Tag Archives: literary 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?
Ana.
Slowly I turn my head, and she’s fast asleep, facing me. Her beautiful face soft in repose.

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

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

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

My cock agrees.

Seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hell. Maybe I should go easy on her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a catch this guy is, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh. Oh god.

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

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

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

When was the last time I lost control?

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

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

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

Ugh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s seriously gonna rape her, guys.

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

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

The breathtaking inanity of Jonathan Jones.

I feel I have to congratulate Mister Jonathan Jones; writing for the Guardian, he has managed to open a piece of literary criticism with the single worst statement that one could possibly do this with:

It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.

It’s actually a tad impressive, the way Jones torpedoes his own credibility and ability to say anything meaningful or true in the following article in but three sentences. Most people have to work hard, over entire essays, to so completely disintegrate their chances of being taken seriously. Hats off, truly: the man has set a new benchmark in establishing the utter irrelevancy of a writer. Overblown hacks the world over will marvel at the speed at which Jones lowers himself to the puerile depths and say to themselves, “well, there’s no way I’m ever going to become that intellectually bankrupt that quickly, better throw in the towel.”

I make no secret of the fact that Terry Pratchett is my favorite author, one who I largely attribute my love of writing to, but I’m not saying this as a rabid Pratchett fan out to tear down someone impugning my golden idol, no. Though I’m certainly irritated to see such unkind words leveled at my literary hero, what makes me downright furious is the lax, comfortable position of ignorance in which Jones seems happy to play armchair auteur.

Is this what literary criticism has come to? Writers freely admitting that they’ve never read a single work of those they’ve deemed themselves fit to pass judgment on, proudly wallowing in their willful incomprehension, happy not to know and willing to continue not knowing under the delusion that they already know everything. “Life’s too short”? The man is a literary critic on a self-appointed quest to define what counts as literature and what doesn’t, and “life’s too short” to read a book? This self-styled judge of all that classifies as true written art dismisses the idea of having an informed opinion on a topic before speaking on it, yet has the gall to tell everyone else to “get real”?

The utter, depressing hubris Jones displays is what marks this tone-deaf piece of humble-bragging (let’s not forget that the thrust of this tripe is that Jones feels that the culture at large is celebrating popular mediocrity, while smart guys like him get to be the gatekeepers of True Literature, looking down on us plebs) as true pablum of the highest order, almost to the point of self-destruction. “Life’s too short” to know what you’re talking about apparently, but nevertheless we should all just “get real” and kowtow to Jonathan Jones’ clearly superior opinion; he doesn’t even need to have any experience with what he’s talking about to know better than everyone else, after all.

I can handle criticism of my favorite media, I really can; with Pratchett in particular I have some negative opinions of my own, specifically about his early work and aspects of his later books, I’m not averse to constructive criticism where it’s warranted at all. But what I can’t stand, what’s apt to make me livid, is obviously uninformed criticism of any kind. I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to say something, you owe it to yourself and all your listeners to know as much as you can about what you’re talking about, and you should be open about correcting your errors. Jones, by contrast, proudly proclaims his unwillingness to learn about the things he discusses, and closes himself off completely to the idea of ever correcting himself:

No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him.

His petulance runs contrary to the spirit of journalism and, frankly, the spirit of literature itself, and the total lack of self-awareness with which Jones conducts himself is staggering: after smiling his way through his total dismissal of even the possibility of reading a Pratchett novel now or in future, Jones cluelessly extols the virtue of reading for experience, even going so far as to engage in self-deprecation for having missed the book that he approves of- presumably after having, you know, read it:

This summer I finally finished Mansfield Park. How had I managed not to read it up to now? It’s shameful. But at least now it’s part of my life. The structure of Jane Austen’s morally sombre plot, the restrained irony of her style, the sudden opening up of the book as it moves from Mansfield Park to Portsmouth and takes in the complex real social world of regency England – all that’s in me now. Great books become part of your experience. They enrich the very fabric of reality.

If great books become a part of your experience, if they’re so enriching, then doesn’t Jones owe it to himself to at least attempt to read books that are a part of as long and storied a career as Pratchett’s? Rather than, say, presupposing the perfect accuracy of his unthinking first impressions? How many hidden gems has Jones missed completely due to his blithe confidence in the conclusions he leaps to based on nothing? That’s what’s truly shameful.

It’s bad enough that Jones mistakes his uninformed, haughty ramblings for genuine writing, but he goes on in the most insultingly reductive manner possible, not only handwaving any possible disagreement with his airy ignorance as “mental laziness,” but deciding that Pratchett’s work is the entirety of his character:

Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury.

Ah yes, because the only reason one might mourn an author is his work; the human being behind it factors in not a whit. Sadness is only a representation of the quality of Pratchett’s writing, and not at all due to the loss of an actual man who was, by all accounts, gregarious and kind and forward-thinking, easily worthy of instilling inspiration due to his genuine love of his craft, no matter your opinion of his writing… assuming you’re actually bothered to read any before rendering judgment.

I’ve already spent a thousand words on this intellectually bereft pile of nonsense, which is far more than it deserves, but it just makes me so mad to see self-assured cultural vultures like Jonathan Jones being given a platform, allowed to wallow in their ignorance and arrogance so totally that they develop the delusion of being empowered to dictate to everyone else what “real” literature is. As though he can just stomp his foot and demand the artistic canon mold itself to his petulant whim.

I am a fan of Terry Pratchett, and I’ll be composing a post on his last book once I’ve finished reading it I’m sure; it arrived on my doorstep earlier today and I found myself too nervous at the prospect of “New Pratchett writings” as a set dwindling with every word I read to actually crack it open. When I’ve finished The Shepherd’s Crown there will never be another new Pratchett work for me to read, the set will fall to zero, but in the meantime, I have one last question for Jonathan Jones:

But Terry Pratchett? Get real. It’s time we stopped this pretence that mediocrity is equal to genius.

How the hell would you know one way or another, Mister Jones?

Criticising women is not misogyny.

So, I’d like to take a break from our scheduled programming to briefly (for me) talk about an article I came across during my rambling across the internet, and instantly disagreed with almost every point it raised. Since it references E.L James and criticism thereof, I feel like it falls directly into my wheelhouse.

In an article entitled “Women, know your place!” Tracy Kuhn considers criticism of E.L James and other female creators, and comes to the conclusion that such criticism comes from a desire to punish women with ambition, to put women in their place, rather than because we legitimately find reason to criticize. In support of this she presents a larger context, wherein men writing problematic things are given a pass, whereas women doing the same are not:

Meanwhile we carry on going to see films and read books and watch television programmes that subliminally give out really damaging messages about women and use rape scenes again and again to move a plot forward, but again, who cares about those? This way, with this easy, high profile target, we can all show how terribly clever and witty we all are. And if we feel a little bit uncomfortable as we walk away from the hashtag, casually alerting our children to the damage that online bullying can do, what of it? Serves her right. What on earth was she thinking??

There is a lot wrong with this argument. Before we get to the more feminism specific criticism it sort of fails as argumentation because Kuhn demands unreasonable standards, asserting that we can’t criticize women unless we’re criticizing every other problematic piece of media, as if there’s time in the day to do that. We have a limited time frame in which to write, we need to select our targets, and yes, I’ll admit, a millions-selling series delivering a saucy concept like BDSM to heretofore unheard of public acclaim is a tantalizing subject for review.

But we don’t criticize Fifty Shades because E.L James is a woman, and in order to assume that you’d need to disregard every word of the content that the critics write. We criticize- I criticize- Fifty Shades for the reasons stated in my recaps. Because it’s a high-profile piece of literature that brings my chosen kink to the forefront of public discourse, but does so in a way that reinforces harmful and misogynistic stereotypes, while also just being a plain old poorly written book, published in the shadow of a shady history of potential intellectual property theft and mercenary writing habits.

To be clear, misogyny is not gender segregated; women can regurgitate the same sexist talking points that men do, and it simply doesn’t do to give women a pass for that. How can someone claim to be feminist, claim to stand for equality among the genders, while simultaneously advocating for one gender to be treated with kid gloves when they say or do something that is problematic? If this same article had been written suggesting that men shouldn’t be criticized for saying and doing problematic things, the defect with the argument would be obvious.

In fact, rejecting the stated reasons for criticizing a piece of work in favor of asserting baselessly that it all comes from a place of sexism- while simultaneously recognizing that most of the people doing the criticism are women themselves- is kind of sexist in itself, suggesting that these people cannot be trusted to represent their own motivations for writing a given thing, effectively silencing their own voices in deference to shakily argued “feminism.” You can’t decry women’s voices being shouted down in public for their ambition, as Kuhn does, while simultaneously dismissing the voices of all the literary critic women discussing Grey to shove your words into their mouths. Imagine a male writer stepping in and saying essentially the same thing, that what all these women writers are trying to say is that women with ambition should “know their place,” and consider just how poorly that would come across.

The history of women’s discourse is littered with exactly these kinds of shenanigans; people (most often men) from all sides determined to speak for women who are themselves speaking out, to dictate their experiences to them without any basis for claiming that knowledge. We even have a goddamn word for it, in “mansplaining.” It doesn’t become less offensive when it’s one woman doing it to another, nor if she herself is motivated by a desire to protect what she perceives as victimized women; the name of the game is still autonomy and the right to represent our own experiences, and that’s still something Kuhn is taking away from us in her quest to reduce all of our writings to some sexist screeds demonizing women for getting ideas above their station.

And what is the end result Kuhn seems to want out of all this, anyway? I think it’s fair to say that it’s impossible to criticize every piece of problematic media equally, because there’s simply too much of it. That’s an unfortunate fact of the world we live in; sexist stuff penetrates a lot of layers of the culture, even unintentionally in cases where people plum don’t know any better. We can’t possibly go through every example of media with the same fine tooth comb we would want to, and if we can’t discuss specific media for fear of seeming like we’re picking on people for secret reasons by some who’re looking for reasons not to have the conversation at all, who have empowered themselves with sexism-detecting telepathy and will employ that to tell us other critics what we really think, then what can we do?

The answer is… not much of anything, really.

We simply cannot have a conversation about media if the criteria is this binary “criticize everything at once/you’re bigoted against the people you do criticize” that Kuhn seems to subscribe to. The nature of linear time forces us to pick and choose our targets, and frankly, despite my feelings for it I have to acknowledge that Fifty Shades is an excellent topic of discussion for so many reasons other than that it was written by a woman and enjoyed by other women. It represents a shift in the paradigm of publishing, being that it’s essentially a fan fiction that got repurposed. It brought fresh awareness of BDSM to the mainstream, where before such a conversation would be much harder to have. It normalized the idea of reading erotica, again, a facet of mainstream culture that had not been discussed so openly before Fifty Shades as after. Being as overtly sexualized as it is, it points a rather defined spotlight on prevalent attitudes toward sex, gender, kink and so on, within a context that people tend to get very recalcitrant about too. And frankly, as literature it’s jam packed with things to talk about, even if all of those do skew negative.

I might not like the book, but Fifty Shades is a special case, and there are so many reasons that it’s worthy of in depth examination as a cultural artifact beyond the fact that it’s the latest big thing in “chick lit.” It is, in fact, insulting both to E.L James and to the people writing about her work to insinuate that there’s no particular reason one might focus on this work other than the gender of the main audience, and that attitude betrays a startling lack of understanding of the circumstances surrounding the series, for someone who’s willing to make such declarative statements about the content both of the book itself, and the extended critique surrounding it.

It’s not as though it would be hard for Kuhn to find out this stuff; reading a few of those examples of “picking apart, sentence by sentence,” that she’s comfortable in dismissing as bullying, would give her ample reasons why Fifty Shades has been singled out for special treatment. It isn’t just that the writer is a woman that we do this; it’s that this series is a weird, unique chapter in the annals of romance publishing, the sort that only comes around every once in a while. Even disasters are worth dissecting, in cases like this one.

There is a point to be found in Kuhn’s piece that is worthy of consideration, in the idea that a successful woman deals with greater scrutiny and negativity than a man in a similar position, and I’m neither denying that that is true, nor attempting to make light of or dismiss it. It’s a great observation that needs to be discussed, certainly, and Kuhn does point out some of the ways that conversations on successful women differ from those of men in a very poignant, understated way. Unfortunately, in this case a cogent point is mired in terrible execution, loaded with so much accusatory ire toward those who dare say anything negative at all about successful women, that the positive is drowned out. At no point does Kuhn address the actual content of the criticisms being levied against James’ work, nor explain why they’re unearned or inapplicable; if she’d done that then she might have had a point. Instead, she just assumes the intentions of a bunch of people she’s never met, presupposing that there’s nothing cogent to be said against Fifty Shades in any of the criticisms, just unthinking misogyny, tarted up in a literary critique dress.

In her attempt to decry the silencing of women in broader media, Tracy Kuhn ends up attempting to silence a bunch of women in media. The irony is palpable, but I fear Kuhn may not be able to detect it, because you want to know the worst part?

This is how Kuhn ends her article:

Have a look at yourselves before you make that next witty comment. And be nicer to each other.

“Be Nice.” That age old silencing technique, leveled against women since time immemorial, is the coda to this supposedly feminist defense of women writers and their successes. Be nice, women who criticize the work of other women. You just sound so hysterical when you’re mad.

Ugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gnnnngg, padded mattresses!

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

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

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

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

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

I am Christian Grey. Initiate bondage sequence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Oh man, I just made myself depressed.

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

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

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

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

… So of course Elliot begins it asleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the news reminds me of little Miss Bookworm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s the guys:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, also? There’s this line:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the fuck is wrong with this man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grey: Fifty Shades as told by a Garbage-Person, Chapter 2 recap

Welcome back, dear readers. We return to Christian’s increasingly sinister story with- and I’m not making this up- the full text of the background check that he ordered, without the permission of the woman whose privacy he is invading, moments after his first meeting with Ana ended in the last chapter. So, you know, if you ever wanted to know Ana’s fucking grade point average, now you can; vital information, I know.

To be honest, there’s a lot wrong with how this chapter opens, in the context of what we’ve already read thus far. For one, this background check contains so much information that would be completely useless to Grey in a romantic context that it’s unclear whether he’s trying to woo her in the most overcomplicated manner possible, or steal her identity; what the hell is he going to do with her social security number or bank details?

I pore over the executive summary for the hundredth time since I received it two days ago, looking for some insight into the enigmatic Miss Anastasia Rose Steele.

Well shit, maybe you should have asked for more relevant behavioral information, and less meaningless numerical data, then. Because, see, while Welch sure managed to get hold of Ana’s old high school, when it comes to the stuff Christian might actually want, like romantic relationships or sexual orientation (let’s face it, he’s really only after the one thing, as the previous chapter makes uncomfortably clear) the results are a big ol’ shrug. Why even have sections on the document for stuff like that just to write “not known” under them?

At least be good at stalking, if you absolutely have to do it, Grey.

The worst part about all this is that it confirms the worst possible interpretation of this scene in the Fifty Shades story, and this was always going to be the big pitfall that writing this same narrative from Christian’s perspective risked falling into. The benefit of Ana’s story, for those fans of the series who insist that these books don’t depict abuse, is that we never knew what Christian was thinking during all of this, bar what he himself said; it was possible, before now, to interpret his intentions in a charitable light, and therefore to justify his actions because he might have been coming on strong, but he was doing so for a person he genuinely liked. The intensity of their attraction held the hope of making the more troublesome aspects of the series romantic, if very strange to read about.

You may notice that I’m essentially talking about the original Fifty Shades trilogy in terms of plausible deniability rather than outright evidence that it isn’t abuse. This should be a huge warning sign; vagaries and plausible deniability are key weapons in the arsenal of an abuser. He’s not hitting her, she’s just clumsy. Those bruises are from something else.

All that vanishes now, the thin veneer of respectability that vagueness brings collapses, because Christian’s intentions are now explicit, and they are exactly as wrong as the biggest detractors of the series have been saying all along. The timeline of Christian’s actions are now set in stone: He met Ana once, began obsessively objectifying her for the majority of that meeting, immediately invaded her privacy behind her back, obsessed over the information that invasion gleaned for days, and then, ultimately, he drops his work at a large company to make the six hour, nearly four hundred mile drive across state lines, in order to visit her at work without her knowledge. This is the behavior of a stalker, not a romantic. He’s one closet-shrine to her away from Hollywood stalking.

Bad enough as this is on its own, E.L James’ inexplicable pacing here serves to exacerbate it further, as this scene takes place immediately after the first meeting of the two protagonists, and with no interstitial scenes to break up the flow and give us time to decompress from one episode to the next, we’re left with the feeling that this is all Christian has done since meeting Ana. The lack of any secondary character development makes Christian feel flat and single-minded; he spent the first scene having vaguely sketched BDSM fantasies, and kicks off the second by… continuing to do essentially that, with an added dose of privacy invasion. For a book that lives or dies on its depiction of romance, such a flaw only being enforced by the writing is crippling. Remember, this is our first introduction to these events from Christian’s perspective, potentially our first introduction to this character at all, if you’re a newcomer to the series, and the author opts to kick this off in the creepiest manner possible. There may not be a way to recover from this first impression.

I do find myself wondering, also, whether the book is going to continue in this vein, by which I mean, is it going to just keep skipping from one “Ana and Christian” scene to another, with nothing in between? See, the trouble there is, we’ve already seen all of those scenes, they took up the majority of the first round of this crap. If they do the same here, then there won’t be any new content to be found here, and in the end nothing to justify writing the same story again. The big draw of this type of re-release isn’t the narrative, since that’s already available, it’s the additional insight of seeing that story through the eyes of another character (in this case, probably also the extra cash) but if we don’t get any scenes that didn’t already exist to round out what is increasingly becoming a flat character- by chapter two- then nobody is going to care. There’s no creative reason to write this story a second time if you refuse to offer anything different from the first time around.

Also? Such a book will be significantly shorter than the original, as content will only be subtracted, not added.

One final thought on this, which is a piffling little nitpick, but I think its significant either due to how delusional Christian is, or how inconsistent E.L James’ writing is: when asked what he does to relax in the first chapter, Grey acts all put upon and says:

Besides, when do I get time to chill out?

One chapter later, he’s dropping his entire job to travel interstate on a whim, because he thinks a girl is hot.

Anyway, Christian has followed Ana to Oregon, where he decides to drop in to her work unannounced, because of course the one thing a young woman wants is for a near-stranger who spent the entirety of their time together being overbearing and aggressive to attach themselves to her while she’s working, concealing an ulterior motive. As he sits in his car, Christian ponders the questions that we’re all just fucking consumed with:

My fear now is that Miss Steele is just too young and that she won’t be interested in what I have to offer. Will she? Will she even make a good submissive?

First of all, Ana is 21, and Christian is supposed to be 27, so he’s right, that’s one insurmountable age gap right there. He’d better just turn around right the fuck now.

Second, notice the big ass assumptions Christian is making right off the bat, that Ana’s just going to take whatever he’s willing to dish out: will she make a good submissive? How about, is she even kinky at all? What Ana might want never seems to figure into the man’s thought processes; it’s all about his desires, what he wants from her. There’s this shallowness to his thinking regarding Ana that pervades the writing thus far; this is seriously this generation’s big ticket romantic hero?

Also, and this has been bugging me since chapter one, yet again we have this one-dimensional approach to how Christian sees Ana, and how he seems to see every woman; he’s into BDSM, and therefore every sexual or romantic relationship he approaches (and apparently even platonic single meetings, given how he’s treating Ana) ends up within this little box of how the other party would be as a submissive. No thoughts of getting to know the person, not even any thoughts of her sexually, just thoughts of how she would be sexually submissive.

Circling around a single thought or theme would be repetitive with any kind of character, but it particularly irritates me with BDSM practitioners because it’s reductive of a concept that’s complex and nuanced, not just a character who should also be complex and nuanced. BDSM is bigger and wider than floggers and canes, the pain and impact play that seem to occupy the majority of Christian’s sexuality (and mind in general) are shallow waters, just one little corner of a host of sensations and mentalities and roles that kinksters can involve themselves in. BDSM can be romantic, or impersonal, it can be the majority of a person’s sex life, a once-in-a-while thing, or any point in between, but what it isn’t is this monomaniacal obsession that blots out all thought of relationship building or acting like a human being. Christian doesn’t get that, because E.L James doesn’t get that. And if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say E.L James doesn’t get that because it’s a repeated trope found in kink fiction, the dominant who only does BDSM, and so that’s what she’s modelling her kink on because she doesn’t know better and seems to have little firsthand experience with any of this. In doing so she’s scuttling the character we’re supposed to spend the most time with: aspiring kink writers, if you listen to any of my advice, listen to this. Don’t go down this road. Avoid the dom who only thinks about collars and nipple clamps, it’s dumb and undercuts the human experience. Give your characters an inner life that extends beyond what you’d like them to be doing with their genitals.

Unfortunately, Grey continues to ruminate on various things in his car, and equally unfortunately none of the topics he moves on to are any less troublesome than the first: from “what if she doesn’t immediately buy into my every kink and fetish?” he begins to wonder “what if she doesn’t find my magic penis appealing?”

Why no boyfriend, Miss Steele? Sexual orientation unknown—perhaps she’s gay. I snort, thinking that unlikely. I recall the question she asked during the interview, her acute embarrassment, the way her skin flushed a pale rose…I’ve been suffering from these lascivious thoughts since I met her.

“Pfft, she can’t be gay, because of how acutely she wanted my D!” I’m beginning to get the feeling that Christian’s thoughts will always circle around to how much the object of his desires wants him, no matter the reality. Wishful thinking, readers.

Also, what “lascivious thoughts” are these? Ones of Ana being embarrassed and blushing? Those are the items directly before this reference, and yet neither of them are particularly lascivious; perhaps we’re just supposed to start filling in the erotic content ourselves? I mean, with the amount of outright copy/pasted content here, it’s not like we need more evidence that E.L James is just phoning it in at this point. She’s been phoning it in ever since the first book, considering that it was 89 percent identical to the fanfic it was originally.

Finally, here we have another reference to homosexuality that is entirely derogatory, something for the protagonist to laugh about. Ugh.

I’m itching to see her again—those blue eyes have haunted me, even in my dreams. I haven’t mentioned her to Flynn, and I’m glad because I’m now behaving like a stalker. Perhaps I should let him know. No. I don’t want him hounding me about his latest solution-based-therapy shit.

Yeah, why would you ever discuss your behavioral issues, that you acknowledge as a problem, with your therapist? All he’d do is propose therapies about it, and who wants that?

The line between “behaving like” a stalker and being a stalker is thin enough for me to consider it non-existent, especially when it’s a sustained behavior over several days, but it’s good to see Christian- and by extension E.L James- explicitly acknowledging that, contrary to her past assertions that this series in no way depicts abuse, her main character does, in fact, act in an abusive fashion. Apparently neither of them see it as enough of a problem to even consider getting psychological help for, but that too is a running theme in this series, where nobody gets a therapist when they need one, and the only one actually present in the books is largely for show, there to lend a professional tone to the “healing through the power of love,” craptitude that James attempts to use in place of an actual romantic story arc here. Perhaps we’ll go there later, for now, just know that Christian understands what he’s doing is not right, he just doesn’t care because it’s in service of fulfilling his whims.

After approximately eighty years of sitting in one place and individually unpacking each of the problematic elements in this scene, so that he can act like they’re no big deal, Christian finally decides to go into the damn hardware store where Ana works, thinking as he does so that he can use this as an opportunity to make yet more inappropriate come-ons to a woman he barely knows, regardless of her interest in him, or lack thereof:

I’d forgotten the possibilities that a hardware store could present to someone like me. I mainly shop online for my needs, but while I’m here, maybe I’ll stock up on a few items: Velcro, split rings—Yeah. I’ll find the delectable Miss Steele and have some fun.

Frankly, this might be the only halfway decent kinky advice in the entire series, because yes, hardware stores can be pretty good resources for the aspiring kinkster. That Christian will go on to fuck this advice up in future should not be surprising- and really, one would be better ordering the velcro already attached to your desired restraint, rather than just picking some up wholesale- but credit where credit is due, I guess.

However? Split rings? Nope: they aren’t made to hold the weight that bondage mostly requires. They, y’know, split. For anything other than appearances they’re basically useless, especially when you can get D-rings and the like from hardware stores that’ll do the same job, but way better. Remember what I said about fucking up this imitable kink thing? Yeah. Couldn’t even maintain it for an entire paragraph.

Showtime, Grey.

Yeah, because that’s what this is, isn’t it? It’s just one big sideshow for your amusement, everyone else be damned.

Another thing that I want to highlight here is that Christian has engineered this entire second meeting to give himself a huge power advantage, whether intentional or not; coming to her work might be a good pretense through which to see her some more, but what it also means is that he is a customer here, and that Ana’s job relies on her keeping him pleased. She can’t just brush him off when he talks to her, she can’t escape him, and if he complains about her to her boss then she could end up unemployed. Just… keep that in mind, for the remainder of this hardware store scene.

Once he finally meets up with her, Christian offers this observation, amongst a bunch of others that are literally all about her appearance and nothing else:

She’s dressed in a tight T-shirt and jeans, not the shapeless shit she was wearing earlier this week. She’s all long legs, narrow waist, and perfect tits.

So, this is what Christian actually thinks about what she looks, which is interesting because he spends the entirety of the first book making negative comments about her body; she’s too thin, she needs to hit the gym, and so on and so forth, an endless stream of criticism. This would be bad enough if he actually believed it- what the fuck is wrong with a person who’ll get into a romantic relationship with a person they can only frame in negative terms and spend the entire time beating them down with that?- but now we know better: Christian’s formative reactions to Ana are uniformly positive, he actually uses the word “perfect” to describe parts of her. So what purpose does the constant criticism and negativity serve, if he doesn’t even believe it?

This, my friends, is a classic tactic for abusers; he offers Ana a series of persistent negative talking points to play off of her obviously present insecurity to prompt her to devalue herself and, thus, rely on him more. It simply can’t be denied anymore, that Christian is doing this; he’s established himself that he isn’t offering those criticisms because those are things he truly believes, and Ana’s insecurity is clear just from looking at her through his eyes, so there is no reason for him to do so other than to degrade her. Utterly vile.

Christian continues to be utterly vile by subjecting this poor captive woman to- what he perceives to be- sexual come ons:

“There are a few items I need. To start with, I’d like some cable ties.”
My request catches her off guard; she looks stunned.

Why?

No, seriously: why is Ana stunned by this? Anyone with knowledge of the other books in this series would know that Ana is an incredibly sexually naive woman; in fact the narration in Fifty Shades takes pains to let us know that she hadn’t even masturbated before meeting Christian. Leaving aside how unrealistic that is, the end result is that we have a woman with little to no sexual experience immediately leaping to the conclusion that a man who she barely knows wants cable ties for sexual reasons. This runs completely contrary to the virginal character this girl is supposed to be; what kind of woman has never even touched herself but knows anything at all about bondage? If sex is such a non-issue for her then why would she instantly be thinking about it at all?

Mind you, actual practitioners of bondage probably wouldn’t be thinking that way about cable ties, because as a method of restraint, cable ties suck; they’re stiff and hard to deal with, they’re abrasive on the skin and can pinch nerves too, they have no give at all to prevent a loss of circulation, and it can be difficult to cut them to release a sub in an emergency. They simply were not made to put a human being into; they were made for cords and other inanimate objects. Hardware stores carry rope, which is a far better option than cable ties because it accomplishes the same result without all the messy negative points. And it would actually be reasonable for a vanilla person to connect rope with bondage, whereas cable ties… not so much. It’s almost like Christian went out of his way to pick the worst possible tool to start with, which I guess makes sense, because Christian himself is also the worst possible tool.

“They’re with the electrical goods, aisle eight.” Her voice wavers and she blushes…
She is affected by me. Hope blooms in my chest.

A flushed face is also a reaction one can have when in danger, which seems to me to be a much more reasonable reaction when a guy you’ve barely met stalks you across state lines and starts mugging at you while asking for equipment most commonly used by kindappers, but hey, what do I know? Clearly Ana’s physical reactions can only be caused by how dripping her nethers are becoming. Why would a physical human reaction in a woman not be caused by arousal toward Christian Grey, that’s just ridiculous! Perish the thought!

She really is the whole package: sweet, polite, and beautiful, with all the physical attributes I value in a submissive. But the million-dollar question is, could she be a submissive? She probably knows nothing of the lifestyle—my lifestyle—but I very much want to introduce her to it. You are getting way ahead of yourself on this deal, Grey.

Yes! Yes you are! You are getting so very far ahead of yourself! You know nothing about this woman! I mean, granted, reading Fifty Shades confirms to us that yes, Ana is attracted to Christian too, but he has no way of knowing that right now. It’s like he’s just decided, simply by virtue of thinking she has a fine ass, that she must desire him too; he’s just entitled to have her because he thinks she’s hot. Yeah, he’s taking the occasional physical cue and spinning that to confirm what he’s already decided on before he even entered the store, but that just means he’s set in seeking out whatever might get him what he wants, it’s classic confirmation bias.

More than that, he’s also assuming that she has no idea about BDSM either, an assertion proven roundly false by the success of this series of fucking books. The man treats kink like some big dark secret, some special little club that he’s a part of but nobody else knows about (at least until he educates them with his magic beef truncheon) but he’s doing that as the protagonist of an erotic novel that has sold millions of copies and became a best selling movie too. There are clearly more people into bondage than he seems to think; with the information at his disposal it’s equally likely that Ana has her own set of live-in submissives waiting in chains back home, than it is that she’s a kink virgin. But no, he can’t possibly be wrong about such things, and she has to be sexually submissive herself based on a few uninformed observations of her meek conduct, because nobody has ever had a private life that differed from how they present in public in any way, ever.

“Are you in Portland on business?” she asks, interrupting my thoughts. Her voice is high; she’s feigning disinterest. It makes me want to laugh. Women rarely make me laugh.

Oh yeah, of course she’s feigning disinterest, she simply must be, because you’re the most interesting fucking guy on the planet, aren’t you Grey? Nobody could ever legitimately not be interested in what you have to say.

And of course, women don’t often make him laugh either, with their unsophisticated humor. Fuck other women, right? Ana’s so much better than they are.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s a bad sign when the only way a writer can make their heroine look better is by going negative on all other women. There’s no emphasis on Ana’s positive character traits here- because she has none- just this weird obsession with tearing other women down, which shows up in other aspects of the book too. Maybe I’ll start a running tally of this kind of reductive character “building.”

“I was visiting the WSU farming division. It’s based in Vancouver,” I lie. Actually, I’m here to see you, Miss Steele.
Her face falls, and I feel like a shit.

Oh, that’s a good sign: he wants to start something with her but won’t stop lying to make it seem otherwise, even when it (apparently, because it’s very hard to trust Christian’s narration) visibly disappoints her. Mind games like that are very healthy bases for relationships.

“Something like that,” I mutter. Is she laughing at me?

So when you laugh at her it’s fine, but she can’t do the same?

Christina waffles on in his mind about asking Ana out on a date, and though the narration seems to want us to feel like he’s doubting that as a possibility, it’s hard to actually follow along because he’s made so many assumptions about how much she wants him already. Hell, he literally takes her unwillingness to look at him as a sign of attraction in that very same paragraph; I simply don’t buy this sudden spasm of nervousness in the light of the weird, stalkery confidence he’s had all throughout the book thus far.

Also, he spends the entire time he’s thinking these things silently fondling cable ties, which makes the whole scene so much funnier if you keep that in mind.

From there they go to get masking tape, Grey pontificating equally about how he doesn’t have a hope with her and how much she wants him the entire way, and then he asserts that the tape is good as a gag, which it totally isn’t. You get the same skin abrasion problem you get with cable ties there, and ultimately tape is an inefficient gag because it leaves the mouth open and has a chance of being worked off just through movements of the jaw. A wadded up length of cloth tied around the head does a far superior job, and could no doubt be found in a hardware store too. Remember, with gags, merely covering the mouth only does part of the job; filling the mouth restricts the voice far better, and the intimacy involved with having something in the mouth has a greater psychological effect on your chosen sub.

Grey also pops a boner when their fingers touch, which makes me suspect that actually we’re reading about a teenager and not a legitimate adult.

She pales. “Anything else?” Her voice is soft and husky.
Christ, I’m having the same effect on her that she has on me. Maybe…

Here I’d like to note that earlier in the chapter Grey took Ana blushing as a sign that he was “affecting” her (he keeps using that word too, in case you still had some illusion that E.L James was a writer) and now he’s taking her paling as a sign of the same thing; those are the only two things human face skin can do. Having more blood in her face is a sign that she’s hot for him, and having less blood in her face is a sign that she’s hot for him.

Seems like no matter what Ana does, Christian is going to interpret it as longing for his throbbing meat spade.

Christian also wants rope, which just says to me that he knows rope exists, yet still wants cable ties because he’s a shitty dom who doesn’t care about the physical well being of his submissives. Ana starts listing kinds of rope- vaguely- and Christian starts fantasizing about her again, which lends credence to my theory that everything Ana does will act as cock-confirmation, but eventually he orders “natural filament” rope, which makes me wonder what kind, because there’s more than one of those. They start talking about how Ana wasn’t a girl scout, and then he finally learns, after chasing her interstate and holding her captive at her work, his first real fact about who she is as a person:

“Books,” she answers.
“What kind of books?”
“Oh, you know. The usual. The classics. British literature, mainly.”
British literature? The Brontës and Austen, I bet. All those romantic hearts-and-flowers types.
That’s not good.

… And immediately interprets it through his own prism of assumptions, rather than just asking her. Because Ana is a woman, and so obviously the only segments of British literature she could possibly have been exposed to are romances. And of course she’s bound to have internalized the gender roles in those books too, because she’s a vacuous portal to be filled by whatever experiences drift Ana-wards, whether they be classical romances or Christian Grey’s weaksauce cable tie bondage party. There’s no possible way she could have rejected those era-specific stereotypes in favor of a personal, nuanced set of expectations for romance and sex based on what appeals to her, rather than what others have dictated should appeal to her; after all, she’s a woman that Christian Grey desires, and therefore can and should be molded by outside influences into the kind of woman he wants, rather than her own, self-determining person.

Man, fuck this dude. What an ass.

As if to confirm what I just said, Christian steps up his unasked-for sexual advances, offering to take off his pants, and as a normal person held captive by this presumptuous, jumped up little prick with an ulterior motive, Ana is rightly embarrassed to be seen with him.

She’s mortified, eyes still cast down. Christ, she does things to me.

Christian is sexually excited by Ana’s mortification. Because that’s nice, that he gets off on her negative emotional reactions, made outside of a sexual setting. That’s a good sign.

Unfortunately, Ana gives Christian an opportunity to see her again, requesting a photograph to go along with the article that her friend Kate is writing, that Ana had acted as replacement for during the interview in the first chapter. Christian assumes, based on nothing, that Ana will be there, despite the fact that she’s not involved in the article in any real sense. Thusly agreeing to a photo shoot, he considers dragging Taylor down here with his stuff so that he can maintain the false pretense of working in Portland and hiding his real motives for being here. Of course, nobody who hasn’t read the other books will know who Taylor is, as Christian is just throwing around nouns without any explanation, but E.L James is apparently just working under the assumption that her old audience is her only audience and expansion be damned, so it goes uncommented on.

Finally something actually happens to interrupt the doldrums of watching two interminable buffoons shop for rope:

“Ana!” We both turn as a young man dressed in casual designer gear appears at the far end of the aisle. His eyes are all over Miss Anastasia Steele. Who the hell is this prick?

Christian has known Ana for maybe half an hour before this moment, tops. Despite this, and the fact that she has in no way agreed to, or even begun a discussion on, beginning a romantic or sexual relationship with him, the man gets instantly territorial, aggressively so, at the sight of any other male. He even starts arching up to attack the man, balling his fists and staring like some drunken lunatic, but Ana, ever the doormat, rushes to offer excuses, as if she needs to justify knowing another man to this guy who’s almost a stranger.

This instant possessiveness and suspicion is another classic sign of an abuser; Christian has never had a personal interaction with Ana before, and yet he’s ready to haul off and punch a complete stranger, whom he reasons could be her boyfriend even, simply for the crime of acting familiar with what he’s already reasoned is his property.

He can try excusing it by calling it a “primal reaction” all he wants, but this is not the way a normal man thinks. This is not the way a good man acts, when around anybody, let alone a woman he wishes to get to know better.

Of course, now he knows that the man- Paul, who’s related to the owner of the store and a friend of Ana’s- is no threat because Ana fell over herself in her rush to make it clear he’s not her boyfriend, the gears in his head shift and the narration changes so that Paul is admiring of Christian, a clear act of submission to Grey’s alpha-male nonsense that I have a hard time believing exists anywhere outside of Christian’s biased interpretation of events. It’s like the narration is bragging to make Christian look better, but it’s so transparent and nasty that he just ends up looking like a violent psycho.

This scene takes up the entirety of the second chapter, it turns out, and the first chapter was itself a single scene without a change of setting too; the lack of variation isn’t exactly helping the narrative to remain vital, but the point is that Christian is leaving the hardware store finally. For some unfathomable reason E.L James decides it’s so very important that we see Christian paying for his crap and getting it bagged, and then he’s gone.

Yes, against my better judgment, I want her. Now I have to wait…fucking wait…again.

Truly, you are the greatest martyr of our time. You could have just explicitly asked her out like a normal person would, if waiting means so much to you. She would have said yes, or no, and you could be done with it; what exactly does anyone involved in this train wreck think will be accomplished by this constant beating around the bush?

I’m deliberately not looking back at her. I’m not. I’m not. My eyes flick to the rearview mirror, where I can see the shop door, but all I see is the quaint storefront. She’s not in the window, staring out at me.
It’s disappointing.

So on the one hand Christian rejects the notion of conventional romance out of hand, preferring instead to have coldly negotiated, purely sexual engagements with a series of contracted submissives, and yet he still expects conventional moon-eyed romantic swooning over him from Ana, presumably so he can make her feel bad for it and look all cool in the process. This brooding loner schtick must be hard to pull off without a bunch of real people there to facilitate it.

IT’S BEEN FIVE HOURS with no phone call from the delectable Miss Steele. What the hell was I thinking? I watch the street from the window of my suite at The Heathman. I loathe waiting. I always have. The weather, now cloudy, held for my hike through Forest Park, but the walk has done nothing to cure my agitation. I’m annoyed at her for not phoning, but mostly I’m angry with myself. I’m a fool for being here. What a waste of time it’s been chasing this woman. When have I ever chased a woman?

When have you ever chased a woman? You’re not chasing this woman, in any sense but the physical: you’ve been tracking her like a fugitive, but “chasing,” in the sense you’re thinking of? No: you’ve repeatedly kept your true motivations hidden from Ana, you’ve actively lied in order to stop her from thinking that you’re at all interested in her. In what way could you possibly consider yourself to be chasing her in a romantic sense, given that your every interaction with her has been filled with obfuscation to stop her from thinking that’s what you’re doing?

And for that matter, why are you blaming her for not picking up on the thing you’ve been trying your hardest to hide from her anyway?

“Er…Mr. Grey? It’s Anastasia Steele.”
My face erupts in a shit-eating grin.

That’s an awfully aggressive expression to use, upon having someone do something you want; generally, a “shit-eating grin” is worn by someone who feels they’ve gotten away with something, or who’s being purposefully antagonistic… is that truly how Christian views interacting with Ana?

Anyway, this is where the chapter mercifully ends: Ana sets up a time and place for a photo shoot with Christian, and Christian, for his part, assumes that she’ll be there. We end on the line:

How the hell am I going to close this deal?

Well, I can already tell this is going to go wonderfully.

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

I do not like Fifty Shades of Grey.

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

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

That’s the nice way to say it.

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

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

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

Oh god, no.

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

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

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

And what an… ominous beginning it is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heh, we’ll get there.

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

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

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

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

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

“Welch, I need a background check.”

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