The “Fifty Shades” Phenomenon: A Reader’s Diary, Part Two

  When last we met, gentle readers, I was at approximately the midpoint of the paperback hype machine known as Fifty Shades of Grey.  To recap, I wasn’t impressed yet, neither with the content nor E.L. James’ writing style.  Of course, no one reads this type of book for the verbal craftsmanship, but frankly, now that I’ve finished it, I feel kind of let down in terms of both story and titillation, as well.

First and foremost, I tired quickly of our heroine Anastasia’s frequent referrals to her inner goddess and her subconscious.  As written they appear to be tiny Smurf-sized people that actually hang out in Ana’s head and have conversations with her–  her subconscious is definitely Brainy Smurf in all his annoying, know-it-all glory, while her “inner goddess” is naturally that dippy, breathless Smurfette (and not the vaguely tolerable, Katy-Perry voiced version of her from the recent movie, but the old-school, bimbo Smurfette of yore).  This device got old fast, and had me faintly worried that Ana has a latent multiple-personality disorder. As for Christian Grey, her lover… Mr. Grey openly admits to Ana that he is “fifty shades of f***ed up”, but his domineering, stalker-like tendencies are kind of repellent… and his bedroom skills kind of leave me cold.  Is Fluffy really that jaded?  I mean, this is the book that has supposedly inspired women all over the world to rejuvenate their sex lives.  Seriously?  This isn’t even hardcore, or that different from what I perceive as “vanilla”, Christian Grey’s borderline personality aside.  As I suspected, it’s your typical Harlequin or Silhouette bodice-buster.  The only additions are the BDSM trappings, but they are just that– trappings, whose apparent very mention makes other women hot and bothered.  So why not Fluffy, you ask?  Well, um, Fluffy has Been There, and in my estimation, Christian Grey, or “Fifty Shades” as Ana finally begins calling him in her internal Smurf ruminations, is just not a very convincing dom.  He has issues he needs to work out on his own before taking them out on others, and comes across as a manipulative, needy, childish and self-centered petty tyrant.  The author obviously has master/servant fantasies, but equally obviously, has little knowledge of these things beyond basic tools and terminology.

Back to the writing.  I was starting to get the giggles every time Ana or Christian said something that made the other “gasp.”  Really, Ana could say “Pass the pepper” and Christian would gasp, and vice versa.  Where does one find examples of these gasping humans, and are they only found in Washington state?  Ana bites her lip a lot, and it gives Fifty Shades an instant hormone rush.  (Somehow whenever Ana calls him that, the image of 50 Cent pops unbidden into my head.) Both of them spend a significant portion of the book “frowning” or “scowling.”  And then there’s the ubiquitous catchphrase, “Laters, baby,” first uttered by Christian’s brother Elliot to his girlfriend (and Ana’s best friend) Kate.  While this sounded natural coming from Elliot given his breezy, casual character, the snarky, uptight Christian’s adoption of it doesn’t seem like a good fit and actually inspired another fit of the giggles in me when he first parroted the words to Ana– and not sexy giggles.  A fair bit of the novel is composed of the couple’s emails to one another, which were surprisingly more entertaining than the naughty scenes, since the couple seem to be at their most honest– and even humorous– via message.

Given the book’s origin as a Twilight fanfiction, it was fun to play a guessing game as to which incidental character started life as which Twilight character.  I’m still clueless about who Kate might be, unless she was Rosalie or an original character, or maybe one of Bella’s friends from Forks.  (If anyone knows, please tell me.  I’m leaning towards Rosalie, because of her sharp tongue, protective demeanor, and the obviousness that Christian’s sister in the book is based on Alice, but I haven’t figured out a Jasper counterpart either, so maybe both the Hales were omitted.)  Ana’s friend Jose, who makes a clumsy pass at her while they are at a bar and of whom Christian is acutely jealous, can only be Jacob Black.  Elliot, of course, is Emmet (which lends credence to my Kate/Rosalie theory), and the various parents, adoptive, step, and birth, are also easily identifiable, as some of the names have barely even changed.

Truthfully, I didn’t hate the book.  It was fun, light and quick reading, and I’ve already started the sequel, Fifty Shades Darker.  The series is pure cheese, and it’s rather enjoyable on that level.  Just don’t go in expecting Shakespeare, or The Story of O,and you probably won’t be disappointed.  If you like romance novels, it’ll be your cup of Twinings English Breakfast.  Because that’s exactly what it is.  Not revolutionary, only mildly kinky, and not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, it’s trash for its own sake, and not the worst way to spend a couple of afternoons.

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