“. . . circus peanuts, pure and simple. . . . incredibly capable of generating a cheap buzz.”
Fifty Shades of Grey is, without a doubt, the “WTF” publishing phenomenon of the age, with a special emphasis on the “F.” Without warning, a trilogy of books has descended upon us. All told, some 1,500 pages (one assumes, based upon the first book of the three) of love, lust, and the occasional cat-of-nine-tails.
Grey is that rarest of the rare things: a book—a work of fiction for goodness sake—that has taken the world by storm. Think: Harry Potter with a whole different kind of wand.
I tread lightly here. I’ve been in this sort of situation before:
Flashback: The Summer of 1976. Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As a result of my first job out of college, film reviewer for a small weekly chain of Oklahoma newspapers, I find myself in an icy cold, dark movie house in the middle of a very hot afternoon.
The Midwestern sun is merciless outside. Inside, we are watching the movie First Love, with Susan Dey from the “Partridge Family” and a new young curly-haired actor named William Katt.
The theater is packed. Three hundred teenage girls and I drink ice-cold soda and eat popcorn until the scene in which our two leads at last find sexual gratification in each other’s arms. Suddenly, the theater is silent. Silent enough that when the two young lovers enjoy a loving conversation post coitus, to the point of specifically mentioning (I remember this like it was yesterday) “white, sticky stuff,” the entire theater is able to hear me when I issue what they take to be a wholly inappropriate guffaw.
Hisses turn to screams for silence. Popcorn flies up and drifts down like crunchy snow. On pure instinct, I run for my life.
I would return to watch the rest of the movie that evening. Having learned my lesson, I sat in silence, switching to book reviews soon after.
Now, faced in my waning middle years with a story woven in whole cloth apparently for the purpose of women of a certain age wrapping themselves in it for the joy of the experiencing that most Cinemaxxy of things—the perfect fusion of love and softish core porn—I find myself again trending toward silence.
Like the man in the dress who sits, knees together, in a lifeboat slowly floating away from the sinking Titanic, I cannot help but think it perhaps best to keep my head down and my mouth shut.
And yet . . .
And yet, this is the sort of book in which our virtuous heroine manages to trip and fall flat on her lovely, innocent face just as she enters the gigantic yet sterile office of the billionaire she has come to interview for a campus newspaper and who she will very, very, very, very soon come to love. It is the sort of tale in which a young, handsome billionaire inexplicably is beguiled by the swan dive that our girl takes into his plush pile carpet. The sort of book in which everyone’s blue eyes are said to “twinkle.” In which characters are given names like “Anastasia.” And in which the love object of young Anastasia, the humpy business magnate Christian Grey (pause for a moment as title recognition falls into place) has the temperament of Heathcliff and the body of Brad Pitt. Plus he tastes and smells real good:
“He tastes divine, hot, sexy, and his scent—all body wash and Christian—is arousing. He drags his mouth away from mine, and he’s staring down at me, gripped by some unnamed emotion.”
The “unnamed emotion” here is the key. And yet, this too brief bit, while it may make one want to ask the name of that brand of body wash, does not show Christian as E. L. James (borrowing heavily from each and every Bronte sister—he is perhaps most similar to a young Rochester, but without the crazy wife in the attic) created him.
“I stretch my hand out on his chest. This is the first time I’ve touched him here. He’s firm . . . strong. His hand swoops up and grabs mine, but he softens the blow by pulling it to his mouth and sweetly kissing my knuckles. He rolls over so he’s gazing down at me.
“’Don’t,’ he murmurs, then kisses me lightly.
“’Why don’t you like to be touched?’ I whisper, staring up into soft grey eyes.
“’Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia.’
“Oh . . . his honesty is completely disarming. I blink up at him.
“’I had a very tough introduction to life. I don’t want to burden you with the details. Just don’t.’ He strokes his nose against mine, and then he pulls out of me and sits up.”
With the title now fully explained, try this as well:
“I flush scarlet thinking about the possibilities. This is getting me nowhere. I’d like to solve the riddle that is Christian Grey sooner rather than later. If it means that whatever secret he has is so gross that I don’t want to know him anymore, then, quite frankly, it will be a relief. Don’t lie to yourself—my subconscious yells at me—it’ll have to be pretty damned bad to have you running for the hills.”
Oh, hell, read this as well:
“I wander to the far corner of the room and pat the waist-high padded bench and run my fingers over the leather. He likes to hurt women. The thought depresses me.
“’You’re a sadist?’
“’I’m a Dominant.’ His eyes are a scorching gray, intense.
“What does that mean?’ I whisper.
“’It means I want you to willing surrender yourself to me, in all things.’
“I frown at him as I try to assimilate this idea.
“Why would I want to do that?’”
At the risk of offending myriad women who are right now clutching their copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and whispering and groaning right along with little Anastasia, the book, in all truth, is a florid, torrid bit of nonsense that magically demands to be read from cover to cover. It is one of those books that should the reader be lighting his way by the bedside light, the book balanced on his stomach, the hour late, that reader (he, or, more likely, she) will struggle to keep her eyes open in order to read just one more chapter.
This book is circus peanuts, pure and simple. Cotton candy. Totally lacking in nutrition, it is in no way good for you. It is, however, incredibly capable of generating a cheap buzz. You come away with your eyes glazed, your heart pounding, and with a distinct sensation of nausea.
It is all but guaranteed that the pages of your copy of Fifty Shades of Grey will be moist by the time you’ve finished with them. But from damp palms, tears, or saliva, there’s no way of knowing.
If only Anastasia had listened to her mother’s sage advice never to trust “a man who can dance.” If only she had taken seriously Christian’s first dozen or so warnings (“I don’t do the girlfriend thing,” and so forth) or the red light flashing in her own brain (“I have a vision of myself as Icarus flying too close to the sun and crashing and burning as a result. His words make sense. He’s not the man for me. This is what he meant and it makes his rejection easier to accept . . . almost.”)
Sadly, Anastasia’s subconscious mind and her “Inner Goddess” (Don’t ask me—I still don’t get it.) conspire and are constantly egging her on, as is her desire to bed this Heathcliff/Rochester/Rhett Butler/Bruce Wayne/Marquis de Sade, so what can you do?
Were this tale more artful, more literate, more lifelike, or realistic we should not have 500 pages of whips, chains, large breakfasts, and sex in the shower complete with body wash to work our way through (to say nothing of the other two books waiting in the wings). And then likely, in reading Fifty Shades of Grey, this reader’s face would not have had to turn the at least 20 shades of red that it did this time through.