around people who can’t make light of themselves and demands that everyone else take them as seriously as they do, and yet this is literally the persona of the main character of this book. It’s completely insufferable.

Anyway, Christian decides to show off some more and arranges for his private helicopter to be readied so he can fly Ana to his home for this self-important big reveal. When he treats Taylor like a servant rather than an employee, Ana expresses the slightest disapproval at his commanding tone, and Christian gets remarkably defensive:

“Usually, if they want to keep their jobs.” Don’t question how I treat my staff.

“Because I treat them badly, and I don’t want to face any negative consequences for that!”

If you thought that I was just being unkind by asserting that Christian was showing off with the helicopter, he then goes on to all but confirm this, taking great delight in how shocked Ana is that he owns a helicopter. It’s kind of a gross moment where he basically waves his dick around, and then commands Ana to eat more food, because what we really needed was more diet policing from a man she barely knows. He says he “has an issue with wasted food,” as though that’s somehow Ana’s problem, like everyone just has to kowtow to his vaguely sketched “issues.” He admitted earlier that he ordered too much food, but apparently now this is everyone else’s fault, and he compounds this by shaming Ana some more over what happened last night.

What a catch this guy is, right?

We get another skin-crawly moment where he calls her “good girl,” after she does something he wants, and when Ana gets up to do other things it finally occurs to her to ask one of those important questions one should ask after waking up in the company of your kidnapper:

“Where did you sleep last night?” she asks.
“In my bed.” With you.
“Oh.”
“Yes, it was quite a novelty for me, too.”
“Not having…sex.”
She said the s-word…and the telltale pink cheeks appear.
“No.”
How can I tell her this, without it sounding weird?
Just tell her, Grey.
“Sleeping with someone.” Nonchalantly, I turn my attention back to the sports section and the write-up on last night’s game, then watch as she disappears into the bedroom.
No, that didn’t sound weird at all.

So… okay, we already heard this exact same statement from Grey earlier, that he’s never slept with someone before, so why do we need to hear it now? Or, to be more exact, why did we have to hear it before? There’s no need to repeat information that the reader already knows, but there was simply no need to have the first iteration of this exact sentence earlier when it works so much better here. The first time Grey mentioned this, it was to himself in the night, and so it was just information presented in a context-less void. Here, we have an opportunity to see both Christian’s feelings toward that fact (see, as opposed to just being straight up told in narration) and how Ana would react to knowing that Grey has never slept with another person before. Of course, this is a missed opportunity even as a repetition, because as usual James spares all the details and just leaves bare dialogue for the majority of this scene.

Reading this book is like being blind, at times: we hear a lot of talking without any context or visuals surrounding it, and so we miss out on all those subtle cues and actions that real people use when they’re around others. It is immensely to the detriment of this novel that the writer seems so disinterested in actually writing, in painting the scene with anything other than the bare minimum of things to push the “story” along.

In another interesting moment of “no new readers will ever pick this book up,” Christian sends out for an NDA but refuses to actually explain what it’s for in anything other than the vaguest of language. The fact that Christian gets the women he kinks with to sign nondisclosure agreements was already one of the harder sells in the original novel- James handwaves it with some nonsense about his reputation, which is undercut both by the fact that clearly, BDSM is more popular than she thinks, and that Christian’s a CEO and his livelihood isn’t dependent on a public image of purity- and since it gets no explanation at all here it just comes totally out of left field. It’s not like BDSM was a state fucking secret before this series showed how popular it truly is, after all.

After a particularly unintentionally funny passage in which Christian’s assistant calls him to talk about something important related to his charitable works toward starving children and Christian tunes her out to ogle Ana, the two of them finally leave this interminable scene.

“Ready to go?” I ask Ana. She nods. I grab my jacket and car keys and follow her out the door. She peeks at me through long lashes as we walk toward the elevator, and her lips curl into a shy smile. My lips twitch in response.
What the hell is she doing to me?

I love this. I love that a girl Christian likes smiles at him, which causes him to smile back, and his first reaction is “what is happening to my mouth? Am a malfunctioning? Is this hu-mon love?” E.L James makes it so damn easy to imagine that Christian is some kind of alien, like a less charming Ford Prefect from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who still hasn’t figured out how the Earthlings work.

And then Christian pops a boner in the elevator, and I just lose my fucking shit.

The elevator arrives, and I allow her to step in first. I press the first-floor button and the doors close. In the confines of the elevator, I’m completely aware of her. A trace of her sweet fragrance invades my senses…Her breathing alters, hitching a little, and she peeks up at me with a bright come-hither look.
Shit.
She bites her lip.
She’s doing this on purpose. And for a split second I’m lost in her sensual, mesmerizing stare. She doesn’t back down.
I’m hard.
Instantly.
I want her.
Here.
Now.
In the elevator.

Okay, listen: leaving aside that this passage looks like a fucking shopping list because of all the single words, you can’t just force eroticism like that. It’s not a switch you can flip, you can’t just be all “NOW IS THE TIME TO BE AROUSED!” and expect everyone to follow along with you.  Sensuality builds, grows slowly, desire needs to be stoked. Yes, spontaneity is a good thing, and I absolutely understand the idea of setting a sexy scene in an elevator, but there’s a difference between spontaneous actions and spontaneous writing. In this case we’re dealing with the latter, where just a few sentences before we were talking about Darfur or some shit, and then suddenly Christian’s getting erections at elevator music and the pace of the scene has gone all to hell. Slow the fuck down and spend some time describing Christian’s reactions and what Ana is doing, don’t just throw yourself instantly into sex mode. Grey’s actions can be spontaneous, but the writing shouldn’t be: we shouldn’t just get “I am horny now,” and then he goes for the kiss, that’s asinine.

It’s a real pity too, because what follows that passage is a line that could actually have been pretty effective in a story that spent some time building tension and empathy with Christian’s position, rather than just cavalierly demanding that we switch moods to something else whenever James wants us to:

“Oh, fuck the paperwork.” The words come from nowhere and on instinct I grab her and push her against the wall. Clasping both her hands, I pin them above her head so she can’t touch me, and once she’s secure, I twist my other hand in her hair while my lips seek and find hers.

This here? This is just fine, except for the bit where Grey stops to literally explain that he doesn’t want her touching him. For one, I think that’s plenty established by now, but in any case you don’t just tell that. “Show don’t tell,” that’s fucking basic writing advice. Jesus.

She moans into my mouth, the call of a siren, and finally I can sample her: mint and tea and an orchard of mellow fruitfulness

I… don’t think Grey knows what the deal is with Sirens. Also, what the hell is an “orchard of mellow fruitfulness”?

A few sentences later Grey, a literal millionaire, says that Ana’s kiss reminds him of a “time of plenty,” which somehow isn’t right this goddamn second because, you know, millionaire. If I’d written a sentence like that my editor would have been up my ass about it before she’d even finished the paragraph.

And then something happens that is going to keep happening throughout, and it’s just so baffling a design choice that I have to bring it up at its first instance, though I promise I’ll have more to say when it starts to become a real problem:

“You. Are. So. Sweet,” I murmur against her lips, completely intoxicated, punch-drunk with her scent and taste.

Oh. Oh god.

This is one of those things that Grey’s detractors keep pointing to to support their position, and I can absolutely see why; Christian’s habit of punctuating. every. word. during sexy or romantic scenes is the sort of verbal tic that just drags down the mood of whatever scene it’s in. It’s so ridiculously clunky and awkward sounding that I legitimately have a hard time believing that an editorial team would have let it through, have the Fifty Shades series not originally dealt with the lowered expectations of the small publishing house that it was initially published as a print-on-demand book.

Grey does this all the time and it’s absolute murder on one’s ability to take this story at all seriously. I could potentially see it being acceptable (once or twice, not every fucking time) if he were saying each word between kissing Ana, but the writing never makes it clear that that’s what he’s doing and so I can’t exactly give this novel the benefit of the doubt, since it hasn’t earned it at all before now. I could go on and on about how dumb this is, but it’ll come up later so we’ll get to it.

For some reason, Grey chastises himself for kissing Ana once the elevator reaches their floor, and we get yet another stunning example of the lack of self awareness in this book:

When was the last time I lost control?

When you ordered a background check on a woman because you thought she was hot. Oh, no, when you stalked a woman because you thought she was hot! Oh, wait, how about that time you kidnapped a woman because you thought she was hot?

Also remember this line for later in the chapter, it’ll come in handy.

“You’ve brushed your teeth,” I observe with wry amusement.
“I used your toothbrush,” she says, eyes shining.
Of course she has…and for some reason, I find this pleasing, too pleasing. I stifle my smile.

Ugh!

But she hasn’t run.
Even though I jumped her in the elevator.
I should say something about what happened in there—but what?
Sorry?
How was that for you?
What the hell are you doing to me?

Grey has asked himself what Ana is “doing to him,” several times during this interlude, and aside from just being repetitious, it kinda irritates me because it puts all the focus on women for the sexual decisions men make. Grey can’t quite understand that the things he feels, and the way he acts upon them, are products of his own psyche and not something Ana is doing; Ana isn’t doing anything to him, he’s attracted to her and decided to kiss her in an elevator without waiting for her consent. Yes, she was into it, but that doesn’t mean that his attraction to her is some sort of concerted, conscious plan on her part. Too often men in fiction- and out of it- put the onus and responsibility for their sexual attractions onto the women they’re attracted to, as though if they didn’t want what they got then they should have somehow acted to quell the desire of the man, as though that’s their job. Grey is just one in a long line of male romantic leads to do this, but I gotta point it out when I see it, you know?

Ana isn’t doing anything to Grey, Grey is simply projecting his desires onto her. Ana has nothing to do with it until he sees fit to communicate it to her… which he didn’t do, instead just kissing her. There’s the problem.

They go off to… whatever, and we all endure an utterly horrible conversation about Christian’s taste in musing and other awful shit that nobody wants to hear about, and then Christian is a disrespectful, infantilizing ass again:

“Why do you insist on calling me Anastasia?” she asks.
“Because it’s your name.”
“I prefer Ana.”
“Do you, now?”
“Ana” is too everyday and ordinary for her. And too familiar. Those three letters have the power to wound…
And in that moment I know that her rejection, when it comes, will be hard to take. It’s happened before, but I’ve never felt this…invested. I don’t even know this girl, but I want to know her, all of her. Maybe it’s because I’ve never chased a woman.
Grey, get control of yourself and follow the rules, otherwise this will all go to shit.
“Anastasia,” I say, ignoring her disapproving look.

Because what do Ana’s preferences matter, eh? She’s only the girl you’re developing feelings for, after all. Clearly it’s more important that you have your way on every single point, Christian.

Grey, get control of yourself and follow the rules, otherwise this will all go to shit.

I hate to ask, but are these rules of his actually informed by anything? Did Christian have some experiences in his past that led to the formulation of his secretive practices? Has he ever tried not following the rules?

The series never establishes where these rules came from, and seems to just treat them as necessary and prudent precautions to take, things that anybody would come up with if they were in the position of being a kinkster. It should be obvious that this isn’t true; I’m fairly open about my kinks, and I’ve not suffered a single negative consequence of that. So I simply can’t presuppose the things Grey asks me to. If Christian is supposed to exist in the real world then it is apparent that his rules are more for his benefit, so that he can maintain the illusion of being some outcast loner.

“Anastasia,” I say, ignoring her disapproving look. “What happened in the elevator—it won’t happen again—well, not unless it’s premeditated.”
That keeps her quiet as I park outside her apartment. Before she can answer me I climb out of the car, walk around and open her door.
As she steps onto the sidewalk, she gives me a fleeting glance. “I liked what happened in the elevator,” she says.
You did?

Oh, for god’s sake! She clearly kissed you back, you fucking moron! Did you actually need her to yell it into a fucking megaphone? Are you so completely unable to read body language and reactions that a woman literally sticking her tongue in your mouth isn’t a strong enough sign that she liked it when you kissed her? If so, you definitely shouldn’t be a dominant: reading your submissive is one of the most important skills you need there, and you clearly don’t have it.

Returning to Ana’s place, Christian proceeds to secretly insult every person in the room, mostly Kate for daring to be a woman and not also omniscient and entirely dedicated to only doing things that Christian Grey approves of, but he also takes time to get territorial over Elliot when he dares to… greet Ana upon meeting her?

Elliot hugs Ana, holding her for a moment too long.
“Hi, Ana,” he says, all fucking smiles.
“Hi, Elliot.” She beams.
Okay, this is becoming unbearable. “Elliot, we’d better go.” And take your hands off her.

You can often tell a lot about a person from what they say, and Christian’s reactions whenever a man is around Ana is projection of the highest order. He assumes that every male figure around her has purely sexual interest in her at all times because he only has sexual interest in her at all times, and he literally cannot imagine a person who wouldn’t treat an attractive woman as anything other than a sexual object.

And even if Elliot is being overtly sexual to Ana, it’s not Christian’s fucking decision whether they stop or not. I don’t care if Ana literally straddles Elliot’s hot throbbing Grey cock and rides him until the table breaks, that is entirely their decision and Christian’s approval or disapproval does not factor into it unless they decide that it does. Christian is not the gatekeeper of Ana’s body; maybe she likes the way Elliot looks and just wants some uncomplicated casual sex with someone less demanding and secretive than Christian is proving to be. He doesn’t get to order people off of her just because he is attracted to her: his attraction doesn’t confer responsibilities to be virginal upon Ana.

What’s weird is that, as defensive as Christian is around Ana, he’s equally displeased when Elliot displays sexual interest in a woman that Christian hasn’t decided he owns. He’s all like “oh, how unseemly, kissing a girl in public,” right after he kissed Ana in an elevator, which is arguably more public than in someone’s home. But hey, Christian is perfect and we all need to do as he says, not as he does.

Ultimately this scene is just another opportunity for Christian to be all like “Ana just wants romance and I don’t do that,” as if the idea that a person can want two things is some impossible leap of logic to him. For all the pretense of having these broad sexual horizons, he certainly does have an extremely limited view of other people and how they might approach sex.

And now we have the “let’s tie up some loose ends!” scene!

In quick succession- like, quick even for this book- we go through Jose’s background check (he’s clean but for a minor marijuana charge, which Christian baselessly disapproves of, of course) and the NDA thing, which actually raises a lot of questions. Obviously the language on that thing would have to be pretty exacting regarding the nature of what Ana cannot disclose, but he got it sent to him by his secretary so… does she just know about his kinks? Did she have to sign the NDA too? What if Ana just doesn’t sign it, the wording would have to at least hint at what he’s trying to hide, wouldn’t it? So wouldn’t she be able to glean it from that?

… Well, this is Ana we’re talking about, she’s not the brightest knife in the shed.

The scene goes by very fast and there’s nothing there that couldn’t be folded into the next scene I guess, but James seems to favor these pointless infodumps where we don’t even get any scene setting so they might as well just have taken place floating in outer space.It seriously is just a few paragraphs thrown in to deal with all the unnecessary plot threads that James has put in place without any seeming interest in weaving them into the mainline narrative. That, I think, is the biggest problem with this: Jose’s background check and Christian’s NDA won’t factor into the story at all beyond the end of this chapter, they literally mean nothing beyond this point, so why do we need to stop to hear about them? Why do they deserve a conclusion, let alone any form of throughline, if they have no purpose? They aren’t even good flavor because they add nothing to the characters. It’s just padding to fill out a word count, I suppose.

At the end of the “scene,” Elliot wants to go hiking, and since absolutely every scene just has to end a sentence after something happens in it, we then cut to them doing exactly that. There’s another all too brief glimpse of Christian as a child, as the forest evokes some memories of the past, but it’s literally like three lines, and I can’t help but feel that this story would be tremendously improved if only James had any interest in her characters, but it’s so clear that she doesn’t. Perhaps she cared about the characters from Twilight that all of these ones are carbon copies of, back when she was writing this for free before the promise of reward turned her work into this mercenary crap, but Christian Grey? No. No, and you can feel it in how she won’t allow him to have even a proper paragraph to breathe as a character.

How can we begin to care about a person who’s only given a few sentences at a time to tell us what he’s about?

I picture her sleeping beside me, soft and small…and my cock twitches with expectation. I could have woken her and fucked her then—what a novelty that would have been.

Isn’t it interesting how even in Christian’s fantasies, Ana’s consent isn’t important? Yes, he could have fucked her, but if he did it without her consent (something she clearly would not have given had she been in her right mind, considering her reaction once she was sober) then that would be rape, something that he doesn’t even consider, and apparently finds the whole thing to be a “novelty.”

Right after this, Christian affirms that he’ll “fuck her in time,” still not taking into account her consent at all, which is weird because he spends the rest of the book before this point assuming that she’ll see his kinks and never want to see him again. We end the scene on this line that, if we take this into account, becomes downright ominous:

I’ll fuck her bound and with her smart mouth gagged.

He’s seriously gonna rape her, guys.

This is another short scene, and since I’m already ten thousand words into this recap, I think I’ll split this one into two parts and come back to the big, dumb scene that comes next. It’s either that, or have a huge, unwieldy twenty thousand word post, which… eww.

So join me next time, to see what happens when Christian finally takes Ana to be honest about his kinks!

NSFW Storytime: From the void, the Master

So, here’s a dirty little story I wrote from a prompt by the lovely Mirthful Mollywhop (NSFW link!) who is totally gorgeous and you should totally check out her dirty cosplays. It’s full of tentacles and monsters and bondage sex, so if that’s up your alley, I hope you enjoy! The next Grey recap will be up soon, I’m working on it in between other things, so I equally hope you’ll stick around for that.

Now, on with the show!

*****

Tall, – altogether too tall to be a human being- it stood at the end of her bed, muscles arranged in strange patterns rippling with tense, barely contained energy, promising danger, promising… well, whatever it wanted. It could barely be seen in the heavy night-time gloom, but its silhouette told the story clear enough. Eyes like distant, ancient starlight, two pairs together, regarded her the way mountains must regard the settlements of man; fleeting, temporary things, embers that would all too soon go out, so transitory in the greater, cosmic scale of things that they could barely be said to have been present at all. Certainly too short lived for it to matter what it did to her.

On its back, only visible in the second-hand light of her alarm clock, bands of pure muscle extended down like some alien cape; tentacles of varying thickness and size, moving near imperceptibly in the night. It was then that she heard them, the background noise that had been so constant, so omnipresent as to fade from her mind, the slithering of those probing eldritch lengths, grasping at the edges of her room, strangling the night. Alone on her bed, with the darkness pressing in from all sides and limiting her sight, her ears strained, senses reaching out into the murk… and apprehending the sound of tentacles, of unseen motion, in and out of her awareness from every angle.

She could even hear them up above, the soft, wet sound of them dripping from the ceiling like thick, heavy tar. Unbidden, a mental image of her room, that familiar space, covered wall to wall with their writhing mass popped into her brain, projected though near blind eyes onto the dark around her. Tentacles, extending outward from it- from him- to embrace her bedroom in its entirety; coiling in the corners, rising to the ceiling and wrapping around the stem of her ceiling fan, filling the view from the windows with sinuous dark flesh, pulsing gently with the intruder’s ancient, unimaginable life.

This was the point that she would usually wake up from the dream; she had been having it long enough to know, night after night, watching this strange being draw closer to her on each and every one of them, until she woke up in a cold sweat with its hold on her broken. The dream was largely the same each time, the entity did not speak, it merely moved, first from out of some… gap, at the end of her bed, a window through which the being’s body dominated the view, but from behind it could be seen strange new stars, glowing in colours unseen on Earth. Eventually though, on one night earlier in the week, its feet touched the ground that she walked upon ever day, and from that point on it was in her bedroom, stepping closer by the night.

And now, it had reached her bed, and she wasn’t waking up.

When the first firm, coiling tentacle touched her, it came from behind her head, slithering down over the headboard to wrap around her shoulder, under her armpit, encircling her before she found the sense to even cry out. Cry out she did, however, though there was little hope of anyone coming, as the tentacle spiralled down her arm with a sudden sense of purpose, until the whole of her limb was bound with the cold, unrelenting strength of the creature.

She had no doubt that struggling would not help, as the warm, damp flesh manipulated her arm, moving it behind her back with the ease that she would have in moving the arm of a doll. If it wanted, if she resisted, then it would be her bones that would yield, crack and break so that it could continue to do what it wanted; so she let it move her, wondered at the dimensions of the thing as it continued moving out from her arm, reached across the gap to coil around her other wrist and pull it behind her back too. One single tentacle extended, ultimately, from the top of one shoulder to the top of the other, a binding so simple and effective that it made her shudder with its effortlessness. It had her. Without even trying, it had her.

She could not fight it, but she gasped as it tugged backwards, pulling her down helplessly onto the bed, that unnatural strength pinning her in place. Again she cried out, shouted to the rafters, which were no doubt still buttressed with the writhing limbs of the being before her, as it lifted one reverse-jointed leg to kneel on the bed, hands with too many fingers kneading the sheets as it drew closer. Pulse racing, she kicked out uselessly, the heel of her foot sliding off the creature’s abdomen as though friction didn’t exist for it, the possibility of another such kick disappearing as a second and third tentacle wrapped around her ankle and then disappeared under the bed, taking her legs to either edge, spreading them wide.

A shiver went down her spine. This was beginning to look awfully familiar, thematically.

Eyes that looked out from the edge of the universe regarded her, intelligence both obvious and vast burning in them. Its body seemed to blur at the edges, as though its very form was a lie that she couldn’t quite see through, something unknowable in its enormity shrunk down into something that could bind her and spread her, could take to her on a level that its true form could barely even perceive.

When it reached in with one hand and tore her nightgown off as though it were some irrelevant piece of detritus, she wasn’t even surprised. Something in its expression changed, though she knew not what the new expression meant. A mouth that may or may not have been there a moment before opened, teeth like long-formed stalactites in a deep forgotten cave lining it, framing a tongue like none other she had ever seen. It moved closer to her, between her ankles.

Stripped naked now, bare and vulnerable, the cold air hardening her nipples and raising goose bumps on her skin, she committed every detail of the creature looming over her to memory, all that she could see in the blackness of the night. The body that it wore was a strange parody of the human form; the muscles were wrong, curling, pulsing strange patterns below the skin, looking as though they shouldn’t function.

And what skin it was; this close, she could see that it wasn’t a concrete physical form in itself, there was depth there. It was possible to see through its skin, simultaneously there in the room with her and something that could be perceived further, distant stars twinkling out there in the blackness of its form. Now she was surrounded by tentacles, they bordered her bed, caging her in even if she managed to slip the creature’s grasp, and the cosmos boiled in each and every muscled length. From the ones closest she could even see the light of it spilling onto her pale skin in pinpricks of illumination, the light itself behaving strangely as it refracted through the creature’s skin.

Eyes wide, she realized that whatever happened next was entirely out of her control. The entity’s strength had hinted at that before, but now she knew, looking out into the star-flecked expanses of the intruder; there was no hope that she could fight back against something like this, to escape it, to do anything other than give it what it wanted. It could break her and walk out of the world; there would be no challenge to it.

More tentacles rose to meet her, lifting up from under the sheets, behind her pillows, under the bed and beside the windows and across the carved wood of her headboard and footboard. They conformed to the contours of her form, licked along her skin like countless tongues of every shape and size, feeling her out because, she believed with utter conviction, they had never been in the presence of a human being before.

The tips of two such tentacles traced the lines of her hips, the border of her pelvis just below her belly, and her body shuddered in reaction, her hips rising involuntarily to meet them. In response more limbs moved, one seeking out the warm hollow of her navel, another reaching up to encircle one small, pert breast, forming a spiral up until the tip rested calmly against her nipple. There was a sucker there, it seemed, and it drew the sensitive pink peak into it, like a mouth against her, and she gasped at the sudden sensation of it, the dart of pleasure that raced down in a line directly to her clit.

Her breathing came in short, sharp bursts, seemingly attempting to catch up to the pounding of her heart, and the adrenaline flooding her system only served to sharpen everything that was happening to her. As she watched, and bit back a moan from the insistent sucking at her nipple, the creature’s tongue uncoiled from its mouth and extended, its head bowing only slightly to make it gain contact with the apex of her spread and trembling legs.

She strained to close them then, and the four eyes flicked up with what might possibly be irritation dancing in them, as it denied her resistance with seemingly no effort at all. When she moved against them the tentacles were like iron bars, unmoving in the face of her unthinking need to close her legs as the creature’s tongue slipped lower, stroking with a light touch against the sweet pinkness of her pussy. It was warm but not wet, unlike a tongue in that respect, but its dissonant inhumanity quickly vanished from her mind as it persisted in stimulating her, moving in slow, experimental strokes up the length of her lips.

And then it found her clit.

She gasped at the sudden sensation of it, the bolt of pleasure that rippled through her, and the sound rang out into the night. All around her, the sound of slithering tentacles stopped for a moment, silence rushing in to fill the gap. The creature’s head did not tilt, but its eyes did, slanting with its own alien form of curiosity down the slopes of its face, tracking her still even as they moved. The tongue flicked her clit again, deliberately this time, and folded to clasp at the sensitive little bud like yet another sucker, disengaging with a notable pop that made her shriek, pain and pleasure colliding in her hips so unexpectedly that it left her screaming in the dark, pins and needles in her clit as blood slowly returned to it.

Her hair had fallen over her face, a ginger curtain obscuring her vision of the creature as it found a new way to play her, but with her arms bound all she could do was attempt to blow the strands out of her way. Even that was taken away from her as the creature began its assault on her clit in earnest, her purposeful puffs devolving into crude panting and groaning as the tip of its tongue pressed hard at her throbbing flesh, tentacles slipping beneath her to lift her lower half up, tilting her pussy up toward it.

She wondered, in between gasps, what she tasted like to it, how its eldritch senses would interpret the dew of human arousal, what alien tastes would it compare her to. Did it even know what it was doing to her? What the sounds she was making signified?

A second tentacle wrapped around her other breast, sucking and pulling at her nipple just like the first, and a third moved up to prod at the entrance of her pussy experimentally, gaining easy entrance to her slick, pulsating hole. It stopped after a few inches, and the creature made a noise that transitioned from deep and rumbling to high and chirping, its tongue flicking insistently at her clit as, inside her, the tip of the tentacle began to change, flaring larger at the end… very much like a cock.

Oh yes. It knew.

Another chirruping sound, shifting abruptly and without transition to the harshest of scraping noises, the tenor of it suggesting laughter even while the sound itself was near torture to the ears. Things began in earnest now, the thing in her pussy moving with deep, powerful strokes, slicking her insides even further with some sort of gel that was hot to the touch and turned her nerves to hyperactive embers, burning with pleasure, tracking each stroking motion of the tentacle with a level of detail, a level of intensity, that she thought impossible for the human brain.

And there was so much to take in! The tentacle was already more flexible that any human cock or digit, the tip actively curving to explore her, discovering sensitive spots she didn’t even know she had and depositing more of that liquid ecstasy there, so that the next thrust became an atom bomb for the nerves. It only took moments of such treatment for her to start screaming, moments more for tears to track down her cheeks, the pure sensation of it all too much to take in all at once, the unique intensity all the worse for the fact that she knew it would end, and that when it did she had no assurances that this unearthly creature would return to repeat the experience.

But there was more to be done, and the creature knew. It moved up higher, tentacles continuing their fucking and sucking and teasing and taunting as it loomed overhead, two clawed hands planted at either side of her head. She looked into those eyes like living starlight, like the weight of aeons made flesh, and her mind shuddered at the depth she found there. The sheer impossible breadth of the creature threatened to fill her, blotting out everything she was in the incomprehensible immensity of the cosmos, and she cried out with it, physical pleasure merging with the intensity of it all into a kind of climax for the soul that rendered her momentarily insensible, a shuddering mass of impermanent flesh and a mind all too soon destined for oblivion, in the grip of something so much more.

Fucked by starlight…

She came back to herself surrounded, the creature filling her room with a sound like moving lava, tentacles everywhere. They licked at her skin in a thousand places, touching her in a specific sequence, clit, hips, belly, navel, calves, lips… every touch transitory and small but, to her oversensitive form, like a live wire had been touched to her skin. She jerked toward every one of them, body squirming and needy, still being fucked and desperate for every moment of it. When the tentacle inside her stopped and another, in isolation, traced the curve of her hip with the same gel that it had filled her with, she was surprised to feel herself come, pussy clenching hard around the probing appendage, even motionless as it was. Her back arched, thighs twitching, as climax raced through her, nipples and clit still on fire with stimulation.

She tried to scream again, but found her throat closed as another tentacle wrapped itself around her neck, squeezing tightly, slithering in a tight coil around her. The tip extended across the line of her chin, curling in toward her lips as the lowest one began to move again, fucking her in short, sharp bursts that… yes… made her open her mouth.

She accepted the tentacle into her mouth with an outstretched tongue, the creature’s skin strange and tasteless but hot in a peculiar way, like licking the core of a star. The sensation made her tongue tingle, and she swept it along the length of the tentacle as it slid into her mouth, drinking in every moment of it, as it crept further, toward the back of her throat. She was aware, dimly, that this very same tentacle was still choking her, even that she was beginning to feel lightheaded as the lack of air persisted, but other parts of her body dragged at her attentions far more, the creature’s strange, inhuman sex dominating her at a most profound level.

When the thought dripped through her mind like ice-water that the entity may not even understand that humans require air, that perhaps it would just squeeze and squeeze and never stop, and she had no way of letting it know otherwise, her eyes flew open, the slopes of the creature’s face swimming before her.

Too long. She had let him choke her for too long…

And fuck, she was coming again…

As if reading her mind- a distinct possibility, of course- the tentacle around her neck loosened, its tip retracting just long enough for her to gasp down a few deep, sputtering breaths, before the creature resumed fucking her mouth, evidently expecting her to continue sucking as she had before. She did, of course; one didn’t disappoint an envoy from the depths of the cosmos.

With her vision blocked by perverse tentacles, she didn’t even notice the creature’s drifting hand until it slipped beneath her, coarse palm cupping her backside as long, multi-knuckled fingers prised apart the cheeks of her ass, exploring the entrance of her single free hole. It paused for a moment, eyes narrowing as she whined in nervous protest despite her full mouth, just long enough to replace those fingers with tapered, slimy tentacle mass, a thin length sliding with slow, insistent force into her ass.

The creature stopped, once it had filled her to its satisfaction, its tentacles dripping uncut liquid pleasure inside her every step of the way. It thrummed, a deep, satisfied growl seeming to escape from every inch of the thing, vibrating even through those parts of it that were currently inside her; she moaned, growing ever more desperate for more, more of what it could do, what it was doing to her without even really trying. Somehow, it had geared its physical form precisely for her pleasure… or perhaps that was a mere side effect of whatever it sought to gain from her.

She imagined, unbidden, what it would be like to see it truly try to please her, in that case.

She dared not make assumptions about what it was thinking; without a human origin any facial expression she saw in it simply could not be derived from the same basis as her own, could not signify the same emotions… even so, could that be levity in that pointed, toothy curve of a mouth? Prurient enjoyment in the tensing of its muscles, the way its eyes glittered when they regarded her?

It had found all her sensitive spots and seemed to be sticking with them… who could say?

Suddenly, it lifted her aloft, tentacles bearing her into the air as though she were a ragdoll, a naked sex toy for the creature from beyond her world. It simply held her there, floating and used, a curio on living pillars, as the tentacles pumped in and out of her, mouth and cunt and ass, pleasure expanding to fill her every moment. The creature had borne her into her own private universe, of sex amongst the writhing tentacles, of orgasms too close together and too numerous to count as individual events, too intense for her to bear, or to be without. Whatever chemical the tentacles were excreting inside her made her pussy ache at every retraction, and explode with sensation at every sudden inward thrust.

Her fleshy bindings kept her still, even as she tried to squirm, to rock her hips so as to take full advantage of the length in her ass and pussy. She couldn’t even bob her head to properly fellate the one in her mouth, though the creature seemed to delight in choking her to the edge of insensibility, only to allow her breath at the very last moment, preserving her consciousness and keeping her body humming with adrenaline and endorphins, adding yet another visceral edge to their sex.

Floating in that timeless, near lightless void, accompanied only by the creature and its exploratory caresses, its tasting tongue and stimulating tentacles, she lost all track of herself. She surrendered to it completely, allowed the entity to do its work, to have her, in any way it wanted her, and it took full advantage. It twisted her body this way and that, changed positions on her more times than she could count. It flipped her over, her butt bobbing in the air, and inspected the holes that it probed, growling as they stretched around its tentacles. It pressed her down to her bed, so that her head hung over the side and it could more deeply penetrate her throat, spurting more of its orgasm-inducing juices and forced her to swallow, tentacles peeking out from beneath the bed to toy with her hair, the gesture oddly affectionate. It even hung her upside-down, pumping her from both ends as blood rushed to her head and, if it were even possible, her pale face blushed even redder as she writhed and came for the creature, her whole world inverted.

She had stopped caring what lay beyond the window at one point or another in the night, but when, finally, the creature released her back down onto her bed, its tentacles retracting, sliding back into its humanoid form without a care for the available storage space, she could see that the sun was just beginning to rise in the distance, long shadows beginning to recede even now. They had been at this all night long.

… At least the creature was breathing heavily too.

Personally, she could barely raise her head to look at it, her muscles turned to jelly after her intensive workout. Sweat ran in rivulets down skin flushed with exertion, bruises and sucker-marks dotting her usually milky complexion, perhaps the only evidence after this night of what had happened to her. Her pussy dripped freely, her own arousal mixing with the alien compound that had transformed her body into that needy live wire of passion, that had kept her going, wanting more for hours at a time. She wished, fervently, that she could bottle the stuff.

One tentacle remained wrapped around her neck, not tightly, not enough to cut off her breathing, but enough for her to know that it wouldn’t be dislodged by her mere resistance. Not that she would want to resist it, anyway; she nuzzled into it, breathed in the scent of starlight and, oddly grateful for the night they had shared, kissed it. Regarding the entity with tired eyes, she could have sworn she saw it react to that, though in truth it had been oddly still for quite a while now.

It raised a single hand, flexed, and behind it the same window to another world that it had entered through in her dreams opened up behind it, fading into existence like a cheap special effect. She supposed that reality didn’t owe her flashiness, but nevertheless, it was disappointing to see.

The creature turned, looked into the new, uncharted realm beyond the doorway, silently.

And then it looked back at her, purpose glimmering in its eyes.

It waited, still and tranquil, for her to realize; the tentacle around her neck was not an embrace, not some fond farewell. Eldritch horrors were not known to be sentimental like that. No, it was a collar, a collar and a leash, to lead her wherever the creature wanted her to go. Perhaps as a mate, perhaps a pet… all was in doubt, expect the promise of more to come, those same desperate heights of pleasure, untethered from the limitations of reality as she knew it.

She took the time to look, narrowing her eyes as she gazed past the creature into its doorway. If she looked past the stars she could see them, stamped midnight black against the void: tentacles, filling her vision, in every conceivable size, writhing and wrapping together, the totality of whatever realm lay beyond the window…

… All of them, belonging to the being that stood in her bedroom, waiting for her to speak. She knew this, in the marrow of her bones, without ever having to be told.

Words weren’t necessary. It was doubtful that her partner would have even understood them if she said them. Loose-limbed and shaking, she slid off of her bed onto the floor, her legs unstable beneath her. Chirruping again, the entity began to walk, and she allowed herself to be led by her new collar toward the endless depths of its true form.

Tentacles reached out to meet her, embracing her across realities, stroking her hips, the inside of her thighs, even between her legs as the creature made its final step across the threshold just a moment before she did. Heart racing, she surrendered herself to the tentacles, arms wide as they held her, bore her through into a weird new world.

The portal began to seal up behind her, leaving no trace that it had ever been there. The last thing to make it through before it shut up entirely, was a lingering, feminine moan of pleasure, a farewell to the dawning sun.

Grey: Fifty Shades as told by a Garbage-Person, Chapter Five recap

Folks, here at the Gag Order we try to have some nice things to say about stuff; personally I’m the kind of person who’ll allow my like of individual aspects of a work overshadow its overarching lack of quality a lot of the time. Hell, I even kinda like those Transformers movies because there are giant robots in them, and I have an escape clause in my soul against feeling too badly about anything with those in them.

But Grey? I simply can’t do this for Grey. Because chapter five begins like this:

I’ve slept well for the first time in five days. Maybe I’m feeling the closure I had hoped for, now that I’ve sent those books to Anastasia. As I shave, the asshole in the mirror stares back at me with cool, gray eyes.

We are five chapters into this book now, and fully four of them open with either Grey waking up from sleep, or talking about his sleeping schedule. Of the things this book discusses, the most omnipresent theme so far is E.L James’ pressing need to tell us absolutely everything about the way Christian Grey sleeps. It’s a wonder we haven’t heard about the thread count of his sheets yet. I halfway suspect that when we finally get to the sex scenes Grey will just start lovingly describing the size of the mattress while he’s thrusting into Ana, or imagining how comfy the pillows will be under his head when he finally gets to sleep on them.

Hell, if that turns out to be the thing that drives him to orgasm, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Gnnnngg, padded mattresses!

It’s not just repetitious and weirdly specific, it’s also just bad writing. Chapter openings are supposed to hook the reader into the scene, to set the stage for what’s to come or hint at future plot events, but Grey only ever opens on the most mundane shit imaginable. The bland stream of consciousness that comprises the entirety of Christian’s narration just stops at the end of one chapter, and starts back up at the beginning of another.

It’s like E.L James has no understanding of tone, or pacing, or scene setting, really anything that writers need to establish and ground their work. All she cares about doing is writing the characters, and characters just incidentally have to be occupying physical space so there’s maybe a spattering of things around them so they aren’t just being insufferable bores in an empty void. It reads like Christian Grey wrote a “what I did on summer vacation” reports after failing second grade for twenty years.

Anyway, we’re suddenly thrown back into Christian Grey’s life as he’s shaving, which, I mean… fucking nobody cares about that. This obsession with rendering the most mundane aspects of Grey’s life in minute detail, while ignoring the stuff that might maybe be interesting, like his business career or billionaire lifestyle, get lost by the wayside. I said earlier that nearly all of the actual actions in these scenes, all the physical locations, are essentially irrelevant, and I meant that; they’re just window dressing for Grey to impart certain pieces of information about himself or Ana to the reader through them. What Grey does rarely has any impact on the story at all; what he thinks while he’s doing it is what the scene is for, more often than not.

This opening scene exists so that Grey can relate to the viewer that he hopes Ana sees the books he sent her in the last chapter and, rather than interpreting them as a warning like he (vaguely) wanted to, opts instead to contact him again. That’s literally the entire gist of what’s going on there; the scene ends immediately after he finishes thinking that, and his actions during it are completely irrelevant. That being the case, why not choose something interesting to happen in the background? Why doesn’t James ever choose to let something interesting happen in the background?

Grey is always out jogging, or shaving, or taking a frigging potty break whenever he thinks relevant information that the readers should know. He’s always doing things that the readers don’t care about and don’t have any impact on how we perceive Grey as a character. From my perspective, he might as well just be standing in the middle of an empty room, motionless, just thinking what needs to be imparted, before moving on: “I sent Ana those books. I hope that my pretense of warning her away is ignored, and she calls me. End communication.”

I am Christian Grey. Initiate bondage sequence.

There is no reason why he couldn’t be doing something interesting during these scenes. The problem is that Grey doesn’t have much of a character beyond vague, ill defined jabs at hobbies that he has that don’t ever go anywhere. He doesn’t seem to do much at all, despite all of the things he just tells us he does; he apparently likes literature and music, plays sports, pilots aircraft and gliders, but we never actually see any of that happen. Wouldn’t it be more fun if Christian contemplated Ana while, say, playing the piano? Something that could actually be used to reflect his emotional state without him having to just declare how he’s feeling?

The thing is that people’s moods and thoughts influence the way they act, and that this is a great way to demonstrate how a character is feeling at a given moment. If Christian thinks of Ana while playing the piano, then the choice of music he plays could be used to indicate how he feels about her. His proficiency at it could give us a window into his mood, because if the mind is elsewhere it’s easy to screw up; imagine if he was playing during that part where he felt guilty about rejecting her, rather than just waking up some more. He attempts to play the piece but, whenever he stops actively thinking about his finer placement and allows himself to play by feel, he thinks back to Ana and donk, hits the wrong key. Sour note.

That’s just off the top of my head, but doesn’t that feel like a much more active and nuanced scene than the bluntness of having him wake up and tell us all outright that he’s having trouble sleeping? Don’t you have a better grip on Christian’s mental state in that moment when it is expressed through his actions, rather than not expressed at all? Don’t actions speak louder than words?

At heart, everything a writer writes is about the information being imparted; there’s nothing really different about what James is doing versus what any other writer does, at the core. But the mark of a good writer is their ability to wrap that information in a compelling package, to express it in an interesting way. That’s why we set scenes, select words to befit the mood we’re attempting to create, rather than just blandly recount what we thought of. It’s the difference between a novel and a plot synopsis. It takes the information and uses it to evoke a world, where Grey just takes it and dumps it out in front of you while having the protagonist do a thing off in the background; what Grey does is a concession to the fact that it’s presented in the novel format, rather than a legitimate use of that same format. It’s a grudging acknowledgement that something needs to happen in a book, that the information can’t just be recounted in a vacuum and still be called a novel.

It is, in a way, ugly. Grotesque in its reductive cynicism, the way it just slops mundanity on the page in front of you, confident that you’ll all just eat it up anyway. This isn’t so much James resting on her laurels as it is James constructing something like Jabba the Hutt’s palace around the laurels so that she can lounge upon them and do essentially nothing at all, while sycophants and petitioners gather round due to nothing more than the gravity of her success. One gets the feeling that if she could have gotten away with just releasing the plot synopsis for twenty dollars, she would have done so.

Peecha chakka no Christian Grey, boonowa tweepi Inner Goddess? Ho ho ho hoooo…

Yeah, so, there you go: 1500 words written about the first sentence of a single chapter of a shitty romance novel. And what’s the takeaway from all that? “E.L James is Jabba the Hutt.”: I’m sure that’s not going to bite me in the ass at all. Imagine what I could do with the whole book.

… Oh man, I just made myself depressed.

Anyway, Christian gets a phone call from his brother Elliot, who spouts the usual Hollywood playboy platitudes about needing to get away from a woman for a while, and in response Mister “I never get any time off work,” decides to take a half day so he can go hiking, on zero notice. It’s at this point that I honestly suspect that E.L James has never read a single solitary word of her own writing.

Almost as if in acknowledgement of how pointless the entire exchange is, the scene ends immediately afterward; the message has been received, and so there is literally no other reason to continue. The book knows that there’s nothing here that we were interested in seeing through to its conclusion, and that it has no actual character insight or profit to be gained from persisting, and so it just… stops.

Notably, though Christian spent the majority of the last chapter going on about how it was for the best that he rejected Ana when he did, that he was sending her a warning to stay away with the gift he sent her, he takes the opportunity here to go hiking in Portland, where Ana is, so as to get closer to her again. This disconnect between what Christian says and what he does is the main source of this sense of distrust I get reading this book, like I should be wary about his stated goals at all times. This isn’t helped by the fact that he often outright lies to people about those goals; he’s a picture perfect unreliable narrator, and this was entirely unintentional. It’s kind of amazing.

We return to Grey and Elliot driving down to Portland together, and this is maybe as close as we’ve gotten to an actual character interaction in this entire book so far, least of all one that’s new to the series and not a repetition of a scene from a previous novel.

… So of course Elliot begins it asleep.

I mean, yeah, I could point out that this is another thing where a character being asleep is an important part of a scene, but what’s more telling to me is how we finally have two characters with a history we don’t exactly know, in a new location and engaging in a new scene, and E.L James had to desperately scrabble to find a way to keep any weighty interactions from happening. She just had to put Elliot out of the game the moment there was any risk that something interesting might happen.

The end result is that we’re subjected to some more of Christian performing meaningless actions- in this case ordering mountain bikes and having cars delivered- instead of doing something that might aid at all in character building. And of course, James has to stop to make a point of showing that Christian is an absolutely horrendous human being:

“Good.” I end the call and turn up the music. Let’s see if Elliot can sleep through The Verve.

He knows that Elliot is tired, he knows that he wants to sleep, but what Elliot wants doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is Christian and what he wants, and so the asshole deliberately makes it harder for his brother to get some rest, for basically no reason. And we’re apparently supposed to find it funny?

Is that it? Everything in this book is written so flatly that I have trouble figuring out the intent of individual lines.

Thankfully, Elliot doesn’t remain asleep for the entire scene, and when he wakes we’re given some potentially substantial insights into his relationship with Christian, sketched with a characteristic lightness and disinterest.

My father is a polymath, a real renaissance man: academic, sporting, at ease in the city, more at ease in the great outdoors. He’d embraced three adopted kids…and I’m the one who didn’t live up to his expectations.
But before I hit adolescence we had a bond. He’d been my hero. He used to love taking us camping and doing all the outdoor pursuits I now enjoy: sailing, kayaking, biking, we did it all.
Puberty ruined all that for me.

Look at that! That’s some real information that we didn’t know before, replete with some dramatic questions to ask about Christian’s dad and what happened between them! It’s almost as if a writer got her hands on that passage!

… It is never going to come up again, is it?

It certainly doesn’t persist within this scene; Christian is all too eager to move on to something that is objectively less interesting. We turn to their jobs without a word in conclusion of that last idea, and what I find particularly amusing is that, though none of it actually entertains, we end up knowing more about Elliot’s job than we’ve ever learned about Christian’s, and we’ve literally seen him do his job.

There are a number of pragmatic reasons I can think of for a writer to do this, but whatever the reason is, E.L James writes Christian’s career in incredibly vague terms, such that we don’t have much of an idea at all of what he actually does. This is fine, we don’t actually need to know all of that, but the trouble is that Christian’s job is very much a part of his character, it informs who he is. Him being this rich big shot, the money and resources his company pours into feeding the world and other charitable works, are things that James seems to want to talk about, in that more time is spent on these things than should be if it’s unimportant to the overall narrative, while simultaneously being unwilling to actually describe what Grey’s company does, or what Christian does within it.

This reluctance to put any detail into even the important things in the novel creates humorous moments like this one, where an incidental character gets a better sketched career than the damn main character.

There’s another scene break, because of course there is, and we cut back to the two of them mountain biking. Just like every other scene change, the opening lines do nothing to set the tone or evoke any sort of emotion or sensation, and the actual mountain biking, which might have been something exciting to see, is over in the span of a three line paragraph. In fact, this entire scene is exceedingly short and highly confusing; they finish mountain biking and then, with absolutely no description or hint at all that they’re still moving, they’re suddenly inside. Christian continues to obsess over Ana, and we’re treated to the absolutely fascinating spectacle of him checking his email; not even actually reading any of them, just checking and letting us know the contents of his inbox.

Frankly, I refuse to believe that a legitimate human being thought that that was the interesting part of checking email, insofar as checking email can be considered interesting at all.

Elliot grumbles that the girl he’s trying to escape has been calling him non-stop, and we get this exchange:

“Maybe she’s pregnant.”
Elliot pales and I laugh.
“Not funny, hotshot,” he grumbles. “Besides, I haven’t known her that long. Or that often.”

… Because it’s impossible to get pregnant the first few times you have sex with someone? Their uterus unlocks and opens up after the third date?

Does… does James actually think that’s how it works?

It’s another short scene, completely pointless in its execution, and we end up with the two brothers watching sports together. Ana finally calls, and with absolutely no sense of build up or significance, Grey answers:

“Anastasia?” I don’t hide my surprise or my pleasure. The background is noisy and it sounds like she’s at a party or in a bar. Elliot glances at me, so I get up off the sofa and out of his earshot.
“Why did you send me the books?” She’s slurring her words, and a wave of apprehension ripples down my spine.

So, just to get it out of the way, she drunk dialed him. That’s what happened here, which sort of makes Christian’s dramatics over it (“a wave of apprehension,” really? It’s that unnerving to you, is it?) pretty funny, if you don’t know where this scene is going, or how badly it’s going to end up looking once it’s all over.

Ana, quite reasonably from my perspective, wants to know why Christian sent her those books, and apparently needed to get drunk to get the courage to call him. I said in the last recap that Grey’s little gift sends a very confusing message, and it’s nice to be proven right about that; evidently Ana couldn’t get behind the weird pretense Christian presented either.

Christian falls over himself to act concerned over her drunken state, assuming some poorly defined worst scenario based on absolutely nothing, but his worry rings false in my ears because he still takes the time to get shitty the moment she conducts herself in any manner that he doesn’t approve of:

She giggles again. Shit, she’s laughing at me!
Again!

I thought you were crazy worried about her, guy? Besides, what kind of insane, prideful shit do you have to be to turn every instance of laughter in your life into some kind of personal attack?

And then things start to get dumb and creepy, which I’m beginning to suspect will become the signature narrative flavor combination that this book will be remembered for.

Christian attempts to get Ana to tell him where she is, but since there’s clearly little actually going on and she, potentially, doesn’t even want to see him after the shit that happened the last time they were together, she hangs up on him instead. Christian responds by calling her back and, frankly, responding in an immensely threatening way:

“I’m coming to get you.” My voice is arctic as I wrestle with my anger and snap my phone shut.

That, dear readers, does not sound like “I’m coming to take you home,” especially from Ana’s perspective, since she thinks he’s in Seattle, not Portland. I mean, that statement is phrased very closely to a literal threat as it is, and apparently it was delivered in an angry tone, but from Ana’s end of the phone what it is, is a person calling back to say a vaguely threatening statement in an angry tone and then hanging up, after she irritated him, who is apparently going to travel interstate to “get her.”

I want you all to keep that in mind as we progress through this chapter, and we’ll see how it all looks from the outside, without knowing Christian’s motivations like we do.

Grey invites his brother along on his strange quest, and then makes a call to his private investigator Welch:

“I’d really like to know where Anastasia Steele is right now.”
“I see.” He pauses for a moment. “Leave it to me, Mr. Grey.”
I know this is outside the law, but she could be getting herself into trouble.

He decides to track her phone. And he knows that it’s illegal; he even opts to use Welch for this rather than a technician in his own company because he wants to keep his name out of whatever trouble that comes of it. That he chooses to make Elliot an accessory to that is just the icing on the cake.

This time there’s an actually appropriate scene skip, and the pair arrive at the bar that Ana is apparently at. Christian, despite being 27, gets rather curmudgeonly in his (two sentence) description of the place, and then remarks that it makes him feel old. At 27. This book’s really not helping shake my opinion that E.L James is just writing her perspective and shunting it onto her characters.

Grey spots Kate, evidently having a good time with some guys, and of course he approves of none of it:

Well, let’s see if Miss Kavanagh is as loyal to her friend as Ana is to her.

It’s worth pointing out again that Christian doesn’t actually know how loyal Ana is to Kate. He’s seen them together exactly one time, during which they did not talk and he monopolized the entirety of Ana’s attention. He’s basing his entire opinion of the woman on one conversation and a series of assumptions he made on sight.

His irritation with her continues- apparently the two sentences he said to her before he labels her “exasperating” just drained away all his good will- and only seems to get worse when she gets interested in Elliot. Fortunately for everyone involved Christian is merely directed to where Ana is, rather than subjecting us all to whatever interactions would have come up with Kate and Elliot, and Christian quickly discovers his objective with Jose:

Hell! She’s with the photographer, I think, though it’s difficult to tell in the dim light. She’s in his arms, but she seems to be twisting away from him. He mutters something to her, which I don’t hear, and kisses her, along her jaw.
“José, no,” she says, and then it’s clear. She’s trying to push him off.
She doesn’t want this.

Grey gets to play white knight at this, intervening to rescue Ana, but his over-eagerness and immediate rage come across as… strained, to me. Like an exaggeration, especially when he describes his voice as “sinister,” and ends up just sounding like a guy yearning to be a badass. Jose, of course, backs off like the good little beta male he is, allowing E.L James’ Mary Sue alpha male hero to preen a little more… well, right up until the moment Ana tosses her cookies. She’s drunk, you see.

Ignoring him, I grab her hair and hold it out of the way as she continues to throw up everything she’s had this evening. It’s with some annoyance that I note she doesn’t appear to have eaten.

Okay, how the fuck am I supposed to commentate on this, let alone make fun of it? Christian Grey, romantic icon for a generation of women, literally takes a moment to examine his paramour-to-be’s vomit in order to find things to be annoyed about. The contents of her stomach are apparently that interesting to him.

How am I supposed to make that seem more ridiculous than it already is? It’d be like making fun of a clown.

Since I can’t say anything any dumber than what that sentence in the book actually describes, I’ll just say that he ushers her somewhere else to vomit, because true gentlemen facilitate their ladyfriends’ drunken purges in peace. Once she’s done having violent gastric distress in this romance novel, she feels bad, and Christian just has to rub that in:

“I’m sorry,” she says finally, while her fingers twist the soft linen.
Okay, let’s have some fun.
“What are you sorry for, Anastasia?”

Okay, so the woman is probably still feeling very sick, not to mention pretty shook up from the whole Jose thing and losing all her dignity in front of Christian, so apparently twisting the knife in all of those places at once is fun? What, exactly, is fun about intentionally making a person feel bad? Let alone somebody you are supposed to like? This is the behavior of a sociopath, not a romantic hero.

Seriously, people go out of their way to defend Christian Grey and the way he acts, but it’s now at the point where I can just describe some of the things he does in the book and they make a perfect counterpoint to anything they might say. E.L James, who has gone on record defending her writing and asserting that no, it isn’t abusive or mean spirited at all, has written a new book that literally enables me to tell people that there’s a scene in the series where Christian Grey makes a point of taunting a sick woman, describing it as “fun.”

She’s really just doing my job for me, the more she writes.

“We’ve all been here, perhaps not quite as dramatically as you.” Why is it such fun to tease this young woman?

Because you’re a complete sociopath who enjoys the discomfort of vulnerable people? See what I fuckin’ mean?

Perhaps she has a problem with alcohol. The thought is worrying, and I consider whether I should call my mother for a referral to a detox clinic.

Wow, this is a huge overreach. I mean, just to begin with he’s seen her drunk once, so this idea that she might have a drinking problem is coming out of goddamn nowhere, but the fact that Christian has empowered himself to confront her on that and push solutions on her, after all of three meetings, is frankly insane. He simply doesn’t know her well enough to be judging her like this, but of course, huge snap judgments are sort of a hallmark of this series; Ana does it too, and it’s no more acceptable when she does it.

Ana frowns for a moment, as if angry, that little v forming between her brows, and I suppress the urge to kiss it.

“As if angry,” huh? It’s probably because she’s angry. Maybe all that judgey bullcrap made her angry? Who knew!

Christian offers to take her home, and Ana is oddly trusting of this creepy weirdo, only objecting that she needs to let Kate know beforehand, as if she’s never heard of a cell phone before… which might actually be the case, considering that if I’m remembering correctly, Ana is a college graduate in the modern day who has never owned a laptop before. A lot of things about her suggest that she came right out of the eighties, if that.

I stop and bite my tongue. Kavanagh wasn’t worried about her being out here with the overamorous photographer. Rodriguez. That’s his name. What kind of friend is she?

Okay, so how do you know that Kate knew what was going on with Jose, and did nothing? They’re both adults, it’s not like she needs to keep tabs on them at every point in their lives; hell, given that Jose and Ana know each other as friends it’s equally likely that Kate trusts Ana with Jose, if he’s never done anything like that before. And that’s just me assuming that Kate actually knows Jose, which certainly isn’t something that Christian can safely conclude, given that he’s only ever seen the two of them together one time, during which neither of them really communicated. From his perspective, it’s possible that Kate doesn’t know Jose at all, or even that he was at the bar that night.

Really, the book is just scrabbling for things to go negative on Kate over, because there’s nothing remotely positive about Ana that can be demonstrated beyond Christian fawning over her in exclusively sexual terms. She is, at best, a pretty face with nothing behind it, and so the only course to make her seem at all acceptable as a human being is just to shit over every other human being in the story. It’s a deeply unpleasant tactic, this enforced misanthropy, but it’s all E.L James seems to have, like she’s incapable of writing decent characters on their own.

So they go inside to search for Kate and when Ana takes hold of Christian’s arm he has a sort of panic attack, which, I mean… why? It’s been slightly established that Christian’s got a bit of a past, but not in any level of detail such that an aversion to touch could be reasonably expected, or even alluded to, meaning this comes out of left field. To add insult to injury it’s also described in the most trad, rote way possible:

I freeze.
Shit.
My heart rate catapults into overdrive as the darkness surfaces, stretching and tightening its claws around my throat.

This constant refrain of “darkness” is overdone, exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to see out of a bad fan fiction. It is the uninterested shrug of describing bad events. I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past, but not on the same scale, or with the same insistence; James does it constantly and seems to think that she’s writing something respectable in the process.

Anyway, Ana seems to be able to calm him down from a panic attack before it happens, even though she herself caused it, so I don’t exactly know what James’ message is supposed to be there. She’s clearly going for a “love heals all wounds” thing- it’s consistent with the overall disdain for psychiatric help that this series has to ignore the therapy and zero in on the woman- but having Ana be the cause of the problem as well as its solution undercuts the message before it’s even fully established. Moreover, it’s a problematic lesson on its own, because Ana hasn’t known Christian for long enough for the “love” part of the trope to be in effect, so it’s… well, what is it? Is it the old trope of “The One,” that we’re dealing with here? So mentally ill people should just ignore therapy in general and just focus on finding that one person in the entire world that doesn’t trigger their symptoms? Those are what those messages combine to form; if Christian wasn’t so consistently down on the very concept of therapy then that wouldn’t be the case, but the book has never described psychiatrists as anything but “shit.” By corollary, that means that mentally ill people with loved ones who don’t immediately assuage their symptoms aren’t with the one they’re meant to be with, and that they should just sort of deal with the fact that everyone else will trigger their symptoms and there’s nothing that can be done about that.

Propositions have consequences, and the propositions regarding mental health that Grey seems to be espousing are uniformly harmful and uninformed.

There’s some more of Grey being a domineering asshole, and then the two of them find Kate and Elliot on the dance floor and let them know what’s going on, just before Ana passes out. Grey resolves to just take her to his hotel room, weakly justifying it to himself as being because he doesn’t want her to puke in his car, because pulling over is literally impossible. What I want to pull attention to just now is his specific wording when he talks to Elliot, though:

“I’m taking Ana home. Tell Kate,” I shout in his ear.

He is not taking Ana home. He is taking her someplace else, and yet is content to let Kate think that she’s going to be safely at their place. Just throwing that out there.

So this rich guy who has no problems breaking laws to get what he wants drives the drunk girl he’s lusting after back to his hotel room after lying to the people she’s with so they don’t know where she is, and boy, doesn’t that sound incredibly sinister when you describe what it is? As he carries her up to his room he plans on stripping her out of her clothes, and it certainly isn’t getting any better the further into this we go, isn’t it?

Briskly I remove her shoes and socks and put them in the plastic laundry bag provided by the hotel. Then I unzip her jeans and pull them off, check the pockets before stuffing the jeans in the laundry bag. She falls back on the bed, splayed out like a starfish, all pale arms and legs, and for a moment I picture those legs wrapped around my waist as her wrists are bound to my Saint Andrew’s cross. There’s a fading bruise on her knee and I wonder if that’s from the fall she took in my office.

And after taking off her pants he starts fantasizing about her sexually, and now we’re about one step away from a date rape scene in any other book.

But also, consider the course of this chapter thus far: Christian discovers Jose trying to kiss Ana, and in that instance her consent is super duper important, you guys. Grey gets involved, gets incredibly angry at Jose, at Kate, at everyone else for violating Ana’s consent by kissing her, and that’s sort of a justified reaction, if described in a way that’s a little too heavy handed. Now, before the scene has even ended, Grey has taken Ana some place she doesn’t know, touched her all over by carrying her, and is now stripping off her clothes, all without her consent, and nobody bats an eye. Grey himself certainly doesn’t have any qualms about any of this, despite it being far more of a privacy invasion than anything Jose had done, and he’s still angry with Jose about that! In fact, Christian takes this as an opportunity to assure the reader of just how tasty Ana is, some more; he’s being entirely flippant about his own blatant hypocrisy, and apparently James just expects us all to take it at face value and not question it.

He even frigging kisses her himself in that state, and that’s apparently okay!

Before I check my e-mails I text Welch, asking him to see if José Rodriguez has any police records. I’m curious. I want to know if he preys on drunk young women.

Yes, well, we wouldn’t want Ana to associate herself with the sort of person who might commit crimes, would we, Mister Illegal Phone Tapping? No sir, Mister Kidnapping Drunk Women would never allow Ana to be in the same room with a criminal!

What I also want to point out is just how… childish this all is. Not just for Grey, but for James too, since she put this in here without any form of ironic commentary, this idea that Jose is probably a super evil rapist Hitler based on that one scene. That he deserves to have his privacy invaded so that Christian can have the voyeuristic thrill of sifting through his dirty laundry, so that Mister “I’m going to pretty much rape this woman multiple times in this series” Grey can sit in self righteous judgment of the inferior Jose, who can’t muster up the wherewithal to be as obviously perfect and morally flawless as Christian is.

When I was a really small child, just starting out in primary school, there was this noise all the kids in my grade used to make whenever someone else did something bad or got into trouble, this kind of drawn out, rising inflected “um-ahhh!” It did the business of making us all sound shockedshocked, I say!- that someone else would ever do something bad, we just couldn’t imagine why they would do that, because we were all such upstanding children, not like that ne’er-do-well in the naughty corner. Yes.

It was basically a way of rubbing it in that someone else had gotten caught, a little schadenfreude-infused exclamation of our own supposed moral perfection, and when I read Grey going out of his way to know Jose’s criminal record, that is exactly the sound I hear Christian making. It’s the sound I hear E.L James making even as she writes Jose being a very bad boy indeed. A vicarious opportunity to look down her nose at someone else.

The chapter is almost over by this point, and unfortunately it marks the advent of something James makes a habit of in her writing, yet has only appeared once before in this novel: full transcriptions of in-universe text.

We saw it in chapter two, which opens with the full text of a background check, but anyone who’s actually read the other books probably remembers that James often just plonks in full emails, texts, or documents into her writing, dumps them in there without any concessions to the characters reading them or to how badly it breaks up the narration. Seriously, huge swathes of the book go by without any description or prose at all, replaced instead by insipid email flirting or the full text of a legal contract. I was hoping we might avoid that this time around, given how criminally lazy it is, but I hadn’t figured on E.L James and her utter unwillingness to write anything new to earn her paycheck: this chapter ends with the full text of an email sent to Taylor, commanding him to go out and buy new clothes for Ana that Christian finds visually appealing, and a couple of text messages to Elliot.

What’s notable about the latter is that Christian was evidently capable of communicating with Elliot the entire time he was kidnapping Ana, but he waited until he’d already done everything he wanted to do to her before he puts himself in any position to hear objections to his plan. He doesn’t give Kate the opportunity to be worried about her friend or to look out for her well-being when a near stranger attempts to take her back to his place when she’s passed out until after he’s already gotten away with it, and even then he only does it second hand through Elliot. He engineered this entire scenario so that he gets what he wants first, without the consent of anyone involved. He deliberately obfuscated information so that he could maneuver a vulnerable woman to a private location of his choosing.

But clearly it’s Jose who’s the scumbag here, am I right?

Well, that’s the end of this chapter. At least I had a lot more to talk about this time, and since I’ve read the next chapter already, I know that’s not going to change, nor will my seething contempt for this entire enterprise. Join us next time, when E.L James has me fed to the Rancor!

Grey: Fifty Shades as told by a Garbage-Person, Chapter Four recap

Hello again. We return to Grey waking up from a nightmare, because apparently E.L James has a very limited repertoire of chapter openings and has already burned through them all; we also began the first chapter by waking up from a nightmare too. It seems that without Ana in his life- a woman he met all of three times and had exactly zero honest interactions with- he’s back to having recurring nightmares of his past again, after the last few chapters made it clear that her presence alleviated all of that.

No! My scream bounces off the bedroom walls and wakes me from my nightmare. I’m smothered in sweat, with the stench of stale beer, cigarettes, and poverty in my nostrils and a lingering dread of drunken violence.

Of course, given that we’re never given any details of what the nightmares might be about, and James is apparently content to just act as though everyone already knows what all this is- fuck new readers, right?- it’s hard to actually get invested in this dreck. From memory, I don’t think it’s any more fleshed out in the original series either, given that that’s from Ana’s point of view, and so we really have no basis at all to empathize with Grey here.

Not that it’ll stop James from just assuming that it has already happened. I’m getting pretty tired of this writer thinking that she’s owed engagement with the story she’s writing.

Christian hasn’t been sleeping well since rejecting Ana in the prior chapter, even when he has multiple meetings in the morning and also a golf game. Of course, Christian being the graceful loser he always is, considers simply cancelling the game instead of losing and getting shitty over it. The idea of just playing the game for enjoyment even if he loses doesn’t cross his mind.

Now, he’s rephrased what happened with Ana as “for her own good,” which doesn’t exactly jive with his actions over the past few chapters; the man followed her around for quite a while, engineering meeting after meeting with her, only to back out when it becomes apparent that she might want romance in addition to kink, claiming that it’s the best thing for her… sorry man, you get one or the other. You don’t get to chase her quite as hard as you did, and then back out because you knew that you wouldn’t be good for her.

The truth is, Christian didn’t really try, either. Despite the privacy invasion and stalking, he stopped pursuing her the moment she intimated that she wants a boyfriend, but that’s not mutually exclusive with what Christian wanted in the least. Ana could want a boyfriend and still be amenable to the idea of casual kinky sex with an attractive billionaire. The latter could easily precede the former, a girl can have fun while she’s unattached and then stop when she finds a romantic partner that better fits her. Frankly, Grey should know that the desire for romance isn’t uncommon outside of his weird head- hell, it’s extremely probable that his past submissives weren’t committed to being completely without boyfriends their entire lives either, that they were willing to have their fun with Grey and get together with someone else later- so this idea that wanting a boyfriend means not wanting anything other than that is completely ludicrous, just one more baseless assumption the man makes seemingly only because the plot requires it.

If my shrink was back from his vacation in England I could call him. His psychobabble shit would stop me feeling this lousy.

Okay, so I’m noticing that every time Christian talks about his psychiatrist, he does so in the same derisive, dismissive language, and I have to ask: does Grey actually gain something from his sessions with his shrink? If psychological treatment is ineffective for him then there’s little need for Grey to continue seeing the guy; it’s a waste of money and time, and I’m sure his psychiatrist would like to take on a new patient who doesn’t insult him and his profession. But if Christian actually does get something out of his sessions, then this constant barrage of put downs in his internal monologue is profoundly assholeish behavior. What kind of a man finds himself healed by a counselor and then does nothing but insult him whenever he thinks about it?

Anyway, the- all too brief- scene ends with Christian resolving to apologize to Ana for leading her on, which I guess is a human thing to do, though of course Christian phrases it in the least gracious way possible:

Maybe I should find some way to apologize, then I can forget about this whole sorry episode and get the girl out of my head.

Yeah, pay no mind to the fact that you obviously upset her and should maybe feel bad about meticulously arranging the situation so that she would be if she didn’t meet your exacting standards, all while hiding behind a mask of carefully tended indifference and intimidation; the only reason you have to apologize is because you think it might positively affect you!

For some reason there’s another scene break, this time to the morning, and again I don’t see why it’s necessary; all it does is break the flow of the story, and all of the information that was imparted in the first scene could just as easily be related in the second without dragging on the narrative nearly as much as this stop/start nonsense. Given how fast everything goes in this book, it might even be beneficial to slow things down and actually describe a scene for once, to layer in some detail rather than just have two or three breakneck, barely sketched infodumps in a row.

But no, it’s far more important to just arbitrarily accept every single first idea for a scene that E.L James gets into her head, no editing or rewrites necessary. And I guess all that is true, given that this crap is an inexplicable money spinner no matter how poorly it’s written.

The program on the radio is a welcome distraction until the second news item. It’s about the sale of a rare manuscript: an unfinished novel by Jane Austen called The Watsons that’s being auctioned in London. “Books,” she said.

Two things of note here: firstly, isn’t it an amazing coincidence that such a manuscript would go on sale in such a way as to facilitate this exact unconnected series of events a day later? Some might say too coincidental. Or just lazy writing.

Secondly, Christian’s memories of yesterdays events also contain the dialogue tags of the scene. That, my friends, is an impossible bit of fourth wall breaking brought about by the fact that nobody on the publishing team for this thing knew what they were doing, and editing is almost non-existent here.

See, the first mistake is that it has been established previously that italicized text denotes both flashbacks and Christian’s internal monologue- which is for some reason distinct from his narration in some cases but not others- which is confusing just on its own; if you’re going to use an altered text format to represent something in your story, consistency is important. You can’t have the same formatting mean two different things, and flip between them without making it clear which is meant at any given time. There are more font options than just italics, after all; there’s simply no need to double up.

The second mistake is that James didn’t just go back and rewrite the goddamn scene being referenced here so that Ana said more than just one word about books, and the dialogue tags wouldn’t be needed to represent that this is a flashback. I acknowledge that just having the word “Books,” alone wouldn’t be clear as a reference to the prior scene, but simply copy/pasting the tags in too just breaks the fourth wall, since there’s no way that Grey was privy to the tags and this is his narration: this flashback now contains something that he literally could not know, and does not exist within the context of the story. It’s like if Grey pointed out the page numbers; he’s not supposed to know they’re there, because he’s represented as a real person within the world of the novel, not a self aware protagonist.

James had access to the manuscript here before it went to press, she and the editing team had to have picked up on how awkward and metatextually inappropriate that line was; is she really so averse to any form of second draft that she’d just leave that in there, sticking out like a sore thumb, rather than just scrolling back a few pages to write a sentence or two of additional dialogue?

But then, given the apparently extensive copy/paste job that gave birth to this pile of garbage, it doesn’t really surprise me that the first writing pass would also be the last.

Even the news reminds me of little Miss Bookworm.

This insistence Christian has of giving everyone he meets derogatory nicknames is really getting on my nerves; the racially charged “boy,” for Jose is bad enough, but his inner snark track railing against literally every other person, including the one he’s supposed to be attracted to, just comes across as petty and weird. He’s so aggressive even in his own mind when he’s completely alone; how is this attractive to people?

Christian has the idea to send Ana original printings of some British lit greats, as an apology for vaguely rejecting her after absolutely nobody brought up the idea of romance, and I wonder if he’s just trying to be counterproductive on purpose? Because gifts tell the recipient things about the gift giver, and hugely expensive, rare, and personally tailored gifts say that the giver has very warm feelings regarding the recipient. They do not say that the recipient should never see the giver again, for their own good. Christian is giving a gift that Ana will have little choice but to interpret as the opposite of its intended statement; it’s not as if she’s aware of the fact that Grey splashes his money around like crazy on complete strangers. Given what she knows of him, this has to be a romance gift, not a “no hard feelings, but seriously, keep away from me,” gift.

Moments later I’m in my library with Jude the Obscure and a boxed set of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in its three volumes laid out on the billiard table in front of me. Both are bleak books, with tragic themes. Hardy had a dark, twisted soul. Like me.

Okay, so… E.L James has to know that all this “I’ve got a dark soul,” shit makes Christian sound like a sixteen year old’s deviantart account, right? Fucking Batman doesn’t brood as much or as overtly as this ass, and Batman is known as a dour, overly angst-ridden character.

Not only is it entirely on the nose, it’s also lazy, because “dark soul” is literally the only way that Christian’s mindset has been described, thus far. Word or phrase repetition kinda drives me nuts, I had that drilled into me by an editor that actually gave a damn and wouldn’t let me use the same root word multiple times on the same page.

So, Christian is going to send this woman pricey first editions as an apology for sort-of-but-not-really rejecting her when he had no obligation not to; if the gift itself didn’t send the wrong message, the utterly insane overreaction to something pretty minor that they constitute absolutely does.

But that’s not the point. Ana mentioned Hardy as a favorite and I’m sure she’s never seen, let alone owned, a first edition.

And precisely what the fuck makes you say that, Christian? Because she’s not as rich as you, there’s no possibility that she’s ever been exposed to what you consider to be the finer things in life? I’ve seen first editions at bookstores, you shit; they’re not that hard to come by.

This is what really irritates me about the way Christian is written, the utter indecisiveness of his character; he’s both an irredeemable classist and utterly absorbed in the continuation of his childhood circumstances. The guy wants to make “ooh, I was a poor boy with a rough upbringing,” into such an integral part of who he is that he never stops bringing it up, and yet he makes completely baseless assumptions about what a common person like Ana’s life is like without a hint of irony. It’s so completely, flatly a real part of his character that it makes the “dark soul” crap come off as even more of an affectation, if that were possible.

There’s another scene break, and we come back to Christian in his car, leafing through his books to find an appropriate quote to write to Ana with. We get the briefest of hints that there’s an actual person beneath the Christian Grey exterior, some character insight to justify an additional book being written, when Grey relates that he used to read heavily as a teenager to escape into fiction, but because that might actually be an interesting thing to read about that would make the man into a more fleshed out being, it’s only like a sentence long and seems to exist only to tell us that Christian is so much smarter than his brother Elliot, who never read ever, you guys.

Taylor drops Grey off at his office, and I want you to look closely at how he interacts with his female staff, versus his male ones. Okay, so here’s the girls:

The young receptionist greets me with a flirtatious wave.
Every day…Like a cheesy tune on repeat.
Ignoring her, I make my way to the elevator that will take me straight to my floor.

And here’s the guys:

“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” Barry on security greets me as he presses the button to summon the elevator.
“How’s your son, Barry?”
“Better, sir.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”

I wonder, can anyone see the key difference there? I dunno, they’re so similar!

Besides, how does Grey know that Barry wasn’t flirting with him too?

Just in case you think that this disrespect to women is a one time thing, you need to know that it continues with literally every other woman Grey interacts with in his office:

I step into the elevator and it shoots up to the twentieth floor. Andrea is on hand to greet me.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey. Ros wants to see you to discuss the Darfur project. Barney would like a few minutes—”
I hold my hand up to silence her.

He has her heel like she’s a fucking dog.

“And I need a double espresso. Get Olivia to make it for me.”
But looking around I notice that Olivia is absent. It’s a relief. The girl is always mooning over me and it’s fucking irritating.

Olivia doesn’t even have to be present to make it into Grey’s eternal bitch fest.

“Would you like milk, sir?” Andrea asks.
Good girl. I give her a smile.
“Not today.” I do like to keep them guessing how I take my coffee.

First of all, what patronizing bullshit. “Good girl,” what a fucking asshole.

Secondly, what kind of person plays mind games like this with the people in his employ? He “keeps them guessing,” how he takes his coffee? What does that even mean? Why does he find that satisfying? So he just intentionally obfuscates his expectations around his subordinates so that they tiptoe on eggshells for fear of displeasing their boss? Because you know with Christian, any deviation from his exacting and arbitrary standards will be met with the same sorts of sulking temper tantrums that have characterized him so far. Talk about a hostile fucking work environment.

Christian gets Welch on the phone, the same private investigator he used in the first chapter, and has him invade Ana’s privacy some more, and we get another scene break. What’s notable here is that a large amount of this scene is nothing more than one line paragraphs that are nothing but dialogue without the tags. This type of writing is okay in small doses, or to indicate rapid fire conversations, but it’s so very overused in this book, to the degree that it just feels bare bones. It’s just E.L James rushing through shit, instead of a stylistic choice.

Oh, also? There’s this line:

“I’d like you to find out when her last final exam takes place and let me know as a matter of priority.”

Ignore the obviously flawed phrase “a matter of priority,” since it’s clear that the final word encapsulates all the others in a way that renders them unnecessary. No, what we need to talk about is the other careless redundancy here: “last final exam”? As opposed to her last penultimate exam?

No. See, I don’t actually think this is that kind of dumb mistake, I think it’s another sort entirely. Grey is set in America, but E.L James is British, and those two cultures have very different terms for referring to things. In America, it’s “finals,” but in Britain it’s “exams,” and the original Fifty Shades is somewhat notorious for having exactly zero concessions for the setting, in that James insists upon her own British-isms rather than more accurate American slang, leading to a book that’s entirely inauthentic for the setting it purports to inhabit. It’s just another symptom of her complete disinterest in writing a decent work of literature, and unwillingness to actually research anything at any time- it’s literally the level of work one would expect from a fan fiction and nothing more, despite the professional publisher. What I think happened here was that James had written “exam,” and either the find/replace function on her word processor or, more charitably her editor, missed the requisite deletion when replacing the word with the more appropriate “final.”

It’s one of those little, telling moments where the absolute minimum of effort put into this boondoggle shines through the gloss and sheen the publisher haphazardly slopped over James’ nakedly greedy fan fic cash grab. But no matter how much you attempt to polish a cynical, mercenary turd, the stink will make itself known in the end. You can’t escape it.

The next scene begins with that bastion of entertainment and engagement, the business meeting:

“So the next topic is where to site the new plant. You know the tax breaks in Detroit are huge. I sent you a summary.”
“I know. But God, does it have to be Detroit?”
“I don’t know what you have against the place. It meets our criteria.”

Okay, so I want to make something clear: Christian is from Detroit. It’s where he grew up, it’s the tough life that he was rescued from when he was adopted. If there are any people that he should have nothing but sympathy for, if there’s one area on the planet whose plight he should fully empathize with, it is Detroit, and yet he’s resistant even to the idea of siting a plant there. Christian Grey, this supposed big time philanthropist whose childhood trauma prompted him to funnel incredible amounts of money into ending world hunger, is willing to facilitate the further decay and poverty of the very city that hosted the same experiences that made him so charitable, even at great personal cost to himself because he’s avoiding huge tax breaks. He simply refuses to help the very people he should, both logically and emotionally, be the most interested in helping; he’s apparently feeding the world so that nobody would have to go hungry like he did, but he’ll actively work against helping children who are in situations that are as similar to his own as it is possible to be, not for any good business reason, but for no reason at all.

It’s not like he has to go back there. It’s not like he even has to look at the place again, yet he’s still being an obstacle to revitalizing the area even though that goes against his stated goals.

What the fuck is wrong with this man?

The meeting scene seems to only exist so that Grey can get his phone call from Welch, making the entire rest of the scene completely irrelevant, but the upshot is that he learns the date of Ana’s last exam, and so is for some reason pressed for time in sending her his apology gift. It’s not really made clear why, but I’m actually happy with that: whatever rationale James would see fit to write would inevitably be petty and needlessly complicated. We’re probably better off with a random ticking clock out of nowhere.

Hey, in the next scene, Olivia gets to actually be in the room when Christian is an unrepentant cunt to her!

AT 12:30 OLIVIA SHUFFLES into my office with lunch. She’s a tall, willowy girl with a pretty face. Sadly, it’s always misdirected at me with longing. She’s carrying a tray with what I hope is something edible. After a busy morning, I’m starving. She trembles as she puts it on my desk.
Tuna salad. Okay. She hasn’t fucked this up for once.

So, Olivia is literally shaking when she has to do something that her boss will pass judgement on. When I was saying earlier that I suspect that all his (female, seemingly) employees would have to walk on eggshells around their completely unreasonable boss? I was not fucking joking on that.

Christian has selected a quote to write to Ana to go along with her gift, and it’s an… interesting selection:

Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks…

So after all those derisive and belittling assumptions he had about Ana and English literature, that she’d clearly only read the romances and so on, he selects a quote that endorses women reading as a way of educating themselves. Which is it? Is Ana’s chosen major a frippery-laden excursion through romance novels, or not?

And… that’s actually kinda it, for this chapter. Grey has the books and his note shipped to Ana- for some reason the entire exchange is rendered in full, but also without anything but the bare bones dialogue, so that any possible additional details we might have gotten have been rendered impossible from the outset- and then the chapter ends. So little actually happens here that I’m hard pressed to find even a single reason that it should be its own chapter; it’s a scene that wasn’t present in the first book, but at the same time, we don’t get any real insight into Grey as a character other than that he’s an unrepentant, bloody minded sexist, which we already knew from his interactions with Ana.

It’s just a guy having a bad night’s sleep and then sending a creepy note to a girl, in between passive aggressively torturing people under his power.

I feel like that’s a near perfect encapsulation of the series as a whole.

Thanks for tuning in again, and I hope you’ll join me next time, for more of this complete and utter tosh.

Grey: Fifty Shades as told by a Garbage-Person, Chapter 3 recap

Welcome back, dear readers. We return to Grey jogging and fantasizing about Ana some more, because that seems to be literally the only thing he’s capable of doing, and unfortunately, it’s exactly as objectifying as all the other times:

Last night I dreamed of her. Blue eyes, breathy voice…her sentences ending with “sir” as she knelt before me.

This is, I think, the first time Grey has ever imagined the woman speaking, but of course the actual words she says aren’t important, only the token submission expressed at the end of her sentences. This is exactly what I mean, when I say that Grey’s really after a sex doll, not Ana herself; he doesn’t think about her character, just her body. Only ever her body. BDSM needs to be more personal than this, guys: if you don’t know a person well enough to properly monitor them in a scene, if you can’t gauge their reactions and predict what they would do under this or that stimulus, then how on Earth can they trust you to dominate them? How can you trust yourself? Grey doesn’t think about these things because they aren’t important to him, but a Safe, Sane and Consensual kink relationship must account for who both partners are as people.

This scene is also one paragraph long, which is troubling because it kinda shows how little planning and effort was put into the writing and editing of this piece. I’ve published books in the past, and my editor really did put my words through the wringer before handing them back to me, which is something I truly needed and which made my eventual novel so much better than it had been initially. I simply can’t square my image of the great editor I had with this idea that one could read over a single paragraph scene which contains absolutely no vital information and think “yeah, that’s acceptable.” My editor would have kicked my ass if I’d tried that; if there was any editing being done for this book at all, it was by someone profoundly lax.

Other evidence of this is that Christian’s back to just announcing what he’s feeling again:

The thought is disconcerting, so I ignore it and concentrate on pushing my body to its limits along the bank of the Willamette.

In the second scene- again, just a paragraph- Grey passes a coffee shop and wonders whether or not he should take Ana to one, completely bypassing the whole “will she go with me if I ask?” bit, not to mention the “will she actually be at the photoshoot?” part.

Maybe I should take her for coffee.
Like a date?
Well. No. Not a date. I laugh at the ridiculous thought. Just a chat—an interview of sorts.

Yes, taking a woman you’re interested in on a date? Sir, that is the height of madness! Interviewing her like an employer, gauging her suitability for what you have planned for her but will not even hint to her about? Perfectly normal!

The scene ends again, and I’m left wondering if this is at all what people want out of this novel; Grey takes the majority of the scene to set out that he’s going to eat and then shower. That literally takes up as much page real estate as “should I take the heroine out for coffee?” and I just cannot fucking fathom why that is. This is not the sorts of insight into the character that people want to read about, surely? E.L James will skip entire days worth of content where Christian obsesses over Ana, something that one could reasonably anticipate that the readers of this romance novel would want, but she’ll render his fucking breakfast habits with the same level of detail that she mentions the heroine in this scene?

What the fuck is wrong with this writer’s priorities?

Oh, and it’s not just the details and scene blocking that she sucks at, it’s also scene transitions too:

THERE’S A BRISK KNOCK on the door. I open it and Taylor stands on the threshold.

Really? This is supposed to hook me into the scene?

The big problem here is that every shred of plot-relevant information that was present in those previous two scenes could have been incorporated into this one in a way that easily enhances the characterization of Christian, without any major detriment to the flow of the piece: just have him come in from running- you don’t even have to say so, just say he’s out of breath- to find Taylor (his bodyguard, by the way) looking for him. In one single scene opening you’ve shown us what Grey was doing, gotten us to exactly the same place that James took two “scenes” to get to, and have laid easy groundwork for Christian to relate what he was thinking about on his run that held him up so long. In fact, you’ve now also made his internal turmoil more present in the narrative because you can show that he’s been out distracting himself with running so long that others have noticed and begun looking for him.

This has all been accomplished, by the way, without transforming the chapter into a jerky, stop-and-start abomination with a flow that’s dead in the water. You’d think that’d be important for a writer to consider.

Ugh. Anyway, it’s finally time for the photoshoot to happen, so the narrative wobbles vaguely that way. Can’t move too fast for the plot, after all; it’s so thin it might break its neck if we go too fast.

Room 601 is crowded with people, lights, and camera boxes, but I spot her immediately. She’s standing to the side. Her hair is loose: a lush, glossy mane that falls beneath her breasts. She’s wearing tight jeans and chucks with a short-sleeved navy jacket and a white T-shirt beneath. Are jeans and chucks her signature look? While not very convenient, they do flatter her shapely legs. Her eyes, disarming as ever, widen as I approach.

Yes, well, all women everywhere should be dressing in a manner that’s convenient for you, Christian. We wouldn’t want you to have to struggle for more than a second at a time in gaining access to their holes, after all. But hey, at least it makes a part of her body visually appealing to you, and really, isn’t that what all women should aspire to?

Christian briefly considers kissing Ana’s hand, but doesn’t, which is fortunate because if he did, he would most likely metamorphose, at a molecular level, into one of those fedora-wearing Nice Guys who call women “m’lady.” In fact I’m fairly certain the fedora would be another organ. Instead, he turns his attention to Kate, Ana’s friend from the first chapter who couldn’t make it to her interminable interview with Christian (lucky her!).

“Mr. Grey, this is Katherine Kavanagh,” she says. With reluctance I release her and turn to the persistent Miss Kavanagh. She’s tall, striking, and well groomed, like her father, but she has her mother’s eyes, and I have her to thank for my introduction to the delightful Miss Steele. That thought makes me feel a little more benevolent toward her.

So, like… Grey immediately seems to dislike Kate, the deliberate wording of “more benevolent” hinting that his initial reaction was negative, and this is an enormous problem that both books covering this period have, where every single woman that isn’t Ana is referred to by the narrative in strictly negative terms. I made mention of this in the last recap, but it bears further investigation since this is the first time another major- insofar as this book has major characters beyond Grey and Ana- female character, and the narration leans toward instant, baseless dislike. It’s not that these women are characterized negatively, though that would be a problem on its own; it’s that the writing asserts negative things about them without justification or even a reason to in the scene, aside from emphasizing the insanely jealous haze through which both of our protagonists conduct themselves.

This is lazy writing on its own, since simply demanding that the reader react negatively toward certain characters is unreasonable and dishonest to the story, but in this case it’s also lazy characterization, since this is really the extent of the effort put into making Ana seem at all palatable. Instead of constructing a character with interesting qualities who actually is a person worth liking who we want to know more about, E.L James commits to waging a prose war against every other female character in the piece, simply commanding us to dislike them via the bizarre, disjointed assumptions of the lead characters. Christian doesn’t like Kate, for no reason, and so we are supposed to be sealed off from liking Kate too, and thus forbidden from comparing her favorably to Ana.

Of course, the fact is that Kate is generally the superior character, exhibiting far more agency in her quest to get an interview and personal photo shoot with Christian than Ana does in the entire series, and all of Kate’s cool stuff happens before the book begins.

She has a firm, confident handshake, and I doubt she’s ever faced a day of hardship in her privileged life. I wonder why these women are friends. They have nothing in common.

Heh heh, you got all that from her handshake, did you? Or is this just more of your utterly baseless assumptions, that you’re going to stick to and let color your every interaction with this person for the rest of your dealings with her?

Seriously, I’m so tired, already, of Christian leaping to conclusions about people based on nothing at all, and then the book just sort of treating them as true despite getting no positive feedback regarding them. Let’s be clear here: he just met Kate, and yet somehow we’re supposed to take seriously his pronouncement that she has nothing in common with Ana, another woman whose interactions with him can be counted on one hand? More and more, this is beginning to read like an account written by an unreliable narrator, just petulantly demanding that we interpret events his way when it’s clear to see that they simply don’t match the tone he’s giving them; it’s kinda hilarious, since E.L James clearly was not going for that.

If she was going for anything at all; nothing in what I’ve read thus far indicates that she actually had any artistic intentions for this work, period.

Not to mention, of course, how completely unironically the billionaire who was adopted by rich parents accuses someone else of “never having faced a day of hardship.” Christian was adopted at four years old: when was the last time he ever had to do something particularly strenuous?

It’s round about now that Jose appears, our Jacob counterpart to Christian’s Edward, in the Twilight fan-fiction this entire boondoggle originally was, and this is literally the first set of lines that come out of his appearance:

“This is José Rodriguez, our photographer,” Anastasia says, and her face lights up as she introduces him.
Shit. Is this the boyfriend?
Rodriguez blooms under Ana’s sweet smile.
Are they fucking?

The only possible interaction that Christian seems to be able to envision for men and Ana is penises, slipping into wet holes. Every. Single. Man, that he has seen her with thus far, his only thought has been of sex. Are they having sex with her? Have they dared to touch Christian’s property?! What is the status of their penises, viz Ana’s vagina?

He needs to know right now, damn it!

Well, game on, kid.

So… is anyone else bothered by this? To my knowledge, Jose is the only person of color in the entire series, and Christian develops an immediate habit of calling him “kid,” and “boy.” I mean, that’s condescending enough just on its own, but when it’s applied to the only non-white cast member exclusively…

Christian immediately gets incredibly standoffish to Jose, and since we only have Christian’s point of view to tell us that Jose responds in kind, and I completely refuse to trust his view, all we can really be sure of is that Christian begins this meeting by being kind of an asshole. That he takes absolutely everything that Jose does as a “challenge” only shows that he’s interacting with the man in bad faith, based on suspicions that he has in his own mind that Jose is not party to, nor has he influenced them in any way. Christian is acting out his possessive fantasies regarding Ana, inflicting them on an unsuspecting world and, in the fine tradition of confirmation bias, spinning every reaction he gets to them as evidence that he is, in fact, right.

The man even takes the fucking stage lights turning on as some form of attack on him, seemingly.

Then we get some more insipid assumptions from the man of the hour:

As the glare recedes I search out the lovely Miss Steele. She’s standing at the back of the room, observing the proceedings. Does she always shy away like this? Maybe that’s why she and Kavanagh are friends; she’s content to be in the background and let Katherine take center stage.
Hmm…a natural submissive.

At least this time Christian prefaces his weird ruminations with a “maybe,” but you know what? This is so perfectly symptomatic of the sickness at the heart of this book, and it’s not the abuse, really, because it goes deeper than that. The true rot that’s corrupting this narrative at every turn is more fundamental: it’s a staunch refusal, on the part of each and every character, to actually communicate with one another.

I mean, I guess this is partially a symptom of the fact that the majority of these people are just meeting each other for the first time, but then again that hardly stops them from wanting to fuck each other senseless, so it’s not really an excuse. The problem is that these people lack the maturity and willingness to frankly discuss their desires in a productive way; instead they find themselves ruminating pointlessly on what they think might be going on in the other’s head, based on nothing, and working from that. It’s a book where a bunch of clueless assholes fire blindly into the night and hope a relationship emerges.

Open and clear communication is such a cornerstone of BDSM, but any communication is key to relationship building- how are you going to have a romance novel where none of the people involved interact with one another?- so it’s so very baffling to see such reluctance to do so baked into the characters at a fundamental level.Grey even goes out of his way to lie to Ana to obscure his interest in her, and from memory Ana is just as evasive regarding her interest in him; the two protagonists are just locked in these little boxes where they refuse to truthfully communicate any of their thoughts to the world at large, while simultaneously being angry or disappointed that everyone else doesn’t already know what they’re thinking. It’s a narrative-scale act of passive aggression that essentially leaves us reading about an echo chamber. Nobody can grow or evolve, because nobody is willing to begin the process of information exchange to allow that to happen.

Christian thinks that Ana is a “natural submissive,” because he won’t talk to her about what she likes and dislikes just in general, let alone sexually, and he refuses to consider any of the information he knows about her outside of the little prism through which he can interpret the world as he prefers to see it. She’s a natural submissive because he would like it if that were so, and he doesn’t know any better, and so he constructs an ad hoc rationalization of why she is that way, no need to consult reality to confirm or anything, it’s just so, now. Did we really need for this entire book to be written just so we can know that Christian Grey constructs elaborate fantasy scenarios in his head and then expects the rest of the world to conform to them absolutely? Is that truly the sort of insight that should have been granted into this character?

Christian’s presumptuousness is irritating enough on its own, but in this case it also refers back to this utter nonsense about dominants being able to sense what women are “naturally submissive” in a sexual sense just by looking at them, like it’s all just instant submission, just add dominant cock. It’s not only lazy kink writing- it’s basically telling the reader instead of showing, which is like a cardinal writing sin in general- it’s flat out dangerous in many ways, as it reinforces certain assumptions that newly kinky people- and a certain stripe of predatory dom- might have about the way kink operates, namely that who you are outside of the bedroom, hell, even just how you look, informs the role you were destined to play in kink.

A quick stroll through reality demonstrates that this is… nonsense. Some of the most assertive people I’ve ever known have been almost exclusively sexually submissive in the bedroom, and some of the quietest, least assertive people I know turn into dominant beasts behind closed doors. I am a quiet, shy person in my real life, but my kinky tastes run near exclusively dominant; Grey would have had exactly the same cues with me as he has with Ana, the same disinterest in being the center of attention, the same discomfort with prolonged eye contact in public and so on, only the conclusions he drew from it would be totally wrong, because you can’t determine a person’s sexual tastes from their non-sexual behavior. It’s simply not possible: sure, there’s probably plenty of people who are meek and also sexually submissive, but human experience is varied and strange, those two categories don’t actually connect in any real way. All this book is telling new kinksters is that the guy who wanders up to you at your first play gathering, or messages you through a kink site, and says you were “born to wear a collar,” or some shit, is saying a totally cogent thing and is fine to hang out with, when in reality that guy is at the very least insanely presumptuous, and at worst is being outright predatory.

You want to know the way you ascertain whether or not someone is sexually submissive? You ask them. Which, as we’ve already established, Christian will never do, because he’s too engaged with his fantasy Ana to care what real Ana thinks, and would rather railroad her into it without any prior hints that this is his intention.

This whole book is fucking garbage.

As if to illustrate my prior point perfectly, Christian proceeds to stare at Ana, having decided in his mind that if she breaks eye contact first it means she’s a submissive and is slavering over his wonderful trouser dachshund, and begins telepathically ordering her to do so. Becoming uncomfortable after being stared at by a creepy loon with presumably very intense telepathy eyes, Ana does break eye contact, and being that Christian has already decided what that means, without any consideration of possible alternatives, he smugly tells her “good girl” in his head.

Is this what other women find sexy in their men? That he’ll just imagine some potentially sexy things about them and then just get all silently smug without telling them about it? How is that satisfying?

The photo shoot ends literally one sentence after this with the most jarring transition I’ve ever read; Christian seriously is just like “and then we’re done,” and that’s that. My ladyfriend does professional photography, so I know it takes some time to get pictures taken like that, so I’m genuinely wondering how much time has passed in that exchange of a few sentences, and why James opted to not even intimate that anything had happened at all. I know I said earlier that she takes too much time discussing trivial bullshit and not enough focusing on things people might actually want to read but come on: a photo shoot with a pair of new characters is at least somewhat interesting. Christian eating breakfast alone is not.

Christian shakes hands with every new character- who we have heard literally nothing from since they were introduced, continuing with the theme of James just assuming that everyone has read the previous books and thus knows who these people are- and we get this lovely little tidbit about Jose:

“Thank you again, Mr. Grey.” Katherine surges forward and shakes my hand, followed by the photographer, who regards me with ill-concealed disapproval. His antagonism makes me smile.
Oh, man…you have no idea.

So, Christian thinks that Jose is interested in Ana, and proceeds to gloat about attempting to steal her away from him. All for the crime of daring to be interested in the same woman as a man he’s never met.

Charming.

Grey asks Ana to walk with him, and his continuing interest in her is noted as “surprising” her, which just goes to show that merely thinking a lot about a woman, and pulling out all the stops to present to her that you have no interest in her while attempting to see her more, doesn’t actually transmit an effective message to the woman in question. Demonstrating yet more skewed priorities, James proceeds to write Christian’s inconsequential dialogue to Taylor in full, while relegating his asking Ana out for coffee to a silent notation, despite it being the focus of the scene.

Her long lashes flicker over her eyes. “I have to drive everyone home,” she says with dismay.

The easily resolved nature of this excuse- how hard is it to give your keys to Kate, Ana?- and Christian’s untrustworthy narration combine to make me think that this “dismay” he’s detecting in her is anything but. More and more, this feels like the diary of a man attempting to get with a woman who is uncomfortable around him, while he’s unable to register that fact. And of course, Christian has all the money in the world with which to enforce his presence on the unfortunate young lady:

“Taylor,” I call after him, making her jump. I must make her nervous and I don’t know if this is good or bad. And she can’t stop fidgeting. Thinking about all the ways I could make her stop is distracting.

He doesn’t know if making her nervous is good or bad?

Well, let me clear that up, then. It’s. Fucking. BAD.

Maybe, in a specific BDSM context, making a woman nervous is a good thing. But Ana is not Christian’s sub. Ana does not even know that Christian is kinky, and Christian absolutely does not know if Ana is. From Ana’s perspective, Christian is just a guy; she does not have a relationship with him beyond a few meetings, they are not romantically or sexually involved in any way, nor does she have any indication that Christian is interested in these things. There is absolutely no sense in which making a woman in that position nervous around you is a good thing, something that Christian would know if he had any shred of empathy at all.

Ana accepts his invitation after Christian put pressure on her to do so by committing his staff to doing the thing that was preventing her from accepting right in front of her, and she trots off to deal with that. While Christian is waiting, we get some more nonsense ruminations:

What the hell am I going to say to her?
“How would you like to be my submissive?”
No. Steady, Grey. Let’s take this one stage at a time.

God, yeah, why would you want to say that? That would be a frank and honest expression of your intentions toward her, how crazy would it be to do that?

I mean, I get it, that would be surprisingly blunt, but it’s not as if Christian isn’t trying to skip vital steps in the process of getting to know Ana before jumping into bed with her anyway. Hell, he’s planning to interview her and present her with a sex contract; simply asking is positively genteel next to that.

How long is Anastasia going to be? I check my watch. She must be negotiating the car swap with Katherine. Or she’s talking to Rodriguez, explaining that she’s just going for coffee to placate me and keep me sweet for the article. My thoughts darken. Maybe she’s kissing him good-bye.
Damn.
She emerges a moment later, and I’m pleased. She doesn’t look like she’s just been kissed.

Well, I mean, how would you know? She hasn’t set off the Kissing Flares or anything.

At the elevators I press the call button and almost immediately the doors open. A couple in a passionate embrace spring apart, embarrassed to be caught. Ignoring them, we step into the elevator, but I catch Anastasia’s impish smile.
As we travel to the first floor the atmosphere is thick with unfulfilled desire. And I don’t know if it’s emanating from the couple behind us or from me.

Hey, sometimes elevators just smell bad.

I’m relieved when the doors open again and I take her hand, which is cool and not clammy as expected. Perhaps I don’t affect her as much as I’d like. The thought is disheartening.

Dude, have a little care for the kind of effect you want to have on the woman, because when I see sweaty palms, I don’t think “gagging for the D.”

They head out to a coffee place, and for some reason every step of the journey is described to us, as well as Grey taking Ana’s coffee order, because we were all desperately wanting to see that happen from Christian’s point of view, obviously. She declines his offer to get her some food, so of course when he actually goes to order, this happens:

“I’ll have a coffee with steamed milk. English Breakfast tea. Teabag on the side. And a blueberry muffin.”
Anastasia might change her mind and eat.

It’s their first time out together, the first time they’re in a remotely equal position, and he’s already trying to control what she eats. Those who have read the other novels know that this is a recurring theme with some… interesting undertones that may or may not be intentional (Ana, who in this novel doesn’t eat much and is always being told to eat, is often the name given to sufferer’s personifications of anorexia) but it’s interesting to see it start out so damn early. For someone who constantly worries that Ana might not be into him, he sure has no qualms overreaching with her whenever possible, as if that’s likely to help.

For some reason the narration then decides to stop and render a one-sided conversation between the barista and a monosyllabic Grey in its entirety, and again, I’m utterly mystified as to this book’s sense of priorities; I’m fairly sure that people wanted to see more of Christian and Ana together, from his perspective, or perhaps relevant scenes from his life that inform who he is as a person, but I don’t recall any screaming outcry to know what, exactly, he talked about with the cashier in that one coffee shop scene. I don’t know why this gets special treatment- seriously, it’s just small talk- while the photo shoot, which could have been used to give some good insight into Christian around these new characters, went by at such a blisteringly fast pace.

This really does feel like E.L James stream of consciousness writing, without even a single editing pass before it hit shelves. She just writes whatever, and then I guess it’s in the book forever, now.

It also serves the purpose of making Christian look like a vicious ass who can’t interact with other human beings if he wants to do something else instead, and I doubt that was what was originally envisioned for this guy. But seriously, there’s no other way to take a man hissing at a barista who’s just wishing him a good time in the city, since he’s visiting. He’s just being horrible for no reason, without commentary on how uncool that is. It’s like they took the least important part of the book and turned it into an opportunity to make Christian look like more of a horrendous douche. Why would they do that?

And then they have tea, which is endlessly fascinating, I know.

As she tells me she likes her tea weak and black, for a moment I think she’s describing what she likes in a man.

That… that just sounds like she’s describing Urkel.

Christian decides to use this time to grill Ana further, as though he didn’t get enough information on her from the background check he ran, so he asks her if Jose is her boyfriend, and I’m starting to get kind of irritated that this keeps happening, because if Christian actually wanted to know, he could just ask her if she has a boyfriend in general, instead of going down this ridiculous checklist for every single man she knows. He could ask one question instead of asking fifteen million ones that signal his intentions even brighter than ever, but I think this is just down to E.L James not really having a handle on writing a smart character who probably would have picked that up on his own, and so she just cycles through the same three or four topics endlessly, in the process undercutting the very notion that Christian is smart.

She laughs. At me.
At me!
And I don’t know if it’s from relief or if she thinks I’m funny. It’s annoying.

Because nobody should take you anything but seriously, as you stalk women in hardware stores and try to send telepathic kink messages to them.

“The way you smiled at him, and he at you.” You have no idea, do you? The boy is smitten.

Whew! Get a load of that completely natural speech pattern from a 27 year old American dude! “And he at you,” because that’s totally what some guy from Detroit would say.

She eyes the blueberry muffin as I peel back the paper, and for a moment I imagine her on her knees beside me as I feed her, a morsel at a time. The thought is diverting—and arousing.

Okay… look, I shouldn’t have to say something this obvious, but muffins are not sexy food. They’re crumbly-ass stain nightmares that leave you all sticky when you eat them. I cannot imagine a less sexy scene than someone holding a rapidly disintegrating chunk of muffin out to someone else and watching them suffer under the deluge of crumbs and blueberry fragments as they attempt to eat it, and then presumably spend the next fifteen minutes picking muffin out of their hair and clothes.

No amount of collars or dirty talk could make that sexy.

Christian again asks if Paul from the last chapter is her boyfriend, and I don’t know what he hopes to accomplish with this. Is he hoping to catch Ana out in a lie, where she admits that actually yes, he is? Or does he just not remember something about the girl he has apparently spent the last day pining for relentlessly? What is actually the point of all these little digressions?

“I find you intimidating,” she says, and looks down, fidgeting once more with her fingers. On the one hand she’s so submissive, but on the other she’s…challenging.

Oh, that’s a good sign. I know that in Ana’s mind she’s super into him and so on, but that’s not something that Christian knows, or even suspect, given how much he bounces around and doubts himself in her presence. To him, this should be an absolute red flag that the way he’s acting around her is achieving precisely the opposite effect to the one he wants, this should prompt him to really reflect back on his actions and maybe change so that he can…

Yeah, okay. I could not get through that with a straight face. We all know that’s never going to happen:

“You should find me intimidating.”

‘Scuse me, bucko? She should? That’s what you want in your subs, is it? Intimidation?

Because that’s absolutely not what you should want in a submissive, least of all one that you’re only just getting to know, if she indeed turns out to be sexually submissive. Intimidation leads to fear of displeasing your dom, it leads to you not using your safe word even when you should. An intimidated sub won’t say a word her dom won’t like, she won’t give properly reflective reactions when she’s played with, she’ll persist with things that hurt her too much because she doesn’t want to displease the person she’s afraid of.

Moreover, as I’ve had to point out so many times in this damn entry, Ana is not his sub yet. Even if he wanted his subs to be intimidated, at this point she’s just a woman that he’s met a few times. Her being intimidated is literally the last thing that a person in Christian’s situation, wanting to get in her pants, should want. Unless he’s intimating that he wants her scared so that he can pressure her into sex later, which, I mean…

You don’t want her intimidated. You shouldn’t want anybody intimidated, frankly, but then…

Yeah. She should. There aren’t many people brave enough to tell me that I intimidate them.

So, this tells us two important things: the first is that Christian is a complete sociopath who actually wants people to be afraid of him. The second is that he takes a lack of overt acknowledgement that he does intimidate them as a sign that he does intimidate them, but they’re too afraid to say so… which makes him look like one of those internet tough guys obsessed with convincing himself that actually everyone secretly thinks of him as the tough dude he thinks of himself as.

“Yeah, everyone’s afraid of me, because I’m strong! Look at that guy, not in any way signalling that he’s intimidated… he so scurred!”

Ridiculous.

Grey goes on to begin grilling Ana about her family, for the most frustrating reason:

Of course I know all this from Welch’s background check, but it’s important to hear it from her.

No, if it was important to hear it from her, then you wouldn’t have run the background check at all; you would have just asked her in the process of getting to know her normally, like a respectful person would do. Unless you mean that it’s important to hear all this from her in the sense that you don’t want to let slip any information you couldn’t know on your own, and hence reveal that you’ve been spying on her, but in that case the move is so vile and calculating that it’s actually better to think that he’s just profoundly insensitive, an implication that is only confirmed by his next question:

“Your father?” I ask.
“My father died when I was a baby.”

Christian already knows this, since it showed up on the background check. What he doesn’t know is how Ana feels about it. But that’s sure not going to stop him from bringing it up like it’s nothing, no matter how traumatic or saddening it might be for Ana, because Ana’s feelings don’t actually matter to Christian, least of all when he’s trying to obscure the fact that he’s spied on her so she won’t get freaked out on him. I mean, he just says this, busts out this incredibly loaded question when he wants Ana to like him, when one could reasonably assume that she would have some very complicated feelings on the issue…

“I don’t remember him,” she says, dragging me back to the now. Her expression is clear and bright, and I know that Raymond Steele has been a good father to this girl.

Oh, okay then. Never mind. I guess it would be too much to ask for Ana to have nuanced feelings on anything, especially when there’s Christian Grey to moon over.

Hey, you know what we haven’t had for a while? Mindless sexist pablum!

She’s one of the few women I’ve met who can sit in silence. Which is great, but not what I want at the moment.

God, ’cause those women, always being such huge chatterboxes, am I right? Just yak yak yak, eh Christian? Good thing you know how to put a stop to that, eh? Eh? Eh?

And it’s with great pleasure and a smirk that I remind her that she’s interviewed me already. “I can recollect some quite probing questions.”
Yes. You asked me if I was gay.

Oh, you don’t like probing questions do you, Christian? Like, say, asking someone about their father when you already know they’re dead?

Or are we just talking about the sort of probing questions that let you continue to assert your Manly Manliness credentials to the reader over and over in the most homophobic way possible?

She straightens her shoulders. “Tell me about your parents,” she demands, in an attempt to divert the conversation from her family. I don’t like talking about mine, so I give her the bare details.

Oh, she should probably just run a background check on you then.

Christian goes over the single sentence version of who his family is, and the one sided nature of this “interview,” continues to irritate me. Ana mentions her aspirations to travel to England one day, citing all the famous authors that came from there but also never once venturing outside of the literature one might find on a high school reading list to do so, and Christian yet again assumes that the entirety of British literature can be boiled down to the romances… although I will grudgingly admit that he’s aided in this notion by Ana’s list, in a way.

Here’s the proof I needed. She’s an incurable romantic, like her mother—and this isn’t going to work. To add insult to injury, she looks at her watch. She’s done.

The man acts like his time is the most important asset in the world, and yet someone else merely being aware of how they’re spending theirs is an insult to him. If they don’t want exactly the same coldly sexual relationship with him that he wants with them, if he finds them fuckable but they want romance instead of on call booty calls, this is an injury, in his mind. Ugh.

Despite having apparently made up his mind that Ana isn’t into what he wants from her, that “this isn’t going to work,” he continues to act as though he’s totally going to ask her out anyway, as though the last few moments of his train of thought never happened.

Hi, I’m Christian Grey! Lemme bondage you!

Maybe this could work.
“Do you always wear jeans?” I ask.
“Mostly,” she says, and it’s two strikes against her: incurable romantic who only wears jeans…I like my women in skirts. I like them accessible.

What is Ana thinking, not having her holes open for your use 24/7! What a notion, that she might have dressed herself this morning without consideration of what Christian Grey likes, since she absolutely knows nothing of his sexual interest in her! How crazy, to think that a person might change according to circumstance, so that if you ever became her dom you might be able to request that she wear dresses for that purpose!

Nope! People are static, they only ever do what they’re doing at precisely this second and nothing more,, ever! Don’t you feel bad for people sitting on toilets, knowing they’ll be trapped there forever?

“Do you have a girlfriend?” she asks out of the blue, and it’s the third strike. I’m out of this fledgling deal. She wants romance, and I can’t offer her that.

Well, come on man, what the fuck did you want her to say? “Do you have a sex slave?” What fucking other expression of sexual interest could she have used that wouldn’t have come across as presumptuous and inappropriate for the public street the two of you are now walking on?

So fucking sorry for you, that she didn’t read your mind and know exactly what you wanted in order to tailor the perfect response. Jesus, how rough.

And then something dumb happens, which I’ve been led to believe comes directly from Twilight in some respect, which makes it dumb squared:

Stricken with a frown, she turns abruptly and stumbles into the road.
“Shit, Ana!” I shout, tugging her toward me to stop her from falling in the path of an idiot cyclist who’s flying the wrong way up the street. All of a sudden she’s in my arms clutching my biceps, staring up at me.

That single sentence, from the quotation marks onward, constitutes the entirety of this near-bike collision thing. Big moments in this book go by so fast, and with so little fanfare that it’s hard to care about anything. Christian describes this careless cyclist in the same flat, monotone prose as he described his breakfast earlier in the chapter, and the whole concept is discarded a moment later and never mentioned again. This is clearly supposed to be some big dramatic thing, hell, it’s the biggest moment of action so far in the entire novel, but the language remains utterly flat. I think it’s James’ writing style in general; her weird stream of consciousness narration might work for fan fiction- mildly, since I don’t actually buy the idea that this would be acceptable in a derivative work either- but in an actual narrative it’s so disjointed and lacking in rhythm that it’s hard to build up much excitement for what’s going on, or even to become invested at all.

Christian holds Ana to him as a means of saving her, and clearly James is going for a big romantic heart-thumper, but the writing so lacks any form of recognizable pattern that I can’t get a hold on how its supposed to be read. It just comes across as dispassionate as a shopping list, because the content is not the only thing that determines the tone, in writing. Execution matters, and it really feels like that was an afterthought here. It’s like James just thinks if she writes about a romantic thing, it will be romantic no matter how she actually writes it.

Anyway, the guy could go in for a kiss, but:

No. No. No. Don’t do this, Grey.
She’s not the girl for you.
She wants hearts and flowers, and you don’t do that shit.

I’ll be blunt: I don’t buy this excuse. I do not buy it one bit.

What this is, isn’t some dark brooding loner pushing her away for her own good, no matter how Christian wants to characterize it as that. He’s not fucking Batman, the Joker isn’t going to pop up and beat Ana to death with a crowbar if he takes her to a restaurant (though… god, actually, that would make a better book…)

Save us from the bad book, Mistah J!

No, the real problem here is that Christian is entirely unwilling to even attempt a compromise with Ana. He suspects that she wants “hearts and flowers,” as he puts it, and maybe he’s right, but relationships are not a zero-sum game. One person getting what they want does not preclude the other from getting theirs too, and I pretty much think Christian knows that. He just doesn’t want to try to make Ana happy on her own terms, only on his, and nothing else.

It’s a complete double standard, of course, since he was quite happy to attempt to bring her around to the kind of relationship he wanted with her, even if she needed some convincing. But the moment she might want something that deviates from his own desires it’s time to back away, as though even meeting her half way and attempting to like her as a person, as a romantic partner, is too much effort. If he can’t be getting what he wants whenever he wants then he’s out, and worse, he’s then going to try and recast his own failure of character as some kind of heroic act of charity. Anything to keep himself a legend in his own mind.

What an ugly, ugly human being. And there are people who find him attractive?

He has the opportunity to kiss her but doesn’t, because that would entail some effort on his part that a girl might actually consent to, and Ana gets depressed. Completing his little suffering waif routine at not getting exactly what he wants, Christian warns her away from him, saying he’s “not the person for her.”

Ana is angry at this, which is sort of inexplicable if you’ve read the other book and know that her own thoughts during the whole cafe scene essentially ran along the lines of “golly gee, shucks, I’m so ordinary, he couldn’t possibly be interested in a shy, shy, and shy girl like me!” Isolated to Christians POV alone you kinda get the idea that she might have noticed his attraction to her, but both accounts taken together show that, for the majority of the story thus far, neither of them have been aware that the other is interested, making Ana’s anger at his rejection really weird. She’s mad at him for not immediately intuiting her own attraction and acting on it, as though he’s obligated to do so because she wants him.

I dunno, people don’t react like normal human beings in these books. It’s like E.L James is an alien who learned all she knows about romance from dour movies. Like, why would Ana not expect Christian to have telepathy?

… And… wait. He seems to think she does too, after that thing at the photo shoot. That’s… coincidental.

Is… Is E.L James an alien?

Well, this is where the chapter ends, dear reader: Ana storms off in a huff, and Christian characteristically cannot communicate his regrets at rejecting her like a normal human being. It’s essentially two more paragraphs of stammering, and then a chapter break. I don’t recall if this is the scene that leads to Ana having a weeping fit in a parking lot, or if that’s some other one, but it’s not like that’s not equally ridiculous, either way.

Join me next time, you weirdos, as I explore a chapter even lighter on actual content than this one!

Grey: Fifty Shades as told by a Garbage-Person, Chapter 1 recap

I do not like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Maybe it’s important that I get that out ahead of time, since “Having An Opinion On Fifty Shades” seems to be a key part of being a kink writer. Fifty Shades, in fact, holds the dubious honor of being the first and only book I have ever stopped reading and thrown out; somewhere around ninety percent through the first novel I realized I just couldn’t fathom dealing with the rest of it, let alone another two books, and so I deleted it from my e-reader and moved on to something else (for the record, that was Bending, by Greta Christina, which was at least an interesting read, if not always completely successful). I haven’t so much as touched another Fifty novel since- though I do have a tendency to start bitching when I see them on store shelves- and my contact with the series has been restricted to little more than the quotes that appear in the writings of others (Jenny Trout’s downright hilarious and in depth recapping of the series being the inspiration for what I’m doing right now, for example.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fifty Shades (and I suspect there’s at least a few of you who haven’t had at least some exposure to it: recent religious deconverts, newly sentient wombats, that sort of thing) here’s the gist: it’s the story of a rich, kinky man who meets and begins a relationship with a meek virgin.

That’s the nice way to say it.

The less nice, though far more accurate, way to say it, is that it’s the story of a sexually ignorant, virginal dullard, who is stalked and taken advantage of by a millionaire sociopath with pretensions of being some kind of dom mastermind, at the behest of an author with only the barest of ideas of what kink is, who rejigged her Twilight fanfiction into a bestseller, through some arcane pop-culture prism that I have yet to fully understand. E.L James continues to insist that her series is harmless kink, and she has a horde of fans willing to argue that too- in the process equivocating between what the books ostensibly are and what is being objected to, but we’ll return to that later- but the weight of evidence in favor of Team Creepy-Stalker only mounts as the series goes on, along with a growing collections of highly objectionable implications about kink, to the point that when one is asked what made one conclude that the book is about abuse and not kink, one could only point to the book itself. Using any one scene as an example misses the forest for the trees.

Despite all the objections and back and forth, I know which story I’d seen.

And what I’d seen had honestly been enough for me; all I’d read confirmed my feelings on the first book, and in fact revealed it to be far more joyless, kinkless and downright troubling than I’d initially surmised. A pattern of overbearing, privacy evading borderline abuse from the dominant in the tale, inflicted upon a clueless and unlikable submissive whose ignorance of that whole area had been taken advantage of, though her weird, moon-eyed commitment to the whole thing makes it hard to sympathize with her. I had no particular interest in engaging with the series again, let alone writing about it, but then, well…

Oh god, no.

Another book happened. Another book, this time with author E.L James attempting to convincingly portray a dominant as the narrator. Given that I myself am (mostly) dominant, it seems to me that I’ve got sufficient experience with that area to take on what I see there, with the benefit of personal experience. I’ve never been in Ana’s position, but I’ve certainly been a conflicted dominant struggling with what that might mean for me as a person, and so I’m at least equipped, in that way, to engage with Christian’s perspective… and to see the flaws therein.

So this, dear readers, is what I’ll be doing for a while. I intend to be more informative than entertaining, writing from (what I perceive to be) a proper and ethical dominant approach to kink, pointing out the areas where E.L James’ writing goes awry, rather than simply making fun of this ridiculous, ridiculous franchise. With that out of the way, let’s begin:

I have three cars. They go fast across the floor. So fast. One is red. One is green. One is yellow. I like the green one. It’s the best.

And what an… ominous beginning it is!

Yes, Grey, an erotic novel, begins with a dream/flashback to his childhood. That’s awfully unorthodox.

I can understand the intent here- sort of- but ultimately it doesn’t pay off: Grey’s past is central to (what might nominally be called) his character, in fact it’s from whence the majority of the conflict issues, but this tiny slice of prologue suffers from two problems that cripples any chance it has at being effective: it’s too vague, and it doesn’t make sense.

The former issue robs it of its impact; though it’s made up to be this recurring nightmare that Grey keeps on having, nothing actually happens in it, much less anything memorable or worthy. This is supposed to be the outline of Grey’s neglected childhood, but aside from a single insult from his mother, the scene has little to indicate this. Moreover, this is the beginning of the novel, ideally you want it to grab the reader’s attention and get them asking questions, but this scene peters out without any form of point or purpose. There’s nothing here that’s particularly attention-getting, just a kid playing with toy cars and, eventually, not being able to get to one.

And the fact that this is a dream and not just an unconnected prologue scene means that it doesn’t make sense, because the writing style is childish and simplistic, and that’s not really how dreams work? What, does Grey just mentally regress during all his dreams? Such a big perspective shift is hard to get across in a story as committed to immediate first person narration as Grey is, and ultimately I get the feeling that E.L James didn’t even try to make it work, because as it stands, it just doesn’t.

Thankfully we don’t linger too long here and Christian wakes up, but it’s here that something becomes immediately apparent: the prose here is perfectly willing to just tell us things about how Christian is feeling, rather than making it implicit through his actions and word choice:

Dismissing it, like I do most mornings, I climb out of bed and find some newly laundered sweats in my walk-in closet.

Like that: Christian just dumps a little bit of exposition on us, rather than allowing it to organically crop up in his speech (“I shake my head to dislodge the thought; it isn’t any more welcome today than it had been any of the others,” off the top of my head.) Christian is the narrator of this story, but at times he almost seems to be recounting the story informally, rather than creating a narrative for a reader; he just kinda tosses out these throwaway pieces of information that, while relevant to the story, are just injected at the point that the audience needs to know them, rather than coming up organically as things progress. That quote up there is like the second sentence in the book after the prologue, but it’s a huge warning sign right out the gate; in all my work with editors, the constant refrain I heard was “show, don’t tell,” and for something as rudimentary as this to slip by the editors this early on?

Bad sign.

An utterly irrelevant and flat scene follows; for some reason E.L James thought we’d all be interested in knowing that Christian Grey works out in the morning, and carries that on through a passage that’s both too short to be worth including, and utterly devoid of any useful information except for that we learn that Christian’s personal trainer is called Bastille, at which point I ended up muttering “oh, fuck you E.L James,” under my breath.

The other thing that was on my mind during this scene is that the whole thing is clearly written for people with a good bit of familiarity with the other books, which is I guess fine, in the sense that I doubt newcomers are the big target audience for this one, but at the same time I can’t help but feel that there’s a bigger market there than one might think; one book is an easier commitment than three, after all.

Things finally start to happen after the third unnecessary scene break, though we do have to hear about how Christian isn’t the best person in the world at golf first, when our nominal heroine Ana enters the scene, having come to interview Christian (the big shot, though nebulously defined, CEO of a vaguely sketched multi-million dollar company) for her university newspaper. Ana face-plants her way into Christian’s office, and those of you with a particular interest in narratology or media tropes might have pegged this as the beginning of their Meet Cute right away, given how closely it sticks to the standard formula of that. Christian is even appropriately Tsundere in his reactions to her, and this is something you should remember because it’ll come up again pretty soon, and it highlights the single greatest flaw with this entire enterprise, in my opinion.

So Christian is irritated with this random woman blundering into his office, he helps her up with attendant irritation, and then this happens:

Clear, embarrassed eyes meet mine and halt me in my tracks. They are the most extraordinary color, powder blue, and guileless, and for one awful moment, I think she can see right through me and I’m left…exposed. The thought is unnerving, so I dismiss it immediately.

First of all, we’re clearly going for a Love-At-First-Sight angle, which is formulaic but acceptable enough, but here again we have Christian just announcing his feelings on a given topic. The latter point is an annoyance, the former point is about to start grating enormously, because this is the very next thing Christian starts thinking:

She has a small, sweet face that is blushing now, an innocent pale rose. I wonder briefly if all her skin is like that—flawless—and what it would look like pink and warmed from the bite of a cane.

This is a Meet Cute, featuring Love-At-First-Sight, where the narrating party immediately begins to have sexual fantasies about his prospective mate. And not just the once, either:

“It’s shrewd business,” I mutter, feigning boredom, and I imagine fucking that mouth to distract myself from all thoughts of hunger.

Over the entirety of their first meeting, Christian makes constant reference to kink and Ana, and as the scene goes on- and it does go on- I found myself getting more and more frustrated on like three different fronts. Most obviously, this kind of thinking from Christian is gross, and objectifying, and establishes his character as a huge creep, but there’s more here:

This is a kink novel in which the protagonist only seems to think about kink, and this is a problem. Actual kinky people don’t always think about kink, and the immediate one track mind that Christian displays on this issue demonstrates one of the bigger problems with this entire novel: E.L James doesn’t really understand a whole lot about kink.

Granted, I fully understand that humans are complex creatures, and that making blanket statements about groups of them is counterproductive at best, but there’s such an instantaneous lack of nuance to Grey’s (far too sudden) approach to sexuality that it raises big ol’ red flags. He sees a sexy girl, and boom, riding crops. It’s far too binary.

And frankly, it belies an approach to the writing that doesn’t match what the book is actually supposed to be: this is supposed to be the events of the beginning of a relationship, as told by the other party in it, but the way it happens here indicates that E.L James’ priorities were entirely different. She’s approaching this from her own perspective, and not the character’s; the sexy stuff is what was popular in the original books, so therefore that’s what Christian starts thinking about the moment he’s in the same room as Ana, despite the fact that this is extremely sudden and jumpy, and not an organic development of the character and situation. Or maybe it’s just that Christian is such a strange, sociopathic character that it’s hard for a normal person to gauge what is an organic development for the character, because…

Heh, we’ll get there.

To be honest, not a lot actually happens in this chapter; beyond Christian’s absolutely riveting early morning workout routine, his interview with Ana takes up the entirety of the thing, and it drags on interminably, with Ana asking questions completely unaware of Christian’s increasingly gross thoughts about her, and it doesn’t give us too much of an insight into either character, since Christian’s answers are all about control, reinforcing his completely flat characterization (do you get it yet? He’s into bondage!) and his focus is more on Ana’s physical attributes than anything else. It’s almost like you’d have to read both versions of the same scene, the one in Grey and the one in Fifty, to get any sense of both of the lead characters together, which is kind of a trouble spot for a self contained novel, but we do get this reaction from Christian, which is interesting:

“Are you gay, Mr. Grey?”
What the hell!
I cannot believe she’s said that out loud! Ironically, the question even my own family will not ask. How dare she! I have a sudden urge to drag her out of her seat, bend her over my knee, spank her, and then fuck her over my desk with her hands tied behind her back. That would answer her ridiculous question.

“How dare she intimate that I’m gay! I ought to show her I’m not by sticking my totally heterosexual peepee her! That will show her for her insolence!”

Isn’t it nice, seeing the usual homophobia and alpha male insecurities in a character that’s supposedly so different and romantic?

Very little else occurs from there: Christian continues to fantasize, and his constant insistence that he’s making Ana all flustered begins to read as desperate wishful thinking rather than something that’s actually happening, and then Ana leaves. The moment she’s gone, Christian does something that confirms all of the worst thoughts people have had about this series, as the author herself, who has spent her time after the series insisting that what she wrote wasn’t abuse and stalking, reveals in sharp relief just how much worse it is than anyone else had ever imagined.

“Welch, I need a background check.”

Immediately after Ana leaves, like, literally just after the elevator doors close, Christian is ordering a background check on her. I’ll get into this in more detail in the next recap, since what happens there grants a good deal more context that, somehow, makes this even worse, but for right now, can I just say what an enormous warning sign that is? He has no reason to believe he’ll ever see her again, their contact is officially cut off, and yet he’s willing to invade her privacy without her knowledge for purposes that, it’ll become increasingly clear if you’ll join me again next time, are nefarious purposes.

New Orleans Landing- By Shilo



 New Orleans Landing

“Baby, wake up! We’re here!”

Audrey’s’ eyes are wide, looking into her new husbands’ face, trying to discern whether he understood her or not as he slowly creeps out of his deep restful sleep.  He’d worked tirelessly all night to catch up on some work assignments before he took off for vacation. Not to mention the morning wake up call he’d gotten. They’d only just made it in time for the flight! The couple begin to watch out the scratched up window as the plane begins to land, and just as they did–Aaron felt her soft lips on the side of his mouth, as close to his lips as her tiny form could reach with her own.

Turning his face to her rosy cheeks and big smiling lips, he looks in her honey brown eyes as she smiles wryly at him.

The newlyweds  kiss passionately, yet softly–unaware of anything else going on around them. Then, a familiar feeling creeps up on Aaron like a jackhammer as he realizes that he isn’t just imagining his girls’ hand around his cock—it was around him, through his pants.

Surprised and delighted, he looks around half expecting for someone to be looking at him with a horrified expression, but the other passengers on the flight are blissfully unaware of his new wife’s’ public show of affection. Looking down to his lap, a big winter coat is sitting surreptitiously over their laps, and if he hadn’t actually felt Audrey’s’ hands on his dick at the very moment–he wouldn’t be able to tell what: if anything, she was doing under there. The thought that they were completely exposed, yet hidden, makes his shaft grow hard immediately as her hand moves slowly over his cock.

Her hand  moves exquisitely, rubbing his shaft through his pants–making it twitch–as he realizes that it’s slowly making its’ way to the edge of his pants before dipping into his thankfully loose-fitting jeans. Every part of his body tenses up and she can feel it.

Looking into her eyes with pure surprise, he can see a smile of naughty delight on her sweet lips as he leans his big body down to her level to kiss her, careful not to let anyone see what her hand is really doing. Her lips meet his, and he can feel them in a teasing smile as the two lovers kiss a little too passionately. Suddenly he feels her fingers wrapping around his cock, and his hips involuntarily begin to press against her hand which had moved down the length of his cock to his tip. Her hand starts to shift around like a corkscrew, and he feels the gentle pressure of her warm thumb as it begins to press his button, releasing liquid and making her fingers move with ease with his stickiness. Sitting back now, Aaron can’t help but need to anchor himself to his chair as her thumb bobs around his incredibly sensitive tip one way, then the opposite direction only very lightly–while her palm massages his shaft in well measured pulses.

Aarons’ cock becomes impossibly hard impossibly quick; and Audrey grins as she put her mouth to his ear and whispers,

“You better come before people start noticing what I’m doing to your big dick under this coat..”

This put him over the edge. His head surveys the cabin surepticiously and he knows he has no choice. He has to cum now, or have a hard on the size of Florida getting off the plane. His eyes growl at her as the plane begins its’ descent down to the airport through thousands of feet of wind and clouds. Turbulence bobs the plane down unexpectedly, but Audrey’s grip on his cock did not waver, although it did pause for a split second as her heart raced at the thought of them both getting so excited from this they both come.

Audrey’s thighs push together in response as she feels herself getting wet as she bites her lip. No one’s watching, she’s checked many times, but she feels like a slut all the same. She’s barely wearing any panties, after all..

Newly renewed in her mission, her hand grips his cock now completely–and begins spanning the length of his shaft while she kisses first his neck, then down his cheek softly. To any onlookers, they are just romantic lovers innocently kissing—but under the coat on their laps, a whole other story is being written.

Twisting her palm around his tip, then plunging her hand down his cock to the base–and back–you can tell Audrey is beginning to get a taste of her own medicine, as her near-silent breaths get quicker and more shallow.

Aaron can see her incredibly small sporty legs begin to quiver as she holds them together; his own opening themselves on their own accord as if possessed. He can’t stop looking at her beautiful tits through the corner of his eye and he sees her chest begin to heave slightly through her zip-up hoodie and tantalizingly low tank top. He can see from his vantage point, just a hint of the edge of her bra right where her tank thankfully V’d in the middle with lace edging.

“I’m going to fuck those so hard..”

Aaron made a mental note for his agenda later to do so the instant they were alone again. Feeling her mans’ cock twitch and shift beneath her fingers, Audrey is smiling to herself a smile of victory as she begins banging his base with her fist harder and harder. His creamy cock now lubricated with his own precum only made her desperately wish that she was on his lap right now, fucking him like a common whore. The sound of the airplane descending was almost deafening, but she put her lips once more to his ear and said,

“Cum for me.”

A wry smile creeps its’ way onto his face as she turns her body sideways—seemingly innocently looking out the window. Still hiding herself with the coat and showing no signs of movement other than beneath it, Audrey begins slamming his cock hard and fast in different directions with every stroke–all of which hidden by her own body from anyone who happened to look their direction. The sound of the engines drown out any semblance of the wet jizz she has all over her hands.

She can’t help but want to suck his sweet lips as she fucks his cock right there in the midst of dozens of people as the plane descends fast to the land from its’ magical place amongst the clouds.

Feeling his stomach turn, Aaron feels dizzy as the descent gets closer and closer to its’ goal, all while his wife gets closer and closer to her goal. Audrey’s’ fingers are unrelenting as they play her mans’ cock like a flute in alternating currents and consistencies—jerking him off better than he’d ever done himself! Catching herself biting her own lip to the point of pain, Audrey can’t help but shiiver at the feeling of streams of sweat between her thighs from the heat of the heavy coat that lay on top of them.

Suddenly, Aaron feels more than just a little wetness at the tip of his cock as his abdominal muscles flex and he can feel warm pressure building up at the base of his delightfully engorged penis. Turning his head to the side to look out the window, he can feel his heart beating out of his chest. He’s both embarrassed, and aroused. That’s when she does it. She presses his button, right at the base of his shaft. A pressure and then a circular rub with the palm of her hand over his tip, encompassing it as her fingers trail around his cock. Audrey’s sweet lips are on his neck, nipping his skin with her teeth—as a rush of warm semen splashes out of his cock the very moment the planes’ wheels touch ground. His entire body contracts forward as he tries desperately to keep up normal appearances. Audrey’s hand slows now to a steady soft pace; squeezing slightly as she rubs every last bit of his cum into her palm. She cups his tip and catches every drop that she has extorted from his sweet cock, with absolute pleasure. She’s pleased  beyond measure that she’d successfully pulled off what she had set out to do.

Unaware of the sweat which had overcome his brow and neck, Aaron looks at his new wife and can’t help but want to kiss her with gratitude and vigor. Their tongues dance together for an expanse of unknown time, while they zone out the flight attendants’ incessant tattering over the microphone. Other people begin pulling down their luggage from the storage spaces above their heads, and the lovers finally break their intent kissing.

Audrey wipes his cum onto a piece of linen she had put in her purse just for this reason, and begins thinking how much of a shame it was that his cum hadn’t been dumped into her incredibly wet pussy..

Stepping out into the heavy Louisiana air, the exotic smells of an unknown place overwhelms the young couple as they make their way from their cab onto the bustling city landscape right in front of their hotel. They are smack dab in the middle of the french quarters, downtown New Orleans! Audrey sighs heavily in pure ecstasy at knowing that she’d finally made it to her long awaited revelry–with her eternal lover at her side, no less!

People are packed from one sidewalk to another—and on the road in between as Aaron gets a good look at the lack of clothing on all the women. Squeezing his new brides’ hand tight, he can’t wait to have her alone in their room to repay her for that stunt she’d just pulled, almost dragging her into the hotel.

The young couple check into their room and make their way through the halls of their somewhat seedy, yet still clean and tidy (in appearances) to their latest love-nest.

“Why don’t we order in?” Aaron asks his wife as he puts the key card in the entry lock of their hotel room.

“Oh no, we’re going out!” Audrey’s matter-of-factness put a smile of smug contentment on Aaron’s face, as he shrugged his shoulders approvingly. It was too easy, Audrey thought to herself, as her coyness knew no bounds. The door opened into pure darkness just in time for him to take his newly grabbed wife and throw her inside by her wrists against the first wall that met her back. Agonizingly close to her body with his, he pushes his hips into her roughly as she’s caught unaware by his rash movements. Her body immediately flashes wet beneath her thong for him, but she wouldn’t tell him that, of course.  She didn’t need to tell him. She knew he’d find out soon enough. There’s no way she wasn’t going to get fucked at this second, no matter how hungry they were.

“Whose the Master here, anyways?”

Aaron grinds his stiff cock into her as his legs work their way in between hers and spreads them as far as they can go, in her jean skirt. Her breasts heave out onto his chest and her breathing stops completely when she realizes that in the darkness his hand had already snuck in beneath her skirt and around the side of her thong. She can feel the material pushed to the side to make way for his hand, which is now holding her pussy like he owns it. A quick sharp breath escapes her lips.

You are, Master.”

“That’s what I thought– slave.”

His fingers are now circling her clit and Audrey can’t stand on her own as he magically plays her body like it was his. Her lips find the closest skin of his she can find and they suck-kiss his neck as her legs get weaker and weaker. Then the sound of pants falling. The darkness makes it impossible to see, so every sound, every touch, every sensual breath that they take is recorded into their minds and played out with their bodies.

Aaron wants nothing else but to fuck her pussy right then, but he holds off. He has other plans for how to fuck her, right now. She did, after all, deserve some sort of punishment for her actions earlier.

On your knees, slave.”

Audrey’s legs couldn’t hold her up anymore anyways, and she fell to her knees against the wall as she slid down to face her Masters’ cock.

“Suck.”

She could smell the sweet scent of his salty cum-covered cock and found it easily, despite the darkness. Her lips encircled his shaft and she took it in stride–but he didn’t even wait before plunging himself into her throat. All either one of them could hear, was the sound of her gagging, before he pulled himself out.

“Think you’re real smart, forcing your Master like that on the plane, don’t you?”

His face is smiling, and so is hers. But in the darkness, it’s real. She plays back.
“No, sir.. I didn’t sir! Your slave just wanted to please you!”

His hand finds her hair and squeezes tightly with over-exaggerated movements. To her it feels good, but she gets the message.

This is how a slave pleases her Master. This is how you will please me from now on. Understood, slave?”

Audrey feels herself slip into the moment, and can’t help but take his voice seriously without being able to see his face—so she answers in all sincerity,

“Yes, of course Master.”

His hands release her hair instantly and within seconds she feels him stand her up onto her feet as the light switches on.

A wide smile on both of their faces appears to one other before Aaron makes his way past her to the bed and finds a seat. His face finds new resolve, and he looks her up and down with hungry eyes.

Good slave. Now—take your clothes off for your Master.”

Audrey walks just within reach of his big strong arms, and starts unzipping her skirt.

“Your shirt first, slave.”

Jarred from her thoughts, she can’t help but feel completely and utterly in love with this man sitting before her. How does he make me feel this way, she wonders? Her hands waste no time crossing each other and finding the edges of the bottom of her shirts. She grabs a hold of both, and pulls them upwards over her head, revealing the white lace bra beneath. D-cup breasts reveal themselves to him and Aaron sighs in contentment as her shirt is thrown across the room onto the sitting chair.

Her hands make their way behind her back now and Aaron can’t help but growl at the thought of her arms being pinned behind her as he watches her seamlessly unclasp her bra and drop it into his lap.

“Cheeky,”

He almost whispers now as his eyes are enthralled by her magnificent breasts—his magnificent breasts.

“On your knees,”

Next her skirt falls to the ground between his legs revealing her now wet white lace thong.

He uses his hands to pull her down and pulls her closer into his grasp as he lines her breasts up with his cock.

“You know what I want, slave.”

Audrey bites her lip at the opportunity and grabs both her breasts with each hand from the side as she pushes them up to his cock. She props him up onto her breasts and begins grinding the wetness out of it with her succulent mounds of pleasure. Her tongue slides out of her lips and finds the tip while her breasts encase his cock into them and she starts to push herself into him over and over until the wetness of his cock slides easily in and out of her breasts.

“Master, fuck my titties and my mouth please?”

He loved hearing her say things like that. Lit like a fire, his cock begins poking in and out of her while her lips catch his tip at every stroke, sucking and tapping him with her delectable tongue. Her hands push her big breasts around his cock completely and her body gyrates with his hips before without warning his hands find her hips and pull her up onto his lap, in straddling position—pulling her thong off her tight little ass in the process.

“Fuck your Masters’ cock, you little slut.”

An explosion of feeling rips through her body at these words, and Audrey’s head involuntarily tilts to one side—revealing her succulent neck for her Master. His lips immediately hone in on her and bite her neck before creating a constant suction on her already sensitive areas.

Breathing and heaving, the couple move now together and Aaron lays down onto his back as she wastes no time finding his big wet cock with her fingers and guides him into her soaking wet pussy. She didn’t have sex before she met him, so she was nice and tight for him. Now joined, the two take a moment to enjoy his entry—her arms reaching down on either side of his chest as she eases him in deeper and deeper as gently as she could.

“Now—fuck me, Master.”

At that moment she sits all her weight onto him and he digs himself hilt deep inside of her. Her thigh muscles are tight as she leverages herself above him and slides up off of his cock a bit before slamming herself into him more deeply than before, followed by the groove of her hips making their way back and forth on his cock. A squeeze. Her pussy contracts on his cock and his hands find her thighs, pushing up into her thighs and finding her clit. He’s rubbing her most sensitive spot as she rides him in waves of grinding pleasure at a pace that slowly becomes more and more powerful.

“Please Master! Please let me cum!?”

“You may, slave. Cum for your Master.”

Now completely engulfed in what the couple is doing, they fuck for who knows how long? They certainly don’t know but the neighbors were getting a good idea of the scene taking place in their room. They’re fucking so hard the bed slams against the wall again and again, but no one cares.

Audrey’s  riding of her Master brings tears to her eyes as they involuntarily close on her. She’s close, and she knows it. Her head falls down onto her lovers’ chest where she stays as her hips smack his cock against her pussy—the sound of his balls as he pounds her from below the only sound besides his heartbeat, that she can hear.

“Cum for your Master.”

A few more strokes, and her body falls over the edge of pleasure—her pussy shoots cream all over his cock as he too cums right after she does. She can almost hear the stream his seed makes as it is shot into her pussy and her body goes limp on top of her Master while he’s buried deep inside of her, throbbing cum into her in waves.

Aaron feels her kissing his chest now—once she’s regained some of her composure, that is. His sweet little slave was showing him how much she loved him, and he was more than happy as he enveloped her face in his hands and pulled her up to his lips for a kiss.

The couple lay there, her cuddled into his neck and him holding her within his grasp as their heartbeats normalized. Aaron’s eyes were full of satisfaction as his new wife smiled up at him over her folded arms. Her soft voice broke the comfortable silence.

“I love you, Master.” Her eyes were more serious than he’d seen in a long time, and her grin was only slight now. He could see that she truly did love him with all her heart.

“Well, I love you too, kitten. You’re my perfect little slave..”

A wide goofy grin broke his face and they both looked at each other for a moment before Audrey sat up and slid him out of her gently as she spoke,

“Thank you for the pleasure, Master..”