Sunday, June 17, 2012

50 Shades of...Something

So recently I was challenged by Dagger Dame to read Fifty Shades of Grey.  Actually, perhaps I imagined the challenge to my masculinity, but regardless the glove was dropped.  I'd been keeping an eye on the library to see how easy it would be to get a copy there, but last I checked there was a wait list 120 folks long on 39 copies.  Then I called a couple bookstores and found one that had a couple copies.  Wisely using my lunch break to go pick up a copy, I found that the store had dozens of copies.

So I got one and the adventure began.

Before I get too far into my review of the book, I'd like to offer a synopsis of the story for those of you that may not know what the book is about.

The main character is a young woman named Anastasia Steele, about to graduate college.  Circumstances force her to interview a wealthy businessman named Christian Grey.  Their first meeting is, um, "electric" might be the right word and ever after they can't get their minds off each other.  Soon, he introduces this young virgin to a world of sexual exploration that she didn't know existed.  Primarily, that of BDSM (which I would link to, but some of the links might be shock-inducing for the older readers).  The rest of the story is basically about them exploring their sexual needs/wants and their emotional needs from a relationship.  So yeah.

Another quick explanation before we begin would be what BDSM entails.  It's an acronym that doesn't really stand for anything in particular but entails the sexual preferences of bondage, discipline, domination, submission, and sadism/masochism.  I think the common perception is that these tastes belong to depraved and twisted individuals.  However, after researching BDSM a little more I think that it's really about a relationship of trust and understanding.  It's not just about getting off, trust is key to the relationship.  Which, incidentally, is a major theme in Shades.

So then, to the good stuff.

Interestingly enough, Shades started as Twilight fan fiction but was redone in order to become publishable.  Bella became Anastasia and Edward became Christian.  The story was originally released in installments, which probably became something close to chapters once the book came out.  The themes in the book are basically shown to us early and often.  Many times the characters discuss the idea of trust, primarily as Christian explains to Ana what his peculiar tastes entail.  She's fairly naive when it comes to anything sexual let alone tastes that run as dark as Christian's.  And lets face it, the tastes are dark, not necessarily bad,  but dark nonetheless.  In fact, the entire climax of the book revolves around trust between the two characters.

Discussing the characters is tricky though.  As I told Dagger Dame, if I wasn't so awesome, reading about Christian might give me an unrealistic expectation of what women find desirable.  Apparently, the most desirable man in the world must be clever, a musician, a philosopher, well-versed in classic literature, tall, curly haired, handsome, super muscular and fit, wealthy, fashionable, and generally perfect.  Oh, I'm sorry, he's not perfect as he's not emotionally available.  However, we are clubbed over the head with the fact that he's a pretty man.  In the first interaction between Ana and Christian, we are told at least six times how "beautiful" and "Adonis"like this man is.

So Dagger Dame asked me if the book also gives an unrealistic expectation of women.  I replied that no, society does that all by itself, this book actually writes a female protagonist that I can believe in.  She's somewhat self-conscious, underestimates her own beauty, and generally has lower self-esteem than I feel she ought.  She's also willful and clever, but also tends to over-analyze whatever Christian says and I know many women with those characteristics.  All in all, I thought she was written fairly believably.

So then, how was the book?  It was enjoyable.  I can respect it, in its own right.  For instance, one of the biggest problems I had with the Twilight series was that it tried to present itself as as vampire/fantasy story (while completely rewriting the many many years of established vampire lore...but that's a rant for another day) when in actuality it was adolescent girl porn i.e. a romance novel.  Shades is very honest about what it is: lady porn.  It doesn't try to masquerade as something it isn't.  I can respect that Shades acknowledges its nature.

Ladies!!  This next part is for you.

There is another theme that runs through the book, albeit not as openly as the trust issue and that is the idea that men are not complicated creatures.  Honestly folks, men usually say what they mean, there are usually no hidden meanings.  Motives maybe, but not meaning.  I sometimes slip up and say something I don't mean but that's because I've been infected with The Ladyness.  I'm dealing with it.  Here's how the book puts it.

"Men aren't really complicated, Ana, honey.  They are very simple, literal creatures.  They usually mean what they say.  And we spend hours trying to analyze what they've said, when really it's obvious."

So, ladies, remember that.

Now, before I conclude, I'd like to address the issue of the degradation and subjugation of women that the book may present.  I suspect there's a lot of folks who think Ana is being degraded when Christian asks her to be a Submissive to his Dominant.  Obviously take this opinion with a grain of salt considering the male source, but I don't feel the book degrades women.  Ana is never forced to do anything she doesn't agree to. There is a very specific contract detailing the rules of the relationship.  Actually, she is the one with the power in their relationship.  The Submissive is the one that controls things.  Ana controls the ebb and flow and very often Christian says how she has "bewitched" or "beguiled" him.  He is "powerless" against her.  Her femininity is never questioned and if anything Christian is a very chivalrous fellow...outside of his playroom at least.

There you go, that's my review.  It's an enjoyable book, explicit but no more than any other romance novel out there, and the BDSM aspect is really more discussed than employed.  There's some spanking and light bondage that occurs, but for the most part it's not that dark.  Hot wax isn't employed, there's no clamping or suspension, just the occasional swat.  My thoughts are that if you can make it through a book with Fabio (or his younger cousins) then you can probably do Shades.  There's two more books in the series as well.

That's it folks, that's my "expert" review for this best-selling book.  If you see me on the street or want to leave a comment somewhere for me, I'd be glad to discuss this further.  I'm quite intrigued with the book and hope some of you check it out.

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