Peering through the bedroom keyhole?

Can one of you ladies explain this whole Fifty Shades of Grey thing to me? I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

I know you’re not in it for the writing any more than my father was into Playboy for the articles. E.L. James might be many things–lucky chief among them–but a writer she is not (as she herself admits). Her prose is bland, her descriptions ridiculous, her dialogue tin-eared.

Is it just the sex? Do you just want to feel naughty? There have to be better vessels of erotic ideas than this. Can I direct you to Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying? It’s got loads of sex, but the woman can–get this–write with style and humor. (I know, Jong isn’t a Twilight fan-fiction author, so some of you might dismiss her for that.) If you really enjoy bondage-themed material, there’s always the original, the Marquis de Sade. Some of his books are less than a dollar for the Kindle editions, which sure beats the thirty bucks my wife shelled out for The Fifty Shades series. But even the sex in James’ novel isn’t recommended with enthusiasm by its readers.

“It’s not real,” my wife’s friend complained. “She comes every time they have sex, and it’s always amazing, even when it’s the third or fourth time they’ve fucked that day.”

[My wife did not respond to this criticism, perhaps because admitting that this indeed is her reality might make her friend feel jealous or unsatisfied in her own relationship.]

Whatever the reason, Fifty Shades of Grey is a massive hit. Almost every woman I know is reading it or has read it. None of them can explain why, though, and they all seem vaguely ashamed of themselves. I wish I knew what the secret was.

“I’m going to write a novel,” I told a guy I know. “I think I’m a better writer than this lady.”

“i have an idea,” he replied. “Write your first draft as you normally would. On your second pass, just add lots of vaguely kinky, Cinemax-level sex. Women love that shit, it seems.”

There’s the rub, though: Women don’t watch Cinemax, and they think men that do are losers. Those late-night soft-core films are largely produced by men. I think that’s the kiss of death with erotica as far as women are concerned. This pretty much rules out my friend’s idea. If a man wrote this book, women would never read it, and they’d openly mock guys who did read it as perverts. (As they used to mock me when I was reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover back in high school.) A guy could never get away with this in today’s chick-lit fiction market.

But, hey, if any of you Fifty Shades fans can explain the attraction to me, I’m all ears.

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About semiblind

Bringing you stark existentialism since 1981.
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10 Responses to Peering through the bedroom keyhole?

  1. Spijder says:

    I’ll raise my hand as a woman who (much along the lines of Meatloaf’s sentiment slightly rephrased) ‘will read anything for fun but I won’t read that.’ It started out as Twilight fansmut, and while a certain percentaget of fansmut is wonderful stuff, I didn’t have any urge to read Twilight so remain equally uninterested in what it has spawned.

    • semiblind says:

      Wow–you dislike Twilight and you (sort of) quote Meat Loaf? Be still my heart!

      • Spijder says:

        I can’t say that I dislike it because I haven’t read it. But I do dislike the descriptions, commercials, talk and exerpts that I’ve been unable to avoid. And of course! Though I clearly wasn’t as much of a fan to remember that its not all one word. Oh well, I was always more into Duran Duran and Megadeth anyway ;p

      • semiblind says:

        I read the first 20 pages of Twilight when it first came out. I finally put it down, because I have a strict rule that I won’t read a book if I feel I can write better than the author. Fifty Shades… Is far worse, though. Amateur, yet somehow omnipresent.

  2. Ok…here is my defense of Fifty Shades, and the women who love it.
    First off, I agree with you Andrew in saying that James’s dialogue is weak. I had a hard time getting going in this first book myself and openly criticized the writing in the book to my other girlfriend who was about to read it because the back and forth of the dialogue was so staccato. Yes, I felt I could do better. But unlike movies, where I base 89% of my judgement on the dialogue…when I read, it’s about the story. NOT The scenery…because you can be Washington Irving and write the most amazing prose…and spend 17 freaking pages on the description of one sunset over a hill, and 16 year-olds everywhere will hate you for a classic like Sleepy Hollow which only has a grand total of about 25 pages of action. Thank you Johnny and Cristina….and even Disney for making that story so much more interesting.
    No, when I tell people I love Fifty shades…it’s for the story…AND the sex, don’t get me wrong, the sex is enjoyable to read…but without spoiling too much of the plot…although the heroine admits to liking some of Christina’s Kinky Fuckery….she’s not into pain, and she is out to save him from his dark tendencies from the very beginning.
    Adn as to cinimax…woman are no where near as visual as men. There are women who will openly admit to watching porn, but the majority, in my limited surveillance..would much rather read it, and picture their own brand of ideal man for themselves. They don’t want to get entirely stuck in the physical type some cast director decides is the “in” body. Christian Grey is tall, lean, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist that his pants hang off….I would much prefer a guy with a real ass, and when I read it, Christian has one!
    Fifty shades is not great writing. It’s not even good writing. But James is a writer with a story to tell, and the story is damned interesting, and women enjoy it. And My husband has enjoyed the increase in my libido that occurs when I read it. So men need to quit complaining. And women who haven’t read it need to quit turning up their nose to it because they are so incredibly high minded that are missing a very gratifying read.
    There…end of rant.

    • semiblind says:

      I am not opposed to increased libido, for sure. There are benefits to the book. Still, I think that could be accomplished through a better book.

      Your description of the story–woman seeks to save man from dark BDSM desires–doesn’t sound like enough to hang a trilogy on, particularly given the dialogue and prose. I agree, bad dialogue is more damaging in a movie, but quality prose is indispensable to something I’m going to spend seven or eight hours reading. You can over-do it (I’ve never liked Dickens), but it does count for a lot. I would argue that it’s far more important than scenery in a film.

      Still, you were the only person to attempt a defense, so thanks for that. Enjoy your book; don’t let me rain on your parade.

  3. unhappymommy says:

    I will cop to not having read this one. And I’m a lady who likes smut. I do prefer well-written smut whenever possible and if the only purpose to a story is sex then I’m disinclined to pay novel prices for it. There needs to be a compelling story. So, like I said, haven’t read it.
    I do, however, think that this rendition of it by Gilbert Gottfried is … genius. http://www.jest.com/video/174214/gilbert-gottfried-reads-fifty-shades-of-grey

    • semiblind says:

      Thanks for the link. It got me looking for more readings. It does remind me of the free online erotica I used to read a dozen years ago when I was in college. I’m with you about the cost–it isn’t justified by the content.

      I will concede that sex is difficult to write. Even great authors like Tom Wolfe botch it. But if it’s the book’s chief selling point, it needs to be better than that.

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