Monday, March 11, 2013

Fifty Shades of Fever

I wasn’t planning on blogging about the E.L. James series until a recent conversation with a friend. She asked me if I’d read the books.

Yes.” I admitted with a slightly guilty smile. In my defense, however, I read the print versions and did not find it necessary to conceal the highly-recognizable covers.

“I couldn’t make it past the first one.” My friend shared with an equally sheepish face.

I pondered her words. While I could understand why she felt that way, I thought that she should read all 3 books before writing the entire series off. And I told her so.

“Why?” My friend is nothing if not practical.

My short answer: I thought that Ana and Christian’s journey was interesting.

Okay, the sex wasn’t bad either.

After our conversation, I got to wondering if I could explain the strange fascination—dare, I say fever—with James’ series? Certainly the Fifty Shades trilogy has spun the women of this country into “a state of nervous excitement or agitation.” (Yes, I googled the definition of “fever” to make sure I was using it in context.)

So here goes. And guys, like Soap Opera Digest columnist Carolyn Hinsey says, “It’s only my opinion.”

By the time I was curious enough to read Fifty Shades of Grey, the other two books had been published. That was good. It would have pissed me off to have to wait between the first and second book. (Spoiler alert—Ana and Christian break up at the end of the first book.) Luckily, they were only apart for the five minutes or so it took me to pick up Fifty Shades Darker. I read Fifty Shades Freed immediately after and I am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed the trilogy immensely.

But why?

There’s been a lot written about the subversive effect of these books. Many readers espouse that James’ books are degrading to women and an unwelcome return to the “bodice rippers” of the past, i.e., books written by authors like Catherine Coulter, Johanna Lindsey, and Bertrice Small. Certainly Catherine Coulter’s writing has evolved. I am a big fan of her Sherlock and Savich FBI series. Today Coulter’s characters are strong, intelligent, and fully-realized heroines. As a longtime Lindsey fan, I would say that her writing has changed as well. It’s been years since she wrote about a pretty young thing being abducted and forced into sexual slavery—Captive Bride (1977) and Silver Angel (1988). Bertrice Small…not so much. Based on a recommendation from my library, I recently read Bianca: the Silk Merchant’s Daughter. Bertrice Small still writes a mean “bodice ripper,” however, my taste has evolved.  

Other readers are turned off by the S&M that serves as an important backbone of the Fifty Shades trilogy. After everything I’d heard about the series, I was actually surprised by how “vanilla” the S&M turned out to be. One over-energetic spanking at the end of book one, and Ana immediately breaks it off with Christian. (So, um, I guess Ana didn’t actually read that sexual contract Christian presented her with at the start of the relationship.)

Some readers saw Christian’s lifestyle choice as a way to dominate and degrade the women in his life. I saw the same choice as a defense mechanism for someone who’d been abused as a boy. Spoiler alert—I was right! Christian was abused as a child by a drug addict mother and her cohorts, and then again as a teenager by a blonde Mrs. Robinson. In fact, I guessed early on that the Fifty Shades trilogy would turn out to be the story of how the innocent Ana saves the sadistic Christian—not the story of how the sadistic Christian defiles the innocent Anna.

And, along the way, they had some pretty hot sex.

So why did I enjoy the Fifty Shades trilogy so much? Because at its heart, Ana and Christian’s story is the classic tale about a “good” girl who wins her “bad” boy—and that’s right up my alley. I just love me some “bad” boy. Now, if we only had more women’s fiction about the “good” boy who wins his “bad” girl. I find that scenario equally engaging, and I blame the debacle that was Grease 2 for why the literary world and Hollywood avoids that story.

So, if you’re not a fan of good girls saving bad boys, here are three other benefits to reading E.L. James Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy:

1.       It gives hope to everyone who writes fan fiction and has secretly wanted to publish. In fact, the books will likely make you feel better about your own writing skills.

2.       It may just improve your sex life. If you’re like me, reading a book is often the last thing I do before I go to sleep. (Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.)

3.       It extends the life of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Love Bella and Edward? Try Ana and Christian. It’s like Twilight—only with A LOT of sex. In other words, less starry-eyed gazing and more starry-eyed spanking.