Fifty Shades Of Awful

“His burning gray eyes and intense smoldering stare come into my mind’s eye and my body tightens at the thought…He paces toward me like a panther.  His gaze is so intense it takes my breath away.  He growls…I drink him in like I’m crazed with thirst and he’s clear, cool mountain spring water.”

If you think that’s great writing, I have wonderful news for you.  For less than thirty dollars, you can buy 1,500 pages of it.  No kidding.  P.L James’s runaway “Fifty Shades” trilogy, which has already sold a gazillion copies in dozens of countries around the world, can be yours at the click of a mouse.

The even-better news is that if you don’t want others to know what you’re reading, you can order it as an e-book.

Not that the books’ cover art suggests that they’re explicit erotica.  “Fifty Shades of Grey” simply pictures a loosely-knotted necktie.  “Fifty Shades Darker” features a Mardi Gras mask.  It’s not until you get to the series climax—“Fifty Shades Freed”—that suspicions might be aroused.  Its cover sports a pair of handcuffs.

Stories abound of these books being purchased by unsuspecting folks who knew nothing about them except that they top the bestseller list.  Imagine, if you will, settling into a comfortable chair for some quality reading time only to discover that your book is erotica.  And not just standard X-rated stuff, but BDSM.  (If you’re puzzled about what that stands for, brace yourself.  It’s Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism.)

Surprisingly, the first hundred pages don’t give away the fact that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is porn.  Those pages are, in fact, filled with such mind-numbing, poorly written, laughable tripe that I’ll wager that many readers throw the book down in disgust before getting to the juicy parts.

I wish I had.

Which begs the question of why I read “Fifty Shades” in the first place.  The answer is simple.  When it comes to books that everybody’s talking about, I can’t bear to be left out of the conversation.

That’s why, years ago, I finally broke down and read “Twilight.”  And here’s the interesting thing about both of these series.  Accusations swirl that “Fifty Shades” is simply a fan fiction knock-off of Stephanie Meyers’ series.  Both are set in the Pacific Northwest.  Both feature clumsy, clueless, virginal heroines and troubled, mysterious, and attractively-dangerous heroes.  Both are formulaic, repetitious, and atrociously boring.

And both series made their authors fabulously rich and famous.

I wish I could say I don’t begrudge them their success.  I wouldn’t if these authors had written anything even remotely deserving of the word “literature.”  But the thought that these books might be the only ones that millions of people are likely to read this year, or maybe ever, is enough to make me despair.

Particularly when the people reading them are young women.  Not because I care terribly much if readers think a story filled with cardboard characters and ridiculous dialogue and overblown description is good writing.  What bothers me is that millions of these readers apparently find a character like Christian Grey sexy.  Sure, the guy’s a gifted pianist, a helicopter pilot, and a self-made billionaire who looks “freaking hot” in his torn jeans.

But he’s also a creepy, possessive, controlling stalker who likes to tie up and “discipline” women, including naïve young narrator Anastasia Steele.  With riding crops and leather belts and things like that.  Sexy?  Not to my way of thinking.

Don’t walk away from “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  Run.  As fast as your legs can go.

(August 5, 2012)

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