Tag Archives: criticism

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?
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.


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.
“Yes, it was quite a novelty for me, too.”
“Not having…sex.”
She said the s-word…and the telltale pink cheeks appear.
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.
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.
I want her.
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.


But she hasn’t run.
Even though I jumped her in the elevator.
I should say something about what happened in there—but what?
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!

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!

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.
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!