What Could Be Stranger Than Fifty Shades? My Review

I've now finished reading "Fifty Shades of Grey" by EL James. As everyone on the planet likely knows by now, Grey is a trilogy and "Fifty Shades of Grey" is part 1. The books have received everything from lavish praise and adulation, to a life-changing movie deal for the author, to scorn and demeaning comments for the writer and the book's fans. I must've been fated to read it because I was still mulling over whether the books were worth the investment when my eldest bought me Fifty Shades in paper for Mother's Day.

And no, there was nothing weird about the gift. Zack had heard me mention it and recalled my saying that it was written as a tribute to Twilight. Zack's a big Twilight fan, and he knows I like tribute books (mine - Dangerous Relations: Griffin's Law is my nod to Grey's Anatomy).  So, being a thoughtful child, he picked up this one for me.

Here it sat, in my house as a gift for Mother's Day.  I hadn't decided whether to take the plunge and buy it - and this is where I have a confession to make - I'm not an erotica reader. My first acquaintance with the genre came with my first ebook publishing venture -  way back before Amazon built  the Kindle,  when no one ever dreamed that books would be mainstream in any form but paper, there was a little company called Mobipocket.  I first epublished there (later, Amazon bought Mobi and used the platform/engine to build the Kindle). Erotica sold better on Mobi than anything else, so I'd occasionally peruse the covers. Floating torsos.  Multiple torsos. The covers would show three or four men and one woman or sometimes several women and one man, and all of them would be naked and hovering. 

Ick.  What that reminded me of was growing up in a little town called Hartsville, SC where there was one of  THOSE drive-in theaters.  And sometimes, even respectable married ladies would venture in.  My Mom and my aunt took me and my cousin a couple of times as elementary school kids.  They told us to sleep in the back seat, but as long as we were quiet, they weren't going to interrupt their guilty pleasure to spank us for not sleeping.  Invariably, in the movies someone would show up for their first day at a new job and before they'd even filled out the tax forms, everyone in the office would be naked and going at it hard.  Or someone would move into a new house and order a pizza but they'd end up with the delivery guy, the plumber and welcome wagon ladies who brought a lot more than bundt cake.  It sort of put me off the genre.  As young marrieds, my hubby and I would sometimes rent one of those movies to enjoy together and as we wandered around the back section of the video store, I'd hand him a box and ask -- does this one look like it might have a plot?  (In case you're wondering, the answer always turned out to be no).

I hadn't decided whether I wanted 5o Shades, but it seemed to want me.  It's nice being wanted.  Then I started hearing high and mighty PC types calling Fifty Shades - "Mommy Porn."   Okay, if the PC crowd hated it, then I had to give it a try.  At least there are no floating torsos on the cover.

The tale arises when good girl Ana Steele goes to Seattle to interview bad boy billionaire Christian Grey as a favor to her roommate, Kate, who is ill.    Sparks fly fast and furiously from the instant of their first handshake and Christian's interest is sealed from the moment that virginal Ana asks him if he's gay.  Ana leaves the interview thinking she'll return to her life and finish the preps for graduation before moving to Seattle with Kate and finding a job.  Readers know that Ana won't get that wish because her life is about to become interesting.  Christian pursues her with a single minded vengeance, trying to recruit her to become his newest submissive. 

Yes, Virginia, Christian is into S&M and only S&M based upon his seriously screwed up background.  Ana's a virgin who has the good sense to be utterly appalled by the rules and contract Christian wants her to sign.  I was beyond appalled by the rules and contract and that was before Christian showed Ana around his "red room" and introduced her to some of his turn - ons, hitting/spanking her, binding her hands and feet and "punishing" her for her transgressions of disrespecting him or rolling her eyes at him.  That's right.  I said punishing her. 

By the end of part 1, I still hadn't decided if I adored Christian and forgave him for his love of hitting women based on the fact that he was, as he told Ana - "fifty shades of fucked up" or whether I deeply despised him for being unable to commit to a relationship that wasn't founded on his superiority and need to hit women.  I think I adored and despised him in varying measures, depending on how the relationship was going at the time. 

I hadn't decided whether I was going to buy book 2 or not as I neared the end of book 1. And I might not have picked up book 2, "Fifty Shades Darker," except for the marketing genius of the publisher and/or the author.  See, book 1 ended with a break in the relationship and readers of this blog know that I'm a deeply committed happily ever after kind of gal.  I'd never have read book 1, Mother's Day gift or not, except that one of my co-workers (a fan of my writing and romance) assured me that yes, there is a happy ending.  So, I had no choice but to pick up Darker (this time for my Fire, of course).  I have to chase the happy ending.

The fact that I picked up Darker even though I was ambivalent about the hero is also a tribute to the book's author, EL James.  I've heard a lot of criticism about the writing style of the author - one I still recall is the question:  was this book written by a teenager.  Yes, you'll fine no finely crafted prose that in and of itself makes you re-read a paragraph thinking, gosh that was well-written.  However, Fifty Shades is a good story and it works because the author knows how to tell a story.  At the core level, that's the test of whether or not a writer will suceed in a career as an author.  It doesn't matter whether their style is spare or wordy. It matters whether they know how to tell  story in a way that takes the reader along for the journey and Ms. James did just that for me.

It also amazes me that people keep calling the book - Mommy Porn.  From that label, you'd think it was a book about sex - which is NOT TRUE.  I'll repeat that - FIFTY SHADES OF GREY IS NOT ABOUT SEX.  It's a love at first sight story where two people who are totally different must learn to grow together because they can not exist apart.  I'll grant you that the author spends a fair amount of book real estate writing about "vanilla sex" and "S&M sex."  But it's not a story about sex - it's a story about love. 

To me, the fact that "Fifty Shades of Grey" is a book about love takes it out of the erotica category.  I'd label Fifty Shades as erotic romance.  I think erotica belongs more to the floating torso books where it doesn't matter what head is on what body.  In true erotica, I think the story is about the sex.  I have no moral qualms with erotica and I have none with a couple picking up an erotica/porn movie and enjoying that either.  It's just that for me, I don't enjoy reading about a grubbing parade between people I could care less about.  Had Fifty Shades been a grubbing parade I'd never have clicked buy for part 2.  So, get it right, people - Fifty Shades is not a sex story - it's a sexy love story.

One of the biggest, strongest reasons that I believe that I and many other writers owe EL James a big ole thank you is that Fifty Shades is elevating the sales of contemporaries across the board.   I know I've seen it in my contemporaries - the Dangerous Relations series.  Historical romance has always been a big seller, but people seemed not to understand that a writer always creates their world.  The writer creating her world means that even if Fifty Shades is set in Seattle, or my new one - Dangerous Relations:  The Office Ink is set in Myrtle Beach, neither setting will be the city or resort town you know and love.  Both will be those cities as they exist and live and breathe for the author and her story.  I've long wanted to see the sale of contemporaries pick up steam so that they equal or exceed the sale of historicals.  It's finally happening and that's Fifty Shades of Fabulous. 

I'll end this lengthy review/diatribe/strange trip into the demented mind of a duck lady with a warning.  Ms. James' ability to tell a good love story and her marketing genius (or her publishers) in knowing that people will chase a happy ending already made me click the buy button for "Fifty Shades Darker."   I've started it - and I'd read faster except that my muse is now giving me Peter's story from my Forever series.  However, I'll finish Part 2 one of these fine days and I'm already having thoughts about the book.   Yes, they're strange duck lady kinds of thoughts.  And you know I'll share 'em here, for the benefit of fans brave enough to wade into the unstable mind of the duck dominatrix.