Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James is hot and I say that against my better judgment. In fact, my uber rich, dreamy looking lover is breathing down my neck at this moment, threatening to beat me to orgasm with a riding crop, and forcing me to write this. Just kidding. But I am serious about the fact that I didn't want to like this book.
I expected it to be too soft or maybe too hard, too saccharine or perhaps too dark and disturbing, but it was none of these things. It was a very sensuous and interesting look at a gorgeous, rich man with a predilection for domination and his fascination with a naïve 21-year-old whom he met by chance.
Why is Fifty Shades such a hit? Is it because married women are bored with the familiarity of their sex lives and single women find theirs to be erratic and unstable? Are male readers fantasizing about tying up their female partners?
Or is it because, at heart, North America continues to have deeply ambivalent feelings toward sex? On one hand, we use sex to sell everything from soap to magazines and, according to Forbes Magazine, pornography is a 2.5 to 4 billion-dollar business. On the other hand, we're not likely to tell our boss that we are late for work because we had a quickie with the next-door neighbor after breakfast and lost track of the time. That's not just because sex is a private issue but rather that we feel a sense of shame or discomfort talking about it. We are still imprisoned by our puritanical roots; this is particularly prominent in fundamentalist religions, which are anti-sex. And much like strict dieting causes a craving for sweets or carbohydrates, a fear, hatred, or taboo of normal sexual urges can result in either avoidance of such activity or overindulgence. So, when we see something mainstream that screams SEX, it sells.
Also, I believe readers are drawn to both the romance in Fifty Shades–Anastasia Steele falls head over heels for Christian Grey–and the forbidden nature of the arrangement. Due to childhood abuse, abandonment, and other complicated factors, Christian is incapable of love, although we suspect that he may evolve during the trilogy. Like vampire Edward Cullen in Twilight, Christian becomes the symbol for Every Alluring Yet Unattainable Man, and just as some women want to tame bad boys, others want to make the unattainable man their own.
In addition, Christian has a fetish for BDSM and Anastasia has never tried bondage or submission. When she does, she's not sure if she likes it. This conflict–I want him, I'm falling for him, but he will never love me and he derives pleasure from hurting me–is at the crux of the book and is what makes it interesting. If both parties were committed to the dominance, submissive lifestyle, the book would be dull.
As it is, the sex scenes are hot and the author talks about sex in a frank, unabashed, yet delicate manner. This is not pornography. It's not even soft porn. And as far as I'm concerned, it's not demeaning to women because the dominant/submissive relationship is consensual, and both genders and any orientation (i.e., straight, gay, bisexual, or transgender) could play either role. It is a highly sensual romance, even for those who have no desire to be someone's sex slave and it appears to be chick lit. I can't imagine many men wading their way through all 528 pages, but my good friend told me that couples on The Dr. Oz Show read the book together and the men were very turned on.
It's hard to describe how a book that links climaxing with pain could arouse anything but despair in someone who is not a sadomasochist. In this respect, the book reminds me of Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Very few people sympathize with serial killers, but our darling Dexter is portrayed in such a way that you have to love him even when he is plotting to decapitate someone who fails to meet his moral standards. Thus, although many readers may have no interest in S&M, they may still find this tale titillating.
Having said that, James indulges in a huge degree of repetition and the characters are ridiculously one-dimensional and unrealistic. This is not a literary novel. It's juvenile in many respects and I skimmed large parts, especially the sex scenes. She could have cut them in half and used more originality. Despite the fact that the book is a runaway seller, the Amazon community is divided as to whether it’s worth reading at all and many reviewers hated it or found it offensive.
But, as I said – against my will, and my better judgment, I devoured Fifty Shades, and will no doubt embark on the second book in this trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker.
Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, and two erotic short stories, which she wrote under the pen name Tiffanie Good. Silver Publishing just released "The Pink Triangle," a tale of friendship, lust, and betrayal. You can view her story here: http://tinyurl.com/6v65rgr