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TBTS Reviews: Fifty Shades of Grey

July 6, 2012

Fifty Shades of GreyIn case you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, Fifty Shades of Grey is the latest book to take the world by storm. Despite getting its start as Twilight fan-fic (no, seriously), the novel has become its own full-fledged cultural phenomenon. Impressive e-reader sales led to print publication of Fifty Shades and its sequels, which have since broken sales records and made its author, E.L. James, obscenely wealthy. But are the books any good? The author herself doesn’t think so, but the rest of the world seems to disagree.

As a Twilight fan, a lover of smut, and a sucker for a nice-looking book cover, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of the first book on a lazy Saturday afternoon at my local Target. I had heard from friends that the book was not great, but I was intrigued by the promise of dirty, dirty sex, and honestly, I just wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Spoilers below.

The main characters of the series, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, are recognizable spin-offs of Stephanie Meyer’s Edward and Bella. Anastasia is the young, innocent narrator, with long, unruly brown hair and self-esteem issues. Christian is the older, copper-haired hottie with obscene wealth and a dark secret. They meet by chance when Anastasia’s roommate sends her to interview Christian, a successful businessman and benefactor to their university, for the college newspaper. She is all nervous energy around him, but there is immediately something between them that she can’t explain or understand. They meet again through a few not-so-random encounters, and she falls for him quickly. His dark secret is that he is fully-immersed in the BDSM lifestyle and wants her to be his latest Submissive. Completely lacking in sexual experience, she is both fascinated and freaked out by his proposal.

Fifty Shades of Grey is entirely about the will-she-or-won’t-she? Christian obviously wants to make the arrangement work, even though Ana is completely inexperienced and wants more from him than just a Dom/Sub relationship. Ana finds herself falling in love with him and hoping he’s willing to give her more, though he repeatedly warns her that he’s incapable of it. In the end she finds she cannot commit to him. He is “fifty shades of fucked-up” and she can’t handle the fact that he wants to hurt her, physically hurt her. The BDSM lifestyle is all he knows of relationships, but it’s not enough and at the same time too much for her.

To be honest, this is not Shakespeare. The writing is something you’d expect from an inexperienced writer, and you really have to suppress some eye-rolling at first. But! If you stick with it, it’s worth it. It’s like meeting someone with an annoying conversational tick; at first it gets on your nerves, but the longer you talk to them, the less you notice. I found myself not really caring about the poor writing by Chapter 6 or so. This really is a good story, especially as you move into the second and third books. I read all of Fifty Shades in one sitting on a Sunday, and could not wait to go back the next day to buy the other two.

And this book is hot. There is a reason that women everywhere are obsessively reading these books and passing them among their friends. I don’t know how this compares to your standard bodice-ripper, but the sex scenes are actually really sexy and definitely creative. Not to mention, economically-helpful: sales of ties and ropes have increased, as have sex toys. You can even buy the Seattle condo where much of the story takes place.

Though I don’t really believe that women secretly want to be dominated, I do believe that the success of Fifty Shades is a positive thing for women. They are openly reading the books in public, discussing them with friends and strangers, buying copies for their grandmothers. And this is porn, people! It’s about time women were as open and honest about enjoying porn as men seem to be. Let’s hope the success of Fifty Shades of Grey leads to more, and better, erotic writing and to women openly embracing their naughty sides.

TBTS Reviews: Fifty Shades Darker
TBTS Reviews: Fifty Shades Freed

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