Is Emotionally Damaged the New Sexy?

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April Fools seems like it’d be the perfect day to publish this particular post.

Dear readers, forgive me. In fact, I urge you to stop reading now.  Skip this post altogether. I lost a bet. I lost a bet to Lori @TNBBC (feel free to blame her) and as forfeit I had to read 50 Shades of Grey. Worse still, I have to review it.

Let’s get this over with.

To say that 50 Shades of Grey is poorly written is the definition of “understatement”.  It’s horrible.  In terms of style, the writing is almost comically repetitive. Actually take out the almost.  It’s so terribly written that I refuse to even put up a sample.

Yet the prose (I can’t believe I referred to it as prose) is not the most egregious sin perpetrated here.  Because, let’s face it, few people are reading this for it’s literary value.  What is unforgivable is the complete lack of cohesion or logic.  There is no one element to this book that works.  And the only way I can explain that is to break it down in parts and discuss each one individually.

Don’t use big words (or concepts) you don’t understand.

E.L. James seems to have a fascination with, and limited understanding of, the subconscious, using it in the place of a conscience throughout the book. To be fair, what she’s really referring to is the Superego… but that would be raising the intellectual bar of this narrative higher than I believe Ms. James can reach. The same can be said regarding the heroine’s Inner Goddess – who makes FREQUENT appearances.  She turns out to be less the Jungian psychological archetype and more of a professional dancer. At various stages of the book she dances the cha-cha, the mambo and the rumba.


It’s painfully obvious that 50 Shades’ original incarnation was as Twilight fan fiction.  Now, to their credit, the author and her publisher have never denied this.  But they have made some dubious claims that the fan fiction was heavily edited prior to being released in novel form.  But anyone who has read Twilight, or seen the films, will be able to play Spot the Twilight Character Look-A-Like.  The first book has a Rosalee & an Emmit, an Alice & Esme.  Bella’s entire family – mother, stepfather and father – are kept essentially intact for Anastasia/Ana (50 Shades’ heroine).  BUT the prize goes to Ana’s male friend who – instead of being a Native American boy named Jacob – is a Latino boy named José Rodriquez.  (Just in case there is any doubt of his ethnicity, José helpfully employs the phrase “Dios Mio!” at the appropriate moments).

With so much of the source material plot remaining intact, vampirism obviously had to be taken out of the equation.  E.L. James realized she’d need an alternative alternative-lifestyle to avoid a lawsuit for blatant copyright infringement and to create narrative tension – so the hero, Christian Grey, is into BDSM instead of bloodsucking.

I won’t bore you with the many plot points the two books share.  Suffice it to say that at the end of 50 Shades the hero & heroine break-up, and the heroine is emotionally devastated and in the fetal position… does any of this sound familiar?

But it’s sexy… right?

Yet poor writing, borderline plagiarization… all of this pales in comparison to the sex. The amazingly uninspired, non-sexy sex. There is nothing erotic in what takes place between Ana and Christian.  James is not Anais Nin, or even a Marquis de Sade. Even if she were, it’s hard to get past the fact that Christian is probably the most damaged human being I’ve ever encountered in (I use the term loosely) literature. He is not depraved or bored or evil.  He is the son of a crack whore, with burn-marks scattered over his body. He was initiated into BDSM at the age of 16 by a friend of his adopted mother’s. He does not like to be touched during intimacy. He does not make love – he “f#$% hard”. (Which, by the way, summarizes just about every sex scene in the book). He repeatedly explains to  Ana that he doesn’t know how to be in normal relationship. He is, unsurprisingly, in therapy. And he uses the endearment “baby” way too much. Creepy and disturbing yet?

Don’t worry, it gets better. Ana starts out as a virgin (because James’ seems to have a thing for stereotypes) and spends the entirety of the book crying. In one scene she emails Christian that she is breaking it off as a joke (indicative of her maturity level) and he furiously storms over to her apartment and proceeds to sexually dominate her. He gives her a spanking.  She, of course, loves it. At the same time she feels degraded.  I believe at this juncture her subconscious performs the macarena, but don’t quote me on that. Like every encounter Ana has with Christian – this one ends in tears. She’s so confused! She loves him but (the implicit message is) society has turned her into a prude!

What I find fascinating about 50 Shades of Grey is that it has so many fans who seem to be completely missing the point: that his BDSM lifestyle is the least disturbing thing about Christian Grey. My problem with this book has nothing to do with the kink… two consenting adults have the right to do as they please. But no one seems to be talking about the severe dysfunction of this relationship. Kinky sex and severe emotional damage are two different things entirely. (Kathryn Casey, in Forbes, touches on this, though I’m not sure I completely agree with her specific concerns). The latter just isn’t sexy.

But who am I to judge? How can 65 million readers be wrong? Co-dependence, emotionally torturing the person you profess to love, continuing a relationship with the person who molested you as a child – that’s obviously the new sexy.

I never thought I’d miss the sparkly vampires…

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5 thoughts on “Is Emotionally Damaged the New Sexy?

    1. Can you believe I agreed to the same bet this year??? It’s based on our GoodReads Reading Challenge… whoever reads the most books wins. The loser just suffers…


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