You may know that I have a Facebook Book Club and that I LOVE to read. You probably know that I am more frank than most about things that my Catholic grandparents would never have discussed in mixed company - or likely at all.
And yet I just cannot get myself to read 50 Shades of Grey. Partly it's the Twilight Fan Fiction aspect and partly it's the bondage - which is not my cup of tea - but I just can't get myself to click "Send to Kit's Kindle."
So I was THRILLED when my longtime commenter and dear friend John offered to guest post his review. Please leave a comment and let me know if you agree or disagree with his comments or if, like me, you just can't bring yourself to pick it up.
Note: This is a review of an erotic novel so if you are uncomfortable with explicit sexual terms you may want to proceed with caution.
It's what everybody is talking about these days . . . 50 Shades of Grey the Twilight fan fiction that grew legs of its own and went from a self-publishing oddity to the leader on the Amazon.com charts. And I get pretty angry, with myself, when I hear about the book, and how popular it is, and how much people enjoy reading it. Because, well, I don't think it's particularly well-written and I
think know I could do better. 50 Shades is . . . well, I'll call it a "coming of age" story, because there isn't much of a plot. An annoying girl's roommate gets sick, so the annoying girl has to interview the annoyingly rich guy, and she becomes obsessed with him, and he becomes obsessed with her, and they fuck a few times. But he prefers the kinky side and she doesn't like feeling like a whore when he lavishes his richness upon her. And she's not really into the concept of pain being pleasure. Then, they go flying in a plane without an engine, but, unfortunately, don't crash. Seriously - there is no main conflict . . . it's just a diary. My issues with the book are numerous: there are serious grammatical/word-use issues, there are lapses in continuity that I absolutely cannot look past, the characters are wholly undeveloped and unlikable, there is behavior that is laughed at that needs to be dealt with seriously, and, I'll admit it, it's a fucking "sparkly vampire" story1. Actually, let's start with the fact that we're talking about a girl, of modest means, who becomes instant BFF's with her first, very rich, college roommate and is graduating college without any monetary issues and a very well-established palate for wine. I'm willing to accept that reality for the sake of the story. And the first issue I have, that there are grammatical issues, I can almost forgive . . . and I'm an absolute stickler for proper grammar. Basically, I think 50 Shades became a victim of its own popularity . . . it was submitted through fan fiction and became popular. It became popular enough to self-publish, and then it got picked up. This is the dream for most every author on the internet (well, most of us would want to skip the self-publishing step, but, with rare exception, that might not be feasible . . . if a publisher can choose between "something good" and "something guaranteed to sell," they're going to pick the latter, and I can't fault them for that . . . especially since the two are far from mutually exclusive). Because of the path it took, it never received proper editing - and by the time an editor would have looked at it, it was far too popular. Why mess with a good thing? But, then, there are things that I can't look past. I don't want to give too much away in the plot, in regards to the continuity -- but I'll mention the very first thing that bothered me. When Ana & Christian have sex in her college housing, Ana's hands are tied to the bed with a tie, and Christian pulls her t-shirt over her head so that she can't see. Before he fucks her, he takes off his clothes, and she mentions that he strokes his sizable cock before he enters her. The thing is -- she couldn't see. How did she know that he was stroking his cock? Because if he was telling her, it would have been hotter. To know that he was whispering "Anastasia, I'm stroking my cock, imagining how much better it's going to feel once I'm inside you," would have been a vast improvement than what was actually written. Because of this, I read the entire scene of a girl getting fucked, hard, while bound to a bed, scratching my head instead of, well, doing something else with another part of my body. Without a real plot, and with defective story-telling, I'd have been able to get into the story if I could have liked the characters. But, I couldn't. Ana is whiny. She doesn't want to be a whore who, basically, gets paid to have sex . . . yet, she's someone who takes a computer and a cell phone and a car and heads out to fancy dinners while thinking about signing a contract that says "this person can do whatever he wants to me, whenever he wants to do it." Christian is a control freak with completely unpredictable mood swings. He's an impossibly good looking 27 year old tycoon who has some very strange issues, yet closes up like a turtle in his shell whenever you ask him about anything remotely odd. Kate is a bitch who really despises Christian, yet won't really talk to Ana about that resentment, choosing to make Ana uncomfortable in public settings. Ana accepts this from her BFF. There is a single character, Taylor, who appears to be a personal assistant to Christian, and he shows up at just the right place & right time, time & time again. I suspect that he's a ninja . . . or a brainsashed vampire manservant . . . but on the possibility that he's a ninja, I enjoy him. Next, can we talk about stalking a bit? Stalking is not cool, and shouldn't be joked about. I'll admit, when I start reading a new blog that I enjoy, I'll admit to "stalking" the blog author by reading through the archives. If I have a friend on Twitter, I'll "stalk" them by having their tweets texted to me. That isn't actual stalking, just taking what's publicly available & making it more accessible to me. Tracing someone by their cell phone usage? Highly disturbing. Showing up on someone's doorstep for a booty call immediately after a "nice knowing you" email? Troubling. Absolutely refusing to talk about or explain juvenile sexual abuse? Absofuckinglutely a deal breaker. I'd have the police involved, yet these are just accepted truths in the 50 Shades world. Ho-hum. Lastly, I want to scream "yes, we know he's a fucking vampire" time and time again. She's not allowed to touch his bare chest (yet he steadfastly refuses to tell her why, and she just accepts this), he barely sleeps, he has worldly knowledge & talents that seem impossible for a 27 year old. Sure, the sex scenes grab my attention -- but have you just met me? Sex will always grab my attention3. And, lest you think that I'm a prude, and the concept of BDSM sex "just doesn't cut it for me," I've been writing erotic fiction, on and off, for over 12 years . . . currently at John's Dark Side. I have no issue with sex, and I actually think society, as a whole, would be better if we talked about sex more openly. A little boy has questions about sex, but doesn't want to go to his parents because "that's not stuff we talk about," so he goes to his friends, but what they tell him can't actually be true, so he goes to someone he trusts that will actually talk about it . . . his teacher or his priest. I'm know I'm oversimplifying the enormity of child sexual abuse, but if we're more open to talking about sex, we open more avenues for the proper handling of questions & behavior. Ultimately, I think the success of the book is due to readers who, simply, don't know that erotica is out there. Much like Twilight validated the feelings of being a 14 year old girl (or, as the incomparable KLZ writes, Twilight is to literature as a Britney Spears song is to music) . . . 50 Shades validates the darker side to sexual desire - and this is a good thing. Only, well, I wish it were written better. Or, more precisely, I wish that I could have stepped out of my "write one smut scene at a time" shell, turned out a smutty novel. In short, I wish I had written it. I challenge any reader who enjoyed 50 Shaedes to read Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Or, you know, my dirty blog. Because I do enjoy getting the hits.