Saturday, August 02, 2014

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I know, I know. I went there. But hear me out. If I want to be a published book author someday - and I do! - and the market segment I write for is the middle-aged woman, I figure I really need to know what that demographic is buying, and why. So I forced myself to read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. A few thoughts (in no particular order):

1. The writing is atrocious!

2. Did this thing even have an editor? If these are American characters living in Seattle, you need to get that shit right. Also, your characters need to speak like Americans, not Brits. An Editor would have fixed that, properly. And if you weren't going to have your main character speak like an American, why did she need to be American at all? Couldn't she have just as easily been a young, naive British girl in the US for college? Also, in one of the books Christian buys Anastasia a new Saab. The books were published in 2011, and I'm pretty sure that Saabs were no longer sold in the US in 2011 as GM sold Saab Automobile AB to the Dutch manufacturer Spyker Cars N.V. in 2010. (I love Saabs, and I would have kept driving them except I didn't want a vehicle that wouldn't have dealer support.)

3. My understanding is this is supposed to be erotica. Shouldn't it, therefore, be titillating? You'd figure after three books I would have felt *something* and yet I did not. I don't think that's because the scenes couldn't have been erotic, but I think the author doesn't know how to write a scene so that it is actually hot. Then again, millions of women swooned over this shit so maybe I'm jaded because I've actually read good erotica?

4. Speaking of the sex scenes, they lose their impact when there's one practically every other page. I kept thinking to myself, "this poor girl." Again, maybe it's just me but "mind-blowing, earth-shattering" sex three to four times a day? How do they get anything else done? No wonder they don't have any friends or hobbies.

5. Again with the sex ... is it possible for a 21 year old to be as naive as this character is? I mean, she didn't seem to know that a woman could be on top? Even on TV shows they show that! And how did she not know what a vibrator is? I can understand that maybe she's never used one, but not even knowing what it is? Hell, there's a Good Vibrations on Lakeshore, a major pedestrian shopping street a block from my apartment! 

6. She's 21 and yet she doesn't have a phone or a computer. Show me a modern 21 year old that isn't walking around with an iPhone or Android. Hell, my seven year old niece has access to an iPod touch and knows how to use her mom's iPhone for FaceTime calls.

7. The male character was horrible. I mean, major crazy. He needed more than his shrink - he needed full time mental health evaluation. He's not sane. If I ever met anyone like that I'd run far, far away. Who doesn't run away when they see the Red Room of Pain? Especially a virgin who has no idea what sex is really like?!?

8. It seems like the only reason Ana liked him was because he was hot. We know this because she says it on every page. He keeps talking about how she amazes him and all I can think is, "Really? Smart, strong, and beguiling? She's kind of an idiot."

9. Filling page after page of double-spaced emails is just a cheap way to pad your page count. These were not 500-page books, despite what the page count on my kindle said.

10. Finally, I am so sick and tired of the surprise baby as a plot twist. Can we agree that when you've got an insane man as your mate that a baby is not the way to go? And, can we agree that a baby probably won't make an insane man suddenly sane and wonderful?

All said, I think there was a kernel of something there. In the hands of a skilled author, this could have been a much different book. Imagine a psychological erotic thriller that really explores why people make the decisions they do, and how our sexual urges can change our way of thinking. Take the dangerous sub-plots of the book and make them actually dangerous, not just a one or two page scene to use as the set up of a sex scene. Have the girl be not so naive - actually strong - and explore why someone who isn't an empty shell reacts to this situation.

Again, that's not a book that EL James seems capable of writing, but I think someone could, and I think *that* story could be an awesome read.

In the meantime, I have to figure out how not to write this drivel but still put something together that is commercially viable. At nearly 70,000 words, I think I have a good start, but god, I really don't want to have to dumb it down for mass appeal.

I'm curious to see how the movie takes what is pretty basic and elementary dialogue and turns it into something worth watching. The trailer for the film looks a hundred times sexier than the book, so that's at least promising. (That reworked Beyonce song doesn't hurt either.)


  1. Thank you! I suppose these books could have been worse, but it would have taken serious effort. I trudged through the first one and couldn't face the next two for months. And then I only read them because I was down with a bug for a couple days and they were on a shelf by my bed. The whole time I kept thinking I could probably write something better. Anxiously awaiting your book now as I appear to be in your demographic. Laters! (Hee!)

  2. I got halfway through the first book and stopped. Like you, I'm a writer and figured I needed to read what was popular. I even gave Twilight a chance. Unfortunately I didn't like either and didn't see the mass appeal factor.

    I will say, that after seeking an agent (and having interest from many agents), there's a huge difference between the art of writing and the business of publishing. I knew this, of course, on a surface level, but as I started thinking about the business of publishing my own book, it all became more clear to me. I ended up shelving that manuscript because I decided it wasn't the direction I wanted to go as a writer but I started writing another book that I'm happier with. It's tough-knowing my work might not have mass appeal. Yet I still think my stories are valuable.

    The funny thing is, I've published erotica. Compared to Fifty Shades, what I wrote was porn, but it was fun to write. I have the same issue as you-how can someone call this erotica? And didn't anyone think it was weird that their first time seemed a bit too rough, uncomfortably so? I don't get it.

    Mind you, I love my share of books for entertainment value. I'm not an elitist reader. But I just didn't get the love affair with Fifty Shades.

  3. Thanks for stopping by!

    I really had to force myself to finish them. I kept hoping it got better since people I respect liked it. Alas ...

    I can tell you that the book I'm writing is a paranormal romance, and it has elements of reincarnation and vampires.

  4. There were elements of Twilight that I really liked (I'm a sucker for that whole star-crossed lovers thing), but in general a lot about it was problematic too. Based on the success of it and Fifty, I'm going out on a limb and guessing there is a large majority of women really want to be told what to do and think dangerous relationships are exciting. That bodes well for me since the book I'm writing is a paranormal romance with vampires (see, I told you I love vampires!). There are erotic scenes in book that I'm hoping are much better than what EL James wrote.

    I have a couple of friends that have gotten book deals but they were for non-fiction. I'm waiting to finish writing what I'm working on to determine whether I want to self-publish or actively seek out an agent and an editor. I don't anticipate being a successful author, but I really want to be published and at least sell a few copies.


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