I’m probably the last person on the planet to read “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James – or, at least the last woman because I don’t know of many men who would read it. It’s been sitting on a shelf at my house, passed along by a friend who gave it to me a few months ago. After reading the news of the upcoming movie version and the uproar as to who had been cast for the two lead characters, I figured it was time to see what all of the noise was about. I started reading it while I as in the waiting room at the eye doctor’s office last week – probably not the best idea – and finished it a couple of days ago. So, here it goes – the first book review from The Farm.
One critic described Fifty Shades as “mommy porn”, the book cover calls it “erotic romance” and I think the critic was a little closer to being right. There’s a lot of erotica and/or porn and very little romance, at least not what I’d define as romance. It isn’t written very well, either, with the author often using phrases that are downright silly. Orange juice is described as “refreshing and thirst quenching” as if Ms. James were writing a Minute-Maid ad. In another chapter, Christian sweeps his desk clear with one arm so that he and Anastasia can enjoy each other – just like any romance novel featuring Fabio on the cover. The whole book bounces back and forth between being silly and being just, well, nasty. While the orange juice description may be funny, the encounters between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are overly detailed – bordering on being clinical – and painful – to read and to imagine.
The story, which falls short in terms of plot, is about the two characters I mentioned. Anastasia is a young woman, fresh out of college, who happens to meet mega-billionaire Christian. From the first time she lays eyes on him, she’s smitten. Everything about him is perfect – he’s handsome and successful. He’s also extremely sexy, according to Anastasia. He’s so hot, in fact, that she can’t think about anything or anyone else after their first meeting. She quivers and tingles and salivates. Ana describes Christian as the Dark Knight, the White Knight, Adonis, and Michelangelo’s David, and all of the above have awoken her “inner goddess”. E.L. James likes that “inner goddess” thing a lot – she mentions her on almost very page, sometimes twice in one paragraph. After about the first hundred times I was hoping Ana would come across her inner “Towanda” from “Fried Green Tomatoes” and commandeer a parking space the same way Evelyn did. Christian takes a liking to her as well and soon the two of them get busy getting busy. He introduces her to sex – when she meets him, she’s a virgin – and from then on, there’s no turning back.
After she falls under his spell, Anastasia just can’t get enough and Christian is more than happy to accommodate her. The two of them do it over and over and over – they’re absolutely insatiable. Once Christian turns Anastasia into an addict for him and his perfect skills, he suggests that she take the next step and enter his world of BDSM. He’s had women who’ve gone along with his kinky side before – fifteen of them, to be exact – but they didn’t work out as well as he would’ve liked. Christian shows her a contract before she makes her decision, which looks like an a la carte menu for submissives. There are lists of items, devices and acts that I won’t go into any detail about here – I’ll leave that to your imagination – but, for example, they involve hard limits, soft limits, silk ties, crosses, riding crops and spherical objects. Before she signs the contract, Ana is given the opportunity to try a few things out to see if she likes them or not – a Submissive Sampling. She also has to understand that Christian is “The Dominant” – all the time. He angers quickly, especially when Ana disobeys him or does something that annoys him. For instance, he doesn’t care for it when she rolls her eyes, so that’s grounds for punishment. There are a lot of things he doesn’t like and Ana learns them, well, the hard way. There are also rewards for good behavior. Christian buys her lots of things, takes her for rides in his helicopter and provides her with her own room at his bachelor pad/little house of horrors. He wants her to exercise and eat well – Christian has food issues dating back to his early, unfortunate childhood – to keep up her strength and stamina for their “events”, so he provides her with a meal plan and a personal trainer.
Other than her constant state of anxiety and arousal, there’s really not much more to their story. She wants more, something like a loving, committed relationship, and he doesn’t. They send emails to each other, day and night, full of sexual innuendos and worthless chatter. They fight, they make up, they have sex, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera – for over 500 pages. You really don’t have to read all 500 pages. These two do it so often and in so many places that you can just flip through some of them – sort of like oops, ouch, there they go again. I won’t give the ending away, in case you haven’t read it and are still interested. This book is the first in a trilogy, so maybe there’s a happily ever after ending eventually. I doubt that I’ll ever find out.
Now that I’ve finished it, I still don’t understand why this book sold over 70 million copies. I can see the curiosity value, but that’s about it. Yet, fans are ardent about it, throwing Fifty Shades parties, forming fan clubs and reading groups – those must be doozies. When it was announced that Anastasia and Christian would be played by Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam, loyal readers went ballistic, even taking to Change.org and petitioning producers to pick their favorite someone who they thought would be better suited to the roles. I’ve also read reviews by critics who seem to be making this book out to be much more than it is. Those critics have remarked that Anastasia is the quintessential modern woman, who’s making all the choices and calling all the shots. I didn’t see it that way, anymore than I found this to be anything close to romantic. If those critics and some readers see this as a feminist manifesto because a woman makes the choice to degrade herself by becoming a sex slave, then so be it, but I’m not buying it. It’s erotica, with a strong bent towards pornography, nothing more. Christian Grey probably best described it when he explained to Anastasia who he was – fifty shades of f**ked up.
As for the movie version and the controversy over the actors, I don’t know much about Dakota Johnson, other than she’s the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. On the other hand, I am well acquainted with Charlie Hunnam, thanks to his role as Jax Teller on “Sons of Anarchy”. He’s a good actor, not that either of these roles demand great acting skills. He more than meets the physical requirements, though, and that’s probably all that really matters. If you’re not convinced, I found this to help you out – let’s call it fifty shades of Charlie.