Food as foreplay, sex on a pool table, and more NSFW passages from the second installment of E.L. James’s ‘Grey’ series.
The media frenzy over 50 Shades of Grey’s sadomasochistic antics and hackneyed narrative has subsided, but the trilogy continues to top bestseller lists and bedside tables. On Sunday, more than 500 women and men of all ages lined up to meet the author of the erotic trilogy, who had arrived in Miami for her U.S. book tour.
If the mixed crowd at E.L. James’s Florida book signing was any indication, the author’s “mommy porn” is catching on among daddies and even granddaddies. To wit: my 72-year-old uncle has snatched his wife’s copies of the books. I’ll admit after finishing the first installment I was ready for a break from Anastasia’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s tortured, tortured soul. But apparently I was in the minority, as 50 Shades Darker is currently No. 2 on USA Today’s bestseller list, just behind 50 Shades of Grey.
The Cinderella storyline and spanking continues in 50 Shades Darker, but Christian Grey the sadist has softened considerably in the five days since Anastasia ran away from his “Red Room of Pain” at the end of the first book. It’s not long before she’s back in his clutches and, Holy cow!—her “inner goddess” is acting out in all sorts of psychologically and physically implausible ways. Desire runs through her veins, pools in her groin, and races through her bloodstream during foreplay, but it’s clear that what she’s really getting off on is their increasingly lovey-dovey relationship. Christian doesn’t even attempt to spank her—let alone pull out the nipple clamps and ball gags—until almost halfway through the book.
Deprived of the racier BDSM scenes, the reader learns more about Christian’s dark past (hence the book’s title): his crack-whore mother; the “Mrs. Robinson” figure who turned him into a masochist; his former “Submissive.” These revelations are peppered with explicit sex scenes, but there’s more “gentle, sweet lovemaking” than in 50 Shades of Grey. The fetishistic Cinderella plot takes center stage, with Christian buying Anastasia Cartier earrings and an iPad filled with her favorite 19th-century, romantic literature. He escorts her to masquerade parties, takes her sailing on his yacht, force-feeds her oysters. Without giving too much away, there are several instances of borderline role-reversal between the “Dominant and the Submissive.” But even when Anastasia’s giving sexual orders, she’s still the same tiresomely prude good girl we remember from book one, only now she’s more comfortable playing at being bad.
E.L.James discusses and signs copies of her book "Fifty Shades Of Grey" at The Biltmore Hotel on April 29, 2012 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Aaron Davidson / Getty Images)
Spoiler alert: the Twilight-y love story escalates in 50 Shades Darker, but the author hasn’t lost her touch when it comes to writing about sex in gory detail. Below, the most “Jamesian” passages from the second book in her Grey series.
Anastasia’s still scared of Christian’s ‘Red Room of Pain,’ but she wants his ‘kinky fuckery.’
“‘Do you want a regular vanilla relationship with no kinky fuckery at all?’” My mouth drops open.
Spanking, wrist cuffs, and dirty talk that’s fit for a porno (read: NSFW), the most shocking bits from E.L. James’s bestselling erotic novel.
Several weeks ago, I received a telling email from my 29-year-old sister-in-law: “Have you heard of the book 50 Shades of Grey? Get Involved.”
At this point, E.L. James’s erotica novel was a bestselling e-book, and my brother’s wife—a new mom who spends most days taking care of her 4-month-old son—had immersed herself in some pleasure reading in between changing diapers. Though paperback copies only hit U.S. bookstores yesterday, 50 Shades of Grey is the most buzzed-about series since The Hunger Games, if not a household name (my friend recently learned about it from her 60-year-old father).
There’s a reason the Grey series is being dubbed “mommy porn,” and it’s not just because of the rough sex and BDSM relationship that has its innocent, college student protagonist Anastasia Steele bending over backward (and forward and sideways) for the older, dashing Christian Grey.
Originally conceived as Twilight fan fiction, James’s 50 Shades of Grey “reimagined the Bella and Edward love affair set in contemporary Seattle, Washington with Bella as the young college graduate virgin and Edward as the masterful billionaire with secret sexual predilections.” So while the steamy scenes have no doubt sent many hands wandering beneath the sheets during bedtime reading, much of Grey’s appeal is its Cinderella story—the rich-man-sweeps-innocent-beauty-off-her-feet female fantasy. And as in so many romance novels, beneath the hero’s domineering veneer there’s a vulnerability that only the heroine can penetrate, though not without some emotional maneuvering. Jane Eyre has to confront the madwoman in Mr. Rochester’s attic; Bella has to come to terms with Edward’s immortality and bloodlust; Anastasia has to endure Christian Grey’s "Red Room of Pain."
But some ladies may think the romance in 50 Shades of Grey detracts from the sexual fantasy. While some parts are reminiscent of 9½ Weeks and Last Tango in Paris, others are straight out of Pretty Woman, and the image of Mickey Rourke blindfolding Kim Basinger just doesn’t evoke the same mood as Richard Gere seducing Julia Roberts at a piano. E.L. James knows her S&M so well that Grey could read like a less sinister Story of O, if it weren’t punctuated by the narrator’s dithering inner monologue (every time Anastasia gets aroused, it seems, she announces it with a “Holy Crap!” or “Holy Shit!” or “Holy Moses!”)
If you couldn’t tolerate Bella’s moralizing conscience in Twilight, chances are you’ll feel similarly about Anastasia’s. That said, where Stephanie Meyer’s prose is G-rated, James’s is unabashedly explicit. Here, the most racy and alternately corny scenes from the first installment of her softcore porn series.
Anastasia and Christian’s hot elevator makeout session
“Before I know it, he’s got both of my hands in his viselike grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his lips … His other hand grabs my hair and yanks down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine … My tongue tentatively strokes his and joins his in a slow, erotic dance … His erection is against my belly.” (Page 78)
‘50 Shades of Grey’ may not revolutionize porn, romance, chick-lit, or literature. But this one-click wonder is the future of how we’ll read.
Just days ago, an agent, editor, book critic, and literary blogger sat around a table at a private downtown club, discussing the book no one had heard of. “And I told my cousin, there is no bestselling book I don’t know,” said the agent, laughing, who is celebrated for getting her stable of literary authors big advances with all the best imprints. “But I was wrong.”
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Every so often a manuscript, like an impudent toddler, rises on unsteady feet and toddles onto the bestseller list without so much as a by-your-leave to that ignorant publishing foursome. Such a work is E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey, which, out of a teeny e-publishing community in Australia, managed the neat trick of vaulting to the top of The New York Times e-book and print bestseller lists, garnering a seven-figure deal from Vintage, and leaving readers clamoring for the as-yet-unpublished rest of the trilogy, all without ever being in print in the United States at all.
From Twilight to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to The Lost Carolina Finger Club (I made that last one up), we’ve come to expect our bestsellers to rise from obscure circumstances. Only The New Yorker’s nonfiction scribes are allowed to churn out blockbusters from a known address. But readers who found the popularity of those Swedish sext-hack-repeat sagas somewhat mystifying may have an even harder time with Shades of Grey.
Spoiler alert. It’s roughly the story of a soon-to-be college graduate, Anastasia Steele, set upon by a BDSM-loving corporate magnate, Christian Gray. Beyond that, it does not trouble itself with novelty. Things happen in “nanoseconds,” eyes watch like “hawks,” people are “putty” in each other’s hands. Anastasia trips—not once, not twice, but thrice—literally into Christian’s arms. She narrates their chemistry in rafts of breathless interior monologue, while, at intervals, Christian stares at her with “obsidian” eyes and provides terse explanations for buying her lingerie: “Your jeans were spattered with vomit.”
The lover of the junkiest romance, the most hastily written porn, the most pieced-together chick-lit—even those free pamphlets at the gynecologist—might be allowed a touch of disappointment at the level of the proceedings. (If you forget that Anastasia is impervious to amour, remember, her name is “Steele.”)
Those nods to Tess of the D’Ubervilles, scattered like errant dandruff, will fool no one. That line about ordering everything on the menu for her at the hotel—that’s from Pretty Woman! And wait—this lady looks suspiciously like Twilight's Bella, but grown-up. Her memo-loving, last-minute-rescuing, nipple-clip-wielding lover is his own kind of cold-blooded vampire. Let’s not even get to the matter of the plot, for which the reader keeps poking around, like the elusive last hunk of white meat in a bowl of chicken soup. Popular trash isn’t new, but bad literature that’s all bad with no story to truck it along is.
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