"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

"They are calling this pornography!" And rightfully so....  This book is, for the most part, like reading a very well written forum letter. The vocabulary is much better but the content is par for the course. This book is appropriately marketed as erotic romance. A fair review cannot possibly fault the sexual content-you are warned when you read the book jacket. If erotic romance happens to be what you are in the market for, I imagine this is a good choice. I am unfamiliar with this genre, as this was my first novel from the erotic romance section. It is safe to say, it will also be my last. Sex scene after sex scene after one more sex scene didn't hold my interest. On the upside, I found the verbal banter between the main characters (during the times they were clothed and unfettered) well done and oftentimes humorous. E.L. James has a talent for sarcastic wit that comes out in the dialogue and I enjoyed those parts of this novel very much.

So what is the big deal about this trilogy? Selling like wildfire and creating a windstorm of media attention, that is the question I wanted answered after I read this book. Let's face it, E.L. James did not invent BDSM (I had to look that up. Courtesy of Wikipedia, BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism). Fifty Shades is not the first novel to explore that darker side of sexuality. So again, what's the big deal?

It could be that the big deal is the market segment within which this novel is meeting its greatest success. A group of men ogling a Playboy isn't news. Conversely, 100,000 middle-aged suburban housewives publicly swooning over tales of bondage and dominance apparently is news.  At last check, this book sold over 250,000 digital and paperback copies (gasp!) and the question is: Harmless Fantasy or Dangerous Social Influence?  Hmmmm.... I have asked that question across a widely diverse group of people and the majority of them say it's a harmless fantasy. So if it's just a harmless fantasy, why all the fuss?  The Today show did a segment on the Fifty Shades trilogy and one of the guest professionals spoke of the long battle women have fought to earn their power, their place in the boardroom, the shattering of the glass ceiling. Her theory is that after such a long fight for power, women are yearning for a "little bodice ripping" which led to an unexpectedly fanatical response to Fifty Shades. If that's true, good news- Fifty Shades delivers more than a little bodice ripping. Another expert offered a different opinion, claiming that Fifty Shades promotes violence against women.

Main character, Anastasia, has very low self-esteem. So low, in fact, she spends the majority of the novel contemplating a contract outlining the terms of a BDSM relationship with a supremely disturbed young man. And she thinks if she loves him well enough, is submissive enough, and does all the dark and scary things his sexual preference requires-he will change. She believes she can bring him around to a normal, healthy relationship. I ask you ladies, doesn't that aspect of Anastasia's plight sound like a frighteningly common problem among our gender? He'll change. We'll change. The circumstance will change. Is that an idea that we want to promote to our daughters?

Everyone deserves a fantasy. If this is the fantasy that is improving marriages in the suburbs-well, all the better for E.L. James. I don't intend to make it a practice to concern myself over other people's fantasies; however, I became concerned when, in the Today show segment, one of the women shown in the featured book club  laughingly comments to the group (and the entire viewing population of the Today show), "Should I be concerned that I downloaded this to my daughter's Kindle?" Uhhhh... YES. Yes, you should absolutely be concerned about that. She has seen, on national television, her mother and all of her mother's beautiful, intelligent, successful friends claim that "every husband should read this book". Try explaining a normal, healthy relationship now. It wouldn't be funny anymore if the afore mentioned daughter came home with a guy who flogged her with a belt after she rolled her eyes. Still think it should be mandatory reading material for husbands? I'm all for a fantasy. Have several if you like. You might want to think carefully about who you share your fantasy with....

All of that aside, considering the subject matter, I didn't think this was terribly written-it just wasn't for me.  This story made my stomach hurt. The debasement, humiliation, and deranged sexual preferences made me feel physically ill. I'll keep my girl power and  my bodice, thank you very much. James leaves you wondering how it will all work out for Anastasia but I don't have the stomach to read any more of these dark creations.

You will find an official plot line description at: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10818853-fifty-shades-of-grey.

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