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Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey

June 12, 2012

Board member Alice King read Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. While we do not regularly stock this title, it is available through In Other Words via special order!

Being a sex-positive feminist I was excited to read this well-received and controversial book. After having heard it referred to as “mommy porn” and now having seen it spoofed on Saturday Night Live, I can’t help but wonder “why this book?” It has somehow transcended from the erotic genre in to the mainstream readers’ book clubs and living room discussions.

Having read several erotic novels (something a librarian friend pointed me to in grad school), this book did not read nearly as well, or even close to as hot, as some of the other short stories and books I have read. I was ready for the feminist, erotic novel that combines the complicated themes of sex and submission to enter the mainstream for discussion, musings and challenging dialogue. This book fell unbelievably short.

The main character, Anastasia Steele, is no erotic heroin. In fact, she is a virgin. She is pure and untouched and totally unaware of her own sexuality. How does this book capture the minds of its mommy readers? I have absolutely no idea. She is young, beautiful, naïve, insecure, inexperienced and yet intelligent and assertive. However, her assertiveness stops short of adventure and critical thinking. Instead, she parrots old ideas of appropriate and traditional relationships tied up in good, old-fashioned puritanism. Anastasia Steele is no more complicated or challenging a character than Bella Swan. She is Beauty and The Beast. She is purity corrupted by the monster.

Constantly in conversation is the need to discuss “the submissive” and the rules surrounding it. Mr. Grey is able to articulate his need, interest and the sexual intensity that comes from being the dominant. But these themes never make it past the surface. She is told that she is the submissive for his pleasure and that she can find pleasure through it. Every chance to explain the freedom, the lightness and the ability to shake inhibitions or to live one’s full pleasure potential is never introduced. Ms. James, did you forget to research your culture? Where is the amazing freedom and unbridled passion for the woman in ropes? That is a feminist experience. When your character can be strong, intelligent, critical, assertive, challenging and also know herself so well as to trust her boundaries and her body, and then to allow herself to participate to what may be shallowly a degrading act, can she really become her whole self. Instead you left us with a weeping child who is heartsick without cause.

— Alice King

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