I’m going to start today’s review with a confession. Well, part confession, part memory. A confessory, if you will.
When I was a kid—I’m going to guess around age 10—we had a VHS recording of Mr. Mom, the (still completely awesome) Michael Keaton movie about a dude who loses his job and has to stay at home and take care of the kids. So controversial, that film! Men staying home? Women working!?
Anyway, for whatever reason, I watched Mr. Mom with some regularity, and in it there’s a scene where a cadre of local housewives take Michael Keaton with them to a Chippendale club, to see some male strippers. In the beginning of that scene, ominous music plays while distinctly 1980s-looking guys in astronaut costumes come on stage and slowly reveal their naked selves. And by naked I mean in underwear and space boots.
Being fairly young at the time, but old enough to be interested in boys, I would rewind and rewatch that scene a lot. Not because I felt particularly attracted to 30-something blondes with abs and professional hip-gyrating skills, but because it was a glimpse into the wide world of sex, about which I knew absolutely nothing except that it was something older people did and I could aspire to be involved with one day. Honestly, up until about eighth grade—at which time I managed to have a boyfriend for one whole week—my interactions with boys generally fell on a spectrum between indifference and cruelty (I still have an incredibly vivid memory of one little shithead on the school bus turning around to me one day and saying, “So you know you’re fat, right?”) Flirting—even the schoolyard teasing that passes for flirting up until about age 25—was not in my repertoire, and so the idea of being in some sort of intimate scenario with another person was about as fathomable to me as, I don’t know, being able to fly. I mean, I was watching Mr. Mom for the stripping scene. That alone should tell you how clueless I was.
Anyway, I bring this up because this week I basically reenacted my astronaut stripper experience with books. Three books, to be exact. Yes, I read three entire books in less than five days—Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, which comprise the “Fifty Shades” trilogy written by E L James. The books, which are wildly popular (I feel compelled to point out), are about a young college student who meets and falls in love with a high-powered executive with a tragic past and, consequently, rather sordid sexual proclivities. The books are novels, like they have plots and everything, but they are without question erotica, and filled—literally filled—with detailed sex scenes. They are atrociously written, and fairly compelling. I am embarrassed to have spent that much of my life on something so stupid, but I’ve also been telling every woman I know to read them, too.
I’m no longer 10 years old, and my experiences with intimacy obviously now extend beyond male strippers in 1980s family movies, but for all intents and purposes, the Fifty Shades trilogy brought me back to that Mr. Mom feeling, of being on the outside of something simultaneously appealing and terrifying. It took me a good 24 hours after finishing the final book to snap out of it, which is really the hallmark of this brand of fiction—Twilight, The Hunger Games, etc. Granted, Fifty Shades could have been written by my elementary-school self in terms of style and sophistication, but it was still that kind of page-turning lunacy that has you up until 4 a.m. because you swear just one more chapter and then you wake up the next morning in your neglected apartment and remember that the world isn’t actually full of beautiful vampire men or sympathetic rich people. No, actually, you just need to put down your book, get out of bed and do some vacuuming.
So if you can tolerate awful writing, and the shame that comes with devoting nearly 1,000 pages of your life to what is essentially written pornography, go for Fifty Shades. Who cares? Why not? But if you’re too good for all that, if you’re one of those people that read half of Twilight and then had to put it down because it was “just so bad,” avoid these books like the plague. In part because you won’t enjoy them and in part because I don’t want you to understand how embarrassing it is that I did.
TITLE: Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed
AUTHOR: E L James
PAGES: No idea, I Kindled them
ALSO WROTE: n/a
SORTA LIKE: X-rated Twilight
FIRST LINE: “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.”