I’m going to begin my post on 50 Shades of Grey the same way most bloggers and reviewers have begun: Everyone’s been talking about this book and asking me if I’ve read it and what my thoughts are on it, so I finally picked it up. In my particular case, it was in a bookstore at SFO, right when we were getting ready to board a 5-hour flight to the East Coast. I already had three books with me: one was a Pulitzer winner, one was from a hip-indie-press, and one was a National Book Award finalist.
Not exactly beach-reads. I needed some good, ‘ole-fashioned S&M porn to help me unwind. So I picked up one of the zillion copies the bookstore had on center display and started reading on my flight. (How are you able to read a book on a 5-hour flight with three young children? you ask, to which I respond, Apple products.)
I knew the book had a lot of sex in it, so I wasn’t surprised when I found myself getting tingly feelings down there in the middle of coach somewhere over Colorado. I even glanced over our three children at Chris, who was reading Bicycle Magazine, and gave him some raised eyebrows, but he had no idea what was going on and pressed the call button to get me more ginger ale.
So I wasn’t surprised by the sex. I wasn’t surprised by spanking and whips. I wasn’t even too surprised by the dom-sub contract. (Ha! Someone google that.) Here is what suprised me: why, when all of everyone is talking about the sex scenes and the S&M and the portrayal of women’s wants and needs, etc, etc, etc, WHY didn’t anyone mention to me how BAD THE WRITING IS??? Never-mind the flat setting, contrived characters, and silly plot, I’m talking about the sentence-level, word-by-word writing part, where you know how upset the protagonist is by her use of “crap!” vs. “double-crap!”
Once I started looking around at reviews after I read the book (I always wait until I’m done to read reviews), I realized I’m not the only one to be so utterly disappointed that this quality of writing has somehow become a national best seller. One blogger made up a drinking game based on how many times words and phrases are repeated in the book. Another was able to use a feature on her Kindle to tally up how many times Anastasia “bit her lip” and Christian is “mercurial.”
I don’t know. To be straight with you, I don’t dabble much in porn, literary or otherwise. If you are looking for recommendations for well-written porn, do a google search. I’m sure it’s out there. Maybe someday I’ll get more into it and can link to all kinds of great work. I’m just wondering what in the world this best-seller-thing says about our culture and what we want. Someone, please, enlighten me. Apparently, we want to read about sex. That’s fine. I think we need to. But is it too much to ask that it be well-written?
One of the positive reviews gave this disclaimer: “50 Shades is great if you read it for what it is. If you’re going into it with high expectations, you’re going to be disappointed.”
Um, I’m sorry? That’s the attitude I take when I show up for a nice dental cleaning. It is not the attitude I want to take when reading OR having sex, or getting to sort-of-do-both at the same time.
Yes, I finished the book. Yes, I was slightly curious to know what would happen to Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in the next two books. (The writing is not known for being subtle, as you can tell by these character’s names.) (And after I thought about it for a few more seconds, I realized I didn’t really care anymore.) Yes, I did understand how the book could get people talking and thinking about things that they usually suppress or otherwise avoid.
But, my vagina wants it all: good sex and good writing. She cannot be distracted by weak character development, stereotypes, judgments, plot holes, and unimaginative language. It’s too confusing that her arousal is interrupted by thoughts like, doesn’t this contribute to an unfair generalization that all S&M fans are victims of child-abuse or that all victims of child-abuse will be S&M fans?
Mind you, I want to add that I don’t mean to entirely knock the author. She’s an English woman who initially published this as “fan fiction” of Twilight and it’s not her fault Americans have made it a national best seller. Anyone who has written book-length work (or three) has done what many people just talk about.
However, for anyone out there who is looking for new perspectives on sex and gender, doesn’t need explicit eroticism in the writing, and wants something well-written, let me recommend In One Person, by John Irving. Inadvertently and coincidentally, I picked this one up after 50 Shades. (I just couldn’t jump right back into the Pulitzer-stuff. My brain needed a bridge back to the land of good writing.) I am only 2/3 of the way through, but am totally delighted with this one. A coming-of-age, memoir-style novel about a bisexual male who finds himself attracted to transsexuals. Don’t even try to pigeon-hole him.
And those are my thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey. Don’t hold your breath for reviews on the rest of the trilogy.