[Content note for Fifty Shades of Grey-type consent issues and general awfulness]
In a bid to wring every last cent out of the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon, author E.L. James has released Grey, the story of Fifty Shades of Grey as told from Christian Grey’s perspective. Some readers, both fans of the series and critics, were curious about Christian’s thought process during the original books, since the story we see from Ana’s point of view was so deeply creepy that dear God, there had to be something, something, something redeeming in the backstory to make it more of an edgy, kinky romance and less of an episode of Law & Order: SVU with a private helicopter.
Well, the votes are in, and it’s official: Christian Grey really is a serial killer. Or at least he’s going to be; it’s just a matter of time. We don’t get a smidgen of self-awareness, or consequences for his actions, or the impact of his molestation at 15 by a friend of his mother, or an examination of his childhood trauma outside of the periodic flashback. I’m assuming the flashbacks are meant to make him sympathetic and explain his own abusive behavior toward Anastasia, and possibly take an edge off of the creepiness that defies description and makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like Hop on Pop. It succeeds at neither of those things.
The first-person narration, particularly the inner monologue (which is pretty much the lovechild of that guy at the bar who think he’s clever because he can spin everything into a dick joke, and Ryan Phillippe trying to sound slick in Cruel Intentions), eliminates any ambiguity that the Fifty Shades story might be anything other than gross. The stalkiness? Extra stalky when you know exactly how far he went with his background check and GPS tracking. The weird initial interview? Painfully weird when you know that he had a boner the entire time and wanted to “refine her motor skills with the aid of a riding crop.” The creepy scene at the hardware store? So much creepier when you know that while he’s buying rope and cable ties, he’s thinking, “Maybe I’ll find the delectable Miss Steele and have some fun,” and, “Oh, this is going to be fun. You’ll be amazed at what I can do with a few cable ties, baby.”
(All of that notwithstanding, it’s really not that interesting a book — a dead-boring tale of love, lust, BDSM, and a billionaire’s tortured soul. Even the detailed, yet flat and clinical, sex scenes leave you longing for the erotic energy of Ana saying “Argh!” when she gets devirginated.)
The one thing that Grey really has to its credit is that it doesn’t seem nearly the endorsement and romanticization of domestic abuse that Fifty Shades of Grey was. Rather than “Christian is abusive because he loves me so much,” the message we get from Grey (whether James intended it or not) is “Christian is a dangerous person with the power to impose his twisted views on sex and relationships on anyone without consequence, and he should be avoided at all costs.” I honestly can’t see anyone exposed to his inner thoughts thinking, “Now there’s a man I trust to tie me up and blindfold me. Where do I find a guy like that to stick peeled ginger up my butt?” While part of me feels that no one should subject themselves to the pain of reading Grey, another part feels that it should be required reading before picking up the original trilogy. It would change the story entirely.
Because Christian is so much worse than one could have feared just from reading the Fifty Shades books. It’s so bad, y’all.
One upside: For all of her ongoing, willful ignorance of BDSM, James does appear to have spent some time googling the names of expensive things in the hopes of making her super-rich protagonist comes across as super-rich. So if you want to start a drinking game around every time he name-drops Pouilly-Fume, black cod, Bollinger, Gulfstreams, Gaggias, and catamarans, you may get drunk enough to read this book. (Might I recommend a screw-cap bottle of grocery store Chardonnay with a Silly Straw in it.) Final review: gaaah stars out of eeesh.
Excerpts to ruin your day:
“She’s oil on my troubled, deep, dark waters.”
“I’m confused. I want to spank her. But she’s said no.”
“I ask, ‘Are you hungry?’ ‘Not for food,’ she teases. Whoa. She might as well be addressing my groin.”
“She has a fine, fine ass. And I’m going to make it pink… like the champagne.”
“Her sharp intake of breath is music to my dick.”
“In my closet I strip off all my clothes and from a drawer pull out my favorite jeans. My DJs. Dom jeans.”
“That girl provokes me like no one has before. And she’s pissed at me; maybe she has PMS.”