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 Freed,” the (presumably) last book in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy by E.L. James.
When I was younger and had just started dating, my father gave me a book to read. It was called “Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them” by Dr. Susan Forward. It was some heavy reading for my adolescent self, but it taught me to recognize the warning signs of emotional abuse in relationships.
The book has been around for a long time and it’s been a while since I read it, but the help it offers still rings true. It’s mostly a book that is meant to help women who are suffering in hurtful relationships. It asks questions such as, “Does the man you love assume the right to control how you live and behave?” “Is he extremely jealous and possessive?” and “Does he withdraw love, money, approval, or sex to punish you?” The book describes what misogynistic (emotionally abusive) relationships look and feel like, using personal testimonies from some of Dr. Forward’s patients.
I listened to absolutely nothing my father said about dating. Also, I kind of rolled my eyes at what “Men Who Hate Women” was trying to tell me. Subsequently I found myself in some not-so-great relationships.
This isn’t a review of “Men Who Hate Women,” but I couldn’t help thinking of it while I was reading “Fifty Shades Freed,” and the “Fifty Shades” trilogy in general. The dynamic between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is literary poison. It made me sick to read it, to the point where I had to put it down after every couple chapters because I was so disgusted.
Normally I would say that a book that affects me so profoundly would be worth reading. The “Fifty Shades” trilogy, however, is not worth reading. Do not waste your money or your time on such a worthless pile of garbage.
The second book ended with Ana and Christian’s engagement, and the third book continues with their marriage. Even with the additional legal commitment, Christian’s jealous, angry behavior from the first two books continues. They honeymoon in Europe where Christian is angry when Ana wants to sunbathe topless (because, he argues, she’s “his” and he doesn’t want anyone else to see her.)
When they return to the U.S., Christian is frustrated that Ana wants to continue to work, when he has plenty of money. He gets angry when Ana goes out for a drink with her friend Kate. He uses sex as a weapon to curb Ana into behaving how he wants, and somehow Ana is left apologizing for petty “infractions” in her behavior when she doesn’t meet one of Christian’s invisible expectations. Ana, of course, brushes it aside and says something inane like, “Oh, that’s just my Mr. Mercurial!” And then they eventually have makeup sex where Christian spanks Ana or handcuffs her to something and everything is all better in the morning — except it’s really not.
Christian and Anastasia’s relationship is not a loving one at all. If Christian Grey were a real person, he would be a woman-hating jerk, much like the men Dr. Forward warns about in “Men Who Hate Women.” E.L. James seems to think that the only way to create conflict in a book is to have her characters constantly angry at each other over silly things. Ana is constantly crying over every encounter with Christian.
It’s even worse when, about three-quarters of the way through the book, Ana finds out that she’s pregnant. Christian behaves in the most unbelievably immature way, gracing her with a disrespectful string of profanities and walking out on her. I don’t really know what he thought was going to happen after having sex with her every other chapter of each 500-page book. Did no one teach him that sometimes sex makes babies?
Most of the book is just the tumultuous everyday drivel of Ana and Christian’s dysfunctional married life. There is a bit in there about Ana’s former boss, Jack, kidnapping Christian’s sister, but that suspenseful, thrilling part is overshadowed by the sickening sludge of Ana and Christian’s toxic relationship. The epilogue suggested there is a book planned for the near future, written from Christian’s perspective. I think I’ll skip it, if and when it is released. The little bit of it I read sounded terrible and I really, really disliked Christian Grey in the three books I read. It’s almost a gimmick, as though I’d just be reading the same story twice. There are too many good books out there to waste time on that nonsense.
I am baffled as to why these books are so popular or why there are three of them. I’ve read supermarket smut novels with better writing.
I find it hard to believe women find this book empowering. Ana might have ended up “turning Christian around to her ways” as this review from The Philly Post said, concluding the book as a “woman who has it all.” The point is, Ana starts the trilogy as an educated and independent woman and ends the trilogy tied down to a wounded man who dominates and controls every iota of her life. For this to be considered empowering to anyone is pathetic, insulting and disrespectful to women everywhere. Ana was a bland, vapid character with little to no self-respect, but she deserved better. I, as a reader, deserved better!
If you want to read a good romantic trilogy, check out some of Nora Roberts’ stuff. Usually her trilogies revolve around three couples, each couple coming together in each book. Some of the plot lines are formulaic and inane, but her writing style is worlds better than E.L. James’ sorry excuse for literature.
I’d even suggest a Nicholas Sparks novel, such as “The Lucky One” or “A Walk to Remember,” where the romantic heroes are loving, gentle, respectful and understanding. Not troubled, controlling and abusive.
Please, I’m begging you, read any set of books other than the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. For your own good and for the good of humanity, hold romance writing, romantic heroes and literature itself to higher standards.