The Story Manages To Become LESS Romantic, Somehow: Grey Chapter 4

You guys gotta check out #AskELJames hashtag on twitter. It is gloriously on point. Mara Wilson retweeted some good ones.
In other news, I’ve been traveling the last couple days and only have my tablet with me, which I haven’t figured out how to include gifs in posts from yet. So every couple paragraphs, just imagine there’s a gif of someone going “What the fuck?” or “Really?” or looking utterly and unyieldingly despondent. That should complete the experience that is reading E L James’s Grey.

Grey: Thursday, May 19, 2011

Christian wakes up from a nightmare, the contents of which we aren’t given, because nothing says “parallel novel that gets you in the other main character’s head” like “except for things that take place in his head”.

No! My scream bounces off the bedroom walls and wakes me from my nightmare. I’m smothered in sweat, with the stench of stale beer, cigarettes, and poverty in my nostrils and a lingering dread of drunken violence.

Yep, I definitely understand Christian better now with this secondhand account of something he experienced. Definitely couldn’t have gotten that out of the three other books of secondhand accounts of what Christian’s experienced. For instance, now I know that he can wake up from dreams spelling abstract concepts.

[I] catch sight of myself, dressed only in pajama pants, reflected in the glass wall at the other side of the room. I turn away in disgust.

Oh no! POOR CHRISTIAN! If he only didn’t struggle so with his FEELINGS.
As a reminder, that’s how we’re probably supposed to be reacting to this book, because otherwise it literally wouldn’t exist.

She wanted you.
And you turned her down.
It was for her own good. […]
If my shrink was back from his vacation in England I could call him. His psychobabble shit would stop me feeling this lousy.

I hate to sound like a broken record here (although this clearly isn’t a concern of the Fifty Shades series, so whatever), but these are definitely things that Christian has said outright in the other books. By and large, we’re simply not seeing any new sides of his character. Even worse, his already shallow character is severely undercut when we do:

I contemplate calling Elena in the morning. She always finds suitable candidates for me.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. So you’re telling me that Christian Grey, the womanizing BDSM fetishist hunk, doesn’t even get his own sexual partners? Even if we ignore how fucking weird it is that he has to get his ex to find women willing to sleep with him on his behalf (which is so fucking weird it doesn’t even require further analysis), are we supposed to conclude that Christian Grey has NEVER talked to a woman in pursuit of a sexual relationship? I’m pretty sure we are… which means that this decade’s most infamous literary romantic male figure has only ever slept with women because he got someone to pimp him out.
Let that sink in for a second, because this is astoundingly sad.
Keep in mind this type of failure of E L James to recognize when she’s fleshing out Christian as either romantically determined or pathetically desperate, because we’re about to hit a big (for this uneventful series) “romantic” moment that looks very different from Christian’s point of view.

The program on the radio [is] about the sale of a rare manuscript: and unfinished novel by Jane Austen called The Watsons […]
“Books,” she said […] She’s an incurable romantic who loves the English classics. But then so do I, but for different reasons.

“Different reasons” means “written by men” in five… four… three…

I don’t have any Jane Austen first editions, or Brontes, for that matter… but I do have two Thomas Hardys.
Of course! This is it!

As we know from Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian prepares an insanely privileged, over-the-top gift of a first edition book to wow Ana with the size of his penis bank account. As we also know from Fifty Shades of Grey, E L James has no flair for subtlety.

I’m in my library with Jude the Obscure and a boxed set of Tess of the d’Urbervilles […] Both are bleak books, with tragic themes. Hardy had a dark, twisted soul.
Like me.

Christian opts for Tess even though “it’s not the most romantic book” because “she has a brief taste of romantic love in the bucolic idyll that is the English countryside”, which are certainly rather fancy words for Fifty Shades. He picks out a quote on the way to the office, where we get one of our constant reminders that Christian treats women like shit:

The young receptionist greets me with a flirtatious wave.
Every day… Like a cheesy tune on repeat.
Ignoring her, I make my way to the elevator that will take me straight to my floor.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” Barry on security greets me as he presses the button to summon the elevator.
“How’s your son, Barry?”
“Better, sir.”

So not only is this primarily insanely boring and it’s not clear why any of this seriously needs to be in the story, but the only thing it does add to the story is another reminder that Christian Grey is deeply misogynistic. What exactly is the difference between these two male and female employees greeting him? Both are just greeting him, and the woman gets nothing but derision while the man gets concern for his son. Are we supposed to find Christian Grey… more attractive? What are we supposed to get out of this?
And of course, it doesn’t end.

I notice that Olivia is absent. It’s a relief. The girl is always mooning over me and it’s fucking irritating.
“Would you like milk, sir?” Andrea asks.
Good girl. I give her a smile.

HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT? Again, how are any of Christian’s employees actually behaving differently? They’re all just saying hi or getting Christian coffee.

“Not today.” I do like to keep them guessing how I take my coffee.

Well, now this just sounds inefficient.
Now, to be reasonable, I’m sure that a lot of this exists to see how Christian runs his super successful business, which I guess could be a serious draw to fans of the series who want to know more about Christian. That makes sense (at least as much as it’s going to). But, like most of Fifty Shades, it doesn’t work so well once it’s on paper.

“We’re getting clearance from the Sudanese authorities to put the shipments into Port Sudan. But our contacts on the ground are hesitant about the road journey to Darfur. They’re doing a risk assessment to see how viable it is.” Logistics must be tough; her normal sunny disposition is absent.
“We could always air-drop.”
“Christian, the expense of an airdrop-”
“I know. Let’s see what our NGO friends come back with.”
“Okay,” she says and sighs. “I’m also waiting for the all-clear from the State Department.”
I roll my eyes. Fucking red tape. “If we have to grease some palms – or get Senator Blandino to intervene – let me know.”

What are we supposed to get from this scene? Are we supposed to think that he’s a better… person? Businessman? Are we supposed to be charmed by this revelation that his business practices involve bribing politicians – when the corrupt ones already on his payroll aren’t sufficient? Sure, it’s nice that he’s doing so to support impoverished countries and apparently thinking of the bottom line second, but this seems like a road to hell paved with good intentions kind of thing. I wonder how many other meetings he has today.
During the meeting, Christian gets a call about Ana’s schedule from his enabler private detective. He learns that Ana’s last exam is tomorrow, so he prepares his decreasingly romantic gift.

I slip the card into the envelope provided and on it write Ana’s sentence, which is ingrained in my memory from Welch’s background check.

So, sure, from Christian’s side of the story, it’s kind of nice learning that this is a more personal gift than we originally thought – these are books from his own collection. Right?
Nooooope.

“They have to arrive by tomorrow at the latest.”
“Yes, sir. Will that be all?”
“No. Find me a set of replacements.”
“For these books?”
“Yes. First editions.”

Oh, okay, cool. The very existence of Grey promises that it will manage to find ways to make the source material even less romantic, and showing Christian selflessly give these books to Ana and then immediately work on replacing his copies of them sort of undercuts any romance. Or significance of what the gift means to him. Or just any kind of meaning whatsoever, really.

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