Friday, July 20, 2012

Reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey

OK folks, I did it. I read the runaway best seller Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. So far t's sold roughly 20 million copies, been optioned for a movie, and made its debut author oodles of royalty money.It's also been both lavishly praised and lambasted by readers and reviewers. Since I'm a writer, and honestly since everywhere I went people asked if I'd read it, I thought I needed to. I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

Here's my unofficial, gut reaction: it's horrifying.

Here's my more carefully formed opinion: it is a poorly written novel with roots in Twilight fan fiction that creates a disturbing so-called romance from a BDSM relationship between an older man and an college-aged virgin.

These are the problems I had with this book:

1. It's poorly written. The writing is choppy, repetitive, verbose, repetitive, and features unrealistic dialogue and characters. Also, it's repetitive. Honestly, I wanted to put it down after the first chapter. I can't even count (well, I probably could, but I didn't) the number of times Christian's "long index finger" is mentioned, Ana bites her bottom lip, she says "Holy Cow" or refers to her "inner goddess," or we hear about the "gray linen pants" that hang off his hips.

2. It's wholly unbelievable. Why on earth would a 27-year old mega-millionaire have any interest in a bumbling, insecure 21-year old virgin? Why IS she a virgin in 2011 (religion aside, because that's never touted as a reason)? Moreover, she's also never masturbated or been kissed, but the moment she meets Christian, she has multiple orgasms and gives perfect oral sex? Really?

3. It started as Twilight fan fiction, which means the characters of Christian and Ana are Edward and Bella, grown up and having sex. First of all, I'm more likely to support an author who creates her own original characters, instead of drawing upon a fan base established by someone else. Beyond that, I didn't like the characters in Twilight because Bella's a weak heroine who gives up everything in her life for a controlling, creepy man, and lo and behold! The same thing happens in Fifty Shades, only Edward/Christian is about 100 times creepier and more controlling. From a high school teacher's POV, I tell my female students not to want to be Bella or want a guy like Edward, which brings me to my next point...

4. I understand that BDSM is a lifestyle that some people choose. However, the way in which inexperienced Ana is brought into the lifestyle horrified me in both a physical and emotional sense. Arousal through physical dominance/punishment borders wayyy too closely on abuse for me. Ana is taught that sexual pleasure comes from giving up everything to her man, and if she doesn't "behave" then he is allowed to control and punish her as he sees fit. Yes, I know they negotiate a contract, and she has safe words and is allowed to say no at any point. I don't care. To deliver the message to someone who has zero sexual experience that THIS is how you achieve that pleasure is disturbing. It is tantamount to telling young girls that they should obey and submit, that men should be allowed to control them this way because it's in everyone's best interests. What kind of message does that send to women? To men? How can we be sure they aren't taking those kinds of ideas from the bedroom into their professional and public lives? I read a commentary that suggested that the reason so many women enjoyed this book was because secretly, they were tired of being "in charge" in the rest of their lives and wanted to give up control and let someone else lead in the bedroom. Perhaps. To me, there is still a difference between letting someone else lead during sex and allowing your partner to order you to kneel in the corner without looking at him or allowing him to spank you if you "misbehave."

5. Finally, it's not a romance. The book does not end happily, nor does it really even have closure of any kind - I'm guessing that's because there are 2 more books in the trilogy, and the author knew that when she was finishing the first one. However, a romance is expected to have at least a "Happy For Now" ending and this one doesn't. Of course, in my opinion this isn't a romance in the first place, so if we file it under Women's Fiction I suppose it could get away without the ending neartly tied up. I'd still like to see some progress made in Ana's character, though, and I don.'t

I finished the book. I will not read the other 2 in the trilogy. I'm glad, I guess, that I read it so I know what everyone's talking about, but this is my take. I will say this: if Fifty Shades brought the romance genre more into the mainstream, and increased sales of other romance titles, then I'm glad, That's about the only redeeming quality I can see from this book.

And now....I'm done. Thoughts, anyone??


Diane Craver said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book. I haven't read it and probably won't so I'm glad to know more about it from an author of well-written and wonderful romances!

Elyse D. said...

Your insight and assessment of the book is so well stated and I agree with you. I can not fathom why this book is so popular among women since it is awkwardly written, characters are neither original nor believable, and depict romance in sadistically abnormal way. I am grateful to authors like you that maintain the true essence of romance novels. Please continue with your art of writing such delicious fiction that a woman truly appreciate!!!!