On a weekend get-a-way recently, Harper’s Other Dad and I spent some time in a used book shop. As is usually the case, we bought several books despite having a number of unread books stacked up in various nooks and crannies around the house.
One of my finds was a copy of 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James. References to this book seem to permeate the popular culture but I didn’t really know much about it. In fact, all I knew was that the story had something to do with some of the more esoteric aspects of heterosexuality. I was about to go on vacation. I like to read while on vacation. It was only $6. I thought I might as well see what about this book has attracted so much attention. Is it really the cultural descendent of Fear of Flying?
I should preface by noting I have little experience with the romance genre. I’ve heard the term ‘bodice ripper’ used, usually derogatorily, to describe novels written for and marketed to women. Desperate longing, breathless passion, heaving bosoms and all the euphemisms in the world; I thought these were the hallmarks of this type of fiction. Apparently I was right.
Similarly, I have little experience with reading erotica by and for women. I don’t know whether women find this book erotic. If so, I would be curious to know why.
The title refers to our protagonist’s love interest; the dashing and enigmatic Christian Grey. He is fabulously wealthy, fabulously powerful and fabulously good-looking. We know the latter with certainly because our heroine refers to his physically beauty incessantly. The disturbed and disturbing Mr. Grey wants to enter into a Dominant/submissive relationship with the bright but inexperienced heroine. He is to be the Dominant and she, he hopes, will agree to be the submissive. He must know a lot about this because he has a state-of-the-art dungeon in his fabulous penthouse in the sky and a prepared contract he wants her to sign stating the terms of their relationship. This is, of course, after she signs the nondisclosure agreement.
Over the next 500 pages she falls desperately in love with him as they negotiate their agreement. Because she is unlike any woman he’s ever known, he falls in love with her too. You see, even though he is only into power-exchange sexual relationships he loves opera and he is a wonderful pianist which allows him to play sad, wistful music after they have consummate one aspect or another of their passion. He alludes to a tragic childhood and a troubled adolescence which convinces our heroine he really just needs the love of a good woman to help him stop being “50 shades of fucked up”. He’s Dominant but still likes to share a bubble bath surrounded by candles. He takes her home to meet his family who are delighted he finally has a girlfriend and isn’t, as they’d speculated, gay. He makes it clear that he has never been with a man; “just not my thing”.
Eventually they actually engage in some of the esoteric behavior they’ve been negotiating about and there is a quick, albeit unsatisfying, conclusion. I say conclusion rather than resolution because there are two sequels and the book ends perfectly positioned to move on to volume 2.
I know I am not the reader for whom this book was written. I know too, that there are some limiting factors in my qualifications to evaluate this book. Maybe it’s better than I think. The movie is already being made. I am sure the score will have lots and lots (and lots) of strings.