Monday, June 4, 2012
The Most Talked About Book in America
I finally did it. I read Fifty Shades of Grey. For the past few months, all I have been hearing about, and reading about, in the world of romance is this book. It has been written about, and dissected, in the New York Times, The Huffington Post, and other such mainstream publications that generally ignore the entire romance genre. So I was curious.
"Everyone is reading it," they say. "It is good for women," shouted some publications. "It is bad for women," shouted others. But regardless of which is true, this is one popular book. Perhaps the most popular book out there. And when the most popular book in America is a romance, I feel it is my duty to read it. So I got the book and prepared to love it over Memorial Day weekend.
But I didn't love it. Not even close. But I really wanted to write about it; to explore what, exactly it is about this book that has some women speaking in hushed, reverent tones, and others yelling "danger...porn" from the rooftops. So I soldiered on. I almost put the book down a dozen times, but always picked it back up again due to the aforementioned hushed and reverent tones. I thought maybe it would get better in the end. It didn't. Or I thought maybe I would come to like it after I finished it and thought about it for awhile. I wouldn't.
A brief word about plot. Ana Steele is a college senior who, at the last minute, due to a sick roommate, lands an interview with Christian Grey, a gorgeous, wealthy CEO and major donor to the university. Christian does not generally grant interviews, and certainly not to college students. You can probably see where this is all headed. Christian is instantly taken with Ana, and she with him. He warns her away from him, but she fails to heed his advice. They begin a relationship marked by his control issues both inside and outside the bedroom, and her incessantly irritating inner monologues.
Toss in bad writing, dialogue that is hardly believable, and a first person narrative that sounds like a teenage girl's diary, and you end up with what was, in my mind, a colossal mess. Not exactly the stuff of my romance novel loving dreams.
My biggest problem with this book, I think, was Ana. I found her timid, frustrating, and self-centered. I thought I might scream if she chewed her lip or mentioned her "inner goddess" one more time, and she drove me endlessly crazy with her "I want you...you're crazy...stay away from me...no, I need you" diatribes. I kept waiting for her to wise up and walk away. Her monologues contained a lot of "oh my," and "he is so masculine." Ugh.
In the romance novels I love, the women are strong. They say what they mean, mean what they say, and take charge of their own happiness. So I had trouble conjuring up the requisite sympathy for this young girl who willingly submitted to the twisted fantasies of an overbearing man, and put her own sense of self aside to cater to his domineering whims. Anna Spinnelli and Phoebe Sommerville would eat this girl for lunch. Just saying.
And what of the leading man? I'm sure some readers truly felt for this broken soul; the man who suffered so as a child. Not this reader. Mostly, he just annoyed me. As he is written, Christian Grey is perfect in every way. CEO, gifted pianist, pilot, gorgeous, wealthy. Perfect, except for those tiny issues. The ones where he requires women to submit to him completely. The ones that lead him to offer those women a contract dictating what she can eat, say and wear; how much she is required to sleep and exercise; and, oh yeah, the S&M she will be engaging in. With him. Whenever he wants. Maybe I'm alone here, but to me, control issues are decidedly not sexy.
I just didn't like it. Fine.
But you might like it. And that's ok.
What is confusing for me about Fifty Shades of Grey, is how everyone seems to have an opinion. The mommy blogs are waxing philosophic about this book, as if it is a magic pill to save women, restore good sex, and resuscitate marriage. The right wing is screaming about it, and banning it from libraries as if the cover itself has the power to destroy family values and traditional marriage.
I don't think it's either of those things. I think it just is. It's ok for some women to like it. It's ok for others not to. I think, when we start having conversations about things that are "good" or "bad" for women, or books that "everyone should read" or "no one should read" we are treading into dangerous territory. We're women. There are some things we like. There are other things we don't. There's no rhyme or reason to it. And there shouldn't be.
So, if Fifty Shades is your speed, I say curl up and read on. It wasn't mine. Reasonable minds may differ. When it comes to romance novels, there really is something for everyone, and that, to me, is simply amazing.