Thursday, March 07, 2013

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success, Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

I heard the hype around this book when it was first released, and I flipped through a copy to see what it was all about. I didn’t make it past page five before it was clear that this is not my kind of book. I put it back with no intention to pick it up again, until I heard that it sparked a public conversation about why this book is so popular, and that one of the reasons is because women secretly want to be dominated. Knowing this to *not* be true, I decided to read this book to see where people got this impression.

I want to say right off that I didn’t like it. However, I’m not going to rant and bash it to pieces, either (I could be here all day listing the plot holes and improbabilities, but I’ve got better things to do). Specifically, I’m going to give an opinion on why I think this book garnered so much popularity, and why many books like it receive the same. There are some spoilers ahead, so read with caution.

Anastasia Steele has no self-esteem. She thinks she’s ordinary. She’s clumsy. She’s inexperienced. The list goes on. And yet, wealthy, handsome, charming, successful Christian Grey finds her interesting. He thinks she’s beautiful, and worthy of pursuit. I think this, more than anything, is what many women dream of. So many women out there have low self-esteem and think of themselves exactly how Ana thinks of herself. So, to have a hot, rich man telling them otherwise is irresistible.

But, there is no story if there’s no conflict, right? So, authors give their dream-guys flaws—some obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately, that often turns them into horrible human beings. The relationship between Ana and Christian is textbook abusive. Ana has conversation with herself about how Christian is so sweet and wonderful at times, and then other times he scares her. This is why people stay in abusive relationships, because it’s not all bad all of the time. There are good moments, too, and that’s what they cling to, making it near impossible to break the cycle. And, since the abused party has no self-esteem, they put everything on themselves to ‘fix’ the relationship, sometimes changing who they are in the process.

This is where stories like these get dangerous. Ana agrees to give up her individuality when she agrees to try Christian’s way, so she can try to give him what he needs. This is scary. If you have to change who you are in order to make someone happy, then you don’t belong with that person. Ultimately, she does decide to leave Christian—many have touted her for being strong and independent for doing this, but I don’t agree. She’s still stuck in that abusive mentality because she still believes she’s worthless for being unable to give him what he needs (total control). She’s still stuck in the cycle, she’ll fall into another abusive relationship, and she won’t know it until it’s too late. This happens again and again in the real world, and to have books romanticizing a relationship where one party feels scared is glorifying the abusive cycle. BTW, before anyone says that this is just fiction so let it go already, I invite you to read this article.

Anyway, I guess I feel that books like these are popular mostly because the heroine is someone who thinks she’s ordinary (or worse), but an extraordinary person sees someone worthwhile. The only way books like these will fall by the wayside is if we figure out how to empower these women and help them to see that they are wonderful and worthwhile on their own. They don’t need validation from anyone but themselves, and their lives don’t need to be defined by whether or not they have a significant other.

Just my opinion…


Eliza Tilton said...

One review I read said it perfectly. "Its like a car crash, we just can't look away."

I haven't read it, but that's because I don't read erotica and after hearing what the books about, I'm not interested. My bff was in an abusive relationship. It took her a long time to break free. Its not something I want to read about.

Great review.

Beverly Diehl said...

I read it - like you, I wanted to see what the buzz was about. And I've read other (need I say, better) books that feature erotic content and/or BDSM.

I didn't hate it as much as I thought it would. To me, what women find appealing is the "code" of the dominant - the idea that he is TOTALLY focused on you,on meeting YOUR needs, that you can let go of control and be safe.

It's a nice fantasy, but Real Life Ain't This Way. Generally what happens in relationships where a man has a need to physically hurt a woman is it is NOT in the service of pleasure/her needs, but his own demons, and no matter how much control she gives up, it doesn't satisfy him.

Kiersi said...

Haha, oh man, that article is terrifying when you think about this book, Tabitha.

I will confess that I read the whole thing, and it was like eating a really awful hamburger or a whole huge bucket of onion rings--you start, and you don't ACTUALLY like it, and you know it's bad for you but you JUST CAN'T STOP. I wanted to know how it ended, even though I cared almost nothing for the characters.

Anyway, I think it's important to read these books so we know what we're dealing with in readers' minds.

Sarah Negovetich said...

I applaud you for at least reading the story. I just can't do it.

Lexa Cain said...

I dropped by your blog to read the LaFevers review (which was very good), and then got distracted by the mention of 50 Shades in your sidebar. This review is excellent. I loved that you managed to review it without becoming angry (I don't think I have that much control). I'm sure the psychological reasons you give for people liking this book are true. It's really sad though...
Great post! :-)

Tabitha Olson said...

Well, I just finished the last book in the trilogy (yeah, I read them all...I wanted to see what people were gushing over), and the third book is the one that scares me the most.

*slight spoiler warning*

Girl + abusive relationship + baby does NOT equal happily ever after. But that's the message in book 3. Given the article I referenced in the above review, this *really* scares me.