Um. So. I read Fifty Shades of Grey. I heard about it on How Was Your Week a few weeks ago and didn’t buy it because a) apparently all these women read it on the subway which is gross and b) for some reason, Amazon’s description made me think it was about an old guy having sex. But then I saw a review somewhere else and that SNL short, and you know what? I like erotica, okay? I like erotica and I can even write some decent smut. There. Now you know.
Fifty Shades of Grey is about this newly graduated-from-college virgin (ha!) who meets this 27-year-old billionaire (double ha!) and kind of/sort of starts dating him, but mostly he’s just into being her dominant. This is hardcore domination, too, because he’s a billionaire and has the money for a full-on torture chamber “playroom” in his house. The first half of the book is all him chasing her, him deflowering her, and him chasing her some more while she has no fucking idea what it means to be a submissive. And come on. I’m not an established submissive myself, but I have been reading Savage Love since I was 16, and the girl in the book is old enough to have grown up with the Internet. I mean, get real.
Just after the halfway point, she agrees to be his submissive and starts getting her ass handed to her in very mild, introductory wayss. Which is fine, because that’s part of the deal. But she has all these moral and psychological issues and still doesn’t seem to get it, and again, this is disturbing to me because she’s a college graduate who’s really into Victorian literature and the Victorians were all about secret perversion, and I just think she should know better, or at least be able to get it through her educated head. It’s not difficult. Like I said, I’m no established submissive myself. I’m not giving you any window in my sexual preferences (I’m pretty sure my mom reads my blog), but in general, I have too many issues with authority and trust to really commit myself to that lifestyle. If I were in that situation, though, what people agree to in the bedroom is all well and good, but telling me what to eat when we’re not even together? Bitch, don’t you mess with my food. And don’t you think your income could be better spent on things that aren’t medieval torture devices? What I mean is that even though I’m not into submission as my one true thing, I still understand what it entails, and this girl can be annoyingly unaware, and for a dominant, the guy doesn’t seem to be willing to say “suck it up and get on your knees, crying is part of the game.”
Story-wise, Fifty Shades of Grey is a combination of Pretty Woman, The Story of O, and (god help me) Twilight. It’s like Pretty Woman in that Christian Grey (the billionaire) is super wealthy and buys the narrator stuff, and also there are at least two scenes in the book that were lifted straight from the movie. The Story of O is an obvious influence with the whole BDSM/corruption of an innocent theme, and fuck, Twilight, okay, the narrator in Fifty Shades of Grey is a klutz who moves to Washington and has a few of those “I’m so plain and he’s so pretty, why does he like me?” moments, and like Twilight, the male character is dangerously manic-depressive. Maybe I’ve never been as attracted to headcases as my dating history suggests, but it makes me crazy when women in books go for these guys. In one of the first scenes the narrator and the billionaire share together (at the hardware store where she works, please don’t ask me to parse that one out), he buys cable ties, masking tape, and rope, and somehow she doesn’t immediately suspect him of being a murderer. I can’t speak for everyone else in the world, but generally, I suspect most people of being murderers even when they’re not doing anything wrong at all. Buying actual murdering supplies, though? I know how this works! I’ve seen SVU! I’m calling the cops!
But at least there’s no pretense of eternally supernatural love with a non-threatening twink in this book, and at least Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t expect the reader to sit through a whole fucking trilogy for a single half-assed sex scene. The first sex scene in Fifty Shades of Grey happens about ¼ of the way in, and it’s not this “we kissed and then I went unconscious and Edward fucked me anyway which knocked me up with a vampire baby” nonsense. It’s actual sex, and, um, it’s pretty good. The next few scenes aren’t as good but I still wouldn’t kick them out of bed, and thank god, there are no vampire babies in this one. BUT:
So the writing is better than Twilight, which isn’t hard to accomplish assuming an author has actually read books before. There are a few issues, though, in that the author seems incapable of describing breathing without the word “gasp” (even in casual conversation between characters) and any contraction of muscles is described as a “clench.” Also, the author doesn’t really show us anything except the most immediate, tactile objects with no character development-related reason, and it feels like the details that are present were an editorial afterthought intended to make it an actual book instead of diary porn.
In addition to this, my biggest issue with Fifty Shades of Grey is that the BDSM element – the best, hottest, and most visceral part of the book – dials way down towards the end in favor of romance. The story keeps nudging these characters (particularly the billionaire, who spends the first half of the book insisting that he’s not wired for romance, love, or anything other than fucking and pain) towards an intimate relationship. This ratchets down the hotness of all the later scenes, and while I realize that it’s difficult to describe so many of these scenes in varying detail, would it have hurt to read a few back issues of the Penthouse Forum? I know the romance thing was done to sell the book and if I didn’t want that then I could have purchased something with a brown paper wrapper, but why does everything have to be about that? There are three whole books in this series! Why can’t the dom-sub relationship be fraught and
interesting hot enough to last all the way through book one? Why must the dynamic be changed?
There’s one true punishment at the end of the book, but it’s not a whole lot and way too late, and, despite the narrator’s (and presumably the author’s) accusation that it makes the male character into a “fucked up son of a bitch,” it hardly breaches the surface of what BDSM really is. Which someone would know if they bothered to read Savage Love or pretty much anywhere on the Internet. I’m just saying.