First of all, let me just tell you guys thank you again and again and again for helping out Lindsey and Frank with the fundraiser. You guys rock, and Lindsey and Frank are totally grateful. They’ve been able to get a car that will get them home, and things are looking much further up than they were last week. In case you missed it, Lindsey left a comment in my last post, which I will repeat for you here:
Thank you all so much. every bit is helping us. We would be so lost with out this amazing gesture. Thank you. One Thousand times THANK YOU!
So, congratulations, guys! You made a difference.
And now, I suppose you deserve your reward. So here we go.
Let me just get this part out of the way, in case you’ve forgotten since I recapped the last book. I really do not care for the way these books came about, aka, plagiarism. There is no secret whatsoever that these books began as Twilight AU fanfic. As an avid reader and writer of fanfiction, these books are a slap in the face to all the true fans in all the fandoms everywhere, who don’t want to rip off the people who created the works they truly love, but who just want to have fun playing with the characters and settings and events for a while, then put them back nicely where they belong. E.L. James is not a writer, she’s a thief, plain and simple. She couldn’t come up with all the components of a decent book on her own, so she took someone else’s. I know I’ve said this before, but I will continue to say it so it doesn’t get conveniently wiped from our cultural memory.
Darker begins after three title pages, which seems a bit excessive. Then, there is a really poorly written prologue that I won’t include here because it would be a huge trigger for anyone who has ever experienced domestic violence. It’s written from the POV of a young Christian Grey, and includes the phrase “You are one fucked-up bitch” six times. In a row. No, I’m not kidding. Then, it’s on to Chapter 1! And it begins with the same gripping momentum as the first book, which is to say, none at all:
I have survived Day Three Post-Christian, and my first day at work. It has been a welcome distraction. The time has flown by in a haze of new faces, work to do, and Mr. Jack Hyde. Mr. Jack Hyde… he smiles down at me, his blue eyes twinkling, as he leans against my desk.
Now, having written quite a few sequels myself, I feel like I have to comment on the fact that there is absolutely no backstory or introduction whatsoever here. We go from a kid watching his mother get beaten, possibly to death, and an unnamed man (spoiler alert, it’s Christian Grey) waking up drenched in sweat, to the paragraph above. No explanation of who Christian is, why they broke up, who Jack Hyde is or… oh, hey, wait a minute, we have no idea who Ana is, either. Now, you might be thinking, “But Jen, she can’t info dump that all in the first paragraph, it’s totally unfair of you to expect that.” You would be correct. But I would have liked, oh, any sort of pretense that this was not just carved out of the middle of a longer story in a big chunk because why charge readers fifteen bucks for one paperback that has no story arc when you can force them to buy three at fifteen a piece. But I guess I expect too much from series these days.
Shit, even Jim Butcher bothers to tell the readers that Harry’s a wizard a few paragraphs in, and that’s after, what, like fifty, sixty books, right?
Jack thinks Ana is doing excellent work, and she asks if it’s cool if she goes home. Then Jack tells her that it’s 5:30 and she can go home, and they say goodnight. Oh, how I’ve missed these tedious conversations about nothing important to the story that Ana has to have with every single character that chances into her deranged path.
Collecting my bag, I shrug on my jacket and head for the door.
Those actions are all backwards, Ana. You’d probably put your jacket on before you got your bag, or else you’re putting your jacket on over your purse and who does that?
Out in the early evening air of Seattle, I take a deep breath. It doesn’t begin to fill the void in my chest, a void that’s been present since Saturday morning, a painful hollow reminder of my loss.
See? Right here would be the perfect time to let first-time readers in on what’s happening. E.L. could have followed this up with something like, “I’d just had my heart broken for the first time, yadda yadda,” or something that would let the reader know what the situation is before plunging ahead into the story. But she doesn’t, because writing a good story was like, fourth or fifth down the “writing to-do list” that was tacked above her computer.
- Make sure everyone knows Ana is really skinny.
- Add tons of badly described, really vanilla sex.
- Make it super long, without much happening, so it can be cut up and sold in parts.
- Try to make some of it seem like I was maybe kind of trying.
- But not trying too hard.
- Plot and pacing.
Collecting my bag, I shrug on my jacket and head for the door. Out in the early evening air of Seattle, I take a deep breath. It doesn’t begin to fill the void in my chest, a void that’s been present since Saturday morning, a painful hollow reminder of my loss. I walk toward the bus stop with my head down, staring at my feet and contemplating being without my beloved Wanda, my old Beetle… or the Audi.
The reader who didn’t read 50 Shades of Grey first, but who has, due to accident of similar covers and super confusing titles, still doesn’t know who Christian Grey is. For all they know from what they’ve read so far, Ana has just forsaken her religion and really, really misses having a car.
Ana knows she can afford to get a new car, because “he” (whoever he is, to the uninformed reader) has been “overgenerous” in his payment. Again, no backstory about the car or anything. You better have come to class prepared, reader.
The apartment is empty. I miss Kate, and I imagine her lying on a beach in Barbados, sipping a cool cocktail.
You miss her? You couldn’t stand her through pretty much all of the last book, and you didn’t bother to spend a single night in the new apartment her parents bought for you, until you dumped your boyfriend. Let’s add that to our running tally of why Ana is such a shitty friend. She doesn’t bother to talk to you if she’s in a relationship, but the moment that relationship ends, you better be right there to help her pick up the pieces.
So help me god, if Ana puts on pink pajamas, I’m setting this book on fire.
I sit and stare blankly at the brick wall. I am numb. I feel nothing but the pain. How long must I endure this?
Probably not for long. Your boyfriend will start stalking you again any day now. But you know what would be a clever way of showing the passage of time? If E.L. James had made a bunch of blank pages with just chapter headings and the name of the month that she was excluding. Actually, if she could have done that with the entire book, we’d be all set.
So, someone buzzes the intercom, and Ana gets it:
“Delivery for Ms. Steele.” A bored, disembodied voice answers,
Thanks for telling us it’s disembodied over the intercom, Ana. We couldn’t have put those pieces together on our own.
Ana is disappointed, probably because she thought it might be Christian and it wasn’t. But of course, it’s something to do with Christian, because Ana is like this huge planet of sad and clumsy that pulls smaller satellites of awful and dickish into her orbit, so that nothing in her life can ever be not about Christian Grey.
I sign for the package and take it upstairs. The box is huge and surprisingly light. Inside are two dozen long-stemmed, white roses and a card.
Yup. Christian sent her roses to celebrate her first day of work… three days after she dumped him. So, not only is Christian a stalker when you’re dating, when you’re not dating he turns into Stacy from Wayne’s World. And yet Ana thought he got rid of the last subs? Is she sure they didn’t burn out of there Katie Holme’s style?
There’s a card with the stalker surprise gift, but I’m not going to tell you what it says. Instead, I’m going to tell you what it should have said:
I have become my own island state. A ravaged, war-torn land where nothing grows and the horizons are bleak.
Reread that. I’ll wait.
So, Ana is basically just crying all the time that she’s not at work, and she can’t listen to any music, even commercial jingles, because music reminds her too much of Christian. This is where Ana and I differ, for I tend to find solace in music during times of heartbreak. While Ana just stares at brick walls and trivializes the horrors of war, I prefer to drink heavily and lay on the floor listening to Boys for Pele while I consider joining the Army.
I’m kind of enjoying reading this book, to be perfectly honest. It’s like reuniting with old friends. Not Ana and Christian, I mean, things like Ana being ridiculous about everything and Christian being a stalker and, oh hey, who do I see just over there on page seven?
I am finding it difficult to eat. By lunchtime on Wednesday, I manage a cup of yogurt, and it’s the first thing I’ve eaten since Friday.
It is good to see you, old friend. Oh, Christian is not going to like you. “But Jen,” you ask, “it doesn’t matter any more, because she and Christian broke up, so it’s not like he’s going to find out about it.” I pat your head in a loving, yet condescending way. “Just wait,” I say, holding a finger to your lips. And it is the most legendary moment in your life.
Holy shit. An e-mail from Christian. Oh no, not here… not work.
When I read that, I kind of wondered if she was going to have an orgasm from opening the email. Not gonna lie.
In his email Christian writes:
Forgive this intrusion at work. I hope that it’s going well.
He hopes that his intrusion is going well?
Christian asks Ana if she needs a ride to Jose’s gallery showing, because you know, if Ana is going to go hang out with some guy, she’s probably going to want her ex-boyfriend coming along.
I clutch my forehead. Why hasn’t Jose phoned? Come to think of it – why hasn’t anyone phoned?
Because you’re a shitty friend, Ana. They’re probably avoiding you.
Shit! I am such an idiot! I still have it set to forward calls to the BlackBerry. Holy hell. Christian’s been getting my calls – unless he’s just thrown the BlackBerry away. How did he get my e-mail address?
Okay, first of all, he has emailed you before. He had your email address already. Unless this is a work email account or something, but if that’s the case then it should be specified in the text somewhere. Second, he’s been getting her calls for five days now, and he didn’t mention it as the very first thing in the email? Yeah, I bet he threw that BlackBerry away. There’s no chance he’s monitoring your calls or anything.
So, then Ana thinks about how she could just tell him she changed her mind and they could get back together, but then she remembers, “Oh, hey, the thing that really rings his bell is beating the shit out of me with a belt and keeping me tied up in emotional knots.” No, just kidding! She talks about how much she’s going to miss him, and how she feels like she’s in purgatory. Really, purgatory isn’t a bad place, when you think about it. It’s where you get the dents banged out of your soul so that you can drive into heaven like a brand new Cadillac. So, in this metaphor, “I am in purgatory,” she’s getting the dents banged out of her romantic feelings so she can drive into a new and better relationship.
But she doesn’t want a new and better relationship, can’t you see that, you fool?! So she emails Christian back and says she’d appreciate a ride to the gallery, because there are no Greyhound buses in Washington state. You know, Kate has a car, and she lets Ana borrow it all the time. Did she drive to Barbados? I’m doubting that, very much. Maybe Ana could -
No! Of course she couldn’t! Because these crazy kids have to get back together, they just have to! So, after Ana calls Jose to check on the time, she and Christian engage in a multiple part email exchange about when he’s going to pick her up. Now, here’s the thing… why doesn’t he just send Taylor with the car? Oh, snap, because he wants to manipulate her into getting back together.
Ana wonders if Christian has missed her:
Probably not like I’ve missed him.
It’s not a competition, Ana! Jeez!
Has he found a new submissive? The thought is so painful that I dismiss it immediately.
Girl, it has been FIVE DAYS. He hasn’t even had time to hire a lawyer to draft the paperwork yet. Ana decides to change things up and not cry herself to sleep that night, so instead she thinks about how Christian’s mom was a crack whore and:
In my mind’s eye, I visualize Christian’s face the last time I saw him as when I left.
The next day, Ana wears Kate’s plum dress because she doesn’t own any clothes of her own, I assume, and she’s not giving that dress back until the fucker is just plain wore out. Her boss asks her if she has a date tonight, and she’s indecisive about answering, but she finally tells him she’s going to meet an ex. Jack Hyde suggests that he and Ana should get together for drinks to celebrate how well she’s doing.
Tidying my hair so that it hangs artfully down my back, I take a deep breath. This will have to do.
So, she’s settling for “artfully.”
On her way through the lobby she waves at the receptionist we first met at the end of 50 Shades of Grey, and Ana once again thinks how she could probably be friends with her. You may also remember that the receptionist was a woman of color. No one spoil the ending for me, I bet she never becomes friends with Claire the black receptionist.
Jack meets Ana in the lobby and walks her to the curb, because, and say it with me, everyone with a penis loves Ana. Seriously, he watches “in dismay” as Ana gets in the car with Christian Grey. Yes, “the” Christian Grey is finally making an appearance in the book. Swoon, ladies. Swoon.
I turn and climb into the back, and there he sits – Christian Grey – wearing his gray suit, no tie, white shirt open at the collar. His gray eyes are glowing.
Because he’s a vampire, and he’s hungry.
My mouth dries. He looks glorious except he’s scowling at me. Why?
Because he’s a dick. And also a vampire.
“When did you last eat?” he snaps as Taylor closes the door behind me.
Oh, I’ve really missed the fighting over food. I hope they do it a lot in this book. Like, a really lot. Ana tells him that she had a yogurt at lunch time, and of course that’s not enough to make him happy.
I glance up and Jack is waving at me, though how he can see me through the dark glass, I don’t know. I wave back
“Who’s that?” Christian snaps.
I’m so glad he’s back with us.
Ana actually has some balls and stands up to Christian, telling him it’s none of his business when she last ate. Well, for like, a single line she has some balls, then she tells him she hasn’t eaten since Friday.
He closes his eyes as fury, and possibly regret, sweeps across his face. “I see,” he says, his voice expressionless. “You look like you’ve lost at least five pounds, possibly more since then. Please eat, Anastasia,” he scolds.
Okay, we get it. Ana is skinny. Skinny, skinny, skinny. A few commenters noticed in the recaps of the last book that having Ana and Mia as character names was kind of suspect, due to their ties to the pro-eating disorder online community. I thought it was a coincidence, but there has been such a blatant focus on how thin Ana is in this book – and at this point we’re thirteen pages in - that I’m starting to worry that it’s maybe not an accident. I mean, James takes the time to tell us how thin Ana is, over and over, but she hasn’t managed to work in any backstory to connect this book to the one before it. Ana being skinny has been far more important.
Remember what I said before, about meeting old friends?
Why does he always make me feel like an errant child?
I want to struggle out of his hold, to maintain some distance, but his arms are wrapped around me. He’s pressing me to his chest. I melt. Oh, this is where I want to be.
Aaaaand we’re back.
They arrive at a building that has a helipad because, as with Ana’s never eating and thinness, it is of utmost importance that the reader know that Christian has a helicopter. When they get out of the car, Ana says to Taylor:
“I should give you back your handkerchief.”
Now, I read the last book (obviously) and that’s why I know that when Taylor drove Ana home after the breakup, he gave her his handkerchief. Putting aside the fact that a reader starting the series at book two wouldn’t know this, has Ana been carrying this handkerchief around for five long, crusty, tear-stained days?
I’m drawn, Icarus to his sun. I’ve been burned already, and yet here I am again.
Believe me, Ana, I know exactly how you feel.
They get into the elevator and don’t have sex with each other, but then Ana bites her lip, and whoo boy, you know what that does to Chedward.
Oh, I still affect him. My inner goddess stirs from her five-day sulk.
Ana, it’s been five days. You don’t stop being sexually attracted to someone after five days. Okay, I guess in your case, we could make an exception, because you’ve reminded us over and over that you’re just physically hideous, but trust me on this one, okay?
They get up to the roof, there’s Charlie Tango, Christian likes putting the harness on her, yadda yadda, it’s so similar to the helicopter scene in the last book that I’m not even going to bother with it. They see the Space Needle, which Ana has never seen, and Christian suggests they should go there together.
“I’ll take you – we can eat there.”“Christian, we broke up.”“I know. I can still take you there and feed you.” He glares at me.
No, you can’t still go out on a date with her. She dumped you. To quote Mr. Campbell, “That’s what breaking up is.”
They start talking about her job, and she wonders if she should tell Christian that her boss makes her uncomfortable. Yeah, that’s probably a great strategy, Ana. You should tell your stalker ex-boyfriend that your boss asked you out for drinks, so he can buy the company and fire the guy. There’s this phrase writers (and now readers, I guess) use to describe a heroine who makes repeated bad choices. That phrase is “Too Stupid To Live.” Usually, it applies to suspense/paranormal/urban fantasy/woman-in-danger scenarios. But with Ana, I’m genuinely shocked that she doesn’t drown from leaving her mouth open in the shower. She has absolutely no instincts of self-protection, at all.
There’s some more tedious Icarus stuff, and they land in Portland, where Christian says,
“Well, let’s go see the boy’s photos.”
Christian, you’re like, five years older than them, aren’t you? To quote Mr. Campbell again, “Ixnay on the condescension, Chet.” Let me also point out how very, very skeevy it is for the white, wealthy, privileged hero to be calling Jose, who is a person of color, “boy.” So, have a little racism with your misogyny, why don’t you?
Christian is in full Heathcliff mode on the drive to the gallery, begging the question again, why did he not just send a car? He doesn’t want to go to the thing, why is he going?
His mouth – oh, his mouth is distracting, and unbidden. I remember it on me – everywhere.
I think that period was supposed to be a comma, because otherwise Ana is thinking that his mouth is there despite her not asking him to bring it. They fight some more about how thin Ana is, and how she needs to eat, so she promises that she will. Christian has missed his true calling as an E.D. counselor.
I cannot keep the disdain out of my voice. Honestly, the audacity of this man – this man who has put me through hell over the last few days. No, that’s wrong. I’ve put myself through hell. No. It’s him. I shake my head, confused.
I’m picturing having an argument with someone who suddenly breaks off and just starts shaking her head, apropos of nothing, like a cocker spaniel watching a ball in someone’s hand.
“But nothing’s changed.” You’re still fifty shades.
Is that his superhero identity? They talk some more about how they should talk, but they don’t talk, because they arrive at the gallery, where we’re once again reminded that Christian Grey is so sexy, women turn into man-stealing whoores whenever he’s around:
A young woman dressed in black with very short brown hair, bright red lipstick, and large hooped earrings greets us. She glances briefly at me, then much longer than is strictly necessary at Christian, then turns back to me, blinking as she blushes.
Ana is the gaze police, carefully timing the gazes of other women. I wonder if this chick gets more time on the clock, since she’s not an evil blonde?
My brow creases. He’s mine – or was. I try hard not to scowl at her. As her eyes regain their focus, she blinks again.
I feel like I’ve been focusing hard on the grammar and general writing craftness in this recap, but really, it’s hard to avoid when you’ve got stuff like that massive POV shift slapping you in the face every few paragraphs. I’m not trying to be pedantic, this book is forcing it upon me. Oh, and by the by, this is the Vintage Books version. So this one? Has been edited by a legacy publisher.
Christian gets Ana some wine, and it’s a good thing, because we’re on page twenty and she hasn’t had a drink yet. Then she sees Jose, who sputters his stereotypical “Dios mio” and points out how skinny Ana is, but of course, Ana’s sole focus is on Christian:
Christian glances up and our eyes lock. And in that brief moment, I’m paralyzed, staring at the impossibly handsome man who gazes at me with some unfathomable emotion. His gaze hot, burning into me, and we’re lost for a moment staring at each other.
Holy cow… This beautiful man wants me back, and deep down inside me sweet joy slowly unfurls like a morning glory in the early dawn.
This is all happening while Jose is standing there having a conversation with her. Gee, I wonder why your friends don’t call more often, Ana.
Jose gets dragged away (by the hostess Ana now refers to as “Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick”) to speak to the press, and Ana wanders around looking at the photographs. Christian does his level best to not have a good time at all:
“Does it come up to scratch?” My voice sounds more normal.He looks quizzically at me.“The wine.”
“No. Rarely does at these kinds of events. The boy’s quite talented, isn’t he?” Christian is admiring the lake photo.
Tell us how you really feel about all of this, Mr. Grey. If it wouldn’t hurt you too much to stop being such a classist prick?
Because Ana can’t concentrate on anything that doesn’t center around Chedward, she starts asking him questions about his past subs. And then, oh no!
We turn the corner, and I see why I’ve been getting strange looks. Hanging on the far wall are seven huge portraits – of me.
The portraits are close ups of Ana’s face in various expressions, which throws me a little. I was imagining her as Bella Swan, aka Kristen Stewart, and everyone knows she has only one expression.
“Excuse me,” he says, pinning me with his bright gaze for a moment. He heads to the reception desk.
What’s his problem now? I watch mesmerized as he talks animatedly with Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick. He fishes out his wallet and produces his credit card.
Shit. He must have bought one of them.
Yeah, Ana. I’m sure your super rich ex-boyfriend who is obsessed with you bought ONE of those photographs. Just like I’m sure he’s not going to hang them all up in his Red Room of Pain and jack off to them while stubbing out cigarettes on his thighs. Ana asks Christian if he bought one of the photos:
He rolles his eyes. “I bought them all, Anastasia. I don’t want some stranger ogling you in the privacy of their home.”
So, then she counters that he must feel it’s perfectly okay for him to ogle her in his own home, and then she calls him a pervert. Which is not really fair to perverts.
They banter, and we get a cause/effect lesson:
“You look very relaxed in these photographs, Anastasia. I don’t see you like that very often.”
That would be the effect, right there. The cause is:
What? Whoa! Change of subject – talk about non sequitur – from playful to serious.
If Christian wants people to be at ease around them, he needs to not, you know, emotionally manipulate them and scare them with his crazy ass mood swings. And surprisingly, Ana tells him that:
“You have to stop intimidating me if you want that,” I snap.
But he counters with:
“you have to learn to communicate and tell me how you feel,” he snaps back, eyes blazing.
She does tell you how she feels, Christian. Ana isn’t the one with the communication problem. All through 50 Shades of Grey she told you exactly how she felt. It’s just that when she did, you didn’t like what you heard, so you would either fuck her to distract her from the relationship problems, or you would try to explain why your needs were more important than hers. Someone needs to learn about communication, you’re right. It’s just not Ana.
So, Ana tells him how she feels. AGAIN. She tells him AGAIN that she doesn’t like how she never knows what to expect from him, or how to act to make him happy. She tells him AGAIN that she doesn’t like feeling confused about his expectations. And then Christian says:
“Good point well made, as usual, Miss Steele.”
And as usual, he’s going to ignore it, by changing the subject and telling her that it’s time to leave her friend’s art show:
“We’ve only been here for half an hour.”
“You’ve seen the photos; you’ve spoken to the boy.”
I know I’ve said this before, but like I said about old friends… This. Fucking. Guy. He points out that the last time he met Jose, he was in full date rape mode, and Ana shoots back that hey, at least he never hit her. And Christian changes the subject AGAIN to avoid talking about Ana’s feelings, because he doesn’t really want to hear them:
“I’m taking you to get something to eat. You’re fading away in front of me. Find the boy, say good-bye.”“Please, can we stay longer?”“No. Go. Now. Say good-bye.”
It should come as no shock to you, dear reader, that Ana does what Christian tells her to. Even though she has broken up with him, even though she’s angry at him for trying to control her, she’s so manipulated by Christian that she actually goes to her friend and is all, “Hey, I have to leave your art show that I promised I’d be at, even though we just got here.”
Jose sweeps me into a big bear hug, spinning me so I can see Christian across the gallery. He’s scowling, and I realize it’s because I’m in Jose’s arms. So in a very calculating move, I wrap my arms around Jose’s neck. I think Christian is going to expire. His glare darkens to something quite sinister, and slowly he makes his way toward us.
If there is one word I like used in descriptions of romance novel heroes, it’s “sinister.” Also, Ana is clinging to Jose to make Christian jealous? Rather than returning actual affection toward her friend, she’s using him as a prop. Ana and Christian are both horrible, horrible people.
Christian grudgingly compliments Jose on his photographs, then drags Ana outside, where this happens:
He looks quickly up and down the street then heads left and suddenly sweeps me into a side alley, abruptly pushing me up against a wall. He grabs my face between his hands, forcing me to look up into his ardent, determined eyes.
He kisses her, and she’s totally into it, but… how does he know that? Oh, right, it doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t care. Even if Ana wasn’t into it, even if she wanted to push him away and say, “We’re broken up, you don’t have the right to touch me like that,” he still would. Because he’s an abuser.
“You. Are. Mine,” he snarls, emphasizing each word. He pushes away from me and bends, hands on knees as if he’s run a marathon. “For the love of God, Ana.”
I lean against the wall, panting, trying to control the riotous reaction in my body, trying to find my equilibrium.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper once my breath has returned.
“You should be. I know what you were doing. Do you want the photographer, Anastasia? He obviously has feelings for you.”
That’s right, Ana. You should totally apologize for making Christian force you up against that wall and kiss you without permission. How. Very. Dare. You.
And then the chapter ends with Christian telling Ana she needs to eat. I shit you not.