Monday, September 3, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey

Twilight: Reimagined Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James is a book about an impossibly naïve, sexually oblivious soon-to-be college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and her toxic relationship with the unbelievably handsome and obscenely wealthy businessman, Christian Grey.  Ana's roommate, Kate, is supposed to interview Christian for the university newspaper, but is too sick to leave the apartment, so Ana fills in for her, even though she doesn't even work for the paper at all, and probably there were other students who are actually involved with the paper who were available and could have used the experience for their CVs or graduate school applications.  Anyway, so Ana meets Christian Grey and for the first time in her entire twenty-one years of life, she feels attracted to a man!  He is so incredibly good-looking that, already nervous anyway, she fumbles her way through the interview as best she can, then wants to die a little bit afterward, because she feels so foolish about some of the things she said.

On the way home, she is so flustered that she keeps talking about how pissed she is and how inconsiderate it was for Kate to have her do this interview without giving her some kind of briefing about this guy first.  ANA.  This is the age of the internet.  Even though she does not have her own computer, it would have been more than easy to look him up online.  And how she even made it through college - as a lit major, especially...you know she had papers and essays probably constantly - without her own computer is beyond me.  She must have spent a LOT of time at the library or in the school's writing lab.

It's fine, though, because she will never have to see that sinfully beautiful man again, right?  NOPE.  He shows up at her place of work, to purchase some harmless home hardware, to be used for some  mysterious and let's be honest, unimaginative purpose.  While helping Grey find these for-now-innocent items, some guy she knows shows up who asks her out every time he sees her.  As if in the good spirit of foreshadowing, Grey immediately becomes tense and suspicious.  If this were a wildlife documentary instead of whatever it is, Grey would be exhibiting some kind of visual and/or auditory behavior in an attempt to signal his claim on Ana as a potential mate.  This isn't a wildlife documentary, though, but nonetheless, he seems to be barely able to contain himself from an open display of competition for sexual resources.

Ana blows the lesser male off and is in total bliss over securing Grey's phone number and flatters herself with the notion that he came there just to see her.  Oh my, he must really like her or something, jeez!

So she calls him under the pretense of needing some photos to go with Kate's write-up of the interview, and they force their nature photographer friend, José, to broaden his occupational horizons and do his best to capture Grey's inhuman beauty on film or memory card.  The same kind of silent competitive exchange occurs between Grey and José, because José it turns out is also in love with Ana!  But heaven knows why, since she is so plain and clumsy, and it didn't matter because up until that fateful day of the interview, she was asexual anyway.  Not anymore, though!  Miracle of miracles, Grey the Grecian God has asked Ana to accompany him for a coffee.  And /SQUEE, he actually holds her hand! No one has ever done that before!  When they are leaving, clumsy little thing that she is, she almost gets run over by a cyclist in the street, but Grey, in his instinctive protective prowess, saves her!  She mentally begs him to kiss her, but as if he can read her mind, he says no.  And tells her that he is no good for her, and she would do best to stay away.

HOW CAN THIS BE? He HELD her HAND for goodness' sake!  So she pretends to have dignity and waits until rounding the corner out of sight before crumpling to the pavement to cry like an idiot.

(And it only gets more romantic from here, guys.  Get comfortable, because there is an awful lot to say about this book; I'm including a cut here, so the entire homepage doesn't get taken over with this)


Okay.  I'm not going to run down any more of a plot summary, as much fun as I would have with that.  It's time to tell you what I thought about this book, though I'm sure you have a pretty good idea so far.   I fully did not intend to read Fifty Shades of Grey at all, because I had a feeling it would not live up to the hype (an assumption I was very right about), but like someone driving past the scene of an accident on the freeway, my curiosity got the better of me. 

At first, I found this book laughable.  I laughed out loud and giggled like a maniac almost every other sentence.  James is not American, and it's pretty clear that maybe she doesn't know what American 20-somethings talk like.  Pretty much 95% of the dialogue felt so stilted; I didn't feel anything genuine from the characters at all.  I want to give James the benefit of the doubt, however, and hope that maybe she writes better dialogue for characters from her own linguistic community.  Admittedly, Ana sounds like probably she might be a geek and a half, so she maybe doesn't talk quite like the stereotypical American college student.  A couple of my friends and I are guilty of using outdated language for the fun of it on multiple occasions, because we are also pretty geeky.  But the characters here are not being facetious or playing with language, so it just feels kind of fake.  For real, I don't know anyone in my age bracket in this decade who would legit say "he sounded quite taken with you" when telling a friend that some guy sounds interested. And I also don't know anyone my age who, when they are about to call it a night, say they are "going to retire."  For a second there, I had to remind myself I was not still reading Austenland.

As for the characters themselves, language aside, Kate is probably the only one I actually like.  Grey's brother seems decent enough as well, but we don't really see him enough for him to offer anything other than a comparison for Ana to make with Christian.  But Kate gets creeper vibes from Christian from the start, warns Ana about those vibes more than once, and brings the verbal wrath down on him when he shows up at their apartment after upsetting Ana for the umpteenth time. She is seemingly the only female in this book who is not incapacitated by his godlike beauty.  She recognizes that he is one handsome son-of-a-bitch, but she doesn't let that affect her judgment of him as a person.

I expected to dislike Ana, and I did.  I disliked her a lot.  I was sort of a late bloomer when it comes to guys myself, and when I first started getting involved with people, I was pretty damned ignorant as well.  I was probably a little too naïve for my own good in some ways.  But I was not completely oblivious.  I find it impossible to believe someone who is not either asexual or a sociopath would make it to their twenties without ever feeling attracted to someone or aroused by something.  What's more ridiculous, though, is that she is twenty-one years old and has never been to a gynecologist.  What in the hell?  Gynecologists aren't just there to dole out birth control and treat sexually transmitted diseases, and not every problem you might experience in your nether regions is related to sexual activity.  So why has she never been to a fucking doctor?  For someone that age, this is inexcusable stupidity.

My dislike for her only increased throughout the book.  The more I read, the dumber she became, and nearly everything she said (both out loud and silently, to herself) made me want to slap her or shake her or scream in her face.  She annoyed the hell out of me, and every time she uttered one of her many inane catch phrases, I wanted to beat myself over the head with the book.  What catch phrases?  Well, let me share them with you.  When it became obvious that I was going to see these several, several times, I decided to take a running tally of each one.  This is what I ended up with (and keep in mind I started after I'd already begun reading):
"Wow" or "whoa":  30
"Inner Goddess":  38
"Oh...": 129 (this includes: Oh shit, Oh fuck, Oh no, and Oh dear, with "oh my" constituting at least 49 instances on its own. "Oh no" was the other majority in this category)
"Holy...": 141 [this includes Holy Moses (3), Holy hell (11), Holy cow (16), Holy fuck (23), Holy crap (35), and Holy shit (53)]
She also had an annoying tendency to mention every two sentences how attractive Grey is, or to say something is so....hot.  So freaking hot.  Everything is hot.  All those years of repressed sexuality has it all coming out pretty full force, so even the most tame or questionable things are "fucking hot."  At one point, she mentions that "I'd like to bite that lip" is the sexiest thing anyone has ever said to her, and she feels "naughty" using his toothbrush, because it's "like having him in [her] mouth."  Seriously?  She refers to her lady parts as "down there" and once she talks about her "dark, unexplored places."  I laughed my ass off at that one.  And what is with this Inner Goddess thing?  It's like she's created an alternate personality for her libido so she can dissociate from all the lust she is now dealing with or something.  Ridiculous.  She also breaks down and cries about every damned thing, but won't talk to Grey about how she's actually feeling about anything - what if he did the unthinkable and left her if she didn't want to go along with his wishes???   

Now for Christian Grey.  He says to Ana that he is "fifty shades of fucked up" and I agree.  This whole book is fifty shades of cray, and he is the catalyst.  Grey is a domineering, possessive, stalker.  He is one red flag after another, and Ana ignores every single one, including the times Kate tries to point this out.  He feels possessive of Ana before he has even become involved with her, and it only gets more intense after that. He gets angry whenever she mentions/talks to/hangs out with José, and before they become involved, she drunk-dials him from some bar, and he gets pissed that she's drunk (it's her first time being drunk, FYI)...so he traces her cell phone and shows up at the bar to take her home.  He gets annoyed when she insists on telling Kate that she's leaving with him.  

In fact, he has irrational anger at a number of things.  He gets pissed when she tells him that she's a virgin (at which point, he proceeds to "remedy the situation" immediately).  Later on, he also gets angry when she mentions that she's thinking of going out of town to visit her mother.  Of course, she does go, and he ends up using his excellent stalking skills to find out what flight she's on so he can upgrade her ticket (even though she told him she didn't want him to), then he follows her there, showing up at a hotel where she and her mother are having drinks.  When Ana is introducing him and her mother, he already knows her mother's name, even though Ana's never told him.  Of course, he has taken her home before without her ever telling him where she lives, so none of this should come as a surprise.  She should be concerned, but she's a fucking idiot, so she brushes it off.  He does warn her more than once that he is no good for her (at least he's honest?), and when she tries to make some comment about him being a white knight or some shit, he tells her he is more like a dark knight.  Asshole, you might be a millionaire playboy, but you are not the Batman.

Alright, so this book is supposed to be erotica (supposed to be), so probably I should talk about the sex now.  Let me just say that overall, it most definitely did not live up to the hype.  It was mostly pretty tame, just written in detail.  Which makes me think that more women than I would have thought have had some pretty boring or just plain bad sex in their time, if they are really all that hot and bothered by this shit.  Grey calls it vanilla, and that's exactly what it is.  Now, I've never been in a BDSM relationship, but even those parts seemed pretty tame.  Yeah, they used toys a lot, but sex toys are certainly not revolutionary or uncommon; people have been using toys in the boudoir for centuries, even in relationships that are not a part of the BDSM lifestyle.  

Reading their relationship unfold the way it does, and knowing how sexy people think it is and how swoony they get over it...this is nothing but worrisome to me.  Ana and Christian's relationship is completely toxic.  He says he won't touch her until he has her written consent, though that goes out the window pretty quickly because their hormones just can't be reigned in when they are around each other or something.  She still has to sign a non-disclosure agreement, though, so she cannot tell anyone about what goes on in their relationship.  Pretty convenient, since now if she has second thoughts or gets scared about anything and wants to get Kate's input (or anyone else's), she "can't."  He calls her Anastasia all the time (when he's not calling her Miss Steele, that is), even though she has told him she prefers to be called Ana.  This is relatively benign, I know, but if he's going to completely ignore such a simple request, what does that say about how much he would respect anything else?  

But back to the sex for the moment.  I made note of some of the more laughable and/or eyebrow-raising parts to share with you.  First of all, when she asks if he's going to make love to her, he lays down the law and tells her that he doesn't make love.  He "fucks...hard."  Of course, she mentally notes how hot that is.  Then he shows her his "playroom."  I still find the term "playroom" kind of hilarious, especially since at this point in the book she still has no clue about anything, thinking maybe he is celibate and he wants to play a video game or something in there.  Oh, Ana.  As they would say in your Georgia home, "bless your heart."  

Even after having the whole BDSM thing explained to her, and after he has her do some online research for herself, in the interest of having her make a more informed decision before agreeing or declining his request to have her be his submissive...she still does not get it.  She agrees to try, but she really doesn't try at all.  She insists on him compromising damn near everything on the list he made for her, to the point where it wouldn't even really be the kind of relationship he's trying to have with her.  She really wants to have a normal relationship with him, but he has explained to her several times that he does not do the boyfriend/girlfriend thing, and he is not interested in having that kind of relationship with her.  Of course, she thinks this is only because he is the victim of a tragic and traumatic childhood and adolescence, and treats the situation as though she's adopting a puppy who was abused by its previous owner.  She thinks that eventually, she can teach him how to love and be loved, and that they will live happily ever after without all this dom/sub nonsense.  

At every turn, she challenges him and wants to change him, but she gets very offended at the idea of having to change herself. And while we are on the subject of double standards and hypocrisy, she also thinks it's irrational for him to get so upset about José (which it is), but at the same time, she is constantly upset and jealous at the thought of any other women who either have or may have been involved with him.  She gets all kinds of pissy about him not wanting her to roll her eyes at him, when he rolls his eyes sometimes as well.  If she can't go along with something as fucking stupid and simple as a rule about eye-rolling, why does she even agree to go along with this arrangement in the first place?  She is clearly not someone who can get into the dom/sub lifestyle.  She is only going along with it because she wants to be with him.  She doesn't want him to leave her, so she "consents."

And here are some more choice moments:  as some kind of foreplay, Grey licks Ana's feet.  I'll admit, feet are a turn-on for some people.  But this icks me out like you wouldn't believe.  I legit almost gagged reading the toe-sucking, foot-licking parts.  I want to gag just thinking about it in order to write this.  In the innocent ignorance that she continues to display, after seeing for the first time the sheer size of Grey's erect manhood, Ana asks herself the cliché and ridiculous question "how will it fit?"  She also apparently has the ability to climax on command, and is a champ at performing fellatio - no gag reflex, she's a total natural.  While going down on him, she thinks to herself that "he's [her] very own Christian Grey flavored popsicle."  I am not making this up.  I could not make this shit up if I wanted to.  

After he's had his way with her, she decides that she wants to allow herself a break from all the awesome sex she's having, and puts her hair up in pigtails, thinking that if she makes herself look more innocent, his carnal desires will be deterred.  L-O-FUCKING-L.  Dumbass, you just gave yourself handlebars.  So good luck with that.  Later on, in the "playroom" (still lol), he makes a big show of sniffing her panties, then stows them away in his pocket for later I guess.  She makes a huge deal about having to go commando when they go out after this, but then when she gets annoyed about it, she says that he's "barbarous" for not letting her have them.  Let's ignore the fact that before they left the house, he gave her more than one opening to ask for them back.

Now, this may all sound harmless, but let's consider some of the giant red flags he's waving in her face.  He tells her in no uncertain terms that he wants to hurt her (but not badly, really, scout's honor).  He goes easy on her at first, so she can get a better idea of if she really wants to do this or not.  She isn't sure about it, and really doesn't like the idea at all, but she continues to insist to him that she's fine.  Then she goes home and cries into her pillow all night like a fucking moron.  He's "demeaning" and "scary" but she finds this "hot."  She also thinks it's hot when he lets her know that he would kidnap her and hold her against her will.  She sends him an email one night, saying "nice knowing you," and he shows up in no time, and fucks her until she admits to him that she didn't really mean it.  Another time, she tells him no, and he thinks this is hot, so he takes her to the boathouse and bangs her anyway.

All the women who swoon over Christian Grey and think this book is romantic and steamy...I worry about you.  I worry about the teenage girls who undoubtedly also read this and get all swoony over it, then end up in abusive, toxic relationships themselves, thinking they've found their own Christian Grey.  And you know, if the BDSM thing actually is for you, and if it actually was something Ana could get into, the relationship probably would have been pretty okay.  But under no circumstance was anything that went on between them actually okay.  Consenting begrudgingly because you are afraid the person will leave you if you don't is NOT the same as actual consent.  

Okay, I have nothing against the BDSM lifestyle.  Between two adults who both understand and consent to the details, it can provide an exciting and erotic aspect to their relationship.  But James has completely misrepresented BDSM to the entire world through this poorly written travesty of a book.  When one person doesn't really get it and thinks it's some kind of phase you can be therapied out of, and the other person is an overbearing, possessive stalker, the relationship is not at all healthy, and has nothing to do with the lifestyle it's proclaiming to be a part of.  It wouldn't be healthy if the BDSM were not a factor, and the thin guise of BDSM doesn't make it suddenly acceptable.  

I'll admit Grey had his moments of being charming and likable.  But that doesn't make up for the rest of it.  You know who else was considered to be charming and likable?  Ted Bundy.

I find it amusing that so many people got riled up about this same behavior being exhibited by Edward Cullen toward Bella in the Twilight saga - getting jealous about other guys, warning her against spending time with him, sneaking into her room at night to watch her sleep...but when it's Fifty Shades of Grey, it's suddenly ideal romantic behavior.

And speaking of Twilight?  I dare you to read this book and not get the sneaking suspicion that this is actually fanfic, rewritten so it could be published without a lawsuit. ETA:  After writing this review, I learned that this WAS, in fact, Twilight fanfiction. lol again, a million times.

If civilization is really going to come crumbling down at our feet this December, then I am taking this book's best-seller status as one of the signs of the coming apocalypse.  I don't believe I'll be subjecting myself to the rest of the trilogy if it's all going to be like this.

ISBN:
9780345803481

ASIN:
B007J4T2G8

Publisher:
Vintage Books

Series Info:  What came before this book? What's next?
Fifty Shades
*Fifty Shades of Grey (Book 1)
- Fifty Shades Darker (Book 2)
- Fifty Shades Freed (Book 3)

Film Adaptations:
Fifty Shades of Grey

See what others are saying about it, or buy it now:
Amazon
Better World Books




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