Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L James
(New York: Vintage Books, 2012)
"When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana's quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too -- but on his own terms.
"Shocked yet thrilled by Grey's singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success -- his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family -- Grey is a man tormented bu demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey's secrets and explores her own dark desires."
"I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror."
Yes, I succumbed. This book generated so much buzz, both rave reviews from adoring fans and the media being all atwitter about it, that I had to see what the big deal was. Frankly, I was underwhelmed. The writing is pretty darned awful, smacking of the mediocre, unedited fan fiction it originally started out as. After the umpteenth description of how Ana "flushed scarlet" or mused that her "inner goddess" was doing something or another, I couldn't help giggling, which probably isn't the reaction James was going for.
As erotica, meh. It has its moments, but I've read better; I don't think adult literature is exempt from the rule that it's tough to get into the spirit of things if the characters are wooden and one-dimensional. Far more remarkable than the book itself, as I see it, is the widespread amazement at its success. Why are we so surprised that women, even women in their 30s and beyond who (gasp!) have children want to read steamy books, or that some of the steamy books they seek out deal with (ahem) varsity-level sexual variations? I'm not even talking directly about what consenting adults might or might not get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms; like most bibliophiles, I don't want to read only about things that resonate with my own personal experience. If I can read murder mysteries or espionage thrillers without wanting to be a detective or a spy, or can enjoy Terry McMillan's novels without being African-American, well ... why can't I enjoy an adult novel whether or not I share the main characters' intimate proclivities? Maybe the bigger story here is that Fifty Shades' success hints at an unserved need: if this book could become a bestseller despite its sloppy, shoddy writing, might there be a far greater market for woman-oriented erotica than we've been willing to acknowledge up until now?