Fifty Shades… (left me Blue)… A Review, Finally

Title: Fifty Shades of Grey

Author: E.L. James

530 pages (Length varies)


E. L. James exploded on the literary landscape with the juggernaut-like energy of R. K. Rowling, taking from her, perhaps, the subtlest of methods and Potterish zeal to make a best seller. Her book, the uber-marketed Fifty Shades of Grey, caused middle aged women to swoon, and young girls to want and dream, in ways not witnessed in decades. Millions bought and millions more read with very mixed critiques. Against my normal literary interests and as my curiosity grew, I purchased the book and began reading it with as clear a mind as possible, putting aside the clandestine appropriations that are often a standard accompaniment for a book of this magnitude.

The story, essentially,  tells of the animatedly bland tryst between Ana, an unassuming WSU college senior whose personality, actions, and common sense are about as academic as the weather in Washington State,  and Christian Grey, the eccentric, yet odd, twenty-seven-year-old billionaire with a penchant for bully-‘esque’ endeavors and the ‘finer’ things in life. The reader, with the anticipation of getting to the parts of the novel where hearts throb and rivers flow, is bombarded with pages of simplicity of such scale that the urge to close the book is absolute and, on a page-by-page occasion, very likely. But the story is equally alluring; a hypnotic fable that keeps the reader, against their better moral judgment, reading every line, hungrily, for it is here that disappointment meets  nausea. Filled with innuendos, symbolism, and a plethora of literary antics, James employs  and exploits complex fundamentals. The monologue is one dimensional. There is very little action which moves the story, with the exception of sudden and awkward moments that, I suppose, were added to emphasize the massiveness of Christian and Ana’s lustful spontaneity.

The story lacks voice and becomes stagnant, predictable sorority fodder, the sort discussed over bottles of cheap vodka and Utz party mix, dreamy at best, and perfect for the Saturday night lonely hearts.

The story begins when Kate, Ana’s roommate and best friend, asks Ana if she could conduct the scheduled interview with elusive wunderkind, Christian Grey in her stead because she is too ill to do so. Ana seems reluctant but her loyalty to Kate is magnificent and she agrees. Kate, an aggressive budding journalist who would probably have fit the antics and sadomasochistic lifestyle of Grey is the Yin to Ana’s Yang. But James seemed to have thought that route too easy and I would have to agree. The recipient of Grey’s charms had to be a girl who projected purity and little confidence. And here, for the reader,  is the rub. James begins a most confusing odyssey at this point, painting Ana as an innocent, absent of carnal awareness and sins of the flesh. But, at least, I assume, and James projects, the urging of a woman are far greater than her lack of knowledge, and Ana’s chamber-kept urges are atomic.

Ana, upon entering Grey Enterprises and meeting its young, confident CEO, is immediately taken aback by the Adonis beauty of Christian, and wooed by his exceptionally mature demeanor. Although  not revealed  at this early stage, it soon becomes evident that Christian sees in Ana… potential, maybe more. Ana, in unusual ways, and perhaps due to Christian’s ‘bestial’ (i.e., aggressive) softness, seems to gather herself confidently, although not convincingly, in unexplained spurts, after all, her last name is Steele, and soon the name has more meaning than initially obvious, as does the name and color Grey (gray), which one could argue indicates an in-between; not black, not white, just there… bland… undefinable.

And then there is sex… lots of it. From lost virginity to domination, the scenes (which I believe is the reason everyone wanted to read the book) was a Porsche on steroids. The exploits all happened so rapidly that it…well… became almost juvenile. The sub-dom”contract” written by Grey detailing the “partnership” was too long, too demanding, too unrealistic, and simply too detailed. This is where the story falls completely apart and there is the question: Who is really the submissive? as Ana disagrees to the contact’s tenets without much reaction. I could only ask: “How can you sign up to play the game and change the rules to suit your needs?” She does…often.

The writing is simple. The story line is simpler. This is not my summation; this is all E.L. James. Perhaps it reveals what she (James) was aiming for, and the story rarely diverts from that path, although there are several moments when the reader  is apt to scream profanities at the top of their lungs at the extraordinarily fantastic situations Ana and Christian find themselves in, or Ana’s sudden behavioral change; a change that leaves one scratching their chin and turning back to prior chapters looking for when the metamorphoses occurred.

Fifty Shades of Grey left me with many questions and provided few answers. I was disappointed, not with the efforts of James, but with the vastness of my expectations. Despite its great story potential, Fifty is a solid two and a half star tale that teetered, sometimes unsteadily, on the cusp of being memorable.

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