It’s 2021, bitches, and do you know what that means? Yep, it’s the 10th anniversary we’ve all (?) been waiting for: Fifty Shades officially turns a decade old.
So, uh, yeah, we’re really doing this. This is where my life is at right now. As you might recall from my last blog post, I had a few more announcements that I didn’t get around to since it got just a little long-winded. So, surprise! You’re getting the chapter-by-fucking-chapter Fifty Shades sporking/recap/(mental)breakdown you didn’t ask for, because it’s not like that’s ever been done before.
And yes, I have read all four of those sporkings of all three books, and several of Grey and Darker, and I’ve watched Dan Olson’s “Lukewarm Defense” of the movies, and Dominic Noble’s videos, and… well, you get the idea. I’m a little… um, “obsessed” seems like too strong of a word? Hyperfixated? I have no idea if maybe this extreme fascination with something I frankly despise for a number of reasons is some kind of ADHD-related thing, since I’m still learning about what that even means for me, but it’s just one of those things that I keep coming back to again and again when I’m bored or depressed or in a creative funk, or frustrated and in need of something to channel my anger at. Hell, I basically built my online persona on the foundation of my reviews of the books back when I was a (sort of) book blogger. More importantly, though, I freely admit that Fifty Shades was probably the first genre romance I’d ever read, was my introduction to a diverse genre full of books much better (and some worse) that it, and was a huge inspiration in writing my own first romance novel (Check out my 365 Days review for more on that). It’s the albatross around my neck, this vortex I can never seem to escape.
[EDIT – 5/29/2023: To any of you who are new here and have no idea what’s going on, hi there! Thanks for stopping by! A bit of semi-necessary context: once upon a time, a young college graduate hated Fifty Shades so much that she decided to become Siena Noble, erotic romance author, and essentially write her own anti-Fifty Shades. And by “her” I mean myself. After going through a whole bunch of stuff that changed my perspective on things (such as a painful breakup, being diagnosed with ADHD, a pretty bad depressive episode or two, realizing I’m bisexual, quitting grad school then starting again in a completely different degree, etc… not necessarily in that order), loosing my writing mojo and falling out of love with romance as a genre, and coming to terms with the fact that I sucked as an indie romance author because I simply couldn’t meet my self-imposed deadlines and churn out novels to keep up with the high turnover rate in the genre, I basically went “fuck it” and stopped being Siena Noble. See this post for a bit more (now slightly outdated) detail. Since then, I’ve found my mojo again writing fantasy and video essays at my own very slow pace and maybe if I’m lucky I might even finally put out a YouTube video by the end of this summer.]
Thing is, though, while a lot of blog posts and videos and reviews have been dedicated to Fifty Shades in the past ten years, a lot of them are almost as old as the books themselves. Those four sporkings/recaps I mentioned above–while all excellent and hilarious and insightful in their own ways–were all started in either April or May of 2012. That’s a year after the first book was published, almost nine years ago by now, and at the height of Fifty Shades’ popularity.
And you know, while the early 2010’s still feel like they were just yesterday, a lot has happened in the past decade. Occupy Wall Street, the Me Too movement, legalized same-sex marriage and shifting attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community, the terrifying rise of the alt-right, the explosion of ebooks and self-publishing, and both the rise and fall of Game of Thrones, just to name a few things. The world has changed, I’ve changed, E L James has… ok, if The Mister is anything to go by, she really hasn’t changed all that much.
And let’s not pretend that Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t a culture touchstone amongst all of this, just like Twilight before it. Surely there must be some value in revisiting and reanalyzing it with ten years-worth of hindsight, right? And hey, 2020 was the year that everyone (even Stephenie Meyer) decided to revisit Twilight, it being the 15th anniversary and all. So, I’m declaring 2021 the Fifty Shades renaissance, dammit, even if for no other reason than to try to purge myself of the ghost of this awful series that has haunted me and my romance writing career since before it even began. You know, even though back when I wrote my Fifty Shades Freed movie review on my old blog three years ago (God, has it really been that long?), I foolishly believed that I was finally free of the cursed franchise.
Oh, and that’s not all, dear readers. Because–being the true emotional masochist that I am–I’ve also decided to bite the bullet and read Grey alongside the original as a companion piece. Something I swore on my mother’s grave that I would never do, and my mother’s still alive, so. Luckily for my conscience, though, I was able to get my hands on a used paperback copy, so I didn’t put a couple extra bucks in ELJ’s pocket or contribute to her Amazon rank… at least I don’t think I did. You’d think as an author I’d know the ins and outs of the Amazon algorithm by now, but whatever.
I’m going to try to do this a little bit differently than other blogs, though; instead of doing completely separate recaps of Grey, I think I’ll just intersperse my commentary on the original book with relevant quotes or insights from Christian’s perspective. To try to keep things simple, quotes from FSOG (Ana’s POV) will be in purple, and quotes from Grey (Christian’s POV) will be in green. We’ll see how that works out without it getting too confusing, though. Either way, this’ll be an adventure for me, since despite consuming an unhealthy amount of FSOG related content over the years, it’s actually been a hot minute since I’ve read the book itself. So, without further time wasted, buckle up, we’re going sporking.
(Content warning: homophobic “jokes,” character fantasizing about sexually assaulting another character, brief mention of statutory rape)
The time: Monday, May 9th, 2011. The place: Vancouver, Washington, the apartment residence of soon-to-be college grad, Miss Anastasia Steele. As the book opens, we find Ana engaging in that most time-honored of fanfic protagonist traditions: describing oneself while looking in the mirror.
I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair—it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable.
Now, before I completely trash the writing in this book, I suppose it’s worth briefly discussing the cliché that is “protagonist describes themselves by looking in the mirror,” and the common writing advice that generally boils down to “don’t use it.” I will agree, it’s considered cliché and a hallmark of amateur writing for a reason: lots and lots of amateur writers use it, particularly in fan fiction, and often times it either comes across as a dry laundry list of physical traits, or a purple prose-laden mess wherein the incredibly insecure heroine can’t help but flatter herself even while being self-deprecating. She doesn’t know she’s beautiful, all that kind of stuff.
And I get it; finding natural-sounding ways to physically describe your main character when writing in 1st person is hard. I also get it, because I’ve kinda maybe totally used it as a device myself in chapter three of High Risk? Fuck, I just now realized Kiera even scowls at herself while she does it. And, um, I might’ve also used it in the very first paragraph of the flashback that opens the upcoming sequel, Flying High…
[EDIT – 5/29/2023: For those of you are wondering what High Risk and Flying High are, they are two of my romance books written as Siena Noble, the former now unpublished and the latter sadly never published. Will these books and the planned 3rd book in the trilogy ever see the light of day again? Eh, most likely not for a variety of reasons, but I hesitate to say never since I do occasionally get the urge to go back and revisit these characters and finish what I started..]
So, um, yeah, I won’t be a total hypocrite and say that ELJ is committing a cardinal sin of writing by using this common narrative device. I will defend my own writing choices a little bit by saying that at least Kiera analyzing her appearance is directly tied into what’s going on in the story at the time, and serves as an indicator of her current state of mind. But yeah, at least in the High Risk example, I’ll admit that my writing is perhaps a bit clunky, and even if I think it’s better than what ELJ wrote, that’s still very subjective and I’m obviously very biased here.
My point in bringing this up is, while in FSOG it’s a fairly weak opening to the story and a clunky and fairly unnatural-sounding bit of description, I think my younger self and some other readers as well were maybe a little harsh in our judgement for this opening passage. I very much used to be of the mindset that there were some hard and fast rules when it came to things you should never, ever do in your writing, or else no one would take it seriously. And I just want to reassure all you aspiring authors out there that you are, in fact, allowed to have your main character look in a mirror. Just try to do something creative with it beyond just using it as an excuse for them to describe themselves in 1st person, you know?
And weak writing though it may be–nothing to really grab our attention and hook us into the story in this first paragraph–I will say that it does give us a fairly good idea of Ana’s character, though. She comes across as a very nervous, flustered, self-conscious person, and these prove to be consistent traits throughout the story. So, props for decent character establishment, at least.
Dear God, did I really just give ELJ a compliment? Excuse me while I go wash my mouth out with soap.
Shit, am I really still only one paragraph in? Enough procrastinating, I need to speed things up. After wrestling with her hair, Ana proceeds to complain about her roommate and supposed best friend, Kate, and how she has “chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu.” Another consistent trait of Ana’s that’s established on the very first page is that she’s a petty, jealous bitch, and a consistent trait of mine that’s also established here is how much I hate her.
“Ana, I’m sorry. It took me nine months to get this interview. It will take another six to reschedule, and we’ll both have graduated by then. As the editor, I can’t blow this off. Please,” Kate begs me in her rasping, sore throat voice. How does she do it? Even ill she looks gamine and gorgeous, strawberry blond hair in place and green eyes bright, although now red rimmed and runny. I ignore my pang of unwelcome sympathy.
Sorry, did I say petty, jealous bitch? I meant relatable. Yep, totally just an average, ordinary, everygirl protagonist that the reader is meant to relate to and sympathize with because she has such an enviably hot friend. And Ana is just the KINDEST, BESTEST, AND MOST CHARITABLE FRIEND EVER because she made soup for her, offers her NyQuil, and is taking precious time out of her day to go to this super important interview in Kate’s place, despite not even working for the student newspaper that Kate edits. I’m pretty sure we’re meant to see Ana as a kind and giving person, but honestly, she just comes across as a bit of a pushover with a martyr complex. Bitch just wants something to complain about. Kind of like me with this book.
Anyway, the whole reason for this bitchathon is that Kate is too sick to interview super important businessman Christian Grey for the student newspaper, which sets up the contrived circumstances facilitating the Meet Cute between our future lovers. Why couldn’t Kate get some other writer for the paper to do it? Why is this interview so important? Why couldn’t the author actually have Ana work for the student paper to make this make sense? Because… uh… raisins, guys. Because raisins.
I really don’t see why Ana couldn’t be a writer for the student paper. Is it because she’s way too shy and flustered for journalism, and then we wouldn’t get the awkward interview scene of her acting all “submissive” in front of Christian? If she absolutely has to be that timid and nervous for the scene to work (and she absolutely does not, in my opinion), that doesn’t mean she can’t be doing this interview of her own volition.
Hell, I think it would make her character more interesting, and perhaps make a bit more sense if she was deliberately trying to step out of her comfort zone by doing this huge interview that she’s nervous about. I mean, she’s at this big transitional point where she’s about to graduate college and join the working “adult” world; maybe she feels that she’s spent way too long in her comfortable little bubble and wants to break out of it and put herself out there a little more while she’s still young, even if it’s starting with something as small as joining the student newspaper in her last semester of college and volunteering for an intimidating article on Christian Grey. Then, when she meets him and starts to fall for him, her tentative interest in his BDSM lifestyle could play into that desire to push herself out of her comfort zone and try new things. But like, that’s just a suggestion…
Anyway, Ana heads out the door, thinking, “Only for you, Kate, would I do this,” just to hammer home that SHE’S SO FUCKING SELFLESS, and ends the scene with this jumble of descriptions of Kate:
She’ll make an exceptional journalist. She’s articulate, strong, persuasive, argumentative, beautiful—and she’s my dearest, dearest friend.
That’s nice, Ana. It’s just a shame that you have to blatantly spell it out for us that you care about her so deeply, since we never would’ve guessed it from how catty you were being toward her in your head just a minute ago. Also, what does being beautiful have anything to do with journalism skills?
With Ana on the road to Seattle, how about we take a moment to see what’s going on in Grey? Oh, and by the way, in case you didn’t already know, the first chapter and a half or so of Grey is basically the “Meet Fifty Shades” bit from the end of Fifty Shades Freed. So if any of this seems familiar, that’s why.
We meet Christian as he’s waking up from a brief flashback-dream about his birth mother, or “the crack whore,” as he will so affectionately come to call her throughout the series. It’s pretty unremarkable and adds little to our understanding of Christian’s character, with the exception of one tiny detail: apparently, his birth mom’s nickname for him was “Maggot?” That’s a little… harsh.
I don’t know, I have a lot of feelings about this choice, and I’ll talk more about it later probably since there’s plenty more flashbacks to come, but for now I’ll just say that calling her child such a cruel nickname seems pretty incongruent with the rest of her characterization. It’s as if ELJ is trying to justify Christian’s anger toward her as much as possible. Obviously, she wasn’t a perfect mother and his early childhood circumstances were traumatic, but having her say things like, “Not now, Maggot” is certainly A Choice when she otherwise seems like she was just doing her best to raise him in awful circumstances.
Grey wakes up, dismisses his dream “like I do most mornings,” and goes to work out in his home gym since it looks like it’s going to rain and he’s not in the mood to get rained on. It’s such a minor detail, but I can’t help but wonder if this is a passive-aggressive dig at the first movie, since one of the opening shots was of Christian jogging outside on a dreary day. I know I’m probably reaching, since this particular passage was probably written way before the film was even in production and it’s the silliest shit to quibble over, but I can see ELJ being just that petty.
Moving on, we cut from this short and pointless opening workout scene to… the end of another workout, this time with his personal trainer at his office. Grey is pissed because Bastille, his trainer, kicked his ass in spite of his “heroic attempts.” At what, we’re not told, but Christian sure is pissy about it, despite the fact that one would assume that whatever it is, it’s a personal trainer’s job to be better at it than most people. So he can, you know, train him in it. But Christian’s just a wittle pissbaby about most things as we’ll soon find out, so it’s not that surprising.
As I stare out the window at the Seattle skyline, the familiar ennui seeps unwelcome into my consciousness. My mood is as flat and gray as the weather. My days are blending together with no distinction, and I need some kind of diversion. […]
I frown. The sobering truth is that the only thing to capture my interest recently has been my decision to send two freighters of cargo to Sudan.
I love how casually thrown out there the line about Sudan is. How lovely that aid to poor, war-torn African nations is dependent on the whims of bored billionaires. Not that this is any different than real life, but it just boggles my mind that ELJ honestly imagined that this was supposed to make him sound like he has a heart of gold. There’s no emotion behind it, no sense that he feels it’s the right thing to do, or even that it’s all that important to him outside of his standard annoyance when anything at all isn’t going exactly his way. It just comes across as very callous and like a total afterthought.
Afterthought though it may be, prepare for this to come up again and again, because Sudan crops up an ass-ton in Grey whenever there’s a moment of downtime from him thinking about Ana. And actually, now that I think of it, I don’t think it’s ever mentioned that he’s sending food or aid specifically? It just says “cargo.” Could be illegal arms, for all we know. I’m just gonna go ahead and imagine that Christian Grey is involved in war profiteering, then.
Point is, Christian is bored out of his gourd, just waiting for his soulmate to come crashing into his life and shake things up. And remembering that he has a stupid interview with some stupid student for a stupid student newspaper does not improve his mood. Contrivance strikes again as he asks himself, “Why the hell did I agree to this?” Soulmate, Chris. About to crash into your life. We just talked about this, try to keep up.
I loathe interviews–inane questions from ill-informed, envious people intent on probing my private life. And she’s a student. The phone buzzes.
“Yes,” I snap at Andrea, as if she’s to blame. At least I can keep this interview short.
I think maaaaaybe we’re meant to assume that his resentment toward everything and his rudeness to his employees in this scene spring from his poor little rich boy ennui and are therefore forgivable, but nope, we’ll soon come to realize he’s just a dick by default.
Turns out, Grey does business with Kate’s dad, who owns some company called Kavanagh Media, and he agreed to do this interview as a favor to him, “one that I mean to cash in on later when it suits me.” Nice. So, I guess Kate’s persistence and “tenacity” and the fact that he’s also a guest speaker at the WSU graduation has nothing to do with it after all. Damn, does Kate know this? I bet she’d feel pretty shitty knowing that an accomplishment she thought she achieved through her own persistence and hard work was basically bought for her by her father.
Wait wait wait… Kate says in FSOG, “It took me nine months to get this interview. It will take another six to reschedule, and we’ll both have graduated by then.” I’m assuming she doesn’t know her dad is involved here, but even so, if he was pulling strings behind her back, shouldn’t it have been so much easier for her to get the interview, and shouldn’t it be easier to reschedule? Did she not even try to reschedule it?
So, “A commotion at the door brings [Grey] to [his] feet” and… let’s check back in with Ana, shall we?
Ana arrives at the headquarters of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. AKA Grey House. She describes it as a “huge twenty-story office building,” which isn’t actually huge, but whatever. Work that difficultly with size perception to your advantage, Christian.
Behind the solid sandstone desk, a very attractive, groomed, blonde young woman smiles pleasantly at me. She’s wearing the sharpest charcoal suit jacket and white shirt I have ever seen. She looks immaculate.
“I’m here to see Mr. Grey. Anastasia Steele for Katherine Kavanagh.” “Excuse me one moment, Miss Steele.” She arches her eyebrow as I stand self-consciously before her. I’m beginning to wish I’d borrowed one of Kate’s formal blazers rather than worn my navy-blue jacket. I have made an effort and worn my one and only skirt, my sensible brown knee-length boots, and a blue sweater. For me, this is smart. I tuck one of the escaped tendrils of my hair behind my ear as I pretend she doesn’t intimidate me.
“Miss Kavanagh is expected. Please sign in here, Miss Steele. You’ll want the last elevator on the right, press for the twentieth floor.” She smiles kindly at me, amused no doubt, as I sign in. She hands me a security pass that has “visitor” very firmly stamped on the front. I can’t help my smirk. Surely it’s obvious that I’m just visiting. I don’t fit in here at all. Nothing changes. I inwardly sigh.
Right. Couple things to unpack here. First, we get big ol’ heaping helping of Ana’s excessive insecurity, with a side portion of internalized misogyny. Somehow, I managed to forget just how exhausting and goddamn constant Ana’s woe-is-me complaining is about how plain and ugly awkward she is compared to all these beautiful blonde women around her. And yes, they are almost always blonde. James, what blonde woman hurt you? I really would like to know.
Second, her complaining here is extra annoying because this was kind of an avoidable situation? She says right there that she could’ve borrowed more professional-looking clothes from Kate, but besides that, why doesn’t she have anything nicer to wear? I get that she’s intended–at least at the beginning–to be a character who doesn’t know or care much about fashion, but you’d think that a young adult on the verge of graduating college with job interviews coming up in a few weeks would have at least a handful of dressier or more businesslike items in her closet, even if she doesn’t like to wear them often. And I’m sure I’ll bring it up again when we get to the computer thing, but we’re never given the impression that Ana is just too poor to afford certain things. She just chooses to dress all shlubby, then whines about how she stands out and people are secretly judging her for how shlubby she must look. All part of her martyr complex, I guess.
Third, “Nothing changes?” What the hell does that mean?
She takes the elevator up to the top floor, and is “confronted” by another blonde female employee. After admiring the view through the windows, getting mad at Kate again for not telling her anything about Grey (I mean, you could’ve also done some research of your own before you left, but I guess that would require you to have a computer or smartphone, so), and fidgeting nervously, our mousy brunette protagonist finds herself facing yet another of her sworn nemeses: a blonde woman. Which prompts Ana to think, “What is it with all the immaculate blondes? It’s like Stepford here.”
Has ELJ ever read The Stepford Wives, or seen the movie? The good one, I mean? Because from what I can recall, it had nothing to do with the women being blonde. I’m going to guess that she hasn’t. Which is perhaps ironic, considering a Stepford Wife is basically what Christian looks for in a partner, and what he’ll expect Ana to be.
Skipping through some unimportant nonsense where Ana is given a glass of water, we come to this perplexing passage:
Perhaps Mr. Grey insists on all his employees being blonde. I’m wondering idly if that’s legal, when the office door opens and a tall, elegantly dressed, attractive African American man with short dreads exits. I have definitely worn the wrong clothes.
Is… is this supposed to be comedic, that Ana is wondering if it’s legal (it isn’t) for Grey to hire only white (I’m assuming) blonde women, only for a black guy to walk out of his office mere seconds later?
This is Grey’s personal trainer, Claude Bastille, by the way. You might remember him as the guy who kicked his ass. Good for you, Claude. I’d love to get paid to kick Christian Grey’s ass on a daily basis. Judging by his status at the lone black character and his name that smacks you across the face with its French-ness, I’m going to guess he was originally Laurent in the fanfic.
At last, it’s Ana turn to enter Christian’s lair, and we arrive at the moment we’ve all been waiting for:
I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet and falling headfirst into the office.
Double crap—me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Mr. Grey’s office, and gentle hands are around me, helping me to stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel myself to glance up. Holy cow—he’s so young.
Be still my heart.
Also, gotta love the baffling inclusion of the iconic “double crap.” It implies that it’s closely following on the heels of Ana using a single “crap,” but this is actually the first instance of “crap” in the book. First of many, but still. I’ll forever be disappointed that there does not, in fact, turn out to be a crap scale. One has to wonder what, in Ana’s mind, would rate as a mere single crap, or even as the legendary triple crap? The world will sadly never know.
Grey, meanwhile, is “repressing my natural annoyance at such clumsiness” as he helps her up. And when he meets her eyes…
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. […]
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.
Damn indeed, dude. Jesus. Look… on the one hand, I suppose I do get having an involuntary super-sexual thought flash through your mind when unexpectedly encountering a hot person. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me, but I won’t try to claim that it doesn’t happen to anyone. You just can’t control where your mind goes sometimes, and that’s something I 100% understand.
On the other hand, though… this is a really common and frankly cliché trope in a lot of romance from the MMC’s POV, for the hero to immediately start picturing himself absolutely railing the heroine the instant they meet. Only Christian isn’t even picturing himself having sex with her here; he’s picturing himself beating her with a cane. Not even a fantasy about this strange woman enjoying such a thing, just a fantasy of how hot he thinks she’d look covered in pink welts. I don’t know what it says about how ELJ thinks about people who are into BDSM that this is what she had his mind immediately jump to, but I’m guessing it’s nothing too flattering.
Also, the mention of her “small, sweet face,” blushing an “innocent pale rose” just felt vaguely infantilizing to me and made me uncomfy. Definitely isn’t helped by him shortly following up his brief caning fantasy with “This girl is much too young.” Yuck.
He proceeds to refer to her as “Miss Kavanagh,” despite having been told by Andrea his PA earlier on the same page in Grey that her name is Anastasia Steele. Why? Because he’s a dick, guys.
I need to dispel that admiring look from those eyes but let’s have some fun in the process!
Ana gets flustered over his hottness:
“Um. Actually—” I mutter. If this guy is over thirty, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in his and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyes matching my heart rate.
Right. “Static.” Uh-huh.
Her voice is quiet with a hesitant musicality, and she blinks erratically, long lashes fluttering.
After some mental snobbery about her lack of fashion sense and lack of assertiveness–you literally just met, my guy–Grey thinks about how Ana is “flustered, meek… submissive.” Please try not to make me want to vom so early in the morning, book; I only just had breakfast.
Ana’s attention wanders to his décor:
Everything else is white—ceiling, floors, and walls, except for the wall by the door, where a mosaic of small paintings hang, thirty-six of them arranged in a square. They are exquisite—a series of mundane, forgotten objects painted in such precise detail they look like photographs. Displayed together, they are breathtaking.
She says the paintings raise “the ordinary to the extraordinary,” which apparently knocks Grey sideways with how deep of an observation it is. “Miss Steele is bright,” he thinks. I guess Ana isn’t the only one who’s easily impressed.
Ana fumbles with Kate’s recorder and notes, and after Grey mocks her a bit (because he’s a dick), the interview proper can begin. He also thinks about how “inviting that mouth is,” and I struggle not to vom again. He does at least mentally chastise himself for “being such a shit,” but of course he doesn’t actually apologize for making fun of this obviously nervous woman he’s just met, and it’s only because he feels an “unfamiliar twinge of guilt” at her nervous behavior.
Ana begins the interview, and Grey explains that he’s doing it because he’ll be speaking at her upcoming graduation ceremony, mentally bitching a bit about how he’s only doing that because Sam, his PR guy, convinced him that it would help the school’s environmental science department raise funds to match a grant he gave them. Honestly, these two jagoffs are perfect for each other. Neither one of them can ever do anything remotely nice without whining about how it inconveniences them.
Huh, that’s weird. I just noticed for the first time that ELJ actually changed something between FSOG and Grey. In the original, Christian’s line is:
“Yes. To appear in the graduation issue of the student newspaper as I shall be conferring the degrees at this year’s graduation ceremony.”
In Grey, this changes to him “Giving the commencement address at this year’s graduation ceremony.” Which does technically make more sense since by no rights should a guest speaker be handing out diplomas, but having read ahead in this book, I know that he still does, in fact, hand them out at graduation. So, this change was ultimately pointless.
Throughout the interview, Ana remains acutely aware of the fact that Christian is making fun of her. It’s honestly painful to read, especially now that I’ve seen inside his head and can confirm that he is both mocking her, and also periodically fantasizing about flogging her and having her give him a blowjob. Why did I choose to read this, again? I’m less than a chapter in and already I want this man to choke on his own dick.
Ana questions if maybe his success in business can be attributed to luck, and oh wow, another change already. I’m astounded that ELJ actually let someone fact-check her. From Fifty Shades:
“I think it was Harvey Firestone who said, ‘The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.’”
And from Grey:
Flaunting my erudition, I quote the words of Andrew Carnegie, my favorite industrialist. “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
Christian reeeeally takes offense to being called lucky, though.
Lucky? A frisson of annoyance runs through me. Lucky? How dare she? She looks unassuming and quiet, but this question? No one has ever suggested that I was lucky. Hard work, bringing people with me, keeping a close watch on them, and second-guessing them if I need to, and if they aren’t up to the task, ditching them. That’s what I do, and I do it well. It’s nothing to do with luck! Well, to hell with that.
Christian, my dude. You are a conventionally attractive white man; the cis, heteronormative Western ideal. You were adopted at a very young age by a very wealthy family, went to an Ivy League school, and always had the safety net of your family’s wealth to fall back on if ever your business ventures didn’t work out. Don’t you even fucking dare try to say that luck had nothing to do with your success.
I just… The fucking privilege of this man. Seriously, not a single person has ever suggested that he was lucky? Maybe because they were too afraid of him to say it out loud. Also, I find it hilarious that Christian tries to chalk up his success in large part to him being “very good at judging people.” Well, he and Ana are certainly both very judgmental, though I wouldn’t say either of them is a particularly good judge of character.
“You sound like a control freak.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.
“Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele,” he says without a trace of humor in his smile. I look at him, and he holds my gaze steadily, impassive. My heartbeat quickens, and my face flushes again.
Why does he have such an unnerving effect on me? His overwhelming good looks maybe? The way his eyes blaze at me? The way he strokes his index finger against his lower lip? I wish he’d stop doing that.
I really have nothing to add; I think that passage speaks for itself.
They have more of what ELJ probably considers to be witty banter, wherein Ana asks, “Do you feel that you have immense power?” Obvs he does, but he phrases it as “responsibility,” and emphasizes how much control he has over the ability of 40,000 employees to pay their bills. All while thinking such lovely thoughts as:
Is it her questions, her attitude, or the fact that I find her attractive that’s pissing me off? My annoyance grows.
Her mouth pops open at my response. That’s more like it. Suck it up, baby. I feel my equilibrium returning.
She knows I’m pissed, and for some inexplicable reason this pleases me.
Dude has exactly three settings: angry, horny, and angryhorny. Any other emotion is just some slight variation on one of them.
Ana asks if he has a board to answer to, which Christian claims he doesn’t, as he owns his company. Um, no. No you don’t. Your company is Grey Enterprises Holdings INCORPORATED. It’s a corporation, which at least in the US, is a business entity that is owned in chunks called shares (or stock) by its shareholders. He’s the CEO and founder, and might own stock in the company, but he doesn’t own it outright. A corporation by design has a board of directors who the CEO technically answers to, to ensure that the CEO is running the company with the shareholders’ interests in mind. Also, a corporation is legally considered to have the same rights as a person, which is an… interesting legal perspective to say the least, but that’s not important right now. It does add an interesting dimension to Grey’s way of thinking going forward, since he’ll repeatedly use business terminology when talking about negotiating a relationship with Ana. Companies? Human beings? Makes no difference to this guy.
The rest of the interview is pretty boring, so I’m sure you won’t mind if I skip over most of it. Some highlights (lowlights?):
1)Grey claims that the people who know him well would say he doesn’t have a heart, because “My heart was savaged beyond recognition a long time ago.” Ok, Mr. Drama King. Then, he muses to himself that no one knows him all that well, except for Elena, his statutory rapist who introduced him to BDSM as a teenager (we’ll talk more about her later). He wonders what Elena would think of Ana. Spoilers: it’s probably because she’s highly involved in helping him to pick out his submissives. Um…
2) MOVING ON. Grey proceeds to lie to Ana, saying that he agreed to the interview because he’s a benefactor of WSU and because Kate wouldn’t stop pestering his PR people, and he “admire(s) that kind of tenacity.” Ana, having the luxury of not being inside his head, is none the wiser.
3) Grey gets pissed once again because she says he “sound(s) like the ultimate consumer,” which somehow makes him–OF ALL FUCKING PEOPLE–think Ana “sounds like a rich kid who’s had all she ever wanted.” Make it make sense, please. And also, fuck this guy.
And then… of fuck me, not the gay thing:
“Are you gay, Mr. Grey?”
He inhales sharply, and I cringe, mortified. Crap. Why didn’t I employ some kind of filter before I read this straight out? How can I tell him I’m just reading the questions? Damn Kate and her curiosity!
“No, Anastasia, I’m not.” He raises his eyebrows, a cool gleam in his eyes. He does not look pleased.
WhywhywhywhyWHY did E L James think that this was funny? And not just funny enough for a one-off line; this is a fucking running joke in this book, and I’m pretty sure it comes up at least once in the 2nd or 3rd book, too. And then she runs with it even further in Grey! WHY? Were there actually fans of the book that thought this was hilarious? Did this really add so much to the story and to their developing romance that it absolutely could not be cut from the movie version? It wasn’t funny in 2011, and it’s aged like egg salad left out on the picnic table in August in 2021.
And oh boy, Ana, do you ever not want to know just how not pleased Christian is. Because by not pleased, ELJ meant that he’s basically imagining raping her to prove how not-gay he is:
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.
Goddamn, I can feel my blood pressure spiking, and we’re not even done with the first chapter yet.
I don’t even know where to begin with everything that’s wrong with this whole “joke.” I mean, yes, it’s a very inappropriate and completely unnecessary question, and Kate’s only justification for including it is that well, he’s never seen in public with a woman, so he must be gay, right? Was… was this kind of blatant, casual, “joking” homophobia really so prevalent in 2011? I mean, as someone who didn’t even realize I was bi until adulthood I will admit that things like “that’s so gay” were still thrown around quite a bit back when I was in high school around 2009-2010, around the time when the “Master of the Universe” fanfic version of this was being written. But like… that was coming from shitty teenagers with their juvenile sense of humor; this was written by a middle aged woman with a presumably adult audience in mind.
And on a related note, what is up with this weird dynamic between Grey and his family? Are we supposed to believe that he had such a strict, possibly religious upbringing that if he had been gay he would’ve been shamed into suppressing or hiding it? Not to mention just how telling it is that he gets so violently angry at the mere suggestion that he could be anything but the most hetero man to ever hetero. Because I guess having a sense of masculinity as fragile as single-ply toilet paper is the height of attractiveness.
Ana is explaining to Christian that she’s not actually a writer for the student paper and is merely reading off Kate’s questions, when Andrea (“Blonde Number Two” according to Ana) comes in to remind Christian of his next meeting. He tells her to cancel it, because this chick who he was just fantasizing about physically and sexually assaulting as punishment for asking if he was gay is just so damn alluring and fascinating to him that he has to keep her around a few minutes longer.
He thinks it’s “only fair” that he asks her a few personal questions now. That’s not how newspaper interviews work, but okay.
“There’s not much to know.”
“What are your plans after you graduate?”
I shrug, thrown by his interest. Move to Seattle with Kate, find a job. I haven’t really thought beyond my finals.
“We run an excellent internship program here,” he says quietly. I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Is he offering me a job?
“Oh. I’ll bear that in mind,” I murmur, confounded. “Though I’m not sure I’d fit in here.” Oh no. I’m musing out loud again.
“Why do you say that?” He tilts his head to one side, intrigued, a hint of a smile playing on his lips.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” I’m uncoordinated, scruffy, and I’m not blonde.
We never find out more about this hypothetical internship, by the way. Grey doesn’t even ask what kind of career she’s interested in, and all he knows is that she’s studying English lit, so he doesn’t really have any right to get all offended and think, “What’s wrong with my company?” when he doesn’t even have any reason to believe she’d be at all interested in whatever vague telecommunications stuff his company does. Oh, Grey Enterprises is a telecommunications company, I guess. And involved in shipping and agriculture. You know, business stuff.
Christian also thinks this to himself:
What possessed me ever to say that? It’s against the rules, Grey. Never fuck the staff… But you’re not fucking this girl.
Not that this will keep him from repeatedly trying to coax her to work for him even as he pursues her sexually…
Nervous as ever, Ana is gripped by a sudden urge to get the hell out of there. Not that I blame her, although I’d probably be just as eager to get away from the Creep Executive Officer for different reasons. He walks her to the door and gets in one final joke at her expense in reference to her tripping into his office, which Ana takes exception to.
“That’s very considerate, Mr. Grey,” I snap, and his smile widens. I’m glad you find me entertaining, I glower inwardly, walking into the foyer. I’m surprised when he follows me out. Andrea and Olivia both look up, equally surprised.
Grey helps her into her jacket, very deliberately and creepily touching her neck while he does, causing her to gasp. “Yes! She is affected by me,” he thinks. Get used to that nebulous word “affected,” people, because it crops up constantly in the first third or so of Grey, and every time he’s unaccountably thrilled when she gives him a reaction that could be one of either sexual arousal or fear.
And this is where chapter one of the original Fifty Shades comes to a blessed end, with the two of them awkwardly saying each others’ first names as she gets on the elevator. Who does this in real life after meeting someone in a professional context for the first time? No one, that’s who.
Grey, however, closes out it’s thrilling intro with this juicy hook:
I need to know more about this girl.
“Andrea,” I bark as I return to my office. “Get me Welch on the line, now.”
My phone buzzes. “I have Mr. Welch on the line for you.”
“Put him through.”
“Welch, I need a background check.”
Whew! Wow, that took me way longer to get through than I thought it would, and this post will probably end up being ungodly long, too. This was a little experimental since I really didn’t feel like doing entirely separate posts for Grey, but I ended up pulling more quotes from it than I expected. It’s a little frustrating and slow-going to switch between two different books, one of which is a paperback that I can’t just copy and paste from. We’ll see how things work out going forward. I’m really hoping I can do at least one chapter per week, but hi, have you met my ADHD brain? That’s not even getting into the fact that I’m actually starting a new full-time job soon, and yes, I still have a new book coming out, which I do plan on releasing by next weekend.
This’ll be fun, though, right? Hope you all enjoyed this and didn’t fall asleep halfway through. Tune in next time, for sexy hardware store adventures with Ana and Christian!