SPOILER ALERT – This book report is more than a review of Fifty Shades of Grey, it will give away huge sections of the story-line.
NSFW ALERT – This book report discusses sex (see, there are the first couple of shades on your cheeks right now).
I read a lot of pop culture and entertainment news as it is one of the ways I make a living. I write reviews for a website that provides a Christian look at pop culture by providing insight on movies, TV shows, music, games and books. I get to help interpret some works of art, point people to entertainment that they might miss, inform parents of questionable content, and steer people away from manure.
When I first heard about the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, I figured that this would already be interpreted by the audience of the review website as trash. I didn’t figure I’d be getting a request from my editor to take this series on. What I didn’t expect though is that one of my Christian friends, after a couple of beers, informed me that he had bought the first book for his wife and that she liked it. When I asked him if he read it he shook his head violently, “Oh gosh no. I couldn’t read that sort of thing.” It intrigued me that this friend knew (and respected) his own boundaries, yet didn’t put them on his wife. I pursued him with another question, “Did it, you know, spice things up for the two of you?” He just smiled at me knowingly and we clinked our beer mugs together.
Now my curiosity was piqued. Was there an audience for this book in the Christian realm? Were there religious folks out there that wanted to know more about the book but didn’t know who to ask about it? Banning a book creates a mystique that makes it appealing to some readers. Some of us curious types want to know what the authorities don’t want us to know because apparently they already know something they don’t trust us with. But some of us don’t trust the authorities opinions all that much, which makes the content that they ban titillating.
I remember the guilt I felt when my wife and I were reading the book, “So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore,” when we were still on staff at a church. When friends came over we would quickly put the book underneath our Bible on the reading table so that no one could see our spiritual porn. It was a whole lot better when we could be open about our leanings away from church meetings and into commitments of creating life-giving relationships and communities.
I wondered what it would look like to tackle the Fifty Shades story and disarm it of its mystique so that people who thought they were interested in it would know what they were getting into, and those who were uninformed could know enough to have a discussion about the series without having to engage the material if they didn’t want to.
Typically I write a review without giving away plot points. What I knew I wanted to create here was different – an actual book report – like we wrote in grade school that discussed plot, characters, story line, and our personal opinion. I approached my editor with the idea. He checked with his boss and they let me know they appreciated the concept but still thought it was too risky for their website. I understood and respected their caution. I also couldn’t let go of the fact that as much as I had searched for a Christian perspective on the series, I couldn’t find one.
Guess what I ended up downloading to my Kindle… If you want to know my perspective on the books, read on.
Book 1: Fifty Shades of Grey
Background: This series is fan fiction. What this means is that E. L. James didn’t start this book with a new idea, she actually was using characters from another series. That story? Twilight. Yes, Fifty Shades is a retelling of Bella and Edwards’s romance, except this time Edwards’s secret isn’t that he is a vampire; it is that he is into sadomasochism, a form of abusive role-playing during sex. In this series the characters are named Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. This should give us insight that the story being told is unrealistic, fantasy fiction.
Plot: Christian Grey is the ultimate male – a self-made billionaire at 26, has looks to swoon over, he is smart, mysterious and poised. Anastasia is young, virtuous, articulate, and naturally beautiful. When their lives are thrown together during an interview they become inseparable. Soon she is up in his high-rise apartment and having sex for her first time.
Yes, Ana is a virgin. Yes, Christian is one of the most sexually experienced men in Seattle. Yes, their first time together is rapturous, also is their second, third, fourth, fifth, etc… These people aren’t having real sexual relations – no fumbling, stumbling, and bumbling, it is all off-the-charts orgasmic. All the time. Every encounter. Several times a day. Sometimes with just a touch. And again we are reminded that the story is unrealistic, fantasy fiction.
From Christian’s perspective Ana is another woman to conquer and pull into his world of BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism). He wants her to sign two contracts – the first, a non-disclosure form of their interaction, the second a contract about the dominance and submission relationship he wants to have with her. He spells out that he expects only a sexual, not a romantic relationship. She isn’t even allowed to touch him, or have eye contact with him unless agreed upon.
From Ana’s perspective Christian is a broken man, with a broken past, who needs loved back into reality. She wants to fix him. She won’t sign the contract until they discuss hard and soft limits of their hardcore experiences. She ends up in Christian’s play room, trying to make concessions to get into his world and she allows herself to beaten by Christian and his leather belt. But after it is over she is devastated that he could truly treat her this way and she leaves him for good.
Summary: While some couples may want to spice up their vanilla sex lives, this story is so unrealistic, so poorly written, and ‘gasp’ so orgasmicly ridiculous that I just can’t recommend it. But then again, I can’t get myself to watch the Twilight series either. And I like Vanilla.
Book 2: Fifty Shades Darker
Okay, I might have offended those who liked the first book, but if they still liked the series after reading book two they may need some relationship counseling.
Picking up from where book one left off, Christian realizes that he likes Ana more than he likes his sexual play room. He apologizes for punishing her but then goes into a relationship with her trying to control her.
The whole book can be summed up in the two characters attitudes towards each other: control, fix, control, fix, control, fix… actually, maybe this isn’t as far-fetched a relationship as I once thought.
The conflict in this second offering is with one of Christian’s old bondage partners and the obvious damage it had done to her, as well as the on-going relationship with his mother’s best friend who taught him all of these bondage traits at the ripe young age of 15. Yes, Christian is screwed up and for good reasons.
The two lovers continue to have amazing sex but by this time in the series I was skipping the sex scenes and moving forward to the plot advancements. Sorry, somebody should drive a stake through this vampire sex.
At the end of the book the two characters get over themselves enough to get married.
Book 3: Fifty Shades Freed
This last book makes a sharp left turn in order to still have a story line. The author tries to tie in Ana’s ex-boss at a publishing company as the same boy from Christian’s past as an orphaned child in the Midwest. He kidnaps Ana in order to have revenge with Christian.
Ana and Christian’s relationship hits a snag when she becomes pregnant from all of the kinky sex. He didn’t want tied down with kids. She is ready to leave her new husband over it. But once her life is in danger Christian sees the error of his ways. He will settle down with wife and kids and finally let his future be disconnected from his hideous past.
Oh, and lots more kinky, pregnant sex.
The story line is weak. The writing is repetitious and very amateur. The sex scenes are unrealistic and overly repetitive. The relationships are obnoxious. Everybody in this trilogy needs a therapist, including Christian’s therapist.
Do I think these books have much to offer in the way of pop culture – no, not really. Can I think of an audience to recommend this series – not at all. In fact, what I’m still curious about, after reading all three books, is why they connected with so many people. Some have called this literotica as Mommy Porn, suggesting that women are more turned on by the written description of characters having sexual relations than the visual pictures that men groove on.
Porn, in whatever form it is, can be exciting. The problem is that it is so unrealistic and can create expectations that can’t be met or realized. Heaven knows (or at least my wife would if she read these books) that I can’t measure up to the image, actions and performance of Christian Grey.
Yes, our bodies and our imaginations cry out for release, creativity and connection, but our hearts and souls have even deeper appetites for intimacy that can never come from something that is pretend or fake. I think the better road to take on this issue is to encourage and enhance intimacy in relationships instead of going after the cheap substitutes.
In my opinion, skip Fifty Shades and learn to share fifty or more of your own words with your lover – without the control, without the need to fix, and with all the kink that the two of you are comfortable with.