All E.L. James wanted was to imagine the Twilight vampires having weird sex with each other in a skyscraper. She wrote it up as fan fiction, and then she fiddled with the names and released it online, and then it made so much money that she was forced to keep writing on and on and on forever about these characters who were never actually characters to begin with. Fifty Shades of Grey’s heroine, Anastasia Steele, will be remembered as one of the most pathetic protagonists in literary history. She’s basically a collection of random character traits piped into a body that gives a local zillionaire an erection.
And then there is the zillionaire. Christan Grey is wealthy, handsome, “elusive,” “enigmatic,” and “mysterious.” He is such a mysteriously elusive enigma that no additional facets of his personality can be revealed. He lurches across the page like a re-animated sex doll with a spanking function. The fact that this guy has managed to arouse so many of James’ female fans is the ultimate rebuke to the stereotype that women require an emotional spark in order to get off. But now, in the interests of releasing a new book without creating new characters, plotlines, or dialogue, James has dared to peek inside Christian’s head and stare into the void. Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian asks: What does the object of female fantasy do when the woman’s not looking?
On most days, he awakes in his Seattle penthouse before 6:30 a.m. He runs on his treadmill and watches business news on television. He puts in his earbuds and blasts the Foo Fighters or, if he really needs to let off steam, the Black Eyed Peas. He ties his Brioni tie and selects a Chablis from the wine fridge. He spars with his personal trainer, Claude Bastille. He puts the top down on his convertible and puts Kings of Leon on the car stereo. He keeps a fresh baguette in his bread basket. He tinkers on the piano (“Chopin is my solace”) and flies his helicopter (“Yes. I have a helicopter.”) And he’s practically a walking Thesaurus: He flaunts his erudition, assaults lasciviously, and assuages his hunger. He pads to the bathroom but trudges to bed.
That’s when the nightmares come. His dreams are “riddled with harrowing memories, distorted reminders of a time I’d rather forget.” Sometimes he wakes to the sound of his own screams echoing off his penthouse walls. In his nightmares, he flashes back to his childhood in Detroit, where he lived with “the crack whore I called mommy” who used to call him Maggot until she overdosed in the den and he almost starved before this policewoman arrived and took him to his adoptive family. No one can know about his traumatic past. It’s basically the reason he loves spanking ladies’ butts.
But there is a deeper riddle wrapped inside this enigma. What is his job even? How is he a 27-year-old dude with 40,000 employees and a penthouse and a helipad and an Audi and a plane and a French trainer and a constantly replenishing source of fresh baguettes? We know Christian is the CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc., a company that claims to provide “shipping and logistics,” “neural networking,” “graphene engineering,” “satellite infrastructure,” “laser speed data,” “smart memory bank,” “renewable power harvesting,” “zero loss transmission,” and “low energy storage.” That’s a lot for a guy who spends all of his free time inventing new ways to touch a boob. Grey finally offers us glimpses at how this technological wunderkind works:
“I fire up my laptop.”
“I open my work e-mail and begin to read.”
“I pick up my phone and press Taylor on speed dial.”
“I call Andrea on the hands-free.”
“I pick up the latest Forbes and start to read.”
“I quickly open Google.”
“I finish a light lunch and read the rest of my Forbes magazine.”
“I click the link—and I’m in.”
“I’m poring over some tablet design schematics.”
Poring consumes much of Grey’s working hours. In any given day, he might pore over an email, a file, an executive summary, a room service menu, or the Seattle Times. When he’s finished poring, he starts meeting: “major meetings,” “back-to-back meetings,” “dull meetings,” “interminable meetings.” When he feels like he cannot face the day, he looks in the mirror and says to himself: “I have a job to do and a breakfast meeting to attend.” Here’s a typical meeting at the headquarters of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc., concerning the logistics of a shipment of food to Darfur (Grey’s company also farms and delivers food to the world’s poor, but he doesn’t like to talk about it because once you put “Christian Grey” and “starving” in the same sentence, it’s only a matter of time before the public starts wondering if Christian Grey himself was once starving, and from there it’s only a hop skip and a jump to puzzling out the whole dead crackwhore thing):
CHRISTIAN: “We could always air-drop.”
EXECUTIVE: “Christian, the expense of an airdrop—“
CHRISTIAN: “I know. Let’s see what our NGO friends come back with.”
EXECUTIVE: “Okay … I’m also waiting for the all-clear from the State Department.”
(Here, Christian rolls his eyes and thinks: “Fucking red tape.”)
CHRISTIAN: “If we have to grease some palms—or get Senator Blandino to intervene—let me know.”
Needless to say, Christian Grey gets Blandino to intervene.
Grey is a tough manager. He forces his 40,000 employees to undergo random drug testing to ensure nobody dies of crack, mixes up his coffee order every day to keep his assistants on their toes, and staffs his office with extremely beautiful women he despises (especially Olivia, Olivia is the worst) but refrains from sexually harassing. His No. 1 rule is “Don’t fuck the staff.” Meanwhile, he must constantly contend with a disembodied voice in his head that fills his every waking moment with creepy, obsessive commentary rendered in an ominous italic font.
CHRISTIAN: “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
ITALIC CHRISTIAN: A real pleasure.
* * *
ANASTASIA: “Where did you sleep last night?”
CHRISTIAN: “In my bed.”
ITALIC CHRISTIAN: With you.
* * *
CHRISTIAN: “Your hair’s very damp.”
ANASTASIA: “I couldn’t find the hair dryer.”
ITALIC CHRISTIAN: She’ll get sick.
* * *
ANASTASIA: “This is Jose Rodriguez, our photographer.”
ITALIC CHRISTIAN: Are they fucking?
It’s kind of like being haunted by the ghost of a Men’s Rights Activist.
Grey does leave some mysteries yet unsolved. Once, Christian describes Anastasia as “pouring all the contempt she can into each syllable of my name.” So … what would that even sound like? CHRIS-CHIN? CHRIST-TI-AN? Also, though Ana and Christian were both raised in the Pacific Northwest, they are constantly working references to local landmarks into casual conversation. Christian watches the Mariners game. Anastasia flies out of Sea-Tac. Christian “looks so cool and calm, like he’s been doing the Seattle Times crossword.” Ana’s house faces Mount St. Helens. Christian tugs his Seahawks cap down. Ana looks out Christian’s office window and over “the Sound.” You know, Puget Sound? It’s near Seattle, where these people live. Another thing: Why do Christian and Anastasia both talk about “PJ pants” all the time? “From the chest of drawers I pull out a pair of PJ pants and drag them on,” Christian says in Grey. “I notice now that he’s wearing PJ pants,” Anastasia says in Shades. “I … pick up my PJ pants,” Christian says. “He strips out of his PJ pants,” Ana says. It’s almost like they can finish each other’s sentences. Weird. I guess we’ll have to wait for the sequel, Greyer: Fifty Shades Darker as Told by CHRIS-CHIN.