NOTE: Adult themes today. You have been warned!
Fifty Shades of Grey is apparently quite a popular book right now. So much hubbub! What is it about? The Wikipedia entry regarding the book (ah, Wikipedia, the source of all pop culture knowledge) summarizes the plot as follows:
The plot traces the relationship between recent college graduate Anastasia Steele and manipulative billionaire Christian Grey. Steele is required by Grey to sign a contract allowing him complete control over her life as well as a non-disclosure agreement, something that he's required from all of his previous submissives. Upon learning that she is a virgin, Grey agrees to have sex with her in order to prepare her for later encounters, fully intending that the contract would be signed. As she gets to know him, she learns that his sexual tastes involve bondage, domination and sadism, and that childhood abuse left him a deeply damaged individual. In order to be his partner she agrees to experiment with BDSM, but struggles to reconcile who she is (a virgin who has never previously had a boyfriend) with who Christian wants her to be: his submissive, to-do-with-as-he-pleases partner in his "Red Room of Pain."
I have begun reading the book. So far, I have progressed through the first encounter of Steele and Grey; the non-disclosure agreement; a first glimpse into the "Red Room of Pain;" the first mentions of Grey's childhood abuse; and Steele's deflowering. I left off right before the chapter that spells out the contract.
My assessment: It is a thoroughly underwhelming read. Shall we discuss the difficulties I am having with this book? Let's.
1. The writing style. The writing uses particularly mundane and repetitive language. It is as though the author deliberately chose to employ simple words and declined to explore any variety of vocabulary. The same phrases and descriptions of particular images occur with astonishing regularity. Most irritating, the protagonist frequently refers to her lady bits as "there" (complete with italics). Really? A veritable cornucopia of both biologically accurate terms and euphemistically amusing epithets are available, and all she can use is "there?"
2. The protagonist. Anastasia Steele is a singularly annoying and unrealistic character. Apparently she has some kind of magnetism that draws Grey to her; what that is, however, is completely unfathomable. The book describes how off-balance Grey makes her, yet we see absolutely nothing of her personality prior to their meeting to lend credence to her reaction to him. She has no strength, no independence, no self-assured competence - the type of personality traits that would render her decision to enter into a relationship as a submissive intriguing. She is a thoroughly blank slate, in every possible way. While it is entirely believable that she would not yet have had intimate relations with a man, it pushes all boundaries of credence when it is revealed that she has never had a crush on any man previously, and has never gone beyond kissing someone once or twice in her entire life. If she never had an ounce of sexual feeling or interest prior to meeting Grey, why would she suddenly be overwhelmed with desire for him? And -- least realistic of all -- she has never even explored herself. A college graduate who has never once masturbated? Please.
3. The confounding of D/s and Sadism-masochism. The book ties Grey's desire for a Dominant-submissive (D/s) relationship together with his interest in Sadism-masochism (S&M). While there is often interplay between the two, they need not coexist. They are quite different and can be mutually exclusive. This bundling of D/s and S&M will no doubt confuse Vanilla readers who are delving into BDSM for the first time.
4. The explanation for Grey's proclivities. In order to explain Grey's backstory and his interest in BDSM, it is mentioned (without much detail so far), that Grey was seduced as a teen by one of his mother's friends, and was in a D/s relationship with her for six years as her submissive. While I will carefully avoid discussing the problem of sexual abuse/exploitation of a young boy, the description seems to imply strongly that it was psychological damage from the abuse that resulted in his 'aberrant' interests. Must there be an explanation? Perhaps even the most well-adjusted and safe-childhood-having individual might have an interest in BDSM. Human attraction and desire do, in fact, reveal themselves in fifty shades of grey, so to speak. They need not be the result of Something Terrible.
5. The sex. The description of the physical encounters is rather wretchedly cliché and a bit unrealistic. Part of the problem may be due to the paucity of varying words employed (see point 1 above) - I would have preferred more references to a "purple helmeted warrior of love" than the plain mention of an erection, or worse yet, just him, as if his entire personality resided in his penis alone. Furthermore, there's absolutely no awkwardness or self-consciousness on the part of either Steele or Grey; there are no faded underpants, no post-coital hair knots, no need to get up and pee afterwards. Must be the result of their being so young and attractive and perfect, I suppose. Finally, there are several descriptions of multiple orgasms within very short time frames; while that is physically possible, certainly, it's rather improbable to insist that it occurs so frequently. How about they climax once, and then have a snack or a nap (or a pee), like normal people? I realize that the book is fantasy, and that the encounters are idealized. Nevertheless, in order for something to be erotic for me, it needs to have slightly firmer roots in reality.
That, my stalwart reader, is my assessment of the first 150 pages of Fifty Shades of Grey. Clearly, it is not a book for me.
What kind of book would I like? I would like to read about entwining of minds, not just bodies; about voluntary surrender, not just unquestioned following. About slow burning desire. About waiting for consummation. About need. And about love, too. You see, for me, sex and love ultimately are inseparable. This may be an old-fashioned or naively idealistic position; nevertheless, it is the view I hold. Surely such a book has been written?
Perhaps I should write that story.
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