All right, I’ll admit it. I finally gave into curiosity and read those books. You know what books I’m talking about. The books the media and publishing have been pushing as the next greatest thing around. The “mommy porn” books. Yep, that’s right. Despite having already read the sample of the first book in the series and determining that I’d have rejected it if it had come across my desk at NRP, I read the Fifty Shades of Grey books. I may never recover the brain cells that committed suicide as a result.
Fair warning upfront. I’m not a prude. I have read, and enjoyed, books with with explicit sex, including bondage and domination. As with violence or anything else, if the sex advances the plot, go for it. But, for the love of all that is holy, write it well.
My problem with the books isn’t necessarily the sex. For one thing, there really isn’t that much in the series, whether it is plain vanilla sex or bondage and domination sex. I’ve read more in mainstream romance novels than in these three books.
No, my problem with the series, especially with the first book, is the writing and characters. The writing could have been fixed with a good editor and copy editor. The first book, on the technical side, really did read like it was nothing more than a slightly expanded screenplay. I never felt pulled into the story because, even though it is written in first person, I never felt like I was connecting with the narrator, Anastasia Steele. It was too much of Ana just telling us what she saw and thought and not enough of actually being in the story. Now, I don’t want or need to know every thought of a character, but there has to be some connection with the narrator to keep me from skipping forward — or throwing the book down never to be read again.
Yes, the second and third book are technically better written. But that isn’t saying much because the technique doesn’t make up for other issues I had with the books.
Okay, gather round and listen closely, if you are writing a book, no matter what the genre, do not make your main characters too stupid to live. Yes, I’ve had a character accused of that but, compared to Ana Steele, she was a Nobel Prize Winner, a genius among geniuses.
If you have the Fifty books in your TBR and don’t want spoilers, skip this part.
Ana Steele is about to graduate from college when her roommate asks her to fill in at an interview with the very, very rich Christian Grey for the college paper. Said roommate is ill and has to have someone fill in because she worked soooooo hard to get the interview. Now, Ana isn’t part of the newspaper staff. She isn’t a journalism major. No, she isn’t some prodigy in the journalistic world. She wants to be a book editor. But, because her bestest friend in the whole world asks her to do this, she does.
And she literally falls into Grey’s office. The interview goes on, including asking if Grey is gay (yes, that is one of the questions the dear roommate has prepped for Ana to ask). Afterwards, still not understanding why she is sooooooo drawn to the mysterious Mr. Grey, Ana returns home, turns over her tapes of the interview and agrees they should have had photos taken. So, yes, there will be another meeting.
So far, nothing really out of the romance genre norm. Right?
The creepy — and “are you really this dumb?” — comes later. Grey, it turns out is a dom. And he’s a dom who wants Ana. He insinuates himself into her life, running to her rescue when she drinks too much one night and a guy friend pushes just a bit too hard. Poor guy, he really has it bad for Ana but she just looks at him like a brother. Believe me, Ana would have been much better off going with Jose. But then we wouldn’t have had our “mommy porn”.
Within a week or so, Grey has not only insinuated himself into our heroine’s life, but admitted to her he has certain “tastes” and, having teased her until she just has to have him, presents her with first a non-disclosure agreement and then a contract that lays out exactly what he can and will do to her as well as her responsibilities to him as his “sub”.
Oh, did I mention she’s a virgin? A fairly inexperienced one?
Now, this is where my tablet almost went against the wall. First, you have this obscenely rich young man presenting a woman he hardly knows with not only the non-disclosure agreement but sub contract. He’s already done a thorough background check into her so he knows that if she were to tell anyone about the contract or anything they might do later, she has nothing he can go after. So that’s no real protection for him. (What we don’t know at this point is he also takes photos of his subs in what can best be called embarrassing positions to insure they don’t reveal what is done.) So, we known Mr. Grey is kinky at best and despite being rich and all isn’t real bright.
Ana, on the other hand, who has already basically accused him of stalking her and of being controlling — duh — and who is stunned by the contract, albeit a bit intrigued, doesn’t go running into the night. She doesn’t think about how this might not be a real good idea. Oh no, that wouldn’t make a “good” book. She signs the non-disclosure agreement but wants to negotiate the sub contract. She doesn’t like the exercise clause and a few others.
Yep, that’s right. She doesn’t have many objections to the actual sex clauses but is objecting to being told she needs to exercise a certain number of times a week.
AND SHE IS STILL SEXUALLY INEXPERIENCED.
No, don’t tell me she’s curious. Don’t tell me maybe she fantasized about being tied up. This isn’t something the author tells us, at least not enough for it to have stuck in my mind.
In a period of less than a month — if I remember correctly, the first book takes place in less than two weeks, but I may be wrong. I swear reading it killed brain cells — Ana goes from virgin to mistress to leaving Christian because he hurt her. No, she doesn’t sign the contract and that both pisses him off and intrigues him. She is the first of his women to have stood up to him like this.
Okay, if this was all that bothered me about the book, I could see how folks would like it. However, it isn’t. Christian isn’t someone I’d want my daughter seeing. No, it has nothing to do with the bondage and domination. I know folks who get off on that. It’s not the pain bit. That doesn’t turn me on but to each his own, as long as both partners agree. What is the deal breaker with me where he’s concerned is the fact that he is, at best, bipolar. At worst, the way he’s portrayed in the first book, he’s totally nuts and a danger to not only Ana but to himself. His mood swings are like watching a tennis match on fast forward. He has no empathy for anyone around him. He exhibits textbook stalker behavior, made worse by too much money and power.
But we, the reader, are supposed to understand that there is something good to him. He’s damaged — DUH. The problem is that we don’t know how or why. There is no reason for us to have empathy with him. He’s nothing more than a spoiled brat.
Oh, but Ana is supposed to save him.
Give me a break.
Fifty Shades of Grey suffers because it isn’t well edited and it doesn’t give the reader information that is needed to build a rapport with Grey and, sorry, but Ana really is too dumb to survive. It is also a classic case of showing what a push and some well-placed media coverage can do for book sales. And now, this is the latest “greatest thing” and publishers are paying for books that are nothing more than pale versions of a book that was a pale version of yet another book. Even if they rush the books out, readers will have moved on to something else.
Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels aren’t even erotica. Not in my book at least. The sex doesn’t happen all that often. It isn’t that “hot”. Hell, I’ve read more erotic scenes in mysteries. We won’t even talk about what you can find in online fanfic sites.
I will admit that technique-wise, the second and third books of the series are better written. But, again, the too dumb to live bit continues. For a man who has more money than he knows what to do with, who is paranoid enough about anything happening to Ana — including her possibly stubbing her toe — he and his security staff completely overlook the fact there is a second stalker out there. Oh yeah, during one of the books, they are bothered by one of his former subs who is, shall we say, less than mentally stable.
And then there is his former dominant — yep, you read that right. Good ole Christian was a sub — who is not happy that her former boy toy (he was fifteen when she got her claws into him) now has himself a woman he wants to settle down with. Oh, and did I tell you, she’s a family friend. With those kinds of friends, who needs enemies? Seriously. She is a friend to his parents, who had no idea their good friend was not only sleeping with their teenaged son, but tying him up, whipping him, and more.
Then there’s the other stalker. The one Christian doesn’t find out about until it is almost too late. The one everyone should have clued in on at once and whose connection to the family could have been found out easily by someone with his connections and money. But, gee, it wasn’t. Of course, I guess that would have killed book three then.
Oh yeah, we don’t really start getting clues about just how screwed up Christian’s childhood and life have been until book two. Something we should have been seeing in book one if we are to understand he’s not just some spoiled, overly rich psycho.
My issue, as you can see, is one of logic. Or perhaps I should say the complete lack of logic, in this series. I’m used to suspending belief and reality in many of the books I read, especially romances. But c’mon, there has to be some tie with reality for me to keep reading.
I applaud the author and publisher for making sure the second and third books were technically better written. However, now that the buzz is wearing off and the more realistic reviews are coming in, please take them to heart and think about them. Most of all, this is NOT mommy porn. This isn’t even erotica. Hell, folks, if you want books with more sex, even though they might not have the bondage in them, pick up just about anything by Roberts or her ilk.
I just hope the brain cells that committed suicide as I read these books really didn’t and have just been hiding, making sure I am not going to read the books a second time. I don’t have that many to spare.