About the Book

Title: Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
Published: 2011

When We Broke Up: Chapter 21
I Should Have Listened To: Shocked School Parents
How Purple Is Your Prose: The Haut Of Fanfiction.net
Anti-Bonus Factors: The World’s Unsexiest Sex Scenes, The Main Characters
Bonus Factor: Making Me Feel Way Cooler Than I Am
Restraining Order Status: Stop Sexually Harassing Me!

Let’s Judge A Book By Its Cover:

Oh, look. It’s a stock picture of a gray tie! And system fonts! I think it might have been done on pixlr! This TOTALLY makes this book look like a highly-skilled production that in no way is actually a poorly written fanfiction that only got a publishing deal because it made some sad, undersexed ladies wet their panties while skipping through the godawful prose to faff to the sex scenes!

Er, it’s fine, or whatever.

The Deal (As I Know It):

Clumsy, personality-void, brunette Anastasia Steele, who lives in Washington State and in no way resembles clumsy, personality-void, brunette Bella Swan, is on the verge of graduating college when she meets mysterious, controlling, old-beyond-his-years Christian Gray, who in no way resembles mysterious, controlling, old-beyond-his-years Edward Cullen. No, really, y’all! Christian’s eyes are gray; Edward’s eyes are ochreTotally different!

Despite Christian being a 27 year old billionaire with the world at his feet and Anastasia being a 22 year old virgin who has never once been attracted to any person ever, they fall into insta-love. However, there’s only one tiny obstacle in their way to bliss: Christian Gray is a Dominant who is only interested in BDSM relationships with Submissives. So if Anastasia wants to be his lover, she’s gotta get with his contractal terms. Makin’ love is easy, but litigation never ends!

Can Anastasia subvert herself for love? Can Christian learn to embrace a more vanilla lifestyle? Can we take bets on how many chapters it takes until it’s revealed that Christian had a traumatic childhood and we should all feel bad for him and forgive the fact that he only ever takes pleasure from forcing women to do what he wants?

When We Broke Up: Chapter 21

Guys, I REALLY tried! I really did! Not because the book was good, mind. I just wanted to get to the sexy parts! I had labored (and I do mean labored) under the assumption that this book was super sexy and smutty. And, sure, I read a few of the sex scenes, but they just seemed so . . . basic? I mean, sure, there’s some light bondage and spanking and stuff, but this is a book about a guy who makes his girlfriends SIGN A CONTRACT promising that they’ll be okay with all sorts of shizz: genital clamps, anal fisting, etc. I expected to at least have my mind a little blown, you know? But, alas, the only thing getting blown was Christian, and this book acted like it was the most crazy-exotic shizz that’s ever gone down between a man and a woman. News flash! Blow jobs! People do that!

I Should Have Listened To: Shocked School Parents

So, check it. Actually no one told me not to read this book, probably because A) the people who know me would never dream that I’d even want to read this book and B) those who don’t (i.e. my mother’s Facebook friends) totally went shitball-crazy over this book. But! FYA contributor and World’s Worst Cook Lee, who works at a private school, was beset by several of her students’ mothers last week, and they very strongly urged her NOT to read this “shocking” book. I think their objections were centered around the completely debasing and demoralizing messages contained within, but I like to imagine that really they just didn’t want our Lee reading such poorly-written tripe.

How Purple Is Your Prose: The Haut Of Fanfiction.net

By now you probably all know the story – this series of books was originally Twilight-centered fan fiction, in which Bella and Edward enter into a BDSM relationship. It became popular for reasons we’ll examine in a moment, and so the writer changed the names and a few of the details and, boom! She had herself a multi-million dollar publishing and film deal. Meanwhile, we’re coming up on our 3rd anniversary of writing FYA, and not once has anyone offered to buy us a fucking boat.

Anyway, this book reads EXACTLY like fan fiction does. I’m not adverse to fan fiction on a moral or even intellectual level – God knows there have been tv series, particularly, in which I pretty much devoured online fan fiction late at night when my insomnia spurred me to believe that the only thing standing between me and true happiness was that Mulder and Scully weren’t fucking like bunnies. (And then when they DID fuck like bunnies, we didn’t even get to see it!! AND they totally conceived the world’s worst plot device, William the Worst! And I had to listen to Agent Reyes sing whale songs to Scully while black-oiled alien hybrids stood outside the cabin, waiting to witness the birth of their savior! It was SUPER UPSETTING and if I hadn’t already been having sex at the time, I probably would still be holding off on Doing It, because OBVIOUSLY when you have sex it leads to babies and alien invasions and Lucy Lawless! OBVIOUSLY.)

So, anyway, yeah, fanfic – I’m not opposed! It’s simply a way for someone to stretch their imagination in safe, prescribed quarters – by basing a story on an already existing character or world, a fanfiction writer can only go so far; Mulder cannot suddenly be a fair-haired Californian surfer with totally normal parents, for instance. He’s always going to be a broody fuckup with the shittiest family you could ever imagine, and a fanfiction writer has to work within that limitation. (I know, I’m referring to X-Files Fanfiction a lot, but hey, I went to college and got a computer with access to the internet for the first time. It was a whole new world.) And while the vast majority of fanfiction is horribly written, there are some talented people out there who use fanfiction as a way of keeping their writing bug alive, and they actually write pretty well! But it’s always going to read like fanfiction.

In other words, fan fiction is almost prompt-based in its approach to story-telling: the writer assumes that the readers are established already with the universe and the characters populating same, so not a lot of time is spent on developing setting, themes or even tone. And that’s okay, because again, in fan fiction that sort of writing is redundant. I, as a reader, already know that Donna Moss is Josh Lyman’s assistant and that they work at the White House and that they secretly like each other – just get to the part where they’re stuck in a ski lodge overnight and end up screwing each other six ways from Sunday. Fan fiction is not an organic procreation, gestation and delivery of a story; it is just the labor and end result of the idea-fetus that a writer has been denied in reality. E.L. James did not set out to write a story in which a sheltered young woman bargains her identity and autonomy in order to feel desired and loved; she didn’t set out to write a parable about what makes a person their own being; she wanted towrite a story in which Bella and Edward got a little kinky and used some nipple clamps, and that’s what she did. So it reads like fanfiction; it will always read like fan fiction; if the movies go forward, they will feel like high budget porn (and nothing wrong with that, either. Nothing puts me off porn faster than low production values and unflattering lighting.).

That said . . . you know how I mentioned that there is well-written fan fiction? This is not one of them. Trite, flowery, incomprehensibly dragging in plot, and exercising my least-favorite narrative style of having two characters discuss THE SAME ISSUE AD NAUSEUM WITH NO ADVANCEMENT OF UNDERSTANDING OR COMPROMISE, this book is actually worse than V.C. Andrews’ novels. And you know how I feel about her.

Anti-Bonus Factors: The World’s Unsexiest Sex Scenes

Y’all. Y’ALL. Look, I knew this book was not going to be good, OBVIOUSLY, butI thought AT LEAST the sex scenes would be good! Or at least so shocking that I was a little bit prudishly appalled by them. BUT NO. THEY WERE SO FUCKING LAME, YOU GUYS. I literally mean that, as in, the fucking in this book is partially immobile! Ugh, I actually turned to my boyfriend this weekend (why was I reading this while with my boyfriend? I don’t know) and told him that the sex in this book was turning me off sex entirely. (His response? “Let’s find you something else to read.”) It’s just so awful. First of all, James falls victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous of which is “never enter into a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less-well-known is this: Never write erotica if your main character can’t say the word ‘vagina!'”

Seriously. I made it though half this book. The main character only uses the words “down there.” It’s fucking pathetic.

ALSO. Like, a big deal in this book is that Christian makes Anastasia sign a contract before the secksing can start, and it details all the things they will and will not do. And the list is WEAK SAUCE, y’all. It’s like, yes to fisting (vaginal and anal), clamping and hot wax. No to blood play and breath play. I’m sorry, I know everyone has their own personal limits, but seriously it’s okay that he shoves his fist UP YOUR ASS but it’s NOT okay that he ties a scarf around your neck and squeezes a little bit? Are you fucking kidding me? And! And! There is all this stuff, like, “is swallowing semen acceptable to the Submissive?” and “Is Bondage acceptable to the Submissive?” and the dude is all, “let’s discuss these limits!” What the fuck kind of relationship is this? That’s the unsexiest thing I’ve EVER READ. You know what? New sex education plan!! Instead of teaching kids abstinence-only which is stupid and doesn’t work, make every 14 year old read and sign a contract spelling out exactly what their sexual limits are. Not only is it a good way to go over various possibilities, but every child will be TOTALLY HORRIFIED and scared to have sex for several more years! “You want to stick WHAT up my ass? No thank you, let’s just hold hands!” I mean, damn, this contract business is really unsexy, y’all. Whatever happened to romance? Back in my day, if a boy wanted to put it in your butt, he had two options: get you drunk on champagne and take it slow, or try that whole “oops, it slipped” maneuver. (P.S. Boys? You aren’t fooling anyone when you do that.) Kids today!

ALSO if one person is a virgin and the other person is experienced in sex, do you know what you don’t do? Force them to choose their sexual limits before entering into a sexual lifestyle, in which any number of factors – trust, trauma, a sense of adventure or a feeling of being perfectly happy where they are – may change the types of things they will or won’t do! You don’t do that! Shit, sex is supposed to be fun, but more than that, it’s supposed to be a co-adventure – the two (or, hey, more) of you in this together, figuring out what you like and what you don’t. Not one person telling the other, “well, I’m super into caning and fire play. Oh, you’ve never experienced either? Well, don’t worry, I’ll initiate you super quickly!”

Anti-Bonus Factor: The Main Characters

I can’t really say much about Christian or Anastasia, because they are both completely devoid of any type of personality. Instead, I will present you with these two quotes from the characters, and let you form your own decisions.

From Christian, after Anastasia went to a bar and got drunk:

“Well, if you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday.”

Um, thanks, Dad.

And from Anastasia, after Christian lectures her to eat better:

No one is going to dictate to me what I eat. How I fuck, yes, but eat . . . no, no way.

Well, Anastasia’s future hypothetical nutritionist, I have some bad news for you. You aren’t going to be able to tell Anastasia to avoid red meats and food high in trans fat, but the good news is, you can totally tell her to fuck you anyway you’d like.

Bonus Factor: Making Me Feel Way Cooler Than I Am

I don’t think of myself as kinky, folks. Because I’m really not. Sure, I enjoy sex, and I enjoy a variation of it, but I always define “kinky” as “everything I won’t do.” Like have anything to do with feces. Or babies. Or baby play (it’s a thing). Or horse play (also a thing). Or swinging or orgies with fat old men or rape fantasies or objectism (totally a thing) or whatever. And, sure, I could sit back and smile and say that I don’t judge people who do those things, but you and I both know that if your coworker came up to you one day and was like, “let me tell you about my exciting new lifestyle as a goat fucker in a Traveling Alpine Sex Show,” you’d be like, “that’s okay. I just remembered that I had a super boring meeting I had to sit through. See ya later!” Because anyone who does something you wouldn’t do is automatically a little weird.

But the stuff in this book? Dang! I mean, granted I didn’t read to the end, but so far there have been like 8 sexual encounters, and the most scandalous* thing that has happened thus far has been that Anastasia’s had her hands tied and her ass flicked a few times with a riding crop. Come on!!

* Well, sex related. The fact that it’s written in the contract that Anastasia has to refer to Christian as “Sir” and is not allowed to look him in the eyes and that he keeps talking about how he’s going to train her to be “acceptable” is, of course, vomit inducing.

Restraining Order Status: Stop Sexually Harassing Me!

Listen, book. You like to think you’re all that, making middle-aged married women swoon and masturbate in secret with your tawdry little story. But you’re going to need to come at me with a lot more than this if I’m going to overlook your greasy, overbearing, pontificating personality. And since you aren’t actually approaching me with anything interesting, I’m forced to conclude that your attentions amount to pesky sexual harassment, not unlike the time that a boss asked me to pose in a bikini for a photo on his motorcycle. I was 16. It was gross and pathetic then and it’s just as gross and pathetic now. Go sell your wares to someone sad enough to buy them, Book; I have an actual sex life to attend to.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Fifty Shades of Grey is available now.

Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink.