I am an avid reader with varied tastes in literature, so it is not uncommon for friends and acquaintances to recommend books. One week, several people mentioned the new trilogy, 50 Shades of Grey, so I acquired a copy of the first book.
I was not aware at the time that the novels began as erotic Twilight fan fiction ... had I known, I might have saved myself some time. It's not the "erotic" part that hangs me up, it's the idea that when someone is writing for an audience who enjoyed Twilight enough to read fan fiction about it, they haven't set the bar very high to begin with.
In the interest of full disclosure, I only read about half of the first novel before I gave up on it. It is rare for me to not finish a book, but this is one of those occasions where I simply cannot stand to read another word. The book is summarily awful ... the writing is dreadful, the characters are unrealistic and have no depth, and the sex scenes would be comical if they weren't so poorly drawn. Additionally, British author E.L. James appears to have no working knowledge of the geography of Washington state and did not bother to research anything about Americans beyond what she learned from reading Twilight. In fact, the only research James appears to have done was on BDSM lifestyles, and she even managed to portray that poorly and without accuracy. The entire thing sounds like a teenager's idea of what erotic sex might be like. And truthfully, that is one of the things that troubles me about the popularity of this series.
I don’t intend to start a debate about S&M and whether it constitutes abuse, but this portrayal of the BDSM lifestyle is so fantastical I can’t help but wonder what the intended audience will think. While the audience appears to be largely middle aged, Midwestern housewives, the Twilight set is bound to read this work as well; it is a natural progression for the tween/teen audience who worships Twilight to seek out novels based on the same characters. The children who dove headfirst into the “teen paranormal romance” genre will find it an easy transition to read about a character who, like them, has aged a few years and is now in college. Therefore, we begin with a lesson about a stalker boyfriend who is “perfect,” but is, in fact, an imaginary being and (d)evolve into a human character who is not only a stalker boyfriend, he is one who gets off on hitting his girlfriend. Does anyone else see the problem here?
Additionally, the male character in this novel is obscenely rich, unnaturally good looking and, of course, extremely well endowed. He showers the female lead with gifts in exchange for agreeing to be his submissive. What does this tell young girls? “If I let my boyfriend slap me around a bit, maybe he’ll buy me a car”?
Maybe I’m dwelling too much on the similarities to Twilight – I’m sure if this work were published independently of the fan fiction realm and did not share the common character traits I would not feel this way about it. I’m also sure that it would not be selling nearly as well, which leads me to think (hope) that this is simply a genius marketing scheme, rather than an attempt at actual literature.
Which brings me to the real, personal problem I have with this work. You want to write trite fantasies for bored housewives, or "mommy porn," as it's being called, that's fine with me. If you can get people to buy books about boring characters having boring sex, more power to you. I just don't see why the English language has to become a casualty in the battle to become a published author. The positive reviewers gush about what a "complex character" the lead male is, and how the book is a "page turner." The only page turning I did was in the futile hope that it might get better. That the female protagonist professes a love for actual literature (such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles) is a joke.
When, and why, did our standards for decent reading material sink so low? I remember cringing a couple of years ago as I listened to two English students debate who the better author is: Stephanie Meyer or Anne Rice. Seriously?
Please, America, stop encouraging talent-less hacks and set a higher standard for the entertainment industry. And for crying out loud, buy your daughters real literature to read, rather than whatever garbage currently resides on the NYT bestseller list.