Go Away, Christian Grey

The cover art for 'Grey,' the latest book from 'Fifty Shades of Grey' author E.L. James, told from the point of view of Christian Grey. Vintage Books

Warning: The following review contains excerpts and language that could offend some readers and may be considered NSFW.

The cock lives. The cock belongs to Christian Grey, the protagonist of Grey, the new E.L. James novel. And though apparently lacking a name of its own, Christian's tumescent member is a character, easily the most intriguing one in this Cinemax softcore masquerading as fiction:

My cock twitches in response.

My cock agrees.

Her words travel straight to my cock.

My cock concurs.

My cock hardens in response.

My cock stirs with approval.

Grey would be far more compelling a read if the cock in question were an anthropomorphic rooster, but there's no barnyard fun to be had here, nor fun of any other kind. Grey is a retelling of Fifty Shades of Grey, the 2011 collection of sentences, separated by punctuation marks and divided into paragraphs, that became a worldwide sensation and that some insisted on calling a novel, since it sort of looked like one and was typed on paper. That story was told by Anastasia and her alter egos, the "inner goddess" and her "subconscious," as were the book's two arborcidal sequels. This is that same story, only told by her corporate conquistador. It's kind of like Rashomon, only with private helicopters and riding crops.

The plot is fiendishly complicated, but let me take a shot. Christian Grey, a successful Seattle businessman, likes submissive sex. Ana Steele is a young, naive woman who has a "fantastic ass," as well as a "fine ass," not to mention a "perfect ass." And "perfect tits," to boot! He entices her into his sexual games. She assents, though only after a lengthy contractual review, as in the original. They have sex. His cock is pleased.

Grey has given James the unrivaled opportunity to explore the male psyche. She has done her research, having clearly read the Wikipedia entry for Sigmund Freud and consulted a 14-year-old boy about his naughtiest thoughts. Christian's perversions are fathomless, at least as profound as a wading pool: "What do I do to chill out?" he thinks to himself. "Sailing, flying, fucking." There is, also, his famous affinity for Sancerre. The makers of that wine varietal will once again be pleased.

The plot generally dispenses with pesky, outdated Aristotelian contrivances like rising and falling action. There does not appear to be a conflict, outside the aforementioned needs of Christian's cock. The characters are about as voluptuous as a Giacometti statue, though we do learn that Ana has a Wells Fargo bank account, No. 309361, with a balance of $683.13. That's the kind of attention to irrelevant detail that separates bad writing from unreadable writing.

The words cock and fuck proliferate through Grey like bedbugs, but there is nothing transgressive or even enticing about the bunga-bunga in each after-hours slog. It is as pedestrian as everything else touched by James's pen:

As I ease out I circle my hips and slowly slip into her again. She whimpers and her limbs tense beneath me as she tries to move.

Randy stuff, that. Reading Grey made me pine for Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, one of the few books that contains truly shocking sex scenes, instead of sex scenes that try to be shocking but end up being anodyne enough for church:

"Yeah," I say, moving on top of her, sliding my dick gracefully into her cunt, kissing her on the mouth hard, pushing into her with long fast strokes, my cock, my hips crazed, moving on their own desirous moment, already the orgasm builds from the base of my balls, my asshole, coming up through my cock...

Now that's filthy and profane! It makes you consider, unlike the writings of James, the inherent violence of the sexual act, the difference between lust and bloodlust. The novel makes you wonder about the kinds of people who are capable of really terrible stuff and about whether we are all people capable of really terrible stuff.

E.L. James does no such thing. For all the boasting about a "lascivious assault," Christian is one boring dude. For God's sake, the man listens to Moby, who is "blasting in my ears" on one page and "blaring in my ears" later on. Moby? Really? Christian Grey's affinity for the depilated DJ may be the only legitimately perverse thing about Grey.