Monday, May 21, 2012

On The Bookshelf: 50 Shades of Grey

I debated on whether or not I should keep this a shame-filled secret, much like my journal that ranged from the years of 12-19, but unlike that book, practically everyone and their grandmother, and sometimes generations in between have already read this book, so what's the harm in admitting that yes, I have read 50 Shades of Grey.  This will be my attempt at reviewing it.  Spoiler alert:  It's a book about sex.  Having sex, talking about having sex, thinking about having sex, texting about having sex, with a teensy bit of emotion and more sex thrown on top of that.  That probably should be the end of the review; however let me start at the beginning, just to feel as if I've accomplished something this evening.
50 Shades of Grey is the story of the (mostly sexual) relationship between a girl, Anastasia Steele (quit snarking, this is serious ok?) and a boy, Christian Grey (duh).  Anastasia, or Ana to her friends (who are kind of crappy and mostly out of the picture, because who has time for friends when you're wandering around bow-legged from all that kinky insanity) is a college senior, who in this day and age has managed to make it to 22-ish, and still remain a virgin.  Christian Grey is a multi-millionaire (at the very least) who has his own helicopter, the ability to buy Porsches and Macbooks on a whim, and a pretty swanky bachelor pad, that Ana soon discovers is outfitted with a neat little chamber of love.  Their meet-cute is that Ana is going to do her friend a favor and interview Christian for the student newspaper but asks a bunch of embarrassing questions.  Instead of being turned off by this lack of professional decorum, Grey is turned on, in that way that multi-millionaires are fascinated by the decidedly mediocre average class.  He MUST see her again.  He just CAN'T get her out of his mind.  Of course.
At least I gather that's what the first couple of chapters are about.  To be honest, once I downloaded it I skimmed about the first fifty pages when I didn't find any titillating words so that I could get to good stuff. I mean what else was a book like this really for?  Are women really reading it for the emotional gratification?  I hope not, because there is little to be gleaned from the rest of the book.
It turns out that Mr. Grey, while having the appearance of your average wealthy man on the outside is harboring a secret.  He's a dominant.  (Cut to Anna going all Vader "NOOOOOOO!!!!") Ana, having no idea what this means (or perhaps even what the WORD dominant means) is just your regular all-American girl who thinks that she's really lucky that this guy is so into her.  Well, soon he'll be a little bit more into her, but we'll get there in a moment.  She thinks she's grabbed the brass ring.  A gorgeous (did I forget to mention that part), rich man cannot get enough of her.  But her journey of discovery hits a bump when Mr. Grey A) brings out a typed, multi-page contract (it's negotiable, of course) about how their relationship will go (complete with directions on what she will eat, when she will exercise, and how long the relationship will last) and B) shows her his "red room of pain", I couldn't make this up people.
But this is just a momentary pause for Ana who is certain that she's just the girl who can bring Christian out of this dark place.  It's just a phase, she's convinced herself and she weighs her options: have a hot, rich dude as your boyfriend or be alone forever.  Which do you think she chooses?
Soon, Christian can't help but feel more and more attached, breaking his own rules because he starts to, say it with me now, fall in love with her.  Both are jealous people, which really works out great for a relationship, and they can't get enough of each other.  In the moments when they're not having sex, which seem to become farther and fewer between the longer the book goes on, little more is revealed of their characters except that Ana keeps saying "I want more (emotionally)" and Christian keeps saying "I want more (sexually)".  It's a fight that neither one is going to win.  That's why there are two other books.
Evolved from some sort of Twilight fan fiction, which I found out AFTER downloading, 50 Shades of Grey/Darker/Freed is a potent mix of emotional and sexual fantasy.  It takes everything that Twilight promised its fans (totally normal, boring girl picked out of the masses to end up with the hottest, richest dude in the state for no reason whatsoever) and ratchets it up few notches by adding in sex toys and positions and locations that are normally only viewed on Cinemax after 1 am, or even HBO after 9 pm (bless their premium cable hearts).  In essence, fulfilling the romantic journey in a way that the Bedward Saga didn't manage to do until three and a half books in.  That's why these books are such a phenomenon, a quarter of the wait with quadruple the payoff.  It's like winning a thousand bucks on penny slots.
I'll say that the book is at least adequate for its main purpose, which I'm assuming is as an "erotic" novel, and that I actually did fly through it, but I'm not sure if that was because of the effectiveness of the behind-doors scenes or the fluffiness of the actual plot.  I'm thoroughly unsure of whether I care to continue the series because neither of these characters seem to have any backbone or sense.  The writing is too funny to take seriously, and reconfirms the idea that an editor is an author's best friend, and the predictability of it all is off the charts.  Between Ana's unfounded jealousy/hatred of one of Christian's ex-"girlfriends" and Christian's borderline-stalking tendencies, which Ana confuses with the actions of someone who cares for her, there's a lot of ambiguity about what actually makes an emotionally successful relationship.
The truly odd aspect of all this is just what a phenomenon this book has been and I can only explain it as being a result of the e-book era.  The Internet has once again proven that the anonymity of the download is a powerful tool of persuasion.  Holding a nook or a kindle anywhere in public makes everything seem a bit more respectable, as long as you don't leave it where anyone can see what you're reading.  You could be reading Where the Wild Things Are but people might just assume you look like the kind of person who's reading A Tale of Two Cities for fun.
This isn't to say that I didn't read it on a nook, I did.  I read it with just the same amount of taboo secrecy and public admittance that I'm sure a majority of the people reading it did.  What I'm curious about is, was this a book that book clubs read?  Were there discussions about this book, and if so, did it revolve around the "plot" or around the proclivities?  It seems like it's a book that everyone acknowledges, on a surface level, to reading, but that you don't talk about in-depth in public because, seriously, how can you?  You can't casually mention the term "oral exam" in public without getting weird looks, and you could just be talking about how you passed your political science course in college.
As with all books where there's a boring girl making questionable decisions, there will be feminist arguments to be made about what being "dominated" says about the state of women or whether this is the acknowledgement of a finally less Puritanical stance on sex and all of the different kinds of sex that entails, but I hold no such lofty goals.  Sure maybe a few more vibrators get sold, and if so, good on those purchasers.  I did reach a point where I was just reading through the boring bits to see if I could count how many times Ana could bite her lip in the course of an evening.  She must have been in serious need of chap stick (wink, wink) Even with its widespread popularity, I doubt 50 Shades is going to change the discourse of sexual liberation, but I applaud it for not pretending to be more than it is and for not staying too late at the party.  It's a book that is aware that most of its audience will either have to leave the beach or respond to a cry from a baby monitor at some point, but it was certainly more fun than the book I chose to read after it.

Overall: 2, because, well, at least it wasn't boring, or at least 80% of it wasn't boring, and the rest you can always skip quickly over, like a soap opera you're returning to after a 6 month break, you'll find you won't have missed much.

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