Anastasia Steele is a senior who is about to graduate from University in Portland . When her roommate Kate falls sick, Ana reluctantly agrees to interview Christian Grey, a multimillionaire businessman who is in Portland on business. Kate worked months to score this interview, and Ana agrees to go. When Ana meets Christian, she's immediately attracted to his handsome looks and reserved demeanor. He answers all of her questions, even the ones that are inappropriate, and at the end of the interview, there is a moment when she thinks he might kiss her. There is a definite attraction on her part, but she's sure that there is no way that Christian Grey would be interested in her.
In fact, she couldn't be more mistaken. He's not just interested, he's captivated. He immediately wants Ana, but he'll have to tread very carefully, as Christian has a proclivity toward the BDSM lifestyle, and Ana's innocence comes through very clearly. Due to his wealth, he must be very careful about his lifestyle, and generally presents the women who have been his subs in the past a contract that they must sign. Ana is shocked on all levels. First that Christian Grey would ever be attracted to someone like her, and second about his lifestyle, and what he wants to do to her.
So, that's the set up. It will be no shock that Ana and Christian do end up together. And Ana does challenge Christian in ways that he's never had before, which of course, captivates him even further. In fact, I think it's Christian's captivation that unsettled me the most. He is all kinds of stalkerish. He does a complete background check on Ana. He knows what flight she takes when she goes to visit her mom and he upgrades her to first class. He then shows up in the city where she her mom lives while she's visiting. He buys the company where Ana works because he's concerned for her safety. He's ALL up in her business. He jealous and controlling. And I found it...disturbing.
The author clearly sets the tone that Christian has an awful past that he's survived. And that past has shaped his attitudes, his sexual proclivities, and his drive. But from the instant that he sees Ana, he's not just in love with her, he wants to possess her, he's obsessed. And it's profoundly unsettling. This is not the behavior of a healthy person. It's not a healthy relationship. If Ana were my kid, I'd be freaked to the extreme. Now granted, Ana tells no one of Christian's behavior, but her friends do see it. And they are concerned. But mostly, Ana just barrels on ahead with this man, who displays deeply paranoid and controlling behavior. And she loves him desperately. At the end of the first book, she breaks up with him. And promptly stops eating and sleeping, she misses him so desperately. Of course, he also goes off the deep end in a different way. And they end up back together.
The thing about Christian is that he's clearly loved by a lot of people, even though he thinks of himself as an island unto himself. His family is loving and supportive. He has people who work for him who love him. He has a past girlfriend who Ana hates (I never really understood her extreme hatred, which seemed shrill and childish to me), who is at turns supportive and nasty to Ana. And of course, Ana adores him, even as she is at turns intimidated and mystified by him.
It's not a healthy relationship. Not even a little bit.
But I'm not sure that was the author's intent. I don't think she wrote this as a unicorns and rainbows romance. I think it's intended as a character study. And if that was the intent, in my mind, it succeeds. I polished off both books in a day and a half, reading obsessively. Although I thought the book could use some editing, and it did tend to drag in sections, the story itself was compelling and very unsettling. I finished the second book desperate to read what happens next, even as I resolved that Ana and Christian have NO business ending up together, and positive that I would not find an HEA between them to be credible.
Overall, the series has worked for me. Not so much as a romance, but as a deeply disturbing, compelling and complex character study.