For the past few weeks, I've been hearing everyone talk about E.L. James' runaway best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey (and the two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed), but I hadn't been paying too much attention to what the fuss was all about. Now and then I'd hear a snippet on a talk show or read a line or two in a magazine about how the books were erotic and romantic in a way that were appealing to women, similar to how women reacted when Ann Rice was the talk of the book world. Since I'm not a big fan of romance novels, I didn't give much thought to the Fifty phenomenon.
I was at the hair salon not too long ago and as I looked around at the dozen or so women getting highlights, blow outs, trims, and the like, I noticed that four women were reading one of the trilogy books. That's it, I said to myself, I am going to find out what all the fuss is about.
Right then and there, I popped open my iPad, purchased Fifty Shades of Grey, and began to read.
And my blood began to boil. And not in a good way.
Fifty Shades of Grey (spoiler alert!) is a story about a young college student (we meet the lovely Anastasia Steele shortly before she graduates) and a deeply-troubled, highly-successful entrepreneur, Christian Grey. They meet by accident--and accident is a precise way to state this since Ana literally trips and falls onto the floor (she's a relatable, insecure klutz) upon entering Grey's ultra-sleek, modern office. Ana is there serendipitously: she has agreed to interview the elusive Grey for the student newspaper as a favor to her roommate, who was ill and unable to do the interview herself, as originally intended.
In any case, from that moment on, Grey is smitten with Ana, Ana is hopelessly drawn to the handsome, charismatic, sort-of-dangerous-but-I-just-can't-put-my-finger-on-it, bad boy Grey, and, well, you do the math.
Ana had good instincts in fearing Christian Grey.
As the story develops and Ana and Grey fall in love (I won't spoil the ending, so feel free to read on), Grey's story unfolds in painful detail, as does his predilection for engaging women in sexually submissive roles (by formal written contracts, no less) and his need to dominate, mold, and own them, particularly Ana.
Our heroine, Miss Steele, as Grey often refers to her, is drawn to Grey like a virginal moth to a flame. While Grey has known his share of sophisticated subs (as his contracted submissives are called) and has fended off stalkers, gold-diggers and a cougar or two, Ana's sexual innocence, independence, and indifference to his professional status and wealth are unfamiliar territory to Grey. His need to own, dominate, and love Ana (yes, love, stay with me), then weave a very sad story of a man who was unconscionably abused and neglected as a very small boy, later adopted into a loving family, but unable to get past his tragic past.
We learn that Grey has known real hunger, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and sorrow at its most base, pitiful level. He is unable to love in a way that does not include inflicting physical and sexual pain on his partner. Moreover, he is not looking for love: he is looking to find pleasure in every moment by finding a way to avoid feeling the excruciating pain of his past. Sadly, the only way he can numb himself to that agony, is by inflicting physical pain wrapped up in the guise of sexual adventure, on Ana.
In the meantime, James manages to make both Ana and Christian likable, humorous, and oddly relatable characters while at the same time, bringing to light the horrors of child abuse and the scars such abuse leaves behind. This in itself should make the book (or books) a worthy read.
But as the story progresses and Ana must choose the hard limits (just how much pain she will allow Grey to inflict as described in their written contract--I wish I was kidding about this) versus her desire to be loved without such rules, a very slippery slope rears its ugly head and begs the question: just how much will women endure in the name of love?
There were moments throughout the book where I was truly disheartened that James missed the opportunity to have Ana simply walk out at the start of the relationship and not decide to negotiate the ways in which Grey would be allowed to punish her, in order to stay in the relationship.
How wonderful would it have been to have her say, "Look, Grey, you're gorgeous and charming and sure, I dig the private jet (she is completely unmoved by his wealth and couldn't care less about his lavish gift-giving, fyi) but I'm not into that kind of thing. Why don't you take up boxing instead of shackling women to your bed and beating them with paddles?"
Instead, Ana, under the spell of falling in love, begins to dice and slice away at her own self-worthiness and the author portrays her as finding some, not all, (but enough to make you scream "WTF" at least every ten pages or so) of Grey's punishments alluring and acceptable.
As the story arcs and Ana's unconditional love for Grey becomes more apparent, Grey's self-protective armor begins to chip away. He is able to open up about his past, his need to control Ana and everyone else in his path, and on a happier note, finds more peace within his troubled self and eventually, their relationship includes elements of a truly loving relationship.
Give or take a few beatings here and there. Honestly, I could scream right now.
In short, while I can see why women might get swept off their feet by the powerful Grey and his Alpha-male-on-steroids machismo, I cannot for one moment understand why any woman would champion the story of another woman's abuse, no matter how many pretty bows are put on top of it. Abuse is abuse is abuse. If you've ever been there on any level, you'll find this book positively sickening to read from a woman's standpoint.
As for Grey, all I was able to feel was anger to the parents that abused and destroyed their little boy's soul and pure sorrow that a child could experience and endure so much, so early in life.
And so, I close by asking you this: when will we stop packaging abuse as a love story?
Till Next Time,