More Banging and Bonking: Part 2 of Our FIFTY SHADES Review

Greg Zimmerman

Staff Writer

Greg Zimmerman blogs about contemporary literary fiction at The New Dork Review of Books and holds down a full-time gig as a trade magazine editor. Follow him on Twitter: @NewDorkReview.

Greg Zimmerman

Staff Writer

Greg Zimmerman blogs about contemporary literary fiction at The New Dork Review of Books and holds down a full-time gig as a trade magazine editor. Follow him on Twitter: @NewDorkReview.

Welcome to the second installment of our Fifty Shades of Grey chronicle! Last week, we made it through the first half of the novel, and we left off scratching our melons about why this novel is so popular. We had several theories, but of course, no definitive answer.

Anyhow, Rebecca and I are now traversing the second half of the novel…and things are getting much, much naughtier. Here are our thoughts:

GZ: Two-thirds of the way through now, and I’m officially at the point where I can’t wait for this to be over. Our blushing, panting heroine Ana has agreed to Christian’s submissive/dominant arrangement but has yet to sign the official contract. Of course, said contract is reproduced verbatim in the novel — which left us wondering, do these things really exist? Rebecca, you did some research – what did you find?

RJS: Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to show my recent internet history to someone who didn’t know I was in the middle of this project. The interweb agrees that, while there is no one right way to have a BDSM relationship, partners should discuss limits and comfort levels and safewords (as Christian and Ana do), but it looks to me like written contracts are the exception, not the rule. I’m chalking Christian’s insistence on putting it all in writing up to his extreme need for control and his business-like approach to “business time.” Can we talk for a minute about all the incongruities in Ana’s response to her new lifestyle? It’s hilarious that she goes willingly into the “Red Room of Pain” but freaks out about going commando under her dress when they go out to dinner, right?

And hello, merchandising opportunities! Somebody needs to bottle and sell Christian Grey body wash or cologne — that shit is mentioned so many times, I feel like I’d recognize the smell if I got on an elevator with him.

GZ: Ah, yeah! Like, (with seductive voice-over, of course): “Bound, a new fragrance from Christian Grey: It’ll tie her in knots.” Or, wait, wait: “Eau de Christian: Arrest her senses.” (Sorry…Groan away, readers.)

You’re right, Ana can’t seem to get out of her own way. To me, the most infuriating part about her is that she seems to enjoy making Christian mad (the submissive is really in control, right?), but then is immediately terrified that she has made him mad. For instance: After he upgrades her to first class for her flight home (had to be pretty expensive to book a same-day Seattle-to-Savannah flight, yeah?), she emails him to tell him she got a massage in the first class lounge, knowing it’ll make him jealous. And then he’s mad, and she’s scared.

And speaking of the “newfangled technology,” the Electronic Mail (recent college graduate Ana has never used email until now. Uh. huh.) and the pages-long, reproduced-verbatim conversations are sucking my will to live. On the plus side, this gives James occasion to author one of the worst, least sexy episodes of electronic dirty talk since Anthony Weiner signed up for Twitter:

Christian: Can I zip up your dress?
Ana: I would rather you unzipped it. (Hilariously, the subject of this email is “NC-17.”)
Christian: SO WOULD I.
Ana: Slowly…
Christian: Wish I were there.
Ana: SO DO I. (With subject “Moaning.”)

But then she has to leave. Damn! Perhaps, Christian could teach her to avail herself of an even newer-fangled technology, the iChat?

RJS: The emails make me crazy too (and have I been doing it wrong all these years, or does anyone else find the idea that the simple act of having one’s dress unzipped is moan-worthy to be a tad unrealistic?), but I do appreciate a couple things about them. Ana, like many of us who process things verbally, needs to put her feelings in writing in order to understand them fully. Boy, have I been there. It’s pretty believable, even if totally annoying. And good old “fifty shades of fucked up” Christian calls her on it! Maybe his therapy is good for something, after all.

My biggest peeve at this stage are the tortured-beyond-belief Icarus references. We get it. Christian is hot and dangerous and out of reach, and Ana is afraid of what getting close to him will do to her. Also? If I ever refer to the build-up to orgasm as being pushed “higher to the castle in the air,” just kill me. Sheesh. Whose internal monologue sounds like that?

GZ: And if I ever use the phrase “find my release” (which is James’ go-to euphemism) for my own, I’ll just go ahead and pack it in on life. But, speaking of finishing, I have!

RJS: I beat you to it! Such a gentleman you are for letting me get there first.

GZ: Tee hee! I aim to please. So, that wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it’s damn sure in the top 10. Beyond all the obvious errors (a MacBook Pro with “thirty-two gigabytes of RAM”?) and preposterous plotting, after a while, everything just started to feel so repetitive — even the sexytime scenes got unflinchingly dull. He “pushes into her.” She comes, and she’s always shocked that she has. I gotta say, getting tired of reading sex scenes is something I never thought would happen. But here we are. And the descriptions are brutally repetitive (apparently all wine is crisp, fruity, and delicious), too. And of course, there’s the point you made above about the tortured Icarus references.

On the plus side, yes, it was ALL THE FUNNY — especially the climax, which, as I learned from you, mirrors the novel’s inspiration, Twilight. Ugh.

What’d you think?

RJS: I was let down in the “I don’t see what the big deal’s about” way that Ana would have been if E.L. James had written a realistic losing-your-virginity scene. Like you say, it wasn’t the worst thing ever, but I kinda kept waiting for it to get to the crazy kink that everyone was talking about. Maybe that comes in the later books? Sure, not everyone’s into spanking or being tied up, but there’s nothing here that I hadn’t at least heard of before. (Maybe the frenzy over these books says something about Americans’ Puritan roots and lack of imagination when it comes to sex?)

The highlight of this project — besides exchanging ridiculous emails with you — was all the crazy internet reading I got to do in the name of “research.” HOO BOY did I learn some things. And it seems there’s hope yet for Americans’ sex lives — thanks to 50 Shades, a “vagina ball explosion” is sweeping the nation. (Kudos, TMZ, for writing the headline I most wish I’d thought of.)

GZ: So, there you have it, Book Riot readers. I hope you all appreciate the level of sacrifice Rebecca and I exhibited here — it’s all for you. ALL. FOR. YOU. Sadly, neither Rebecca nor I have plans to continue on in the trilogy, so you’ll just have to discover the wonders of Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed on your own. Or, you know, wait for the movies.