Oh, dear readers! There’s been so much hype about the 50 Shades of Grey books and the movie that’s out now – some people calling for a boycott (right, because that never draws MORE attention to something and gets more people to actually go), some people saying that it’s dangerous, some folks complaining that it doesn’t accurately portray the BDSM community, others have said it’s just offensive or sinful, and on and on. And given that I’m a minister, and this is now so firmly planted in popular culture, i did you all a very big favor. I read the books myself. I read them myself, because I suspected that some people have been commenting without really reading, and I wanted to know what it was I was going to be commenting about. And you should thank me for this. I read this so now you don’t have to.
So I’ll say this from the start. There’s plenty of S&M in these books – but mainly in the reading of them. That is to say, this is some of the worst writing I’ve ever read. It was pretty much torture to read these books – hours that I’ll never get back now. I was a bit surprised that it didn’t start out with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” The characters are completely unsympathetic. By the third book, I found myself thinking, “maybe one of them will die. That would pick the story up.” That’s not a good sign when reading a book. You should have some connection to some character. ANY character. And as long as I’m on the subject of characters, these characters couldn’t stay in character — in the books! E.L. James’ imagination doesn’t seem to extend much beyond the bedroom (well, beyond bedroom activities, anyway). Nearly all of the characters are manipulative (hmm…I wonder what that says about E.L. James?), and she can’t seem to decide whether her main character is highly intelligent or remarkably stupid, hopelessly obtuse or incredibly insightful. The characters aren’t believable. I find James Bond to be more believable.
To be fair, these aren’t the absolute worst books I’ve ever read. I think that dubious honor belongs to If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? by Melissa Kantor. This is a book we read once for mother-daughter book club. Unfortunately. This is a book that tacitly condones child abuse and neglect and promotes teen drinking. The 50 Shades books don’t condone child abuse and neglect (in fact, they definitely frown upon abuse and neglect in a rather maudlin, sappy, “poor dear” kind of way. So it’s a step up from Melissa Kantor. I suppose.
I was going to give you my thoughts on the books apart from the crappy writing, but there really is nothing apart from the crappy writing. It’s all tied together (pardon the pun). So I’ll just keep going on this theme. Mind you, I will definitely be including spoilers here, because I really can’t imagine that any of you reading this will care a whit about reading these books. But consider yourself warned.
So are these books dangerous? Well, I suppose they’re about as dangerous as Romeo and Juliet or Snow White, or Cinderella, or any other fairy tale. Let’s take out the BDSM for a minute (because really, the BDSM isn’t even that much of a thing in the books). These books are E.L. James’ personal sexual fantasy that she’s managed to mass-market into her own personal fortune. Um, ok. Well, none of it has any resemblance to reality.
Essentially, there is a super-immature 21-year-old woman who gets lusty for an impossibly wealthy, young, and good-looking CEO. Did I mention wealthy? E.L. James keeps insisting that the character, Ana, isn’t interested in the money, but she never misses an opportunity to tell us how much something costs and to point out the extravagances. And Ana, despite her insistence, is clearly bowled over by all the stuff. There’s no way she would fall for this guy if he were an intern at the company.
So they have sex. A lot. And they have kinky sex. And it’s all consensual. And there are safe words. One time she doesn’t use the safe words, and then she gets angry at Grey because he did….exactly what she asked him to do, then she didn’t tell him to stop, and…sure. That makes sense.
And of course, Christian Grey is deeply troubled by his poor unfortunate start in life, but Ana is just the thing he needs. She rescues him. Because this is E.L. James’ fantasy. And apparently her fantasy involves sex with an impossibly rich, impossibly good-looking, kinky, rescue puppy. Whom she will cure of all his issues just by being so special. Yeah. That could happen. Oh PUHleaze. But hey, it’s her fantasy.
And then, when they’ve known each other for all of, what, maybe a month or two? They get married. Because they know each other so well. Because of all the experiences they’ve shared together, like….well….um….well there was sex. They’ve had sex on a boat. And sex in a bed. And sex in a different bed. And sex against the wall. And in a box. And with a fox, and in a car, and in a plane…sorry – maybe not with the fox.
You’ll notice I haven’t said much about the BDSM yet. Right. That’s because, well, that isn’t even the big deal. I mean, there is some. And it’s all consensual. But the more troubling thing is that pretty much all they do is copulate like rabbits. They haven’t gotten to know each other.
Also troubling is their inability to be open with one-another. Ana is downright deceitful. They’re both manipulative (well, nearly every character in the story is manipulative), and Ana is inconsiderate and sulky.
In one episode, while there’s a stalker actively out trying to get to them (file this under author can’t decide what genre of book to write – we’ll get to that), Ana promises that she’ll go home with the bodyguard and her friend. She swears she will not go out to the bar. Instead, she and her friend go out and spend the whole night at a bar. The bodyguards are not happy. Of course Grey is angry at her. This isn’t about him being a control freak (although he is), this is about common courtesy. She has none. That’s just not how you treat your partner. You don’t promise to be one place, blow that off, and then don’t say anything about it.
She spends a good deal of the time sulking about stuff and worrying about what’s going to happen, and very little time actually talking to Grey about things. The books could be condensed into one book if she’d just behaved like anything approaching an adult.
So yes – genre. Is this a sexual fantasy? Is it a thriller? A whodunit? A romance? Whatever it is, it’s fairly awful. It’s not worth a boycott, because that would elevate the movie to a level that it just can’t reach. But I certainly wouldn’t spend my money on it. Does it misrepresent the BDSM community? Well, based on how it misrepresents pretty much EVERYTHING else, yes, it probably does. So, you know, nothing special there – that’s just SOP for E.L. James. Will it scar you for life? Only if bad writing will do that to you. For me, I was just relieved that the torture was over when I finally reached the last page of the last book.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.