Sunday, November 24, 2013

#BookReview: Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James

I've now completed E.L. James' Fifty Shades trilogy. (Don't read further if you don't want to be spoiled on the end of the trilogy.) You can read my review of Fifty Shades of Grey here, and my review of Fifty Shades Darker here.

Book Review

If you have read my previous reviews, you'll recall I got rather attached to Christian and Ana as a couple when I read the first book. When I got to its cliffhanger ending, with them broken up, I was eager to read the next one to make sure they got back together. As I read the second book, though, I became disenchanted with Christian's controlling behavior. I could no longer remember why I was so invested in them as a couple. I was also a bit bored by the pacing of the story. It does have some relatively interesting moments, but I felt they were too few and too far between.

Nonetheless, when I start a trilogy, I generally want to finish it, and I wanted to see what happened to Christian and Ana in the third book. I didn't love Fifty Shades Freed for the same issues I had with Darker: Christian can be controlling, and he can also be annoyingly childish when he's upset about something - and he's often upset about something he has absolutely no right to be upset about; the book also appears to be at least 100 pages longer than it needs to be, with unnecessary passages describing the French honeymoon and the ski trip to Aspen. There are some exciting bits, however, so with tighter pacing, it had the potential to be a good story. I didn't dislike the plot very much.

I do wish Ana had more of a backbone to stand up to her husband. She's still so in awe of him, and she's especially willing to give him a free pass on bad behavior because of his terrible childhood. He's not cruel, which according to Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan differentiates between the alpha male hero and his "alphole" (alpha asshole) counterpart. But he is a control freak, manipulative, and one of those awful types of people who get silent when they're angry instead of discussing things in an adult fashion. In a real-world partner, these traits would be a deal-breaker, but we all know this is fiction.

So I just hope that in Ana and Christian's HEA, she has broken him of some of his more unpalatable personality traits and gained her own strength and confidence at the same time. She spends a lot of time worried about his anger or potential anger, and life's just too short for that nonsense.

They've never been a perfect couple, but they do sincerely love each other. This was one of my favorite passages:

"'You wanna dance? Let's dance,' he growls close to my ear, and as he rolls his hips around into mine, I can do nothing but follow, his hands holding mine against my backside.

"Oh, Christian can move, really move. He keeps me close, not letting me go, but his hands gradually relax on mine, freeing me. My hands creep around, up his arms, feeling his bunched muscles through his jacket, up to his shoulders. He presses me against him, and I follow his moves as he slowly, sensually dances with me in time to the pulsing beat of the club music.

"The moment he grabs my hand and spins me first one way, then the other, I know he's back with me. I grin. He grins.

"We dance together and it's liberating - fun. His anger forgotten, or suppressed, he whirls me around with consummate skill in our small space on the dance floor, never letting go. He makes me graceful, that's his skill. He makes me sexy, because that's what he is. He makes me feel loved, because in spite of his fifty shades, he has a wealth of love to give. Watching him now, enjoying could be forgiven for thinking he doesn't have a care in the world. I know his love is clouded with issues overprotectiveness and control, but it doesn't make me love him any less."

It isn't the most graceful writing in the world; it's a little awkward. At other places in the book, James writes dialogue and narration that sound so utterly British, I can't imagine any American who wasn't a transplant from the U.K. uttering them. (Then I start reading silently but imagining I'm reading in an English accent, and then I start laughing.) This trilogy will never win a literary award, but as I mentioned in the first review, my investment is in the characters' relationships, not in the literary style.

Ana simply wants to feel graceful, sexy, and loved. Can anyone really blame her? In real life, overprotectiveness and control are relationship red flags, and very young women especially have to be careful about not letting their fledgling feelings of love overwhelm their reason - and safety. This is Ana's fantasy, however - not reality - and I can't help but be a little happy for her when, at the end, she has her sexy billionaire husband, her dream house, and her son and daughter to make her happy.

The Weird Thing

Now let's talk about the weird thing. In the epilogue, when Ana is pregnant with her daughter, there's this little exchange between Ana and Christian:

"He grins as Blip Two somersaults inside me.

"'I think she likes sex already.'

"Christian frowns. 'Really?' he says dryly. He moves so his lips are against my bump. 'There'll be none of that until you're thirty, young lady.'"

I think even Christian is a little weirded out by Ana's statement that her unborn daughter "likes sex already." I'm glad that Ana seems to be comfortable with her sexuality and accepting of her pregnant body, but in what sense does she think her fetus "likes" sex? Am I wrong, or is that kind of a weird thing for a mom to say about her daughter? I don't have kids - never been pregnant - so maybe it's not as strange as I think it is. Is it?

The Movie

I'm usually excited about movie versions of book I've read and enjoyed, but I have no intention of seeing the movie when it comes out some time in 2014. It's not so much that I don't "approve of" the actors who were cast in the roles of Ana and Christian. I don't even recognize their names. It's more that I'm only going to be happy my imaginary versions of Ana and Christian, not with anybody else's.

I usually don't feel this way. I think Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are a great Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. The more I look at Theo James, the more I think, "He'll be a great Tobias Eaton." I think I'll like the Divergent movie series. But I can't imagine getting into a Fifty Shades film trilogy.

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