Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey—A Formula for Success?

After having seen countless references to Ms. E.L. James’ best-seller, I had to read it—at least that’s what I told my wife. I explained that I wanted to see what made a self-published book so popular. She just nodded and gave me her disapproving frown.

My more-experienced (and published) friends told me that Fifty Shades was not well-written, so I did not expect much in the way of literary excellence. Having read my share of ‘adult’ books (few of which were well written), I also had another benchmark with which to compare Ms. James’ work.

For me, I found Ms. James’ character arcs interesting and engaging. Miss Steele, the protagonist, seems, moral, genuine and naïve (at first)—hesitant to take advantage of Mr. Grey’s offers of gifts and the other ‘benefits’ of their budding relationship. In time, she evolves into to the controller—the one who dictates how the relationship is to proceed, and the boundaries to which it must be confined—at least to some extent. Mr. Grey’s domineering character also softens as he realizes how much he cares for his latest submissive.

While there are a number of passionate sex scenes, there are also love scenes which most of the adult books I’ve read don’t generally include. As Mr. Grey pushes Miss Steele’s boundaries, she resists and expands his own limits.  It’s these tender moments that make both of them feel more like lovers than simply sex partners, and what makes this book more than porn.

Is this a great work of literary art? Not really. I thought it could use another editing pass, as the word-choice was distracting from time-to-time and it could have been tighter in places. And no, I didn’t read the fine print in the seemingly endless contracts, but they did give me a better idea of what goes one behind the scenes in an dominate-submissive playroom.

So what makes this a best seller? I would say it’s the lack of sex. When you pick up a typical adult (okay, porn) book, you can turn to almost any page and find graphic intercourse nearby. Ms. James’ book has sex, but it’s the meat in the stew, not the slurry of flavors around it. Because of this, any reader can pick up Fifty Shades of Grey and not feel guilty about reading about people having sex and the intimate dance that leads up to it. It’s like buying Playboy—we (all) read it for the articles—at least mostly. Of course, reading Fifty Shades on the Kindle makes it far easier to be discreet.

“What are you reading, Sally?” A voice over my shoulder broke my concentration.
”Oh, just another political thriller,” I say, catching my breath and looking up. I pull the Kindle to my chest. It’s Donald, my boss. He doesn’t need to know that I’m immersed from the waist down into 50 shades.
”It must be exciting, you’re kinda flushed.”
”It’s just this fleece.” I discreetly press the power button on the ereader and give him my full attention, unzipping my sweater a bit. I can feel his steel-blue eyes seeing right through me. If he only knew what I was thinking…

Fifty Shades of Grey is a story is about two people with radically different ideas about romance and sex and male-female relationships, and how money can buy anything—but love. I liked it.


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