50 Shades of Red

03 Dec, 2012

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 end.


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.

Pinging is currently not allowed9 Responses

  1. denabrehm says:

    Brilliant! I skimmed it, in airports, just to get through the interminable boredom of relentless layovers … or was it the relentless boredomof interminable layovers… ? I forget. Either way, I knew better, upon the skimming, to even imagine that the drivel in those pages would improve my lot.

    And, I am not one of those blushing readers (your really have such friends?!?) … I openly adMIT to liking, no LOVING, sex.

    My mother, who enjoys a good romp in erotica, read the book, and said, "do not bother."

    I think I need to WRITE a book … about real life, real, transformation, real therapy, and yes … real sex.

    No whips, chains, manipulation, nor shame required.

  2. M.W. says:

    Bravo! I'm glad someone was brave enough to actually write a book report on the series. Your report, by the way, confirmed everything I suspected about the series, but hadn't read it to find out. From the description, it does seem reasonable to describe much "literotica" as porn for women. This is not condemning anyone who reads it, but we women should at least be honest with ourselves about these things if we want the right to ask our husbands to refrain from other types of erotica.
    Thanks for the review!

  3. Jon Reid says:

    I do recommend the Twitter feed https://twitter.com/50ShedsofGrey. Sheds, not shades. "Erotica for the not-too-modern-male." :)

  4. Maggie says:

    I haven't read the series…just not interested, but I sure enjoyed your review.

    "Everybody in this trilogy needs a therapist, including Christian’s therapist."
    Thanks for the belly laugh….

    "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."
    Couldn't agree more!

  5. shauna says:

    Great review. I had skimmed it in the store and thrown it back on the shelf, thinking, "must tell daughter to avoid." In the meantime, however, my now 21 year old had picked up the series because she was on the hunt for something to read and it was on a best seller list, so she bought it without asking me first. She read 100 pages of the first book and went "oh MY! WHATTTTT.!?!?!" She asked me about it then, and we threw them away. One good thing: I am thankful that she recognizes trash for what it is and uses her brain. She also warned her little sister that this was NOT a good read at all. So thankful for that young woman!

  6. The movie has just come out … on the heels of me outting myself as a Sexual Liberation Doula (i.e., coach – my goal is to assist others in unleashing their *own* innate, authentic sexuality … shedding the shame and limitations that come with conditioning/religion/lack-of-education/abuse/ignorance/inhibition/etc.).

    Given its popularity, I'm going to have to see it (I only previously glossed through the first book, and found it … lackluster, so to speak 😉 ). I sense I'll be undoing a lot of the misperception of what BDSM actually *is* … and no, for those who don't know, it's *not* about abuse.

    BDSM is truly about a power/energy exchange … (within a heterosexual dynamic) it's the embodied expression of what happens when a woman's feminine energy submits to masculine energy … albeit in a relationship founded upon mutual-respect, inordinate trust, and real love. It's about the discovery of pushing our *imagined* boundaries of fear/pain/comfort, to explore what's on the other side. The result is deep bonding, exponentially-expanded trust, and, I can personally attest, profound healing. The motto of the BDSM realm is: safe, sane and consensual.

    Is it for everyone? That's an individual decision (one cannot truly know, unless one has the experience).

    But is it abusive? Not unless the individuals within it are using BDSM to repress unresolved psychological issues. It's meant to be liberating … a divinely dichotomous result of voluntary bondage.

    What the popularity of the movie says to me: more men and (especially) women, want to explore the depths of the sexual psyches … men want to express dominant masculinity, and women want to express submissive/surrendering femininity … we're collectively weary of "sex as usual" and "oh, it's Wednesday, and nothing's good on TV, so we may as well," sex. We want passion, abandonment, unleashment, creativity, excitement (which is on the same spectrum as fear), and inordinate pleasure (which is on the same spectrum as pain). We want to test our limits, feel caught up in something bigger than us, and to give expression to the deep longings we (naturally and innately) inhabit.

    "Fifty Shades of Grey" is stirring all that up … but it's NOT showing us *how* to best embody and express that authentic longing.

    More coming, after I actually view the movie. :)

    My Facebook business page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dena-Lynn-Sexual-L

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