Many books in my book queue are waiting to be read, and a common theme among them is they’re all part of a series, trilogy or saga. Each Sunday, I’ll share a book from a series. You can read along with me, or add the books to your own reading list. This week, I read “Fifty Shades Darker,” the second book in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy by E.L. James.
Heads up: This book contained mature subject matter, such as the existence of sex and sexual feelings, which I will hint at in my review.
If you would like to experience a stellar divorce as the result of a whirlwind courtship and rushed marriage to a rich person you barely know, by all means, use “Fifty Shades Darker” as your how-to manual.
At the end of the last book, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” we left Ana crying in her apartment because Christian beat her with a belt. She manages to stay away from him for five whole days when she invites him to go to a photography exhibit for her friend Jose. As soon as they see each other again, they’re drawn to one another. Christian is distraught, Ana is apologetic (even though she has no reason to be,) and of course they get back together for round two of this relationship train wreck.
Ana and Christian deal with some forces outside of their relationship in this book. One of Christian’s ex-submissives, Leila, comes back after an emotional breakdown with the intention of tracking down and shooting Ana? Christian? Christian’s brother Elliot? We don’t really know, but she has a gun and she has mental issues.
After Ana and Christian deal with Leila, Ana experiences some sexual harassment at work from her boss, Jack. Of course Christian, with all his obscene wealth, purchases the company and boots Jack out of the picture, or so he thinks.
There are several continuing themes in the book that are still completely horrifying. Ana and Christian try to have a normal, happy relationship. But they seem to hit a cycle where they go on a date, continue to get to know one another, but in the course of their conversation, something either Ana or Christian says makes the other angry. They “fight” about it, it’s really annoying and eventually they make up and have kinky sex. They wake up the next morning and the cycle of continuous bickering and make-up sex goes on and on, with no real conflict resolution at all.
When Christian gets “angry,” Ana becomes afraid that Christian is going to “punish” her, which includes any form of spanking or beating before they have their angry, possessive make-up sex. Themes of possessiveness and jealousy continue throughout the second book, with Ana promising never to leave Christian again, no matter what, and Christian declaring more than once that Ana “belongs to him.” Ana is constantly apologizing for her every innocuous move, from driving herself to work to going out for a drink with a friend. The whole relationship reeks of gaslighting, textbook misogyny and emotional abuse.
Surely, one would think, at some point, Christian and/or Ana would throw up their hands and say, “You know, we fight all the time, we don’t have that much in common and we’re really not happy. While the sex is great, maybe we should call it quits.” Only that doesn’t happen. Instead, Christian has some weird mental breakdown and asks Ana to marry him. She eventually accepts, of course, because what could be better for an already dysfunctional relationship than a lifelong legal commitment? The baffling part about it is Christian says, “We’ll get to know each other better after we’re married!” No, really, that is an actual sentence he utters. And we know from modern celebrity culture that marrying someone you don’t know ALWAYS works out well. Really, it does.
It was refreshing to see story arcs beyond the Christian/Ana relationship. The Leila and Jack plot lines gave the story a little more substance, if only to serve ultimately as yet another point of contention between Ana and Christian.
Ana begins to call Christian her “Fifty Shades,” or just “Fifty” in her mind. It reminded me of the rapper 50 Cent, but it was supposed to be an allusion to Christian’s ever-changing personality and multiple emotional issues. Nothing minimizes serious issues in a relationship quite like a quirky nickname for a seriously messed up significant other!
I’m still trying to figure out why this book series is so popular. It played out like a romance novel, except the hero and heroine should just quit while they’re ahead. Not even the sex scenes are redeeming. It’s much of the same, but it seems as though E.L. James has eased up on it a little. In a few scenes, she allows us to use our imagination by moving quickly to “a few hours later” or “the morning after.”
If you want to read a satisfying love story, take a trip to the book section on your next visit to the supermarket and pick up a Harlequin romance novel. Guaranteed, it’ll be worlds better than this mess of a novel.
Come back next week to see if Christian and Ana can actually work as a married couple! I’ll be reading “Fifty Shades Freed,” which sounds promising, but who knows? It could be complete and utter crap like the other two books.