25 Shades of Grey (or 50 Shades at the half-way mark)Jun 18th, 2012 | By Awen_Therapist | Category: Awen Therapist, Books, Columns, Contributors, Reviews
I decided I needed to read Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James to see what all of the hoopla was about. Reportedly this is a NY Times bestseller about BDSM. The reviews I had read were pretty mixed. But I was shocked to see numerous Facebook proclamations by some of the most buttoned up appearing friends I have raving about the book. So what is this so called “Mommy Porn” like?
I was walking through a store and saw a display of the book. I grabbed a copy and as I walked to the cash register with a friend I started to read random passages aloud. I immediately wished I hadn’t. Not because of embarrassment about the subject but because of the quality of the writing. Phrases like “he pushed against my sex” spoke to the timid, euphemistic style of the book.
None the less, I have started reading. I’m at the half-way point and here are my thoughts so far.
Let me cover the negatives first. The bottom line is that this book is poorly written. While the concepts don’t require much thought, working through the poorly worded sentences, crazy, and sometimes incorrectly used, big words do. I found myself often stopping to think “what?”
The story is over the top. Set aside the fact that the primary male character is a 27 year old billionaire with helicopters and the ability to get unreleased technology from Apple. I found the implausible parts to be things like this – after discovering that the target of his “affections,” a 22 year old college girl, is a virgin, Christian Grey agrees to “start [her] basic training” by “making love”, something he never does. He only “fucks hard.” Then, the following morning he admits it was a first for him when he says, “I’ve never had vanilla sex before.”
But to be fair, from my understanding, James wrote this book primarily for herself. She e-published without an editor, never expecting the book to be the success it is. So kudos to James for managing to garner so much attention.
There are two big concepts that strike me so far. The first is how accurately the book portrays the societal notion that anyone engaged in BDSM is somehow flawed and a product of horrible, demeaning or brutal experiences. Anastasia, the principle female character, is continually wondering what horrible, unfathomable experiences Christian has suffered to make him the way he is. Even Christian Grey sees himself as horribly and irretrievably flawed. The book title is derived from his self-description of being “fifty shades of fucked up.”
I admit I have only read the first half of the first book of a three book story. But my fear is that this is going to be an ongoing theme…how can the innocent young girl rescue the horribly and tragically imperfect hero? Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe this is going to start with the typical societal judgements and it will be Anastasia who changes. Maybe she’ll come to understand that BDSM isn’t inherently bad and a reflection of a horrible past. If not, I worry that this book will just perpetuate some very unfortunate stereotypes and judgments.
My other reaction is this. I think it is positive that the topic can be raised in the mainstream and create the beginnings of an open dialogue. It feels like a step forward that BDSM can be written about and read about by the masses, even if it is in a flawed way. Often we need to take baby steps and having the thought and acknowledgment of BDSM see the light of day in the general population seems like one of those steps. The mere fact that it now exists in popular consciousness helps prevent it from being ignored or denied. Hopefully it will create the opportunity for discussion and alternative perspectives. While it highlights how far society has to go with understanding and accepting BDSM, I give James and these books credit for helping, even inadvertently, push the topic into the mainstream.
Those are my thoughts so far. I’ll let you know how they change as I work through the other 25 shades.