“You know that feeling you get when you’re standing in a high place… sudden urge to jump?… I don’t have it.”
– Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Fourth One that They Probably Shouldn’t Have Made
I know how Johnny feels. It’s sort of the same feeling I have, now that I’ve actually read a bit of this thing and realize the enormity of the task before me. I mean, I probably shouldn’t admit that I was thinking of pre-planned jokes or anything, given that I want this blog to have a pretty spontaneous feel to it. But I will say that I was fully intending to start this off by complimenting Fifty Shades of Grey for having a first chapter that, if nothing else, at least feels like the beginning of a real book, written by an author with some sort of understanding how books actually work. Except, now that I’ve read it, I really can’t do that.
I can’t believe it, but this is even worse than I predicted. Just one chapter in, and the lazy, uninspired prose of author E.L. James is already grating on me. But, I made a promise to myself to get through this, and I’m gonna see it through. After all, I still haven’t learned anything about how to get women going.* Unless, of course, it’s simply bad writing which is turning them on, in which case I should probably buy a box of condoms and find the closest Dan Brown book club.
First off, before we go any further, I do need to thank my friend Rachel for providing me with her copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. This obviously saved me the hassle of buying it, but even better is the fact that she doesn’t own the physical book at all; instead she let me borrow her Kindle, which contains the e-book version. This is great news, as it means I can read the book in public without anyone knowing what I’m doing. Let’s face it, you don’t want to be that guy sitting by yourself reading these books in public. I mean, I guess there’s always the possibility that some women might find that really hot and instantly start getting all up in your business, but I’m only one chapter in – I’m not nearly ready yet for an encounter with such forward women like that. That’s probably like chapter 20 shit.
I will admit that I got a little excited when the very first page of the book was a dedication, “For Niall, the master of my universe.” Fuck yeah! A He-Man reference right off the bat? This ain’t gonna be as bad as I thought! Unfortunately, a little research revealed that this in fact a reference to the original title of the story when it was first published on Twilight fan-fiction sites, and as far as I can tell has absolutely nothing to do with He-Man. Well, damn. I’m still not counting out the possibility that James is a big Dolph Lundgren fan.
Anyway, chapter one introduces us to series narrator Anastasia Steele, a young soon-to-be college graduate who has been roped into conducting an interview that was supposed to be done by her roommate Kate, a journalism major. Anastasia knows nothing about the guy she is supposed to interview and doesn’t even really want to do it, but she relents and agrees because of Kate’s persuasiveness and their dear friendship. I know this because Anastasia says:
“She’s articulate, strong, persuasive, argumentative, beautiful – and she’s my dearest, dearest friend.”
So right off the bat, I’m getting the feeling James is more of a “tell, don’t show” kind of author.
Steele goes to meet this guy, the young “mega-industrialist tycoon” Christian Grey, founder of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. When she gets to his building and goes up to his office, the book does crank out an absolutely fantastic sentence that I instantly fell in love with:
“The elevator whisks me with terminal velocity to the twentieth floor.”
Yeah, right now that’s definitely in the lead for “best sentence of the book.” We’ll see how long that lasts.
Steele has already stated about a hundred times how nervous and unprepared for this interview she is, so it’s no surprise that when she first sees the attractive Mr. Grey (“Holy cow – he’s so young.”), she instantly loses her shit, literally tripping and falling on her face when she enters his office. Oh man, that’s gonna be such a great “meet cute” when they make the movie version! SQUUUEEEEE……
The interview is tense, to say the least. Even though Anastasia mentioned what a great journalist Kate would someday make, the list of questions her friend has given her is pretty standard, and Grey answers pretty much everything in generic businessman talk that reads like James just picked up different books from the BUSINESS section of her local Barnes & Noble and copied lines from the back of them. Seriously, get a load of this guy:
“Business is all about people, Miss Steele, and I’m very good at judging people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn’t, what inspires them, and how to incentivize them. I employ an exceptional team, and I reward them well…My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail. I work hard, very hard to do that. I make decisions based on logic and facts. I have a natural gut instinct that can spot and nurture a good solid idea and good people. The bottom line is it’s always down to good people…I don’t subscribe to luck or chance, Miss Steele. The harder I work the more luck I seem to have. It really is all about having the right people on your team and directing their energies accordingly. I think it was Harvey Firestone who said ‘the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.'”
The best thing about that was the first time I read it, I thought he said “Harvey Fierstein,” not “Firestone.” Now that would have been funny.
Anyway, this whole time Grey is answering all these questions about how he always has to be in control, how he has to possess everything, how he has “various physical pursuits,” and the whole time we know he’s not really talking about business, he’s talking about fucking women. You’re not fooling us, buddy. But Anastasia totally misses it. She keeps wondering what he means by everything, but we know he must be at least subliminally getting to her because she blushes every time he looks at her. Aww, that’s cute. I bet these two are gonna fuck real soon (SPOILER ALERT).
There’s one tension-filled (not really) moment where she asks him if he’s gay, and he tersely responds “No Anastasia, I’m not.” I can’t stop thinking about how great it would have been if he had said yes, though, cause I suppose the book would have just been over then.
The interview ends, and Anastasia goes on her way, and that’s it for this first chapter. Yeah, it’s pretty awful so far, written in a simplistic, grade-school level style with completely unnatural sounding dialogue. But, look, I’m not here to just shit all over this thing and not at least try to find some positives. So I’ll say that, if nothing else, I could at least relate to Anastasia on a certain level here. For one thing, as the book starts, she’s “scowling with frustration” at herself in the mirror, aggravated by her appearance. Oh, I know, sister, we’ve all been there.
But even beyond that, the way she gets all flustered and jittery in the presence of Grey is a lot like the way I feel whenever I’m sitting with a girl I like. Since I know this is a love story with these two, it gives me hope that maybe I will be able to learn something from the journey Anastasia is about to go on. I mean, sure, I’m a dude and I guess I might be relating to the wrong character here, but I think just about anyone knows that nervousness you feel in the presence of a new crush. That’s something everyone can relate to.
Later on, when they’re probably tying each other up, whipping each other and shoving different things in different holes, maybe that’s not so relatable to everyone. But I don’t know. Who am I to say?
* For the skinny on why I’m doing this in the first place, check out the ABOUT section.