Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey - Didn't Have Me Tied Down

Warning - I'm going to talk about sexuality.  Knowing full well my mothers and friends read this, I'm giving you the chance to click that red X in the corner lest the idea of me broaching the topic of erotica, sexuality, and the social impact of literature gets your panties in a twist ... and not in a good way.

For the rest of you still hanging out, thanks for being curious :)

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James is taking over the bedrooms of bored women across the nation, or so the headlines have been screaming.  The book charts the complex relationship of Anastasia Steel (literature student) and Christian Grey (wealthy entrepreneur).  It's the classic story of unworldly, slightly clumsy, doesn't-know-she's-hot girl meets experienced, dark, I'm-in-need-a-therapist hot guy.

The twist, if you're not aware, is that instead of your run-of-the-mill romance novel steamy scenes, EL James lets her readers explore a slightly darker gamut of sexual expression in the world of dominant/submissive, accompanied by some light bondage, a touch of flogging (not in the Spanish Inquisition sense), and a few spankings.  That would be BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism) and all of the ensuing combinations.

I'll kick off my review with this statement - sexuality is not fixed or binary, it is highly personal, and as long as you and your partner set the boundaries and are honest with each other, what you do with and to each other is your own damn business.

If you think erotica is porn, well, I'm surprised you're still reading this.  I could devote another post to explaining the difference, but porn is visual and leaves nothing to the imagination.  Erotica is sensual and requires imagination on the reader's part.  The difference is profound - porn is a 10-minute quickie whereas erotica is a drawn-out seduction. 

Back to Fifty Shades.  This book started out as online fan fiction for Twilight.  Oh yes, the main characters were once Bella and Edward.  The influence is easily discernible, which may put you off or pull you in.  

To her credit, James readily admits she's a novice writer.  Which makes it easier for me to gently agree with her.  This is not a wonderfully written book.  A chunk of my editor brain was having fun mentally taking a red pen to the text as I read.  This sentiment applies both to the relationship portions of the book and the "I might blush here" sections.

I also easily tired of our narrator, Ana.  She's young, innocent, exploring her sexuality for the first time (she starts out as a virgin), and is written accordingly.  She can't bring herself to talk about her or Christian's body directly; instead she refers to down there, his erection, or the apex of my thighs.  She constantly says holy shit! when something arousing happens, which gets annoying because it seems so juvenile.

Despite my literary beef with the execution, it distresses me that the media sharks out there have dubbed this work mommy porn  <shudders>  There are so many things wrong with that term - it's sexist, disparaging, and dismissive.

Granted, this very heterosexual, very white book is not going to cut across all demographics, but to throw such a label on it is repulsive because it seeks to shame any woman (or curious guy) from picking it up.  On that premise, I defend the book for making sexuality more approachable, even if you've innocuously downloaded it on your Kindle or Nook and no one sees the cover (which in print form is also deliberately unremarkable). 

To be honest, this is Introductory Erotica.  Unlike most of the user-submitted stuff you can troll for online, Fifty Shades at least had some quality control, but there's better stuff out there.  If you've never tasted this taboo genre before or are already a closet Harlequin reader, I endorse this for you.  But if your sexuality is more robust, this will leave you unsatisfied.


  1. I will admit both interest as well as turnoff at the label "mommy porn."

    1. I'm not sure who coined it, but it's an acknowledgement (backhanded as it is) that married/partnered women are looking to spice up their bedrooms. I think all people should be empowered by their sexuality, and especially if you've been in a relationship for a long time, you need some variety. There's also growing research about how women peak sexually in their 30s and 40s, hence this book being very market-driven by that age group.

  2. One of the mothers isn't offended nor embarrassed in the least ;) ... Erotica doesn't interest me much but the genre is a valid expression of the spectrum of individual sexuality. The range is from kindergarten-style (rather like these books) to beautifully penned and mature.
    That being said, I have no intention of reading James' offerings. If I had no other reason, the fact that it morphed from poorly written fan fiction to poorly written reworked fan fiction would douse any interest I might have originally had in the books.
    As an aside, I also strongly believe that no external entity, whether government, religion or society, has any business window-peeping into people's private "bedroom" activities. I'm not telling anyone about mine and I'm just not interested in others'...
    Excellent entry, Jen. Thank you.

    1. I like it when its well written and not overly mushy. I love my husband dearly, but to be frank, after being married for nearly 8 years and having 3 small children (6, 4, and 1 years old) most of the time sleep sounds more appealing than sex. Often reading well written erotica can get me in the mood better than anticipating doing the same thing in the same bed on the same sheets under the same ceiling fan can.

      I'm with Jennie on one thing. While military induced seperation is more sucky than nice, Sometimes a bit of separation can do wonders for bedroom life. When i was in the Army and gone training half the time I enjoyed coming home for some very intense spouse time. :) The guys (my fellow army schmucks) even termed some of our brief trips home "conjugal visits." LOL!

    2. With everything parents have to do these days, it amazes me that anyone gets jiggy with it when they have little ones. Or teenagers, which I hear is a different kind of awful, lol.

      As a writer and heavy reader, it's not surprising at all that I enjoy good erotica. Even when Mike is here, he and I have rather different schedules for intimacy, so flexibility as to the origin of stimulation is important for both of us.

      Conjugal visits, I know nothing about those whatsoever I think all Mike is going to want to do when he gets back is crash in a real bed in a place that's not in triple digit heat. It is interesting, given scheduling, time differences, and government censorship, to be married yet completely on one's own sexually.

      Speaking of which ibEmmiba, have you checked out Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty erotica trilogy?

    3. I have not but I like Anne Rice so i will check that out. If you like short stories check out The Empress's New Lingerie and other Erotic Fairy Tails. Its a collection of the favorites (Cinderella, snow white, etc) but from a very different viewpoint. For example, Cinderella's prince has a serious foot fetish . . .

      The conjugal visits were tied to our insane training rather than deployment. We'd be gone for 3 weeks, home for 2, gone for 1, home for 3, gone for 2, and so on. They never kept us out for more than 29 days because at 30 you qualified for separation pay, but we were gone a whole lot. I sat down and figured it out one time and we were gone training for 5 1/2 months from march of 06 to march of 07.

      That is why I'm not in anymore. The army itself was its own nightmare, but the biggest issue was the amount of time away from home even when it wasn't involving deployment.

  3. Well said.
    (if I may? I'm Mike's mum. And, it's not my fault.... LOL )

    1. Schwab_em is an old high school mate of mine, though she never had the pleasure of meeting Mike. Perhaps one of these days though. And QDM, one thing is definitely your fault - Mike's love of pickled herring with blue cheese, gross me out!!! :P

    2. I think you guys met just as I was leaving. I seem to recall a trip to McDonald's with me, you, and Claire with us giving you a hard time about some guy from mason city, but I might be making things up. . . It was a while ago now. (12 years???)

    3. Haha, yes, that's right. We met at the Mega Mall and got to chat with you and Joe. We went on a roller coaster when it was still Campy Snoopy. I probably would have mentioned Mike. Can't believe that's the last time I saw you!!! CL has their 10-year reunion in July ... it will be interesting to go.

      Totally understand about the separation thing. Out of our 11 years together, 5.5+ years have been apart. This deployment is going well, but I wouldn't be sad if it was the last one (nor would I be mad if more are in the future). It's who we are as a couple - separation is a constant.

    4. As I was getting out of the army I had a thought, "What if we can't live together?!? Clearly we have the long distance thing down but how will it be when we actually have to spend every day together?"

      Obviously, nearly 5 years after that thought things are still going well but i was really worried at the time. I have a very typical Aquarian need to get away from everything and everyone for some alone time and i was afraid I wouldnt get that.

  4. Mmmmmm herring and bleu! LOL Liver and onions, too. omnomnom
    That's about the right time frame, yes. Mike lived here in NS but attended high school in Mason.