By Amy Desselle
There’s a reason “Fifty Shades of Grey” is in its fifth week as number one on the New York Times’ e-book best sellers list: no one wants to be caught buying it at the local Barnes & Noble.
The first installment of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy by British author E. L. James, a London-based mother of two, focuses on the relationship between 21-year-old Anastasia Steele and 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey, who happens to have a slight BDSM (Bondage Discipline Sadism Masochism) fetish.
The virginal Anastasia Steele is immediately won over by Grey’s overwhelming beauty and intoxicating scent and wastes no time throwing herself at his feet, literally and metaphorically. Grey wants “Ana” to be his Submissive, to the extent of presenting her with a contract outlining every detail of their relationship from calling him “Sir” to the hard (never going to happen) and soft (negotiable) limits of sex play. The 11-page contract is printed in its entirety in the novel, down to the multiple subheadings and three appendices.
Of course, as in any standard romance novel, these characters aren’t as unburdened as they originally seem. James makes clumsy and cliché attempts at giving her characters some depth. Christian Grey is the castoff of a “crack whore” (then adopted by a “perfect” family, a real tragedy) and Anastasia’s mother is on her fourth husband. Anastasia must save Christian from his dark desires, his wretched past and himself.
If this sounds familiar, it should.
James found her concept for the books while writing “Twilight” fan fiction under the pseudonym Snowqueens Icedragon. She took Bella and Edward, gave them new names and jobs, took away the mystical powers, plopped them down in Seattle, sprinkled in some spanking and called it a trilogy.
The bare bones of the book leave much to be desired as well. To call the basically nonexistent storyline a plot would be to insult its very definition. The book is 514 pages of sex scenes strung together by plodding, overwrought descriptions, transcripts of email exchanges and BDSM contracts. It reads like an R-rated “Mad Libs” book.
Anastasia’s “inner goddess” shakes, glows, frowns, jumps, bounces, pants and much, much more, no fewer than 57 times in the book. The repetitive language and stiff prose are both annoying and unrealistic. But then again, those reading this book aren’t reading for intellectual stimulation.
Putting aside the serious problems of unoriginality, basic writing skills and focus, the real tragedy of the book is that these characters are flat, more caricature than character.
The disconcerting message this book sends out to its readers is that in a world where women are finally gaining professional independence, there is a need to be dominated in our personal lives. And so the real fetish is revealed.
We are presented with a young girl with zero self-esteem or confidence, who is completely undone by a voice “warm and husky like dark melted chocolate caramel … or something.” She cries constantly and, as her equally flat roommate points out, only since meeting the dominating Christian Grey.
And yet, we are expected to project onto her blankness, to identify with her and embrace her complete lack of independence and drive. It’s okay though, really. Because he loves her. Sure, he never comes right out and says it but she tames the beast and that makes it all acceptable.
E. L. James is no literary genius, but having sold more than 250,000 copies of her book, she seems to have tapped into a market of modern women who have a fetish that isn’t exactly politically correct.
However, there are just some things that can’t be overlooked when reading any book; having the writing skills of an over-sexualized middle-schooler is a big one. Caning may be Anastasia’s hard limit but no reader should have “Fifty Shades of Grey” inflicted on them.Contact Amy Desselle.