By Grace Crawford

Fifty Shades of Grey image courtesy of Vintage Books

Warning: due to the nature of this book, there is some strong language and mature content in the review that follows.

Against my better judgement, I recently finished reading the much-touted Fifty Shades of Grey series.  I’m serious; there is so much touting that I went against my better judgement and actually borrowed a friend’s Kindle so I could read in public without others knowing what I was up to (I have a very well-developed sense of shame).  Suppressing the urge to vomit pretty much non-stop for the last few days, I formed some very strong opinions about the books.  I will share these with you now, whether you like it or not.  Spoiler alert:  everybody has sex.

We’re going to put aside realism, because let’s be serious here: the only thing faker than the ladies’ bosoms is the world itself.  People get turned on faster than the flick of a light switch.  Everybody’s bicurious.  Sex is considered legal tender for sexually unsatisfied ladies who can’t pay the cable installer, the landlord, or the plumber, all of whom are visiting at the same time.  So it’s perfectly rational that Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, the main characters in this story, have more sex than actual conversation, that they get married after less than two months together, and that they continue their BDSM sexcapades even while Ana is six months pregnant.  We’ll just chalk that up to the alternate reality in which they live.

I’m well aware that nobody watches porn for the plot.  Pizza guys deliver an extra large sausage (which is eaten before the pizza.  Hey-o!).  Two ladies are playing Frisbee and whack a guy in the head, so obviously they should have a three-way.  It doesn’t make sense.  I get it.  This is all part of the alternate universe.  But here is a plot summary just for you:

Rich boy meets girl.  Boy creeps on girl.  Boy has sex with girl.  Boy asks girl to be his submissive as he does “kinky f*ckery” to her.  Girl agrees to a trial run.  Girl gets a job.  Girl gets scared off.  Boy and girl break up for five days.  Boy and girl get back together.  Strange ex-submissive from shows up and is creepy, making boy overprotective.  Boy buys girl’s workplace.  Girl’s skeezy boss gets fresh.  Skeezy boss gets fired.  Boy and girl get married.  Skeezy ex-boss trashes boy’s stuff.  Boy and girl have their honeymoon.  Boss tries to kidnap girl but gets arrested.  Girl’s father gets in a car accident.  Girl finds out she’s pregnant.  Girl tells boy.  Boy freaks out.  Skeezy ex-boss calls girl; he’s kidnapped boy’s sister.  Girl leaves to rescue sister, making boy freak out more.  Girl rescues sister.  Skeezy ex-boss is arrested.  Girl and boy have pregnant sexytimes.  Three years later, everyone is married and has babies.

Okay, so that’s a pretty interesting, fast-paced plot, right?  Definitely worth the price of admission.  It sounds like a very exciting book.  Oh, wait… that’s the entire 1,500 page trilogy I just summarized for you.  And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with the plot itself, other than the fact that every conflict is solved by furious boning.  But the pacing is completely wrong.  I understand the need to describe every sex scene in agonizingly-worded detail (and not the fun kind, either), but at the very least James could’ve done better than copy and paste the same section a couple dozen times throughout the series.  That alone would’ve cut down on at least 300 pages.

The books have also come under fire for inaccurately portraying the BDSM lifestyle.  I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about that, since all of my exposure to that has been from a handful of episodes of CSI.  But honestly, it seems like James bought herself a copy of Kinky Sex for the Midlife Crisis, skimmed the first three chapters, and pronounced herself a sexpert.

The characters, like the characters in any porno that was whipped up inside of twenty minutes, are flat, uninteresting, and poorly described.  No, I don’t mean we don’t know what they look like; Ana has blue eyes and dark hair, and she’s about average height.  Christian is tall, has copper hair, “smoldering” grey eyes, and a body that looks like it was chiseled from marble.  I mean that, for all that Christian supposedly has hella issues, the best Ana can do to describe him is “mercurial,” which crops up about fifty times throughout the series.  They are tossed around by their emotions, which are meant to be as strong and painful as a hurricane, and come across as more of a light breeze of perpetual pissiness.  This breeze directs their lives, as everything Ana does is in an effort to keep Christian happy, bringing me to my next point.

It’s so unhealthy, you can actually see them giving each other mono.

Everyone knows that this series was originally Twilight fanfiction.  That’s partly why I avoided it like an STI that, mysteriously, nobody in this universe seems to have, despite the fact that the universe itself should have long since exploded from the friction of everyone’s humping.  So yeah, I get that the relationship is going to be unhealthy, because that’s how Edward and Bella’s was.  But this is more than unhealthy.  It goes beyond the danger of bloodthirsty vampires, because human nature is far more terrifying than anything Bram Stoker (or Stephenie Meyer, for that matter) ever dreamed up.

People in this series reach into untold depths of human depravity.  I’m not talking about the sex stuff; they can use handcuffs and whips and what have you all they like.  But Christian does this because he fantasizes about beating his neglectful mother… and having sex with her, I guess.  And Ana just forgives his Freudian tendencies because he’s her “fifty shades of f*cked-up,” and because she thinks she can fix him.  To some extent, I think she does.  That’s the whole point of the last two books (aside from, y’know, more sexing).

But in the same way that Twilight taught young, impressionable teenagers that abusive boyfriends are okay as long as they love you, Fifty Shades teaches the same impressionable teenagers (now college students) and an alarmingly large group of sexually frustrated middle-aged ladies that you can fix those abusive boyfriends.  Not only are they developing destructive habits, but now they have justification for those habits.

So yeah, I don’t like these books.  I don’t really have a problem admitting that I read them; even though they were supposed to be all scandalous, they weren’t that exciting in the sexytimes department.  Anyway, my grandmother posted on Facebook that she was reading it, and it’s much more socially acceptable for me.  The books were plodding and sounded like they were written by a horny fifteen-year-old girl, fresh from a breakup, who’d just finished Twilight and was pissed about the lack of sex scenes.

Plus it just grinds my gears that people are saying Fifty Shades sold more copies than Harry Potter, which is just not true, because those books have f*cking magic.


Final Thoughts:

  • E.  L.  James seems to have a profound misunderstanding of sex.  I’m not one to talk, but honestly, it’s like she got all of her information from other fanfiction.
  • For some reason, instead of saying “I haven’t,” people say “I’ve not.”  Which is grammatically correct, I guess, but it was hella jarring.
  • After reading these books, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is, in fact, something in the world worse than Twilight, which looks like fine literature in comparison.
  • The only reason I didn’t give this an “F” is because I was mildly entertained — not by the sex scenes or riveting character development, but by how seriously the characters take themselves, despite the fact that they couldn’t make it in real writing and became porn actors instead.