Surely you’ve heard about Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in an erotic fiction trilogy by EL James that has shot to the top of the best seller lists, taken over the book club world, and completely dominated (ahem, pun intended) conversation amongst reading women for the last month or so.
Well, I hated Fifty Shades of Grey.
There, I said it. Hated it hated it hated it.
I am fully aware that this will not be a popular statement. At least not with my friends and the book club ladies. I struggled with my hate. I wanted to like it, if only because I tend to find myself on the “I didn’t really like this book” side of most discussions. I’ll admit it; I’m the dream buster. The one who always finds the book lacking, the one who hates the book everyone else loves. I was a lit and writing major and I worked for years in book stores and I find that I’ve developed the same level of disdain for genre fiction that microbrew connoisseurs have for Coors Light. And not in an ironic way. But it isn’t just that, it’s also that I truly love reading and part of the enjoyment is finding –and clearly labeling – the stuff that you love, but also the stuff that you don’t. Like trying new foods. You take a bite and say, mmm, the pepper is lovely but I’m not sure I like it with the cardamom. Or, wow, I knew I didn’t like curry, but this is truly atrocious. Part of the pleasure is the disassembling, the deconstruction. But this time, for once, I wanted to be on the positive praise side. I wanted to be able to suspend my disbelief, to read simply for the sake of being scintillated and scandalized. Just for fun. I wanted to giggle and blush and talk about my favorite parts (hehe, “parts”).
Alas, it was not to be. She lost me at “Aargh.” As in, “’Aargh,’ I moan…” Oh yes, I giggled there. But not in the way I wanted to. I giggled because what was intended to be a very sexy, very erotic scene suddenly became, at least in my mind, one between Mr. Grey and a pirate. Aargh?? Seriously??
The cardinal sin of good writing had been committed. The writing had intruded on the story. The writer making herself known, the curtain pulled back to reveal it is all just an illusion. As much as I had wanted to do so, I had no hope now of suspending my disbelief.
And who am I to question my place in the world any way? I am the Dream Buster. And I am here to tell you why Fifty Shades of Grey sucks (hehe, “sucks”…).
First off, let me be clear. I have no problem with the sex stuff. I’m not offended by it. It’s fantasy and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not here to judge any one’s sexual proclivities. But, let’s drop the whole “erotic fiction” premise and call this book what it really is. Written porn. (Not that there is anything wrong with that. I’m cool with porn.) The only difference between the “story line” in Fifty Shades and your average porn plot is length. NO not that length. I’m talking about the 382 pages it took EL James to tell the same basic boy-meets-girl, girl-gets-tied-up-in-sex-dungeon story that can be wrapped up in less than 20 minutes by the finer Valley production houses. Which, let’s be honest, is a much more appropriate time period to devote.
And while we’re talking boy meets girl stories, can someone please tell me why we remain so locked into this particular formula? The one where a boho shabby chic poor girl with artistic aspirations finds love with a powerful rich man. This is a very tired story, one we’ve heard countless times before. There’s no push or pull here, no new romantic tension. Honestly, it’s like reading the porn parody of Pretty in Pink. Over it. Certainly we can fantasize about men and women in different roles than these two.
Product placement. Mac, Blackberry, Twinings, Audi, Escala. What am I, the reader, supposed to get from the frequent mention of these products? Time and place? Character depth, ie Christian Grey is cool because he buys cool brands? Okay. But one mention is enough. You don’t have to mention the brand EVERY SINGLE TIME someone picks up a laptop to write an e-mail. And I could have done without the repeated inclusion of the e-mail signature blocks while we’re on the subject. I get it. Now move on.
And perhaps we can also move on past the oddly long descriptions of things I don’t particularly care about. Like gliding. Is this supposed to be a metaphor for letting go of control or something like that? If so, maybe you shouldn’t, Ms. James, spend the entire time talking about the mechanics and controls of the process. It started to read like the entire section had been taken word for word from a Wikipedia article with the intent of sounding like an expert. The last thing this book needs is additional length that serves no purpose. Girth is what it needs. Give me a reason to care.
Though I suppose caring is a lot to ask for in a book that seemingly takes place in about, what, two weeks? All that love and passion and sex and soul searching and damn LIFE CHANGING events take place in less than a month. Right? I kinda felt bad for Christian and Ana, trying to figure out where to go now, until I did the date math and realized they barely knew each other. They met during finals week and broke up just before Jose’s photography show on June 9. And yet, my heart is supposed to break for this love torn asunder? Really?
And, seriously, what’s with the weird Christian forcing Ana to eat thing? I suppose it’s to point out that he has issues, what with having a crack whore mom and all, but it doesn’t work. It’s just creepy and stupid. And while we’re on the subject of crack whore moms, can we please leave a cliché untouched? The basic plot itself is just one big cliché, and then add in the dark and moody piano playing in the night, the trouble with commitment, the not wanting to be touched, the troubled childhood and I’m pretty sure that we end up with an amalgamation of every bad boy love interest throughout literary history. But at least Ana was warned that he was “a loner, Dottie, a rebel.” Too bad none of us were warned about the truly terrible, scary writing we were about to encounter.
In the end, I guess what bothers me the most about this book is that while the story it tells is trite and too-familiar, the story of how the book came to be is not. Here is a woman, an unknown writer, who self-published online and is subsequently discovered, plucked from obscurity, published for real, and rocketed to the top. This happens, well, never. There are so many gorgeously talented writers who deserve this more than EL James, or, Snowqueen’s Icedragon, the name under which she originally published the story that many edits later would become Fifty Shades of Grey. I can’t believe we wasted our immunity idol on this book, that this is what we’ve chosen to celebrate. Mediocrity. It’s like Rebecca Black just won the Grammy for Best New Artist.
Sigh. Sorry, Book Club ladies, I tried. And now that I’ve had my say, I will try and bite my tongue when we meet to discuss Fifty Shades of Grey. But I don’t think I’ll be able to keep from rolling my eyes. I’ll just have to hope Christian Grey isn’t watching or, as we all know, it will be “laters, baby” for my rear end. Just so long as he doesn’t make me read books two and three. Now THAT’S punishment.