So James’s writing style bugs me. Moreover, James’s editor should have red pens shoved under their fingernails like bamboo for letting her get away with all this.
What’s with all the short, pointless scenes? Like the utterly useless scene where Ana shows up at work.
And that’s ALL that happens.
She literally shows up for work, says "Hi, I'm here to work," and then the next scene starts with "and then she left work." Ana showed up for work and they wasted half a page of type on it. Nothing happened in that scene. No information was given in that scene that couldn’t have been given in another, more relevant section without hassle or break in continuity. What the hell? Why does it exist? How many trees died for the millions of copies of that shitty, pointless scene they printed?
And then there’s James's awkward scene structure. I don’t know if it’s a British thing—I’ve seen it (done infinitely better) in British comedies—but she starts and ends scenes at odd places. Why does the scene where Ana and her friend FINALLY discuss Grey end with a discussion about a sandwich? James goes from a discussion about whether or not Grey is interested in Ana to an offer of a sandwich. Usually, you want to end with emphasis. The scene should have ended with: “Taken with me? Now Kate’s being ridiculous.”
Why would you tack on: “ ‘Would you like a sandwich?’ ‘Please.’ ” What was the point? What did that add?
For future reference, I now hate the phrase “or something.” James adds it on to EVERYTHING. Every description. Every opinion. Every bloody, vague, indirect, incomplete sentence. It’s lazy writing.
“Or something” implies that a) your character is unsure about the assertion they’re making and b) you’re too lazy of a writer to come up with a precise and exact way of writing what you mean. It’s lazy and unacceptable to be used as often as she uses it. And James has used it enough in the first two freakin’ chapters that the phrase—the actual words—no longer has meaning.
Okay, so one of the things I hated most about Twilight—more than sparkling vampires and empty heroines—was the fact that Meyers never describes a thing. Her entire story exists within a white room with walking words as characters. You never get a good picture of what Bella or Edward or Jacob look like. And what's worse, everyone applauded her for it. Said that it was a stroke of genius because then the reader could easily insert herself and her crush into the appropriate roles.
It’s lazy fucking writing and she should be called out on it.
James is even worse. She describes EVERYTHING else in painstaking detail. The buildings. The clothes. Every insipid thought that runs through Ana’s tiny, tiny, tiny brain. But we get next to nothing about what anyone looks like beyond the very basic hair color and eye color.
For being soooo good-looking, we don’t really get a good picture of what Mr. Grey looks like. Copper hair. Gray eyes. Snappy dresser. Long, elegant fingers. For all that Ana thinks about him—and all the importance she places on how hot he is—James can’t give us one good clear picture of what Grey looks like. We get vague descriptions like “epitome of male beauty,” “breathtaking,” “moves with athletic grace.” I know men are more visual than women, but—come on—not even the clichéd chiseled jaw or full, sensual lips that inundate the romance genre (edit: “sensual lips” appears on page 23. It takes 23 pages but we finally got lips.)? For all I know, that's all he is. Hair, eyes, and fingers. Like a creepy lovechild between Mr. It and Thing, some Addams Family mess of a man.
And then there all the electricity references. Either Grey is part of the X-Men and has awesome laser, lightning power that’s triggered by touch or Ana has brain cancer that causes her cranial wiring to go wonky every time they touch.
I get it, it’s a common trope in romance novels. That magic spark between soulmates. But James has done it so often and has made it such a big, emphasized point that it has now moved past corny tropes to just out-and-out scientifically weird. It’s become too big to be a metaphor. You can only use a metaphor so often before it grows into the full-blown literal.
And, speaking of touch, what is with Grey’s fingers on his face being so weirdly hot? Give it a few sentences in any scene with Ana and Grey and he’s stroking his chin or touching his cheek or rubbing his lips. And she’s practically tearing her clothes off over it.
Maybe THAT’S Ana’s fetish. ‘Cause it sure as hell isn’t most people’s. It’s not so commonly and naturally and assumedly attractive that James doesn’t have to explain WHY Ana finds it so fascinating. Maybe seeing it makes her think about him touching her. Maybe it draws attention to those oh-so-sensual-as-of-page-23 lips. Maybe Ana just really has a Contagion-like fetish about communicable diseases spread through touching your face. I don’t know; James never says. All we get is “Wow.” Which makes it weird.
I like the romance genre. It is my literary secret shame. I read more romance novels in a year than just about any other genre (partially because they’re so easy and fast to get through). But one of the worst tropes that exists within it is the idea that one’s true love must have a part of them that you hate. Not just tolerate or put up with or work around. Hate. And it's usually a big thing. He's a womanizer. He's a misogynist. He's a jealous person who throws fits or sulks. Red flag kind of shit.
I get that there are authors who have pulled this off very well. Take Beatrice and Benedict, who each realize by the end of the story that the reason why they continually fight with each other all the time is because they actually LIKE fighting with each other all the time. They feed off the challenge and the excitement of it all. They enjoy the banter. As does the audience/reader.
But Ana is repulsed by how Grey treats her. As I said in chapter one’s review, it scares and hurts and saddens and creeps her the fuck out. Yet when asked what her “thing” is—what she’s into—her subconscious answer is Grey.
How is that?
His looks; sure, I can see her being into that—even though we don’t know what those looks are beyond hair color and shade of eyes. His wealth and status; yeah, I can buy that. But as a whole. Clearly, no.
She wants the Christian Grey life-sized doll that she can sit in her shelf and look at for hours on end. She wants the Tiger Beat poster of him that she can hang on her bedroom ceiling.
The actual man—the man with wants and desires and thoughts and a life—no. She’s not ready to see him as that—as a whole person—much less deal with him as such.
They can’t even keep a decent conversation going without her mentally flipping out, having heart palpitations or going goo-goo-faced at every time he touches his freakin' face. It doesn’t sound like arousal or butterflies in her stomach, it sounds like a panic attack. She almost dies every time she’s near him.
And even then! She’s in love with the way he looks and with all his flash—the money, the fame, the power. She loves it so much that she is almost always entirely blind to the man—the man who talks to her and interacts with her—whom she never seems too impressed with when she actually remembers that he exists outside of his money and looks.
In fact, she battles this with herself in a very strange “I like him/ I like him not" mentality for 25 PAGES!
Are you kidding me? It’s weird and off-putting. Very preteen, junior high behavior. I mean, she’s having sex dreams—the tamest, oddest sex dreams imaginable about “dark places, bleak white cold floors, and gray eyes” but sex dreams all the same—and she doesn’t know that she’s into this guy?! She can’t stop thinking about him, obsessing over every word and gesture, but she doesn’t like him. She thinks he acts like the snooty, arrogant “lord of all he surveyed,” but he’s just so gosh darn hot. I mean, wow. Who cares that she refers to their first encounter as “the awful experience” that needs to be "purged" from her mind? He’s the “rich, powerful, awesomely off-the-scale attractive control-freak Grey.” So it must be love, right?
Ana is not ready for kink. She’s barely emotionally ready to go on her first date ever. She has the emotional—and verbal—intelligence of a preteen. A dim-witted, sheltered, stunted preteen. And James is going to have her do varsity level sex?!
Again, I know I wrote a story about a virgin whose firstreal sexual relationship involves kink, but it wasn’t like this. Kat dated. She dated quite a lot actually. She messed around and masturbated. She also fantasized and thought about her sexuality and what she wanted and what she didn’t want. Her desires were very clear, if unrealized. She was a virgin, but she wasn’t really all that innocent. She was ready.
Ana is clueless. Inexperienced. Untried. Not thought out. She is a trussed up puppy thrown in a river. She’s 21 and has no idea how human relationships work outside the pages of a Jane Austen novel. She’s waiting for the perfect Mr. Darcy, whose flaws are even idealized and attractive, to appear. So, of course, she makes the mistake clueless, inexperienced, untried, thoughtless girls make. She jumps at the first guy who acts like the stoic, silent romance heroes she’s been reading about.
The thing about the strong, silent types is that, at best, they’re boring and stupid. At worst, they’re abusive and dangerous. She wants what literature and Hollywood and Disney tells us as girls to want—but that the rest of us have learned through years of early dating, when the stakes were much lower and the risks much safer, are no good—and, in real life conditions, this would not turn out well. He's so obviously a bad choice, even her friends can tell that there is something wrong with this guy. He has all the bad signs. He flies every red flag.
So essentially, James is telling her readers, “Don’t worry, bad boys are really just teddy bears in leather.” They're just misunderstood and underneath all that aggressive arrogance, there's a sweet, squishy, nougat center.
And, for a lot of kink boys, that’s true. The big, scary Dom is a costume they can put on and take off at will. It hangs right next to the D&D cosplay stuff they have in their closets. They’re geeks who like to pretend they’re not. On most days, they're normal, everyday people who get off on having fun, rather complicated and complex sex.
But for predators who act like Grey, who think the way James has set up Grey to think, this message is dangerous. Grey isn't role playing. For all his rope and domineering personality, he's not a good Dom. He's an abuser who hides himself in kink. At best, he's a kinkster whose play has become abuse.
In this chapter, Grey begins to stalk Ana. I know the book tries to pass it off as coincidence, but he shows up at her place of work. That James makes a point of saying is a hundred and sixty-five miles away from where he lives and works. For no reason. To pick up kink supplies. Smiling “his odd I’ve got a whopping big secret smile.”
When a friend of hers—a male friend—greets her, he flips out, begins acting cold and jealous and acting threateningly to the guy. This is the second time they’ve seen each other and he's acting as if he owns her. As if she doesn't have the right to have friends—especially male friends—around her. As if she didn't—doesn't—have a life and relationships outside of him.
I wish I were exaggerating. I wish I were reading more into this than there is. But I’m not. This is an instruction manual on how to end up a rape or abuse victim. And it’s advocating it. Romanticizing it. Glorifying it. It's saying this is how it's supposed to be. If your love is real.
It is the thing I hate most about the Twilight series. It taught an entire generation of girls to romanticize abusive relationships. It taught them that pain and angst and manipulation and abuse are signs of true love. It isn’t real unless it’s life or death. It isn’t worth it unless all your family and friends seem like they’re against him. It’s only special if only the both of your get it, if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. If it’s a big secret that only you both know.
I used to think that Twilight was the worse of the two, because it was targeted to younger girls. At least, 50 Shades had that going for it. It was better than Twilight because at least it was only in the hands of forty-year-old housewives who are already married and reasonably safe.
But 50 Shades is written for a younger audience. Screw who it’s marketed toward. It’s written for young teens. Its reading-level is, at oldest, freshman in high school. It will get and has gotten in their hands. They will read it. And they will think it’s true.
It doesn’t even have the fantasy element to help detach it a bit from real life like Twilight does. There are no high-school-aged, cold-blooded, disco-ball vampires for them to pine after. They’ll pine after older, aggressive, predatory men who like to hunt and hurt young, impressionable girls.
Tell me, of the two scenarios, which scares you more? Preteens seeking ill-advised romantic relationships with high school boys or preteens seeking ill-advised, kinky, sexual relationships with thirty-year-old predators?
Okay, to end this, I do want to finish this on a lighter note.
There was something that I found very interesting. James plays with titles a bit in this novel in very intriguing ways. At first, I thought—still kind of think—that it was just Ana being very childish, giving people strange titles instead of real names. You know, the way children refer to their teachers as “Teacher” instead of “Ms. Potter.” Ana does this with Blondes One & Two in Grey’s Aryan office and again with Ana’s mother’s Husband Number Two & Three.
What makes it truly interesting, instead of just mildly annoying and juvenile, is that she also plays around with capitalization of titles. Ana has do-it-yourselfers who frequent her workplace.
When James uses Caps in her titles, they’re always with figures of power or people considered better than Ana. The well put together, beautiful Blondes. The father figures in her life.
When James uses lowercase—uncaps—they’re always figures seen as beneath Ana, the people she directs and helps about the store. The people who need her. The people she sees herself as being above.
One would think that this is a metaphor for kink. It seems pretty straight forward. Caps equals power—those that she sees herself as being submissive to, as being Dominant to her. And uncaps being those she sees as being submissive to her.
However, this is terribly problematic as she has very problematic relationships with the Caps. She feels resentful of, put down upon by, and inadequate next to the Blondes. She has clear daddy issues with the Husbands, simmering with feelings of estrangement and replacement with them. Very unhealthy, unhappy, conflicted, and contentious relationships.
With the uncaps though, even though she looks down at them, she works well with them. They exist in a place where she is in a position of power and knowledge—her job really being the only thing she’s good at, even if she doesn’t really like it and only ended up with it because her stepfather, Husband Number Two, was a carpenter. She feels at ease with them. The store often is treated as a retreat or a sanctuary.
It’s yet another sign that Ana is not a sub. She doesn’t react well to Doms or anyone more dominant than her. She’s threatened by them, feeling defensive enough to dehumanize them with trivial titles. Yet intimidated enough that she still feels the need to make sure those titles signify their dominance.
She's almost—in James's weird, illogical, uninformed way—being set up as a Domme in her own right. She likes being in control in the store. It comforts her. Bolsters her. She seems more at ease here than at any other point in the story.
An interesting theory all on its own (at least to me). But then Ana calls Grey a do-it-yourselfer when he comes into the store. Effectively turns him into an uncaps. A sub. Is this why he’s an acceptable Dom-ish person to play with? Because Ana makes him submissive to her? Puts him in a position beneath her? Wonder how this will play out.