Romantic Shorts On Fifty Shades

One certainly cannot be considered a leading edge publisher without being completely familiar with every up-to-the-minute trend in the business. Especially when that business is changing noticeably by the week…

And so, in the name of research, I read E. L. JamesFifty Shades of Grey.

Yeah. It was research.

As I understand it, James finally reached a point in her life where she could concentrate more fully on her dream of writing, and up and birthed a whopper! But it wasn’t an overnight success. As an Indie author, she posted bits and pieces as she went, eventually offering the book online, and finally, being noticed, via traffic, sales, and popularity, by a big name publishing house. When the book went mainstream, she found a success of which I’m sure could not have dreamed. (On a side note, this is why the hardcopy, page-in-hand book will never be completely extinct – hop on to any bus, sit in a park, look around the waiting room, and you’ll see a copy of the book. Word of mouth over an e-book doesn’t hold a candle to a spiffy cover in the hands of a flush-faced woman, fully engrossed in the pages within…)

I have my thoughts on the book, and have no problem taking the opportunity to share them.

Having read all three of the books in the series, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed, in a sentence, I would say it’s well worth the read.

I would then add the conditions and warnings.

As an editor and publisher, I read with a critical eye. The first hundred or so pages lay the groundwork for the story, but drag somewhat, with little to no incentive to keep going. If it weren’t for the hype of the book, the promise of something forbidden, and my perceived obligation, I would have put the book down. The writing lacked some polish; there was nothing catchy, new, or otherwise interesting about it. Description was fair, plot was slow. The true saving grace – and eventual highlight of the entire series for me – was James’ talent with dialogue, both spoken and written. She has a genuine knack for witty, exciting, grab-you-by-the-hair interaction between all of her characters. The multi-level chat, the innuendo, the sarcasm, and the jokes are well-timed, appropriate, imaginative, and, really, just plain fun!

As we approach that hundredth page, however, wham! There’s that oh-I-get-it realization of what the hype is all about. Enter the controversy.

This is the first book I’ve ever read that I didn’t share with my mother. Mom and I have shared many a man, including, but not limited to, Diana Gabaldon‘s irresistible man of all men, Jamie Fraser. But Christian Grey and his preferences were not something she would appreciate. He is far too out there for the modest and proper mind of the forties. And while Mom has some friends who are now enlightened, she agrees that this is one area she prefers to avoid.

The sex in the book is, well, a third main character. The only way it could be more explicit was if James had included heart rates, blood pressure readings, and blood counts. It is absolutely porn without pictures. There is nothing left to the imagination here.

That said, for most women, even fairly liberated women, there is no lack of imagination here, either. Expect bondage, whips, chains, blindfolds, exhibitionism, you name it. Grey draws the line at voyeurism – barely – and swinging. But all of the sex is appropriate to both the story and the characters. There is no unexpected, gratuitous carnal garbage. I did wonder at the necessity for so much focus on the sex, however, as the series progressed and the sex, while never waning in frequency for the pair, began to take a back seat to more intense character and relationship development, and eventually, plot. The second and third installments don’t hold a candle – hot wax drippings and all – to the first.

I found this to be a gratifying direction. By the end of book one, I was exhausted for Ana. Thankfully, the second book moved more toward their relationship, delving into pasts and feelings, understandings and confusions. Still with a lot of sex, but toned down to perhaps a nine on a scale of one to ten.

Here, you can see James’ talent as a writer emerge and evolve. By the time I was well into the second book, I realized I was no longer distracted by bland descriptions and predictable prose. I fell into the story more completely, enjoying my experience as James’ storytelling skills began to overcome the shock and awe of the original sin. As an editor, it was quite exciting to see this happen, until throughout the third book, there was no sign of her at all. I would recommend this series to any author who wants to fully understand how a writer grows and improves with practice and experience. This is the best example I’ve seen of a writer’s journey to become an author.

Regardless of her level of talent, decision to go all the way, intentions for her story, and in addition to her skill with dialogue, James has absolutely nailed the most critical aspect of her craft. Without this skill, there is no story, and definitely, no reader.

Throughout the book, the reader knows beyond a doubt that Ana is making the biggest mistake of her life. We know that she should turn tail and run, fast and far. Christian even tells her this, repeatedly. We know he is flawed, but we like him anyway, at first because he is good-looking and rich, but later as Ana gets to know him. But we know, with absolute certainty, that she is debating a decision where there is no choice to be made. There is only one acceptable action for her to take. Yet, we watch as she makes the wrong one.

We know Ana to be acting irrationally, stupidly, carelessly. We know she’s making mistake after mistake. She’s intelligent and educated. She knows she’s in danger. Yet she continuously turns the wrong way. Here, James’ true talent rings out.

We still like Ana.

It is the most difficult line for a writer to walk. To create an endearing character, to have that character do the most irrational thing possible, to justify it – both to the character and the reader – and to have the reader still on side, cheering for that character, is one of the most difficult aspects of writing to master. And James nails it.

This skill alone makes the story a worthy read. Who doesn’t like a character who’s greatest opponent is herself, yet can still come across as the underdog, taking the reader on an emotional quest of self-realization and compassion? Add to that a healthy dose of humour and dialogue, and, let’s not forget some of the hottest sex scenes ever written, and it becomes obvious why this trilogy has hit the big time.

Let’s just hope that saner minds prevail and no one seriously thinks about making a movie out of this. Really, film people, leave this one alone.