"Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian," by...

"Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian," by E L James. Credit: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Happy Birthday Christian Grey.

Thursday's release of "Grey," the fourth book in the "Fifty Shades" series, coincides with the character's birthday. But which birthday is it? Christian Grey began life in Twilight fan fiction as vampire Edward Cullen (back when author E.L. James was known as Snowqueens Icedragon), so the guy is 1,468, for all we know.

"Grey" turns back the clock to when the two main characters first meet and rehashes the original book from his point of view. That was when Grey was the best-looking 27-year-old billionaire child abuse survivor in Seattle and Anastasia Steele was a 21-year-old virgin interviewing him for her college newspaper. When we last saw the couple in "Fifty Shades Freed," pregnancy and toddlers had been added to the familiar landscape of whips, restraints and luxury vehicles.

The previous books were told from Ana's perspective, with frequent recourse to italicized inner monologue and her "inner goddess." Now it's Christian -- a man who makes Dr. Seuss' Lorax look like a realistic character -- whose running commentary we are privileged to hear.

The 576-page narrative covers the same territory as "Fifty Shades of Grey" -- one month, which ends with an overenthusiastic caning session that leads Ana to give up her dreams of a happy future with Christian. The familiar plot points and sex scenes are retold in the new book, but this time with a close-up look at Grey's transformation from a steely dominator into a smitten pussycat.

The CEO's go-to thoughts about riding crops and shackles are intermingled with disturbingly mushy ones. Ana's eyes are "the color of the ocean at Cabo, the bluest of blue seas. I should take her there. . . . Where did that come from?" he thinks, horrified.

Throughout the month, Grey's subconscious is working overtime, giving him dream after dream about his dark past to help him move past his aversion to touch and his inability to love. Burned with cigarettes and beaten by his drug-addicted prostitute mother's pimp, he was left for days with her dead body after she committed suicide. At age 15, Grey became the sex slave of a female friend of his adoptive mom. There were a few of these dream sequences in the earlier books; sadly, there are many more here.

Like its predecessors, this is not a book that can stand up to serious criticism -- literary, psychological or otherwise. But Grey is for the fans, not the critics. As the man himself puts it, "I need this. This is what I do. And we're finally here."

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