Are you familiar with Jim’s Journal, the late 80s comic strip by Scott Dikkers, co-founder of The Onion? Jim reacts—or really, doesn’t react—to everything in his life with an understated, unemotional style, as in the comic where he observes, “I went to college, and it was okay.”
On the airplane home from my soon-to-be West coast hometown, I read Fifty Shades of Grey, and it was okay.
Actually, it was better than okay. It was an easy, pleasant read, perfect for a long plane ride. It was sexy and entertaining. But I was mostly struck by what it wasn’t. It wasn’t amazing or revolutionary or life-changing. It wasn’t unique or wonky or genre-busting. It didn’t scream “praise me,” “worship me,” “scorn me,” “fear me,” or “ban me.”
In fact, it was pretty ordinary. Ana, the heroine, is young for a romance heroine, and the book is in her first person POV, but those are about the only things that make the book unusual for its genre.
I’ve heard people complain about the quality of the writing, but I thought James did a good job with the depth of POV, simplicity of language, and consistency of voice. It’s not sophisticated writing, not flowery or particularly distinctive, but it’s solid and accessible, and that’s something I admire. (I was finished with Ana’s “inner goddess” by about quarter of the way through the book, but that image is unrelenting, so we’re all stuck with her.)
Christian is rich and alpha, powerful and hot, a completely mainstream romance hero. The only thing that makes him at all unusual is his kinkiness, and frankly? At least in the first book, which is the only one I’ve read, he’s just not that kinky.
One thing that bothered me about the book—and I haven’t read other criticism of the book, so this may be the oldest news on earth—is the fact that Christian’s kinks are portrayed as the result of childhood damage. They’re something Ana needs to lead him away from. I’m talking out of alternate orifices here, but I’m guessing that if you’re sub or dom, that feels wrong, like books where someone is “converted” away from homosexuality—as if it’s a curable affliction and not just the way you are.
James does seem to at least partially acknowledge this issue in book one; it’s clear that Christian sees his kinks as part of him, while Ana sees them as evidence of damage. I’d like to see this split played with and addressed even more, which is part of why I’ll keep reading.
The other part of why I’ll keep reading is that I can’t stop. I like the characters. I am well and thoroughly sucked into their romance, and the sex keeps me turning the pages. It’s not the most amazing sex I’ve ever read, but it’s emotional and tied into the plot, and I think the contention that the book is porn is absurd. Fifty Shades is an erotic romance—well, strictly speaking, the first book is NOT a romance, not taken on its own, but the trilogy is—and it’s a pretty good erotic romance. And that’s really all it is. Which is a compliment. Seriously. With all the fuss one way and the other, the book could easily have disappointed me. But I read Fifty Shades of Grey, and it was okay. In the best possible way.