So I’m back after a bit of a hiatus. I won’t spend too long explaining myself except to say that — though it sounds inherently silly — reading and analyzing this book genuinely takes a toll that I needed a bit of a break from. Maybe it’s because having to first go through EL James’s turgid writing, then think about her problematic themes, and then organize those thoughts into a coherent recap narrative all makes me want to tear my hair out with frustration.
Or maybe I’m just lazy.
But I’m back and I hope to return to regular daily recaps (apart from the weekends). I hope some of you are still with me:
I know that previously I said I was going to skip over EL James’s incredibly ham-fisted childhood dream flashbacks which are narrated by “Baby Christian” who sounds like a malfunctioning robot. But this next flashback dream is so emblematic of all of the problems that I have with these sequences that I feel like it can be presented as the dream sequence to end all dream sequences — which hopefully means you won’t have to read any more of them.
Also, I am purposefully going to avoid the nastier flashbacks that involve violence and sexist language. So hopefully — hopefully — this is the last one you’ll read, but let’s all gather ‘round and watch as EL James tries to convince you that all of Christian’s actions are the result of that one time he was hungry and you can’t ever judge him as a result:
Mommy is gone. Sometimes she goes
And it is only me. Me and my cars and my
When she comes home she sleeps on the
couch. The couch is brown and sticky. She
is tired. Sometimes I cover her with my
Or she comes home with something to eat.
I like those days. We have bread and
butter. And sometimes we have macrami
and cheese. That is my favorite.
Today Mommy is gone. I play with my
cars. They go fast on the floor. My mommy
is gone. She will come back. She will.
When is Mommy coming home?
It is dark now, and my mommy is gone. I
can reach the light when I stand on the
On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.
Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light.
I’m hungry. I eat the cheese. There is
cheese in the fridge. Cheese with blue fur.
When is Mommy coming home?
Sometimes she comes home with him. I
hate him. I hide when he comes. My
favorite place is in my mommy’s closet. It
smells of Mommy. It smells of Mommy
when she’s happy.
When is Mommy coming home?
My bed is cold. And I am hungry. I have
my blankie and my cars but not my
mommy. When is Mommy coming home?
Even Oliver Stone would side-eye the heavy-handedness of this.
I’ve been having a hard time putting into words exactly what it is that bothers me so much about these flashbacks, but I think it comes down to the fact that this book focuses SO much on his early life as a toddler that it almost establishes Christian as a man who went from age 6 to age 27 with nothing in-between.
It’s also uncomfortably reminiscent of the way that, in the original series, Ana would picture Christian as a sad, dirty baby whenever he did something awful. And those moments were transparently used as a way for her to “understand” and “forgive” him, and push her own (serious, legitimate) concerns and objections aside.
It’s as though EL James is sitting on the page, saying, “Has Christian just been particularly shitty? Let me remind you that his mother was an irresponsible crack whore. Now how do you feel?”
Well, I feel exactly the same about the actions and behaviors of a grown-ass man in his grown-ass relationship. Because knowing that someone had a difficult childhood, and accepting that they may have been damaged by it, and being fully supportive of their attempts to treat any resulting mental illness or trauma does not mean that I am also required to turn a blind eye to their abusive treatment of other people. And — though I am definitely a broken record on this point — it does not mean that I can or will view the trauma that they are now causing someone else a “less important,” which the text absolutely does.
That’s the bottom line. EL James can give me all of the sad “I ate moldy cheese” stories she wants — he is still a massive asshole and Ana is under no obligation to “fix” him.
Rant over. Let’s return to the text:
I wake with a start.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I hate my dreams. They’re riddled with harrowing memories, distorted reminders of a time I want to forget. My heart is pounding and I’m drenched with sweat. But the worst consequence of these nightmares is dealing with the overwhelming anxiety when I wake.
See? the dream is immediately used to make you feel sympathetic toward the character — right after he’s done something shitty. Oh poor Christian! He didn’t mean to buy Ana a car after she specifically told him it would make her uncomfortable! And look, he has sad dreams :(
Christian mentions in an off-hand way that his dreams have been getting more frequent, though he doesn’t know why, and mentally curses his psychiatrist for being on vacation — because nothing is his fault, etc. etc.
He goes for a run, like always. And he’s pissy that — at 5 in the morning — Ana hasn’t responded to his last e-mail.
I checked the time stamp on the e-mail he sent literally as she drove off in the previous chapter. They finished dinner at about 10pm. It takes her roughly half an hour to drive home, and then — if she’s a normal human — at least about a half-hour to get ready for bed and fall asleep. Which means that, according to the rules HE set for her, she shouldn’t be up for another 2 hours. Further proof that he purposefully sets traps where she’s at fault regardless of what she does. If she HAD e-mailed him, she would have violated his rule about sleep. But because she hasn’t, she’s ignoring him and he’s pissed.
This is abusive, gaslighting behavior. Eating moldy cheese as a toddler does not cause you to act this way.
Anyway, Christian manages to soldier on despite Ana’s horrifying betrayal of the e-mail code of conduct while also reminding the reader that he will be conferring the degrees at Ana’s graduation ceremony. But if you think that Christian’s some stuffy business dude who’s gonna give some stuffy business speech, think again:
Sam, my VP for publicity, has sent a draft that is way too pretentious for me.
Allow me a moment to catch my breath from laughing.
It takes me an hour to rework his media-speak bullshit into something more human.
Does he only employ people who are terrible at their jobs? How does he run a massive corporation when he has no eye for talent?
Also, side-note: is this the first time he’s been shitty about a male employee for something other than daring to look at or speak to Ana? If so, we can chalk it up as a victory for feminism.
Christian’s sister Mia e-mails to remind him that he’s agreed to pick her up from the airport later, and she wants to hear all about Ana. He finds this intolerable because Mia is yet another “interfering” woman.
At 9:45 I get ready for the ceremony. Gray suit, white shirt, and of course that tie. It will be my subtle message to Ana that I haven’t given up, and a reminder of good times.
I want to be able to say that he’s more than a little odd for assuming that she’s going to look up at him on-stage, see exactly which tie he’s wearing, and then correctly interpret this sartorial choice as a winking message to her about the state of their relationship.
I want to say that, but unfortunately I already know — having read the first book — that she does exactly that. Because EL James makes her characters quasi-psychic about one-another’s intentions in a way that transcends logic — even when you remember that this was once fanfiction about quasi-psychic vampires.
Yeah, real good times...images of her bound and waiting come to mind. Damn it. Why hasn’t she called? I press redial.
Well, you egomaniac, today is a massively important day in her life. She’s graduating from University, about to enter the working world, saying goodbye to her friends and teachers, meeting up with her father whom she rarely gets to see... but I’m so glad that you’ve first reduced her to a sexual object and then gotten angry with her for not thinking about only you on her special day.
Christian gives up trying to phone Ana and makes his way to the school:
The Chancellor’s secretary ushers me into a small room adjacent to the WSU auditorium. She blushes, almost as much as a certain young woman I know intimately.
Christian manages to overcome the frustration of being adored by all women long enough to head to the stage where he locks eyes with Ana instantly — as a warning:
Yes. I’ve found you. And you haven’t replied to my messages.
There is definitely a white panel van waiting outside with the engine running.
She’s avoiding me and I’m pissed. Really pissed. Closing my eyes, I imagine dripping hot wax onto her breasts and her squirming beneath me. This has a radical effect on my body.
Get it together, Grey.
Yes, please do not confer degrees to the graduating class of 2011 with an erection.
I’m also not going to touch the “punishment” aspect of that fantasy because I don’t know enough about how BDSM functions to say whether or not his musing is problematic. I will, however, remind the reader that they saw each other at 10:00pm last night, and this is less than 12 hours later, and he’s pouting like a child because — on the day she graduates from college — she didn’t halt everything to send him an e-mail to confirm whether or not she was willing to make a big decision regarding her first-ever relationship.
Anyway, Kate — that awful person, terrible friend, and an all-around irresponsible jerk — delivers her Valedictorian speech, which we still don’t get to hear in this version. Despite the fact that it’s allegedly so good that both Ana and Christian are both forced to stow away their obvious jealousy long enough to acknowledge that it receives a standing ovation. What a bitch.
Which isn’t to say that I’m not dubious about the idea that her Valedictorian speech got a standing ovation, since the theme of it was “carpe diem” and “what we’re going to do after graduation,” neither of which sound like the foundation for a real barn burner, but I guess we’ll never know for sure.
Instead of listening to the speech, Christian just mentally and critically compares Kate with Ana:
[Kate’s] obviously smart and popular and confident. Not the shy and retiring wallflower that is the lovely Miss Steele. It really amazes me that these two are friends.
On the surface this just seems like a cutting remark about Ana, even though he’s supposedly falling in love with her. But I also like that it further reinforces that he’s both turned off by confident women, and that he’s worried about Kate’s place in Ana’s life — and immediately labels it as something “unnatural.” As a result, it sounds like he knows that Kate — who is confident enough to see abusive bullshit for what it is — will be able to communicate that fact to Ana, who’s too shy and inexperienced to know better. And he can’t have that.
Christian then gives a big speech about Africa that, which we get to hear for a second time and which, despite his whiz-bang edits, does indeed read as pretentious and bullshit-y. I’ll spare you the three pages of White Saviorhood and skip to his thought-provoking parable quote at the end:
“Only when the last leaf has fallen, the last tree has died, and the last fish been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money.”
The only thing he probably takes away from that is his immense sadness that he can’t literally eat money. Because you know he would if he could. “Oh, these are sumptuous rare drachmas, Miss Steele. Only 150 left in circulation. WHY AREN’T YOU EATING THEM?”
Christian then begins handing out degrees, which doesn’t seem like something he should be doing, but fine. He berates Ana as she walks by for not responding to his texts, effectively holding up the line and making her feel shitty at the exact moment when she should be celebrating a major life achievement. Don’t we all want a Mr. Grey of our very own to gate-crash our special events and make us feel terrible?
Ana is eventually allowed to leave the stage, which unfortunately means that Christian must interact with other women, all of whom — as you already know — are horrible, vacuous sluts:
I’m in purgatory by the time we’ve reached the end of the line. I’ve been ogled, and had eyelashes batted at me, silly giggling girls squeezing my hand, and five notes with phone numbers pressed into my palm.
Sexual harassment should be taken seriously and nobody — regardless of gender — should have to endure it. That said, Christian:
I’m relieved as I exit the stage along with the faculty, to the strains of some dreary processional music and applause.
He has to be snide and shitty about literally everything. Oh, if only they’d had the presence of mind to play a playful little burst of Rachmaninoff’s Morceaux de Salon so Christian wouldn’t have to suffer. Shed a tear, friends, for his gilded ears that they have been so tarnished.
His long nightmare finally over, he finds and corners Ana, forces her into a men’s locker room, locks the door, and then demands to know why she hasn’t been e-mailing him.
Instead of pepper spraying him and running away, she confirms the obvious — namely that she’s been busy graduating — and then tries to probe him about his sad childhood. He shuts this down, even though he’s just shared more about his life with her entire graduating class in the space of 10 minutes than he’s shared with her in the three weeks that they’ve been sleeping together. And, because he needs to make sure that all interactions are as awful as possible, he — in the locked room that he’s trapped her in — says that he’s tired of waiting and needs her to sign the contract or fuck off ASAP.
She says she needs more time, because it’s been roughly 12 fucking hours since they worked out the contract, and then mentions that she needs to go back to her stepdad who doesn’t know where she is (red flag!). Christian insists on meeting said stepdad. Ana (like me) is not sure that it’s a great idea:
What? Why? Is this because she now knows I was dirt-poor as a kid?
Even as a self-deprecating statement, where Christian is meant to seem insecure and unsure, that just doesn’t make any sense. This is America. People are more impressed by the idea that someone started from nothing and built an empire — it’s the essential lie that the country is founded on.
Or because she knows how I like to fuck? That I’m a freak?
Closer to the mark, probably, although I really don’t think that’s the introduction she’d lead with.
“Are you ashamed of me?”
Uggghhhhhh fuck you. You’re her first-ever partner and you’re constantly pressuring her to agree to something she’s uncomfortable with. And now — ON HER GRADUATION DAY — you’re trying to invade the little time she has with her father AND you have the gall to make her feel like she’s being mean to you because she wants that time with people she loves.
Anyway, she clarifies that she’s not sure what she’d introduce him as, especially because she still hasn’t agreed to “the arrangement.”
Christian agrees it would be awkward, but — of course — still insists on meeting her stepdad. So they leave the locker room, and Christian is annoyed that people noticed him forcing a young college graduate into a locked room:
As one they turn and stare at miss Steele, but she’s disappearing into the auditorium. They turn back to me.
Miss Steele and I are none of your business, people.
Then stop doing this shit in public you child.
Christian goes to find Ana, and instead must contend with evil Kate who has the fucking nerve to ask him if he’s going to invite Ana to dinner with his family. A dinner that Kate has already been invited to, by Elliot. Whom she has been dating this whole time because she hates herself more than Ana does, apparently.
Christian is pissy about this and doesn’t answer because Ana is standing near a male human:
A tall blond guy who looks as if he’s walked off a beach in California has his hands all over her.
To be fair to Christian, if he means that this guy is wearing nothing but soggy swim trunks and is covered in sand, I too might be a little wary of his presence at a formal event.
Who the hell is that? Is this why she didn’t want me to come for a drink?
All the eye rolls. All of them.
It just doesn’t make ANY sense that he immediately assumes she’s running off with every man she stands near. She was a virgin before she met him, she took his contract seriously, she confirmed she wasn’t interested in any of the previous guys that he asked her about. But sure — don’t ever take her word for it, that she was uncomfortable with him meeting her step-father when their current relationship is too confusing and complex and strange for her to explain in an informal setting, let’s instead naturally assume that she’s just dying to cheat on him at any and every opportunity.
He walks over, Kate introduces him as Ana’s boyfriend, he’s pissed, and then Kate introduces the slutty “beach bum” — yes, EL James actually uses that phrase in the year 2015 — as her brother, Ethan.
Ah. The Kavanagh offspring, together.
I mutter his name as we shake hands, noting that they are soft, unlike Ray Steele’s.
I... okay. That’s an interesting thing to mention in an off-hand way.
Now stop pawing my girl, you fucker.
With your delicate, sweet, velvet-y hands. You teddybear-palmed motherfucker.
“Ana, baby,” I whisper, holding out my hand, and like the good woman she is, she steps into my embrace.
She’s discarded her graduation robe and wears a pale gray halter-neck dress, exposing her flawless shoulders and back.
Two dresses in two days. She’s spoiling me.
Why does he have to sound SO gross? All of his inner dialogue wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Buffalo Bill, which should be a recognizable problem to the author.
Anyway, if you remember, Christian mined all of that valuable information about Ana’s step-dad from his background check and then from that one time he and Ana had coffee together, so he puts it to good use by talking to Ray about fishing for like 40 years and we have to hear the entire conversation which is literally like two pages of this:
“Oh? Where d’you fish?” Ray Steele’s question pulls me back into the conversation. I know it’s a test.
Or... normal small talk? That you instigated?
“All over the Pacific Northwest.”
“You grew up in Washington?”
“Yes, sir. My dad started us on the Wynoochee River.”
A smile tugs at Steele’s mouth. “Know it well.”
“But his favorite is the Skagit. The U.S. side. He’d get us out of bed at some ungodly hour of the morning and we’d drive up there. He’s caught some mighty fine fish in that river.”
“That’s some sweet water. Caught me some rod breakers in the Skagit. On the Canadian side, mind.”
It’s nice that EL James finally figured out how Google Maps works, but I feel like she could’ve glossed over this conversation in about two sentences. “We talked about fishing — hee haw, ain’t dontchyaknow. I know he was testing me, because no interaction I ever have can be normal and pleasant.”
Christian is pissy again because while he’s busy having the most boring conversation in the world, Ana continues to be a sentient human and not a walking sex doll who powers down when he’s not using her:
Ana is deep in a passionate discussion with Kavanagh. What are those two women talking about?
You. Everything is about you. The world revolves around you. Everyone loves you. Malkovich Malkovich.
Then Christian is pissy because Ana’s stepdad lets slip that he also fishes with Jose’s dad, but it reminds Christian of Ana’s horrible, terrible poor person car, and decides that — even though Ana very clearly said she did not want Christian to buy her a car — the best thing for Christian to do is to ask her stepdad for permission to buy her a car:
“I was thinking of loaning her one of my company cars. Do you think she’d go for it?”
“I guess. That would be up to Annie, mind.”
Oh, Ana’s dad. You simple fool. Nothing is ever a woman’s choice.
Ray, who seems to have figured out that Christian’s something of a bastard, then says that Ana never liked fishing because she’s such a sensitive, gentle soul. He gives Christian a pointed look, which Christian interprets correctly as a warning, but glosses quickly because, I mean, who cares about what Ana wants or needs?
Certainly not Christian who, a few moments later, corners her again to try to coerce her into agreeing to the contract that she hasn’t even had a full day to think about:
“You know it’s going to be good, don’t you, baby?” My voice is low, betraying my longing.
Literally everything he says sounds disgusting.
She closes her eyes, swallows, and takes a deep breath. When she opens them again, she’s radiating anxiety. “But I want more,” she says.
Fuck. What is this?
After the hiatus I’m having trouble working up enough energy to even be mad about this stuff. You know what the problem is, right? Rage for me. I’m too tired right now.
Wah, wah, wah, Ana wants to date him and his soul is too dark and scary for that. He tries to tell her he just doesn’t know how to have a “normal” relationship, so she just blindly agrees to do everything his way because compromise is for ugly feminists and the French.
Christian spends a lot of time thinking about how happy he is that she’s agreed to try out his wacky crazy lifestyle, but he worries that he might occasionally have to think about her feelings, which troubles him — because if he has to think about her, then he’s not thinking about himself.
En route [Taylor] informs me that the Audi A3 has been delivered to The Heathman. Now I just have to give it to Ana. No doubt this will involve a discussion, and deep down I know it will be more than just a discussion. Then again, she’s agreed to be my submissive, so maybe she’ll just accept my gift without any fuss.
This isn’t so much an incredulous question as a real one: has he actually explained at this point that accepting his gifts is part of the lifestyle? Has he? If not, he needs to do that.
Who are you kidding, Grey?
So I’ll take that as a “no.” He knows she’ll object because she doesn’t understand the concept behind the gift-giving and the way it fits into the concept of master/submissive roleplay. God he sucks at this.
A man can dream. I hope we can meet this evening; I’ll give it to her as her graduation present.
And there’s the final “Fuck You.” Here’s a present for your graduation — that I made all about me. It’s that thing you didn’t want. Congrats!
On his way back to the hotel, he sees a young couple walking down the street and then thinks about the fact that Ana wants “more.” And even though he told her just a few pages ago that this is totally uncharted territory for him, he says the following:
They always want more. All of them. What can I do about that?
Is EL James acknowledging that he deliberately engages in relationships with insecure, love-struck young women that want more traditional relationships? That all of this is a non-kinky, cruel power play on his part?
But no, instead Christian realizes that he and Ana have totally had coffee and dinner together, and maybe those coffees and dinners have begun melting his scary ice heart and maybe, deep down, he too wants... MORE.
This isn’t the end of the chapter. Once again, this chapter is unreasonably long because EL James has insisted on a date format, which means that “busy days” take forever to get through. Some days you’re just jogging and thinking about the bleak winter trees of April, some days you’re giving out degrees and coercing your young college girlfriend into serious sexual relationships.
Life is complex like that.
But I’ll leave things here for now, with the promise that I’ll be back tomorrow, and an apology for the delay.