I literally just found out that Freed (the upcoming final installment of 50 Shades from Christian’s POV) is going to be 768 pages long. That’s almost two hundred pages longer than the original Fifty Shades Freed, and on average, a little over two hundred pages longer than most of the other books in the series. What’s contained within those extra 200 pages remains to be seen. The secrets of the universe? A surprise “ten years later” epilogue in which Ana fakes her own death to escape her abusive marriage and in the course of the investigation it’s revealed that Christian was a serial killer all along? Maybe after selling her soul in exchange for these books being a massive success, ELJ was forced to uphold her end of the bargain by copying and pasting an excerpt from the Necronomicon right in the middle of the book, and all who read it shall be damned for eternity.
(Content warning: sexual assault, stalking, discussion of statutory rape. And as usual, quotes from FSOG are in purple and Grey quotes are in green.)
When we last left Ana, she was all like…
…after being pulled out of the path of an oncoming bike and into Christian’s manly arms. In all her twenty-one years of life she’s never wanted to be kissed, but now her engine is finally revved:
Kiss me, damn it! I implore him, but I can’t move. I’m paralyzed with a strange, unfamiliar need, completely captivated by him. I’m staring at Christian Grey’s mouth, mesmerized, and he’s looking down at me, his gaze hooded, his eyes darkening. He’s breathing harder than usual, and I’ve stopped breathing altogether. I’m in your arms. Kiss me, please.
Wait, if she’s staring at his mouth, then how can she tell what his eyes are doing? Maybe Ana has lizard eyes that can move independently of each other and focus on two things at once.
Each of them describes the other as having a “wholesome” scent, by the way. Add that to the list of ELJ’s fave words along with “affected,” “equilibrium,” and “crap.” To Ana, Grey smells like bedsheets–“freshly laundered linen and some expensive body wash”–and to Grey, Ana smells like “my grandfather’s apple orchard.” Sexy? Christian attempts to memorize her aroma, because “She wants hearts and flowers, and you don’t do that shit,” and he’s about to turn her down:
“Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you,” he whispers.
What? Where is this coming from? Surely I should be the judge of that. I frown, and my head swims with rejection.
NO! my psyche screams as he pulls away, leaving me bereft. He has his hands on my shoulders, holding me at arm’s length, carefully watching my reactions. And the only thing I can think is that I wanted to be kissed, made it pretty damned obvious, and he didn’t do it. He doesn’t want me. He really doesn’t want me. I have royally screwed up the coffee morning.
How, exactly, did she make it obvious that she wanted to be kissed? By staring at his mouth? Is she telepathic? Both of these idiots tend to think a lot of things in their own heads that they really should say out loud to each other.
Feeling humiliated, Ana manages to pull herself together and thank him for saving her from being hit by the cyclist. Grey, ever the dramatic, self-obsessed weirdo, has to make a thing about it:
And I want to tell her that I’m saving her from me… that it’s a noble gesture, but that’s not what she wants to hear.
To quote my favorite industrialist, Albert Einstein, “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” Not to get all preachy again after the last recap, especially since I’m far from the first person to bring this up specifically in relation to Fifty Shades. But I feel like it bears repeating: if you ever find yourself in a situation where someone you’re attracted to says, “I’m not the one for you, you should stay away, what if I’m not the hero what if I’m the bad guy, etc.” then that should be the one and only time you do what they tell you and stay the hell away from them. Because this is Manipulation Tactics for Abusers 101. Draw you in then push you away, only to draw you in even deeper with the tantalizing possibility that you could be the one to uncover their dark secrets or heal their troubled soul.
Thing is, though… while that’s easy to say in real life, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t examine my own complicated feelings about and relationship to this whole “I’m no good for you so I’m going to push you away for your own good” trope as a romance reader and author. Because I’ve used it quite a bit in my own writing if I’m being honest, and often in the quest to create juicy drama and angst in a romance, the line between “this person is toxic and is flat-out saying they’re toxic and should be taken at their word” and “this person with trauma wants and deserves love but is legitimately afraid that their trauma makes them unworthy of their love interest” can get pretty hazy. I do believe a key part in avoiding falling into truly problematic territory is self-awareness and honesty, both as the author and on the part of the character you’re writing. As long as the character in question is working through their baggage on their own time, not pinning the responsibility for fixing them on their love interest, and avoids other toxic behaviors, then that’s half the battle right there.
But it’s definitely not easy. Because drama is fun to read and write, and a character keeping dark secrets that cause them to push away their love interest or bemoan the fact that they’re no good for them makes for good drama. And especially considering the central conflict of my own latest book, I’d be a hypocrite and a liar if I said that I never pulled similar shit in my own writing. I will say in my own defense that at least in the case of Tera Bodnar, she’s open with Eric about her past, she’s in therapy, and she knows she needs to work on her issues independent of Eric since before the start of Whip Smart; and in the case of Caleb Martin, I tried to make sure I wrote him as being good at respecting Kiera’s boundaries and not being controlling or manipulative.
[EDIT – 5/29/2023: Some context for those of you who wandered in off the street: hi, this used to be the blog of romance author Siena Noble. For complicated reasons that you can read more about here (though the info towards the end regarding my potential plans for my in-progress trilogy is somewhat outdated), I’m sadly no longer writing romance and this website has been in a state of limbo as I’ve been working through some stuff and deciding what I want to do with this space/if I should continue with my FSOG recaps here while gradually working on my fantasy novel and upcoming video essays under my new pen name, Leanne Lukacs. My point is, if you’re confused as to what I’m talking about referring to these characters you’ve probably never heard of in books such as Whip Smart and High Risk, don’t worry about it. Those are just my old Siena Noble novels that have since been unpublished and may or may not (but probably not) see the light of day again. I’ve decided to leave this part in the recap since I think my points are still relevant.]
But can I really say reviewers who’ve pointed out similarities between their relationship and that in Fifty Shades are entirely wrong? Maybe not. Because let’s be honest, being in a relationship with a man like Caleb in real life would be exhausting, and the fact that he’s so secretive about why he’s so full of self-loathing and “doesn’t do the girlfriend thing” would maaaaybe just be a bit of a red flag. On the other hand, though, it is all a fantasy, a way to vicariously experience some wild romantic drama that no one would actually want to put up with in reality. So yeah, it’s definitely a fine line to walk, crafting a love story that readers can root for when at least one of the people involved has some serious issues that cause them push away their love interest thinking it’s for their own good. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here… it’s just a point of conflict for me, that’s all. And I think I feel especially strongly about this because I was that person at one time when I was in college; I’m embarrassed to say how many times I tried to tell my ex-boyfriend that he deserved better and that we should just break up because he didn’t need my depressed, anxious, messy self in his life.
All that being said, fuck Christian Grey.
After another page or so of dithering, Ana stomps off to go nurse her broken heart alone. And… oh boy, this is a doozy:
Once underneath the dark, cold concrete of the garage with its bleak fluorescent light, I lean against the wall and put my head in my hands. What was I thinking? Unbidden and unwelcome tears pool in my eyes. Why am I crying? I sink to the ground, angry at myself for this senseless reaction. Drawing up my knees, I fold in on myself. I want to make myself as small as possible. […] I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was—my dashed hopes, my dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.
I mean, at least she calls herself out for being ridiculous? But ok, sure; rejection hurts, we’ve all been there, and sometimes we can’t help ourselves from overreacting. Sometimes you just need to have a good ugly cry and move on with your life. And you’d think that given her extreme emotional response that this was the first time a guy had shown genuine interest in her before turning her down–that it was just one rejection too many, and coming from someone as splediferously good-looking and sophisticated as Grey, it hit extra hard.
Well, then you’d be fucking wrong, because it turns out Ana, unlike most of us, has never actually faced rejection before:
Romantically, though, I’ve never put myself out there, ever. A lifetime of insecurity—I’m too pale, too skinny, too scruffy, uncoordinated, my long list of faults goes on. So I have always been the one to rebuff any would-be admirers. There was that guy in my chemistry class who liked me, but no one has ever sparked my interest—no one except Christian Damn Grey. Maybe I should be kinder to the likes of Paul Clayton and José Rodriguez, though I’m sure neither of them has been found sobbing alone in dark places.
Boo-frickin’-hoo, Ana, we get it; your pain is so deep and special that no one could ever possibly understand how you feel. And I feel like she’s been plenty nice to Paul and José; while I already discussed the complex issues with her giving Paul false hope that she might date him eventually if he just keeps trying, she certainly hasn’t been cruel toward him, and as far as José is concerned, we’re never given the impression that she’s been leading him on or treating him poorly (well, beyond how poorly she treats her friends in general which will become more apparent as the book goes on, but whatever). Unless of course, she means that she should just give in and go on a pity date with one of them, which… no, please don’t feel like you ever have to do that.
That’s three guys right there–those two, plus the unnamed guy from chemistry class–apart from Christian who she is fully aware of being attracted to her, and as I said previously, that’s not an insignificant number of men. Yet somehow, in her mind, being turned down by one guy she’s barely just met is equivalent to a lifetime of rejection, or to being rejected by someone you’ve known and had a crush on for a long time. I’m not saying that people who attract a lot of admirers don’t have the right to be insecure, and I’m not even saying that Ana shouldn’t be so picky and settle for someone she’s not into. But it really grates on my nerves to read her incessant whining about how unpretty, unpopular, and all-around unappealing she is to men when she herself has just blatantly stated that none of that is true in the slightest. She’s jealous of Kate for all the male attention her friend gets, but then has the nerve to say that she’s “always been the one to rebuff any would-be admirers,” which, to me, implies that it’s something she’s had to do multiple times.
And all because of what, her “lifetime of insecurity?” Or, is it because you just weren’t interested in anyone until you met Christian? Well, let’s take this “lifetime of insecurity” seriously for a moment, because I really would like to know just why she has such cripplingly low self-esteem. As far as I can remember, this trait of hers goes completely unexamined for the rest of the series, despite the fact that it’s apparently been holding her back romantically for her whole life. Her parents and friends only ever seem to be encouraging to her, everyone’s always telling her how beautiful and smart she is, so what gives? Everyone has insecurities and self-doubt now and then, but with Ana, it’s so excessive that it would seem as though there must have been something major in her past to cause her to feel this way, like she was bullied a lot in school, or had an abusive figure in her life telling her that she was never good enough, or she herself made some kind of huge mistake that’s been causing her a lot of guilt. Hell, it could even be as simple as her being clinically depressed and in need of serious therapy. But no, Ana the blankest of blank slates is simply too boring of a character for any of that to be the case, and we the audience are just expected to sympathize with her for her super special pain that no one else could ever understand.
And that damn word “scruffy” keeps coming up. I don’t think that means what you think it means, James, unless you really do want us to picture Ana as being mangy or slovenly, in which case I can’t imagine why she’d have any admirers at all. Can she not take care of herself? Does she not bathe regularly or brush her hair? Are her clothes falling apart at the seams? Maybe you should quit your whining and learn to make yourself more presentable, Ana.
This emotional breakdown apparently triggers some kind of metamorphosis in her subconscious, who from this point onward will evolve from simply acting as Ana’s inner voice to being capable of more elaborate physical actions and characteristics. This bitch is now folding her arms and “leaning on one leg and tapping her foot in frustration” at Ana. At least that motivates her to get up off the ground and “stop all this self-pitying, wallowing crap.” Your words, Ana, not mine.
Back at home, Kate instantly notices that Ana’s upset and asks what’s wrong:
Oh no … not the Katherine Kavanagh Inquisition. I shake my head in a back-off-now-Kavanagh way—but I might as well be dealing with a blind, deaf mute.
“You’ve been crying.” She has an exceptional gift for stating the damned obvious sometimes. “What did that bastard do to you?” she growls, and her face—jeez, she’s scary.
“Nothing, Kate.” That’s actually the problem. The thought brings a wry smile to my face.
“Then why have you been crying? You never cry,” she says, her voice softening. She stands, her green eyes brimming with concern. She puts her arms around me and hugs me. I need to say something just to get her to back off.
Yes, how very dare your best friend be concerned with your wellbeing, Ana. Now, on the one hand, I can kind of relate to this, since I often have trouble talking to people about my problems. Opening up about things is frequently exhausting and difficult, largely because of my irrational worry of being a burden on those that care about me. But like, I also have actual mental health issues including some probable Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and I also have some self-awareness of my thought patterns and behavior and am actively working to change that about myself, so.
Actually… now that I think of it, wouldn’t Ana’s character make a lot more sense if she had ADHD? I mean… she’s very rejection sensitive, she’s jittery and always fidgeting, emotionally all over the place, incredibly forgetful, and–even though we haven’t seen too many examples of it yet–ELJ has a tendency in her writing to abruptly switch gears in the middle of a paragraph, and since Ana’s our narrator, it gives the impression that her brain is like a pinball machine. She also mentioned that her mother is disorganized, scatterbrained, and always starting new projects, and it does have a genetic component…
There I go again, headcanoning away to try to turn Ana Steele into a more likeable and relatable character. Silly me…
Ana brushes Kate off, saying that it’s obvious that Grey is totes out of her league. Kate tries to bolster her confidence, but Ana’s having none of it, because I guess she’s just in the mood to feel sorry for herself:
“Kate he’s—” I shrug.
“Ana! For heaven’s sake—how many times do I have to tell you? You’re a total babe,” she interrupts me. Oh no. She’s off on this tirade again.
Kate asks if she wants to read the article she’s been hard at work on, and of course Ana says yes even though she doesn’t mean it and only pretends to read. All she’s interested in is staring at the photo of Christian attached to it:
And it’s suddenly blindingly obvious. He’s too gloriously good-looking. We are poles apart and from two very different worlds. I have a vision of myself as Icarus flying too close to the sun and crashing and burning as a result. His words make sense. He’s not the man for me. This is what he meant, and it makes his rejection easier to accept … almost. I can live with this. I understand.
What’s sad and aggravating to me is just how deeply ingrained this idea is in Ana’s mind, that Christian’s way out of her league and is just “better” than her. In this specific instance she’s referring to his looks, but usually his wealth is also an implied or outright stated factor. She spends basically the entire series (or at least this book) hung up on him being “out of her league” and putting him on a pedestal. She just takes it as a given that people like Grey and Kate are better than her because they’re the beautiful, wealthy elites.
To some extent, this is a trait she has in common with Bella. But at least in Twilight, while Bella felt chronically ugly and unworthy compared to Edward, she basically made it her life’s mission to become a vampire so that she and Edward would finally be equals in her mind. Of course, that wasn’t the entirety of her motivation (and it’s not exactly a great life goal to have), but it was part of it. Ana, on the other hand, does nothing but whine and moan about how she’s this wretched, lowly creature who shouldn’t even be daring to dream about being with some godlike being like Christian Grey. She never questions why she feels this way, never challenges the bullshit notion of “leagues,” and on top of that, we never really get a clear picture as to why her self-esteem is so shitty.
What makes it worse is that from what I remember of the later books, her self-image does improve, but Ana herself attributes it all to Christian’s influence. Being in a relationship with this rich, hot man has made her better. She hardly ever gets to feel good about herself in her own right, it all comes back to him.
Section break, brief scene where Ana goes to bed and angsts some more, then… hang on, is that a line break? Why switch up the formatting now?
Whatever. The next scene skips ahead to the finale of Ana’s final final exam on Friday; meanwhile, in Greyland, fascinating developments are happening. Well, not really, but this is the first real instance of Grey covering a span of time that FSOG doesn’t. So, I might as well give you a brief summary of what’s going on in the world of Christian Grey.
Thursday, May 19th, Christian wakes up from a childhood trauma nightmare in his own bed in Seattle, because–surprise surprise–he was not actually staying in Portland on business this whole time. This nightmare is really only notable because we don’t have to read it; past this point, ELJ was determined to subject her readers to each and every fucking one of this man’s dreams, and there are a lot.
He’s been pissy and miserable the last few days, which isn’t any different than his normal state of being, only in this case he’s specifically pissy and miserable because he turned Ana down.
Perhaps I need a distraction; a new sub, maybe. It’s been too long since Susannah. I contemplate calling Elena in the morning. She always finds suitable candidates for me. But the truth is, I don’t want anyone new.
I want Ana.
If you recall from her brief mention in my chapter one recap, Elena Lincoln–aka “Mrs. Robinson”–is the woman who molested him as a teenager and who he’s stayed friends and business partners with well into adulthood. Of course, if you’ve only read the original book she hasn’t been introduced yet at this point, and in Grey, ELJ seems to have taken it as a given that only people who had read the original trilogy would read this book, because she doesn’t bother cluing the audience in on who key people in Christian’s life like Elena, Dr. Flynn, and Taylor are. We can piece together from context clues that Taylor is some kind of bodyguard/manservant, and that Flynn (who hasn’t yet been referred to as “doctor”) might be Christian’s psychiatrist, but he could also just be a friend who’s like, a psychology student. He brings up his “shrink” in this chapter, saying that “His psychobabble shit would stop me feeling this lousy,” (which I doubt; why is he even in therapy again?) but no definite proof that this is Dr. Flynn.
We don’t know yet that Elena is his rapist and ex-Domme; she could just be a close friend for all we know, and that quote above is the first hint we get that she might have some involvement in the BDSM community. Except I do know that she’s his rapist and ex-Domme, which makes the idea of her being directly involved in the local kink scene and hand-picking Christian’s submissives for him just so, so very disturbing. If you don’t know by now of the general condemnation these books/movies have received from actual BDSMers (Jenny Trout and Kat Blaque in particular have some well-put-together thoughts on the subject), then this right here should really tell you all you need to know. E.L. James does not know the difference between dominance and abuse, and doesn’t see a problem with the flippant, casual implication that an actual child molester has connections within the local BDSM scene.
However… I feel like if I’m going to condemn ELJ for her inaccurate, harmful, and toxic representation of kink myself, I should at least mention the fact that in real life, things are a little more complicated than “BDSM =/= abuse ever.” True, consensual kink is NOT the same thing as abuse or assault, and BDSMers have every right to call out the many, many media depictions that conflate them and portray anyone with an interest in kink as a dangerous deviant. But there are times when I feel like the BDSM community at large doth protest too much. Because just like any other community, it does have its fair share of predators and abusers hiding in plain sight. And in local communities–where you have groups of people deeply invested in events, clubs, parties, munches, other organized aspects, etc.–these abusers might be protected. Sometimes they’re an open secret, but because they’re well-known/liked or are considered to be a leader in the local scene, some people might be more likely to circle the wagons around them than to warn new/inexperienced kinksters about them, or ban them from participating in organized events. Just like with everything else in this world, a lot of people might look the other way because “well, this person never acted predatory around me, so why should I believe they’ve been that way toward anyone else?”
Not every group or community is like this, of course. Some are very good at self-policing, and won’t tolerate any Christian Greys or Elena Lincolns lurking in their midst. Safety (or risk-awareness) and informed consent are considered tentpoles of BDSM for a reason, after all. But can I really say it’s entirely unrealistic for a predator like Elena to get away with her crimes and happily take part in her local kink scene? Sadly, I can’t. And it’s not like anyone but Christian would be likely to know that she’s a child predator, anyway. But I can say that it’s completely appalling that ELJ would include this here, and then never see fit to have Elena face any repercussions for her actions. True, I have yet to finish reading Darker, and Freed isn’t even out yet, but based on what I know from the 2nd and 3rd books in the original trilogy, I can say with some confidence that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll find out she got booted out of the local scene, or that Christian will realize how super fucked up it is that this grown woman has been so involved in his sex life since he was 15 that even now she’s picking out his submissives for him.
Also… this dude has his submissives picked out for him? Is that what he meant when he was bitching about having to chase a woman for the first time ever? I’m not sure if we’re meant to believe that Elena has found all of “The Fifteen” of his past subs for him or just a significant portion of them, but pardon me for cracking up at the implication that Don Juan over here is too lazy to woo his own sexual partners. Your suave, seductive, ladykiller romantic hero, everyone.
Jesus, I said I’d be brief, and already I’ve written an entire thesis based on one line. Anyway, Grey heads back to bed for a bit, and wakes up later to a radio news program talking about the sale of an unfinished Jane Austen manuscript. This gets him thinking about how Ana likes books. Because Grey, ever the dramatic, self-obsessed weirdo, simply must send her an apology/stay-away-from-me gift. Pssh, leave her alone after you’ve already clearly rejected her? How plebian.
She’s an incurable romantic who loves the English classics. But then so do I, but for different reasons. I don’t any Jane Austen first editions, or Brontës, for that matter… but I do have two Thomas Hardys.
Of course! This is it! This is what I can do.
Isn’t this the guy who said in both the past two chapters that loving the English classics was a sign that Ana was too incurably romantic to be interested in what he has to offer? But of course, a man of such refined tastes as Christian Grey couldn’t simply not be an avid reader of the 19th century Brit lit canon. And what are those “different reasons,” you might ask? Couldn’t tell you, because ELJ wasn’t interested in telling her readers.
Conveniently, he just so happens to have in his possession a rare first edition of the only book Ana ever talks about, choosing Tess of the d’Urbervilles over Jude the Obscure to give to her, thinking to himself, “Hardy had a dark, twisted soul. Like me.” Kindly get the fuck over yourself, please.
Yes. I like to possess things, things that will rise in value, like first editions.
Ah, so I guess those are his “different reasons,” then. He doesn’t give a shit about reading them, he just likes to flaunt his wealth and taste.
Well, okay, Grey does give another possible reason in the next scene as he’s trying to pick a quote from the book for Ana, though it’s only a reason for why he likes to read in general, not necessarily the classics. And because he’s a dramatic, self-obsessed weirdo, he somehow manages to turn this into both an excuse to wangst and an excuse to get a dig in at his brother:
Fiction was my sanctuary as a teenager. My mother always marveled that I read; Elliot not so much. I craved the escape that fiction provided. He didn’t need an escape.
I honestly have no idea what ELJ is trying to convey here; is it that Elliot didn’t marvel that Christian read, or that their mom didn’t marvel that Elliot read? Not that it matters; point is, Elliot didn’t need to escape into books like Christian did, because Christian is burdened with the most torturous torment that no one could ever possibly understand. Well, maybe Ana; I mean, she did get rejected that one time, and that’s totally the same as having cigarettes stubbed out on you as a small child and being left alone with your dead mother’s corpse for four days, right?
But like… aren’t all the Grey kids adopted? Kids don’t typically get permanently placed with a new family after losing or being taken away from their birth family because of happy circumstances. I know that Mia was adopted as a baby, but if the child is old enough to remember their birth parent(s)–like Christian was–then there’s a fair chance there’s going to be some trauma there. So where does this asshole get off at claiming that Elliot couldn’t possibly understand the need for an escape? Maybe I’m being unfair since I can’t remember if we’re ever told what age Elliot was adopted at or given a hint as to what his pre-adoption childhood was like, but this is my recap and I can bitch about whatever the hell I want.
Christian goes to work, and we get an interesting peek at the difference between how he sees men and women. A female employee of his greets him with what he calls a “flirtatious” wave–yes, we get it, everyone wants you–which he finds annoying so he ignores her. Immediately after, a male employee greets him, and Christian deigns to engage in a brief, polite conversation with him. You know, just about the only women this dick is actually nice to are Elena and his housekeeper, Mrs. Jones. It’s a pattern that persists throughout the entirety of Grey: every woman is an annoying, simpering fool, and only men are worthy of his respect… right up until the moment they dare to even look in Ana’s direction, at which point it becomes a struggle not to choke them the fuck out.
Oh wait, there’s another woman he halfway-respects: Ros, his COO, though I suspect it’s because she’s a lesbian and therefore not constantly batting her eyelashes coquettishly at him. They talk some boring business, Sudan and Darfur come up again (see, I told you), and she mentions some kind of plant they’re planning to build in Detroit, to which Grey whines about why it has to be built there. Detroit, by the way, is the city he was born in. Put a pin in that, because it’ll be another persistent and aggravating thread throughout his POV.
Work work work, Christian has the books sent to Ana, he’s rude to his (female) employees, and he tells his PA, Andrea, to get him replacements for the first editions. Is it just me, or does it kinda take away from the sentiment to give a gift to someone that supposedly has personal value to you, only to then replace it?
The next day, Grey tries to tell himself that he has closure now that he’s sent Ana an expensive gift, but deep down he knows he just wanted an excuse to be in contact with her again, I guess in case she calls him to thank him for it or ask what his cryptic quote meant?
His brother, Elliot, calls:
“Dude. I need to get out of Seattle this weekend. This chick is all over my junk and I’ve got to get away.”
“Yeah. You would know if you had any.”
Ah, Elliot. Can you believe I actually thought he was a decent character in FSOG? I guess he just didn’t show up often enough in the original for his grating, try-hard fuckboi persona to really shine. Why ELJ felt the need to turn him into the cringiest of dudebros in Grey I will never know.
Christian, however, sees this as an opportunity to use his brother to engage in some guilt-free stalking. Why, they could just go hiking and biking around Portland for the weekend if Elliot needs to get away, and if he just so happens to bump into Ana while they’re in town…
Elliot has always had a problem containing himself. As do the women he associates with: whoever the unfortunate girl is, she’s just another in a long, long line of is casual liaisons.
Working and fucking: that’s Elliot’s rai·son d’ê·tre.
Hey, Pot, have you met my good friend, Kettle?
Elliot sleeps in the car while Christian drives to Portland, in a scene that I won’t bore you with but which does contain a few hilarious tidbits like, “Let’s see if Elliot can sleep through The Verve,” and discussing who’s been on the “sharp end” of Elliot’s dick recently. The Verve? I mean, I guess any music turned up at full-blast would be hard to sleep through, but I still spent way too long listening to The Verve’s discography on Spotify to try to find any song of theirs that would be loud, pounding, fast, or shrill enough to justify Christian thinking that it would instantly jolt his brother awake. But come on; it’s The Verve, guys. I’m the girl who finds music with lyrics too distracting to work to and even I could sit and write calmly to most of their songs. “This is Music” or “Love is Noise” seem like probable candidates, but how much you wanna bet ELJ had “Bittersweet Symphony” in mind when writing this?
They arrive at The Heathman and go mountain biking. Nothing important happens (though really, when does it ever in these books), so now seems like a good time to check back in with Ana.
She’s just finished her last final, which means:
It’s Friday, and we shall be celebrating tonight, really celebrating. I might even get drunk! I’ve never been drunk before. […]This is it, the end of my academic career. I shall never have to sit in rows of anxious, isolated students again. Inside I’m doing graceful cartwheels around my head, knowing full well that’s the only place I can do graceful cartwheels.
“Shall?” That’s American college student talk if I ever heard it. Yeah yeah, I know, I used “shall” earlier in this very recap, but to be fair, it seemed appropriate in the context. And savor this moment of her actually being excited over something that isn’t Christian Grey-related, because it’s one of her last. Actually, I think it might also be her first. But I’m pretty sure this is the only time we ever get to see her display any emotion at all regarding the fact that she’s about to graduate college.
When she and Kate arrive home, a mysterious package awaits her on the front step. There’s no return address, which seems sketchy as hell to me. ELJ pads her word count:
Perhaps it’s from my mom or Ray.
“It’s probably from my folks.”
Shock and surprise, it’s not from her parents, it’s from Grey; the three-volume first edition of Tess. Here’s the quote from it he picked to put on a notecard:
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 …
It’s technically a paraphrase, coming from a point in the book (spoilers for a novel published in 1891) after Tess has been raped by the wealthy Alec d’Urberville–or as Ana puts it, having “his wicked way with her”–and is admonishing her mother for not better preparing her to face a world of dangerous men like him. So, I guess in this situation, Christian is casting himself in the role of Alec, and is telling our naïve, innocent heroine to read up and be wary of guys like himself… even though, you know, we’re only four chapters into a three-book series, so it’s a given that he’s going to pursue her anyway, warnings be damned. Remember what I said about Manipulation Tactics for Abusers 101? Not only does this work to build an aura of mystery around him to keep Ana intrigued and deepen her emotional investment, but it’s a handy excuse for his abhorrent actions down the road. Because he warned her, see? She knew he was just no good for her, that he was always going to end up hurting her, but she sticks around anyway, so can she really blame him and act surprised when he does hurt her?
Ana has one of her rare moments of genuine intuition, but Kate the Inconsistent brushes off her concerns before they have a chance to even manifest:
“I have no idea. I think it’s a warning—honestly, he keeps warning me off. I have no idea why. It’s not like I’m beating his door down.” I frown.
“I know you don’t want to talk about him, Ana, but he’s seriously into you. Warnings or no.”
Kaaaaate, I thought you were the one warning Ana not to trust this guy in the last chapter? Why must you do this to me just when I was starting to warm up to you again?
No time to worry about that, though, because it’s time to partaaaay! They head out to a bar, but not before pre-gaming with a champagne toast. I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s a little strange for these 21-year-old college seniors to always be celebrating with champagne, right? Especially if we’re meant to take that literally to mean the real-deal fancy French stuff, not some cheaper sparkling Moscato or whatever. Anyway, we cut to Ana downing her fifth(!) margarita, which she acknowledges is probably not “a good idea on top of the champagne.” Geez, ya think? But, since she recognizes she should probably slow it down, she decides that the best thing to keep from getting too drunk is to get some beer.
I mean, I guess that’s drunk-logic for you. But like we’re supposed to believe Ana of the iron liver hasn’t been drunk before, right? At least she displays a teensy bit of common sense and figures it’s a good idea to go pee while she’s still capable of standing. While waiting in line for the restroom, she amuses herself with her phone and decides to drunk-dial Christian. Even while completely blitzed she proves to be shockingly insightful for the second time this chapter, thinking, “If he wants me to stay away, he should leave me alone.” Excellent point, drunk Ana.
“Anastasia?” He’s surprised to hear from me. Well, frankly, I’m surprised to be calling him. Then my befuddled brain registers … how does he know it’s me?
“Why did you send me the books?” I slur at him.
“Anastasia, are you okay? You sound strange.” His voice is filled with concern.
“I’m not the strange one, you are.” There—that told him, my courage fuelled by alcohol.
Wow, Ana you sure told him. It was around this point in my initial pre-sporking reread that I started to get pretty mad at how superior Dakota Johnson’s portrayal of movie-Ana is to the utter limp noodle that is book-Ana. During this scene in the film, she was actually giving Christian some genuinely funny sass while also accurately calling him out on his bossy, controlling behavior. Here? I am begging for the tiniest shred of gumption from this woman. Yeah, she giggles over how he’s “so… domineering” during their conversation, but even when her courage is “fuelled” (I’m guessing that’s the British spelling, but since this book takes place in the US I’m gonna call it out as sloppy editing) by booze, that’s the best she can do.
How on Earth is it appealing for a main character to be so timid? And I’m not saying that it’s necessarily a bad thing to write a protagonist as shy or who has trouble asserting themselves, especially considering how much of a people-pleasing introvert I am in real life. Not every protagonist has to be a wisecracking badass. But it’s the fact that we barely get to see Ana grow into a more confident and assertive person over the course of the story, and on the few occasions that she does display what could be considered “strength,” it’s usually not so much actual strength as it is her being a catty bitch to other people, usually women. Not to mention, when taken together with her extreme naivete and embarrassment/shock over anything sexual, it adds up to create an uncomfortably childlike character.
Christian asks how she’s getting home. Uh, probably the same way she got there? In his POV, he worries that she’ll drive drunk, and I don’t know whether to laugh or let out a piercing shriek at him immediately jumping to the conclusion that this girl would almost certainly take the stupidest of all options. Because while I’d normally agree with him, and Ana doesn’t exactly do herself any favors by saying “I’ll find a way,” he really has no reason to believe that she wouldn’t utilize any of a number of far more likely options. In fact, let’s list them:
- a cab
- a bus
- designated driver from her group of friends
- crashing at a friend’s place nearby for the night
- crashing at a hotel for the night (Kate could almost certainly afford it)
- a rideshare (admittedly not super likely in 2011, as Uber wasn’t offering services in Portland until 2014 as far as I can tell, and Lyft wasn’t in business yet)
Point is, her options aren’t limited to being helplessly stranded at a bar all night or being picked up by a near-stranger who wasn’t even there with her to begin with, jackhole.
Ana giggles in response to his repeated demands to know what bar she’s at, and of course he gets mad:
Shit, she’s laughing at me!
“I’m in Portland… ‘s a long way from Seattle.”
She hung up on me! I stare at the phone in disbelief. No one has ever hung up on me. What the fuck!
The Earl of Lemondouche calls Ana back to say he’s coming to get her before immediately hanging up, which isn’t totally ominous or anything. As she struggles not to be sick and tries to reason that it’ll take him hours to drive there from Seattle, Christian is busy calling up his pet private dick, Welch, to track her cell phone… somehow. All we need to know that Christian knows “this is outside the law, but she could be getting herself into trouble,” because–as he told us on the previous page–“She’s a young woman, drunk, somewhere in Portland. She’s not safe.” Well, as long as Christian Grey is here to make that judgment call on her behalf, that just makes me feel soooo much better. If only the world had more Christian Greys in it to serve as the arbiters of young women’s safety, showing up when unwanted and unasked for because he can track her down anywhere on the planet at any time.
Because nothing says brotherly bonding time like stalking a drunk woman together, Christian asks Elliot if he wants to come along. Elliot is all for it, since everyone in this book is secretly 14 years old and he’s obsessed with rubbing his younger brother’s apparent lack of a sex life/interest in women in his face. *Pauses and thinks* Wait a minute, I know why Elliot is such a douchey fuckboi; it’s because he’s actually Emmett Cullen, duh. And Emmett was basically Stephenie Meyer’s failed attempt at a himbo, who loses any semblance of a personality by Breaking Dawn and becomes one long, unending sex joke at Bella and Edward’s expense. And because ELJ is a hack who likes her stereotypical caricatures perhaps even more so than the author she’s shamelessly profiting off of, this is what we ended up with. Mystery solved.
Ana, meanwhile, finishes up in the bathroom and returns to the table with a pitcher of beer, takes one “long sip” of it, and promptly declares that she needs some fresh air because she’s starting to realize just how drunk she is. I feel like she should be feeling the teensiest bit soberer after peeing rather than drunker, but I guess when you’re already up to your neck in margaritas it wouldn’t make much of a difference at that point. Besides, the author needs her to be literally seeing double and on the verge of collapse for maximum swooning helplessness points.
José follows her outside, seemingly to commiserate over their mutual realization that they’ve both had too much to drink, but then…
“You know I like you Ana, please.” He has one hand at the small of my back holding me against him, the other at my chin tipping back my head. Holy fuck … he’s going to kiss me.
“No, José, stop—no.” I push him, but he’s a wall of hard muscle, and I cannot shift him. His hand has slipped into my hair, and he’s holding my head in place. […]
His breath is soft and smells too sweet—of margarita and beer. He gently trails kisses along my jaw up to the side of my mouth. I feel panicky, drunk, and out of control. The feeling is suffocating.
Now, I hesitate to call the writing in this scene good, but… it IS effective. It feels authentic, and it does do a good job at capturing Ana’s drunken panic at being assaulted by a trusted friend. A shame that 1) her assailant happens to be one of the only non-white characters in the book, and 2) this scene only serves to make the far-worse Christian look good by comparison when he shows up to save the day.
Speak of the devil:
“I think the lady said no,” a voice in the dark says quietly. Holy shit! Christian Grey, he’s here. How?
[…] He’s glowering at José, and he’s furious. Crap. My stomach heaves, and I double over, my body no longer able to tolerate the alcohol, and I vomit spectacularly on to the ground.
I, too, vomit spectacularly on the ground, my body no longer able to tolerate this book. And wow, maybe this Grey guy isn’t so bad after all, he clearly knows how to respect the word “no,” right? Well, so long as Ana is saying that “no” to someone other than him, I guess…
Oh, and if you were wondering what Grey was up to in the bar before he found Ana outside, he was busy shaming Kate for being a skanky skank for being surrounded by male friends at the table, and wondering “if Miss Kavanagh is as loyal to her friend as Ana is to her.” Because in the warped mind of Christian Grey, nothing says loyalty like giving up your drunk best friend’s location to some dude who shows up out of fucking nowhere–a man who you previously had a bad feeling about and tried to warn said best friend away from. But of course, Kate is too busy eyeing up Elliot to care. I officially hate every single one of these people. Every. Single. One.
So, Ana pukes her guts up, first on the ground, then in a flowerbed with Christian holding her hair back. He’s now apparently a vomit-splatter analyst, noting that “she doesn’t appear to have eaten.” The dictionary doesn’t contain enough words to describe how much I loathe this gross and pointless inclusion from his POV. If the drunk-dialing scene was the point at which I started to truly resent how good the movie was by comparison and how much effort was put in to rise above the source material, then this was the point at which I began to question if I simply hated myself. For what other reason would I subject myself to Grey? There’s just no other explanation.
Ana apologizes to Christian for throwing up and for the phone call that left him with no choice but to track her down. She apologizes to him. Just figured I’d emphasize that, since it’ll be far from the last time Ana takes on the blame for his shitty behavior, or even just for no reason at all other than him making her feel like she’s in the wrong for some innocuous thing. Grey mockingly accepts her Act of Contrition, because it’s just so gosh darn fun to tease her that he can’t help himself. Not so much fun that it stops him from wondering if she’s a booze fiend that he should get his doctor mom to refer to a detox clinic, of course, dramatic (and self-obsessed) weirdo that he is.
Fear not, though, Christian, because Ana vows that after the night’s events, she has no desire to get drunk ever again. Yeah, we’ll see how long that lasts for, Ana. Meanwhile, I’ve only just started drinking for the night, but sadly it won’t be nearly enough to obliterate the memory of this chapter from my mind since I have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn for work in the morning. Why do I never think to start drinking until I’m struggling to get through the last few pages of a chapter? Maybe if I would’ve gotten completely trashed when I first started this recap a week-and-a-half ago I would’ve finished it that night. Or, I might’ve lost the will to carry on with this sporking completely. It’s a crapshoot, honestly.
Christian insists on taking her home, while Ana insists that she has to tell Kate first, leading to a discussion of how he and his brother are both magically in Portland when they should be in Seattle:
“How did you find me?”
“I tracked your cell phone, Anastasia.”
Oh, of course he did. How is that possible? Is it legal? Stalker, my subconscious whispers at me through the cloud of tequila that’s still floating in my brain, but somehow, because it’s him, I don’t mind.
Oh, well if she doesn’t mind, then…
And just how it is possible, you might be wondering? Well, I couldn’t tell you, because E.L. James wasn’t interested in telling me. She had four years between the publications of FSOG and Grey, and in all that time she couldn’t be bothered to come up with a plausible explanation? Hell, even if she’d just gone and retconned this scene entirely I’m not sure if anyone would’ve really cared. Well, maybe they would’ve and I’m just biased since I’m obviously no stranger to making significant changes [Edit 5/29/2023: or just unpublishing them entirely lmao] to already-published books, but you can’t tell me that having the hero track the cell phone of the heroine he barely knows is so damn vital to the development of the most romantic romance to ever exist that fans would be up-in-arms about it if ELJ had decided to change the way this scene played out after the fact.
Now, if these two already had some kind of established relationship, I’d probably buy it. Because clearly it’s not beyond this guy to gift his girlfriend a phone specifically so he can use it to track her, or to install a tracking app/plant some kind of tracking device on her existing phone without her knowledge or consent. I mean, that’s still fucking terrifying, but at least it’s actually in the realm of possibility. Because, like, that’s an actual fucking abuse tactic.
Shit, this recap is getting long and I really need to wrap this up. They go inside to find Kate, who is dancing with Elliot. Even though he was all about taking Ana immediately home a minute ago, Christian must now take her to the bar and insist she drink a glass of water to help her sober up/rehydrate. Which isn’t a bad idea in real life, but at this point, it just feels like a way to pad the word count while simultaneously exhibiting how controlling Christian is and how Ana needs to be told what’s best for her. OH, but before they make it to the bar in Grey, however, this happens:
Ana collects her jacket and purse and, reaching out, she unexpectedly clutches my arm.
My heart rate catapults into overdrive as the darkness surfaces, stretching and tightening its claws around my throat.
[…] And suddenly the darkness disappears and the pounding in my heart ceases.
AND THEN CHRISTIAN GREY DIED THE END. Would that we were so lucky, but alas, not today. It was the second instance of “the darkness” that tripped me up the most, but after reading that passage over a couple times, I realized that “the darkness” is what he calls his trauma that causes him to fear being touched. Now, for as much as I’ve been having fun calling this guy out for being overly dramatic and incredibly self-absorbed, I truly don’t want to make light of trauma and childhood abuse. But unless I missed something earlier–and it honestly was very hard to not just skim through this book–this is the first instance where Grey refers to “the darkness” as such, and it just comes across here as very clumsily handled.
We’re supposed to be deep in this guy’s head, finally, truly understanding why Christian Grey is the way he is from his POV, and yet we’re given next to no insight as to what this “darkness” is as it pertains to touching. I mean, I guess in the broadest sense I understand why Christian would be averse to being touched in certain ways/on certain parts of his body (which we will discuss in later chapters), but in a book that seemingly exists for the sole purpose of
milking the cash cow deepening our understanding of the male lead’s trauma, rarely are we granted anything beyond the most surface-level insights. Which would be massively frustrating if I actually gave a shit about Christian Grey as a character.
But hey, at least we get to see just how much of a dramatic, self-obsessed weirdo this guy truly is deep down to his very core:
She’s oil on my troubled, deep, dark waters.
I have no idea what this means, but it’s amazing.
After Ana drinks her water, Christian pulls her onto the dance floor to find Kate, but oh noes, Ana can’t dance! Because of course, one cannot simply walk across the dance floor. Again, I can only conclude that these people are aliens from two different species desperately trying to imitate human behavior to fool each other. And somehow because they’re both morons it’s actually working.
Boy, he can dance, and I can’t believe that I’m following him step for step. Maybe it’s because I’m drunk that I can keep up. […] In the back of my mind, my mother’s often-recited warning comes to me: Never trust a man who can dance.
I have no idea what this means, either.
They finally manage to tango/Charleston/Cha-cha Slide/Viennese waltz their way to Kate and Elliot without Ana the clutzy-wutzy tripping and breaking her spine in half or whatever. Ana is aghast to find her best friend trying to get laid:
Elliot grins and pulls Kate into his arms, where she is more than happy to be … Kate! Even in my inebriated state, I am shocked. She’s only just met him. She nods at whatever Elliot says and grins at me and waves. Christian propels us off the dance floor in double time.
But I never got to talk to her. Is she okay? I can see where things are heading for her and him. I need to do the safe-sex lecture.
Kate “only just met” Elliot, Little Miss About-to-go-home-with-a-fucking-stranger? And pardon me while I screamlaugh at the thought of Ana being the one to give anyone a safe-sex Ted Talk.
Apparently, Ana just couldn’t reach her smelling salts in time after the shock of seeing Kate dancing with man–without leaving room for the Holy Spirit, no less!–because next thing she knows, she “can feel the floor coming up to meet my face,” and faints dead away in Christian’s arms. Huh, so I guess that actually makes for neat little pair of bookends for this chapter. Well, maybe “neat” is overstating things.
Well, that was another long one, and I’m sorry if it got less funny there towards the end. And again, I’m so sorry for the delays, not just with my latest book, but these recaps as well. There’s a lot of big changes happening in my life right now, and of course I just had to start sporking these books right when I knew I was about to have significantly less free time. But believe it or not, I can tentatively say that I’m actually feeling a lot less stressed and somehow more focused than I have in a long time. We’ll see how long that lasts for as I get used to my new job and longer working hours, but so far this really feels like the year when I finally turn my life around for the better. And I’m hoping that will be reflected in my creative output as well, though it might still be a long process, since I’m stuck working two jobs for at least the next couple months.