50 Shades of Confused

May 14, 2012
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Rumor has it that inquiring minds want to know more about the latest literary sensation, Fifty Shades of Grey. Book Mama aims to please, although this post may draw some ire: I’m going to buck the trend and dis it.


 Fifty Shades of Grey
is more a sad and strange statement on American culture than it is an engaging work of literature in any form, unless you’re specifically seeking out erotica. While there are a few weak plots thrown in to keep the reader engaged, mostly the book revolves around sex. And it’s not your average “vanilla” type of sex, as the hero dismissingly calls what many of us indulge in. It’s bondage and fetishes and sex toys and play rooms and spanking and the BDSM kinky kind of sex. On the plus side, you may learn a lot from reading this series. I know I did.

The Fifty Shades trilogy got its start as fan fiction for the Twilight series. Throughout the Fifty Shades books, readers will find repeated and not very subtle nods to Stephanie Meyers’ books, even though the author claims to have pulled them out. The main characters possess more than a passing resemblance to Bella and Edward (she’s pale, dark-haired and clumsy, he’s over-protective, rich, and has a close-knit family of adopted kids). They go through some of the same scenarios (a crazy woman hunting them down, male rivals for the heroine’s affection, and her resistance to being wed). They spend much of their time together (when not having sex) navel-gazing and re-hashing the same issues over and over. The big difference? A lack of the supernatural and a lot more sex. If this paragraph represented the book and you inserted the word sex between every third letter, you’d have an idea of how frequently such scenes appear. No joke. (Some of you are heading out to buy it now, aren’t you?).

Fifty Shades of Grey tells the intimate story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. When the first book opens, Anastasia is your run-of-the-mill, never-had-a-boyfriend, beautiful, untouched virgin and graduating college senior. When she steps in for her conveniently-sick best friend Kate to interview Seattle’s most eligible bachelor, the young playboy gazillionaire Christian Grey, she attracts more than pithy quotes. Christian is, in his own words, “fifty shades of f#%$ed up” due to a traumatizing early childhood and an unfortunate relationship in his teens. At the tender age of 27, he’s everything the superficial woman wants—gorgeous, smart, rich, attentive. He has a penthouse, a jet plane, and a boat, oh my! And yet he’s also irritatingly obsessive, compulsively overbearing, draconian, and does the bipolar personality shift from dominator to fearful child in three seconds flat.

Christian tries to draw Ana into his rigidly-drawn BDSM lifestyle until he realizes that she’s an innocent in the bedroom, at which point the tug and pull between his bad boy lifestyle and her desire for “hearts and flowers” begins. Only together can they conquer his private demons, while introducing her to submission and the joys of kinky sex in every position imaginable. A few minor sub plots keep the series going. There’s several attempted kidnappings, crazy ex-submissive girlfriends and bosses, a break-up that scars them both. There are some funny email exchanges (the tone copied from Bridget Jones— I’m surprised no one else has noticed) and some truly sweet moments between the characters. Ana’s internal dialogue can be laugh-out-loud funny at times. But the most persistent theme in the book is sex.

Having read all three books (because I was informed that they get better by a certain someone– you know who you are and I want that lost time back…) I don’t understand the series’ insane popularity. The books absolutely deserve a place on the book store shelves— in the erotica section, and I guess that’s why I’m so confused. Did women not know this type of literature exists? Did they need to wait for the technology of e-readers in order to secretly indulge? Are we all just unfortunate lemmings reading the series because our friends were suckered in, too? Or is this an extreme form of literary payback to Stephanie Meyers for not writing more Twilight sex?

I was in a book store recently and eavesdropped on two women who approached the Fifty Shades display at the front of the store. One woman turned to the other and said, “it’s pure escapism. You have to read it.” That’s the kind of word-of-mouth recommendation that publishers can’t buy. And yet, escapism? Really? I love a good romance and sex scenes as much as the next woman, but my idea of escapism does not include a shallow world of stereotyped characters, superficial plot devices, Twilight knock-off writing, and rainy Seattle. Come on, ladies, fess up. Why did you indulge? This inquiring mind wants to know. Because honestly, I don’t get it.

Here are a few more articles on the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon:

http://www.blogher.com/50-shades-grey-when-if-fan-fiction-not-fan-fiction

http://www.npr.org/2012/03/15/148605287/fifty-shades-of-grey-publishings-sexiest-trend

http://jezebel.com/5902258/fifty-shades-of-greys-success-has-nothing-to-do-with-repressed-feminist-fantasies

 

Bookmama

 

Bookmama is a writer, parent, and avid reader. She likes to think she has good taste in books, but she doesn’t always agree with the literary crowd. Her nine-year-old son is even harder to please, and together they hope to provide occasional reviews of great books for both adults and kids.

 

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SJPmama

SJPmama

SJPmama is the founder and editor at San Juan Parent. She created San Juan Parent because she wanted to find fun activities for families in the San Juan mountain region that would tire her kids out and make them go to bed at a decent hour.

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