Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

What better way to show that special lady in one’s life just how one feels about her than by taking her to a movie? How about one that features two idiots engaging in brutal sadomasochistic sex? Happy Valentine’s day, hon. Since I’m not a big movie fan, I decided to stay in this weekend and read Fifty Shades of Grey. At one point I thought I’d need to be put in bondage to get through it, but I finished, anyway. While I know this sounds bizarre coming from me, it exceeded my expectations. To be fair, from the reviews I’ve read, this wasn’t hard to do.

Based on the merciless pillorying it received, I expected the level of prose one would find from a fourth grader. If a verb appeared every few lines or so, I would’ve thought the book much better than I’d anticipated. Still I found it lacking. The author presented the story exclusively in Anastasia’s point-of-view. The narrator related the drama in a manner I’d expect from a self-absorbed twenty-something. But still: I would’ve expected a better range of language from someone who majored in English. Then again, Anastasia clearly didn’t receive the best education. After four years of college she couldn’t think of any other way to describe a smile than “wry”. Maybe in one of the sequels she got her tuition back.

And then we have the descriptions. Anastasia related her amatory endeavors with the same emotion and passion that one would use reciting from a phone book. I can’t cite passages. They struck me as so dry I didn’t mark them while reading the text. Granted no one reads erotica anticipating the verse of a John Keats, but I do expect some lyrical flourishes. After all, this was a love story; or at least one of intense infatuation. Pretty much Ana limited her descriptions of Christian to how physically attractive she found him. REALLY!!! Because of that she’s willing to let him bind her, hit her and use her body as a laboratory for his depraved desires. I’m sorry, but no one’s that good looking.

Now we come to the plot. I don’t mean to spoil it for anyone, but here it goes. Young miss innocent girl met worldly guy who seemed like a living reflection from a dream. BUT WAIT! He had a dark secret!!! He slowly drew her into his bizarre world. Should she leave him? Could she change him? He experienced conflicting thoughts, also. Should he give up something that’s a part of him for the love of this woman? Have you heard this one before? It’s been used in the past. I remember encountering it in a work called Every Book Every Written.

The one positive element to Fifty Shades of Grey entailed the author’s depiction of Anastasia. While I loathe making this point, I found her behavior very believable. In fact, her taste in men and her thought process reminded me of a young lady I knew at one time. I suspect the only reason I finished the book was to try and understand this way of, for lack of a better term, thinking. It didn’t. It did make me wish Christian could’ve somehow isolated Anastasia’s “inner goddess”, tied it up in the Red Room of Pain, and left it there.

On the subject of believability: I found Anastasia’s first erotic encounter completely beyond all bounds of possibility. She acknowledged Christian as her first lover. Yet, she turned in a performance worthy of an Olympic medal. That’s a hell of a first effort. If I’m to believe this I need to believe Jimmy Page belted out “Stairway to Heaven” the first time he picked up a guitar, the Theory of Relativity comprised Einstein’s first words, and two year old Shakespeare’s first scribbling made up the soliloquy to Hamlet. Folks, we can all dream, but it doesn’t happen in the real world.

I don’t anticipate Fifty Shades of Grey will make the list of 100 must reads for the 21st century. I have to admit, that I thought it an interesting book, but not so much for the content. What intrigues me is that in spite of the poor reviews, it’s a New York Times Best Seller. While critics compete over who can pan the film version the harshest, it made over $94M in its opening weekend. The real gray area is why subject matter such as this resonates with such an immense audience.

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