I stayed off of the Fifty Shades of Grey bandwagon for a very long time. I have a ton of ebooks, but that was one I’d never inadvertently acquired. I actually downloaded it for the first time at the request of my BFF Llek, who told me she was skeptical but her husband had asked her to read them. Imagine my surprise when a week later, she was raving about the books.
I had recently ran out of dystopian teen lit to read, and had gone through Michael Stackpole’s Blood of Kerensky trilogy again in preparation for MechWarrior Online, so I figured I might as well give them a shot. I’ll admit that my interest was also piqued when I discovered that EL James had originally written the trilogy as Twilight fanfic that was so popular it got a publishing deal. You may remember (who am I kidding, I totally wrote this ages ago and you have no idea what I’m talking about) that while I really liked the short second life of bree tanner, I felt that Edward and Jacob were both too controlling of Bella in Eclipse and Breaking Dawn and that they ruined the series for me. This should have given me the heads-up that 50 Shades would not be my cup of tea. Especially not the weak “I only dunk my Twinings bag in the mug for a hot second” tea that 50 Shades served up.
First impression: WOW, this is a lot of sex. I have made no secret that I’ve read explicit books before. My very first one was a pirate Fabio novel when I was like eleven that my Meemaw bought me at a yard sale, thinking it was an adventure book and not porn. Which it was. Dirty, dirty Fabio porn that I shared with my then-BFF, Cheri. Since then I’ve read some books with explicit themes (The Other Boleyn Girl and other similar-but-better historical fiction) and a lot of HP fanfic. Sex in novels does not phase me. But good lord, please let there be some plot. In 50 Shades, the sex was a LOT of the plot. As in, most of the time Christian and Ana are just really pissed off at each other and having sex to make their relationship work. Forreals. They keep fighting, and then they have sex to make up. Then they fight about something else, and have some more sex. Then they sleep. Then they wake up and have sex. Then they fight about something, one of them gets in the shower, the other one joins, they have sex, and then they get out of the shower and have more sex. Then Christian is like “OMG ANA WHEN IS THE LAST TIME YOU ATE” and they fight because she’s not hungry and then he makes her eat and then they have sex again. I’m not really kidding here. By the third book I was flipping pages because let’s face it, the fifth act of coitus in as many minutes gets old fast.
Second impression: holy crap is Christian ever controlling. He’s really into BDSM and who gives a damn what consenting adults do in the bedroom? Except this is his lifestyle and he inflicts it on Ana. I use the word “inflict” because Ana expresses repeatedly throughout the course of the series that she is not and does not ever wish to be a submissive. Occasionally she likes being the bottom bitch but this girl wants to go to work. Christian disagrees with this. He doesn’t want his woman to work. Or drive her car. Or pick out her own clothes. Or decide what she’s going to eat for dinner. Seriously. Some of this can be shrugged off as “Oh, it’s so cute my boyfriend just ordered my dinner and drink order for me.” Other parts, such as where Ana insists on working and Christian BUYS HER COMPANY TO BECOME HER BOSS are not so cute. Especially when he does things like cockblock her business trip to NYC because she doesn’t want him to go with her, or arbitrarily decides “Oh hey, my wife (because this dumb bitch marries him) is a brand new college graduate, let’s GIVE her this company so she can run it even though she has no experience with shit like that and blatantly tells me SHE DOESN’T WANT TO.” This isn’t even bringing up that he disposes of her car because he feels it’s unsafe and makes her drive one he buys her. Wait, that’s wrong, because most of the time he decides she’s not capable of driving because she might wreck and die. Because women are terrible drivers obviously. I guess her penis can’t reach the brake and that might make her crash.
Third impression: this relationship is incredibly abusive. Both of these main characters are sick. Ana has a Bella complex where even though all the guys think she’s incredibly hot and want to get in her pants and/or be her friend, she thinks she’s ugly and dumb and poor because she’s a middle-class girl with a college degree and she can never do any better than Christian. And let’s face it, all Christian has on Ana is his money. She constantly thinks about how hot he is and how “intoxicating” he is and even how “angelic” he looks (WOW THERE’S THOSE TWILIGHT FANFIC TERMS THAT DIDN’T GET EDITED OUT OMG EDWARD CULLEN), but he really is well and truly fucked up. He uses his looks and his wealth to control women, and he uses them to control Ana. The best move she ever made was to leave him after he beat the living shit out of her at the end of the first book, but that didn’t even stick because for some reason she immediately picked his ass back up in book two. Christian repeatedly tells Ana how he wants to tie her up and beat her for disobeying him. And he’s not just meaning some light flogging, he literally wants to thrash her for being disobedient. The third book even alludes to the fact that they had a huge argument because Ana refused to allow the “promise to obey” vow in their wedding, yet all the time he’s using physical or emotional punishment against her when she does something he disagrees with – like driving a jet ski when they’re on the water, or driving her own car, or skipping lunch because she’s not hungry, or using her maiden name professionally because she doesn’t want it to look like she got promoted because she married the boss. Which she did, but still.
Oh my god this couple is messed up. Then she gets knocked up and he leaves her because she was too fucking stupid to remember to get her depo shot (pretty much using those exact words, actually) and gets drunk and hangs out with THE PEDOPHILE WHO ABUSED HIM AS A CHILD but then magically after that drunken bender he decides “omg she’s going to have my baby this is awesome” and she decides “omg he’s going to be such a good dad even though he’s royally fucked up and he called me a stupid whore for getting knocked up” and they live happily ever after in their mansion. And he still ties her up when they have sex, but he’s more gentle because she’s knocked up. THE END.
I honestly can’t see why or how women like these books. It made me sick to think about how girls are idealizing Christian and Ana’s relationship when it is obviously so messed up and abusive. Both of them have clear, definite issues with self-image and they cannot ever discuss anything in a healthy way. They “fix” their arguments by having sex, or by Christian spanking Ana for misbehaving. Hey, I guess that’s a parenting skill he’s brushing up on! Whenever something is wrong Christian throws money at it, and Ana gives up her sense of self and identity to make him happy. In my opinion that is not how a healthy relationship operates. I read a part of the book to Darren, giggling over the terrible sex scene, and then told him how terrible I think it is that Ana always compromises to make Christian happy. He asked me something along the lines of, “well, wouldn’t you give in to make me happy?” The answer is yes – if it’s something trivial, like what we’re having for dinner (I clearly eat pizza more than I would like to) – but a wholehearted “no!” if it is something that compromises my beliefs or values. I’m not eating if I’m not hungry. I am not going to quit my job because he can’t stand to think of the men I work with looking at me. I am not going to change my wardrobe to please him. I haven’t even changed my name – I probably will hyphenate in the future, after all of our paperwork is done in both countries – but I want to use my maiden name when I’m published. But you know what’s awesome? He and I talk about this stuff, and there is no threat of him beating me for me expressing my opinions. I also don’t harbor a deep and abiding fear that he’s going to leave me because of my ideals. After all, if he didn’t like who I am, he wouldn’t have married me in the first place. Truly at the heart of it, I don’t think Christian and Ana know each other at all, and are trying to make a mature relationship work through emotional manipulation and sexual control. At least if they eventually divorce she’ll get enough alimony and child support to take care of the kids.