Sunday, July 15, 2012

MyTake on Fifty Shades of Grey

I confess. I’ve joined the club. I read Fifty Shades of Grey this week.

The first I knew of it was when I overheard two ladies discussing it in the beauty shop. I couldn’t help but wonder why the gushing. Given the context, I assumed it was a guide to hair coloring.

It wasn’t long before I realized my mistake. Really, how can one be alive and remain unaware of The Book of the Century? Still, I resisted. I’m a former romance writer and my books were pretty hot, but I never wrote or read erotica.

Then last week I heard a woman say Fifty Shades transformed her life. As Ana, the heroine, would say, “Wow!” I figured if it was that powerful, I’d better get a copy. But how? Should I buy a paperback so I could show the world I’m cool or an e-book so I could avoid the smirks of other people? (Smirking is very common in Fifty Shades; it may become a fad in the real world) I settled on the e-book. As soon as it appeared on the screen, my Kindle started to sizzle.

And so I began. Mousy girl with low self-esteem views herself in the mirror. Oh, no. I’m nodding off already. But wait. She’s going to take her roommate’s place and interview a business tycoon for the student newspaper of Washington State University, which seems, by some quirk, to be located in Portland.

Here she is at the business tycoon’s office. Oh, no. She stumbles as she enters and he has to grab her before she lands on the floor. Despite her clumsiness, mousiness and low self-esteem, the businessman, who is not only the Richest, Most Successful Man in the World but also the Sexiest Man in the World is intrigued. Perhaps he’s having an off day?

As readers, we know (because we’ve read the umpteen million reviews) that Sexy Christian Grey is into BDSM, which stands for Bondage and Discipline; Sadism and Masochism—I know because I looked it up on Wikipedia. And just in case we missed the synopses, Christian shows up at the hardware store where Ana works and buys (hint, hint) masking tape, cable ties and rope.

Ana, our heroine, who is given to exclaiming, “Wow!” or “Holy crap!” a lot, is twenty-one years old but she’s never been kissed, never even held hands. Is it her innocence that attracts Christian Grey? The fact that she’s an English lit major? Or is it that during a drunken bar scene, she vomits all over him? No worries, he’ll soon (wink, wink) whip her into shape. And yes, they get together and suddenly Ana is beautiful, feisty and willing to try anything. Wow! Holy crap!

Here is Ana, visiting Christian’s penthouse for the first time. (He flew her up to Seattle in Charlie Tango, his very own helicopter). And here’s an example of their scintillating dialogue:

Ana: “You have a big place here.”

Christian: “Big?”

Ana: “Big.”

Christian: “Yes, it’s big.”


Christian shows her around his sexy abode and then he opens a door and, Holy Crap, here is a room filled with all manner of torture gear. Aha! Now Ana knows that beneath his urbane exterior, Christian is into Dominance and he wants Ana to become his Submissive. But he’s a businessman after all, so he provides her with a contract which we get to read twice in case we overlooked something on our first run-through.

Christian deflowers Ana. It’s his first time with a virgin. And Ana? Here are her thoughts: Wow, that was extraordinary. So that was what all the fuss is about. And later, thinking about her first orgasm (because of course she had one, no, several.) she compares it to the spin cycle on a washing machine. And that’s a first for me, the spin cycle, I mean. I’ve never read a comparison like that and trust me, I’ve read a lot of romance novels. Nor do I have a point of reference in the real world. Being inside a washing machine is so not part of my life experience.

At any rate, afterward Ana discovers Christian playing Bach on the piano (Of course he plays better than anyone in the world, possibly because of his long index fingers, which we hear about many many times). And we realize that in another layer beneath the sadistic inner man is a misunderstood, abused, confused little boy. We’ll learn more about that later.

We also are treated to views of Ana’s inner life, which is extraordinary. While inner monologue is a hallmark of the romance genre, we meet two inner Anas. They aren’t just thoughts either. They are apparently tiny “people” who reside inside her head. There’s her subconscious (We’ll call her the Superego) who frowns on the lifestyle Ana is choosing and there’s the inner goddess (the Id perhaps) who dances about, turns cartwheels, and on one occasion wears a red hula skirt. Where does the inner goddess do her shopping, I wonder.

Do we get to witness scenes of S and M? Fear not; we do. But by the time they come up we’re so overloaded with scenes of sex, thoughts of sex, fears about sex, lust for sex, etc. that the scenes are boring. In fact, on a scale of one to ten, this author gets an eleven in overloading her readers with sex. Another hallmark of the romance novel is not sex itself but sexual tension. Will they make love? When? Where? How? In a standard romance the answer to that last is what Christian terms “vanilla sex,” but it’s still pretty hot. If you want to read about the Richest, Sexiest Man in the World, check out Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb’s “In Death” books. Roberts is a master of sexual tension as well as memorable love scenes. Warning: She doesn’t write S and M and she also writes books with plots.

At last I come to the final pages of the book. Whew! The ending is a sad one because (Spoiler alert, here!) Even though she loves him, Ana leaves Christian after a particularly painful…I think it’s called a flogging. There are two more Grey books so we can be reasonably certain that Ana and Christian get back together. The second book is called Fifty Shades Darker and we can only wonder what devastating punishments Christian has in store for Ana. Does he bite her neck? Oops, no, that’s another series.

Will I read books two and three? Are you kidding? One was enough. However, in the book’s favor, I’m sure it has heated up a lot of marriages and has doubtless given rise to more experimentation in sex which is probably a good thing, and despite its limitations (and, holy s#@t, there are a lot of them) the book has stimulated some interesting discussions about women’s sexuality and about control and/or equality between partners. Plus it’s contributing to the economic recovery; 20 million copies of the book, more than twice the population of Belgium, have been sold, hotels in the Pacific Northwest are offering Fifty Shades weekends (equipment not furnished), and I understand that the sales of sex toys have increased exponentially. I bet sales of gray silk ties are rocketing, too. If you read the book, you know what I mean.

So, kudos to the author . She may not be much of a writer but she’s one helluva marketer and shse's created a pop culture phenonmenon.


mare ball said... [Reply to comment]

thanks for this run-down of Shades. I've heard only one good comment about this book. The rest of the reviews I've heard/read say the same things you've written here - and worse. I have no desire to read the thing. And I think it's sad that our culture is to enamored w/ this theme. It will only encourage more mistreatment of women, under the guise of love. :-(

Nancy MacMillan said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Thelma. Now I don't have to waste my money to know what the buzz is about. So sad when love is no longer the goal.

gteamhj said... [Reply to comment]

Did I mention hilarious?! Wonderful writing, m'dear.

Jamie said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks for the review, Thelma. I've avoided all the hype, the book and the reviews, but I trusted you to deliver straight from the hip and I wasn't disappointed. My curiosity is sated - I'll look no further.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thelma, I found you today through She Writes and I'm glad I did! I really enjoy how you express your thoughts.
Thank you for your excellent review of this hyped-up book I was not interested in reading from what I heard about it. Now I know I made the right decision. You made it so funny, but very clear that the author has a twisted view - which unfortunately fits quite well with the way our society is going.
What's sad is that so many truly good books have trouble finding their place and then something like this comes along and steals the limelight - so undeserved.

Thank you. I'll be back.


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