When my sister presented the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy to me in a brown paper bag while her four children were out playing in my backyard recently, she looked both titillated and a little guilty.
At a dinner party a few days later, when I’d read about 150 pages of the first book—and after my sibling had downed a gin and tonic or two—she blushed as she recounted that reading the books had spiced up her and her husband’s romantic activities (one reason the trio of tomes has been referred to in the media as “mommy porn”). When I pointed out that I’d yet to be captivated by the storyline, she encouraged me to stick it out.
“It’s not what you think,” she countered when I told her I didn’t see how a story about sadomasochism could sustain itself for the course of three books. “It’s a love story.”
After reading the bestselling novels, I’ll concede that yep, they are ultimately focused on the pursuit of love in a relationship between a man and a woman—the obscenely rich, handsome and emotionally stunted Christian Grey, and Anastasia Steele, a recent college graduate who’s so innocent she’s never been under the covers with anyone (let alone used a riding crop in the bedroom).
As for that whole “love story” conceit: I don’t think so, sister. Although it takes a while for Christian and Anastasia to get heated up—I believe he relieves her of her about a third of the way through the first book—when they do it’s all about the hot, kinky, multi-orgasmic sexual encounters the two create when they’re in the same room (or elevator) with each other.
Yes, there are other storylines besides what happens when the attractive couple connects with every fiber of their beings. Christian suffered through some horrible things in his childhood, and a relationship with an older woman when he was a teenager has left him with control issues that can only be relieved through relationships with submissive sexual partners. For her part, Anastasia is lacking the confidence that will make her a full-fledged woman with desires of her own.
Nevertheless, while readers see the cities of Seattle and Portland in a different light—one that involves endless amounts of money, fancy hotels, jet planes and fine dining—the seemingly complicated dynamics between Christian and Anastasia are what is front and center in the telling of the trilogy.
When I was reading the second book, I found a passage early on that almost made me quit right there, as it tidily summed up the duo’s relationship. In it, Anastasia is wondering if Christian will ever change his controlling ways.
“He was still so bossy, still so Christian,” the character says. “And I realize in that moment that I like him like this—commanding—as long as I can stand up to him without fear of punishment.”
Being as I’m not a quitter, I kept at it until the final pages of Fifty Shades Freed. By that time, I was so exhausted by the never-ending bouts of athletic coupling that I’d started skimming the sex scenes and sticking to the clichéd dialogue and unbelievable scenarios to be found throughout the rest of the story.
Although I’ll admit that my temperature was raised in the first book a few times, by the time I was done, I was hoping one of the main characters would do something surprising—like not have their body explode in a cascade of quivering sensations each time they touched.
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