In the past few Newsletters I’ve included an analysis of a major bestseller, with the idea of giving subscribers some ideas of why the book was such a hit with readers. In some instances this involves rereading material, as was the case most recently with FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. I remember commenting to subscribers about the scene in the tavern when a group of fine middle-aged ladies discussed wanting to the read the second book in the series “just to see what happened to Ana.” And I have to admit, if I were on a long plane ride at the time the series was at its height of popularity, I might have purchased the second book for just the same reason. Anastasia Steele is a remarkable character because of her frailty. Super smart yet super naive, she comes sexually alive four years later than most, and this has nothing to do with her just graduating from college (or just about to receiver her degree, to be accurate). Erika Leonard does the spectacular in not only enabling Ana to release the pent-up sexuality she never knew she possessed (or at least not to the level she displayed when she ultimately gave herself to a lover), but the author also tapped into the reservoir that psychologists say everyone possesses. Some call it the dark side of sexuality and others simply say that everyone has a “wonder” that lives inside but is never discussed–and one in a million act out.
GREY has been classified by many pundits as “mommy porn,” and I don’t believe it needs the adjective, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find it an entertaining, fast-paced narrative. Forget about Christian Grey’s being the king of kinkdom, who wouldn’t want to administer his fortune? And ignoring Ana’s strangely acquiescent acceptance of what Christian offered her, why wouldn’t a young woman like her exist? For many, she’s more believable than Christian, and if she had never met him, most men, at least the ones I know well, would have loved to have had a normal relationship with her. This, more than anything, is what I found captivating about the way her character was written, as she’s patently likable, even though it’s easy to accept the abuse heaped on her by critics of the story. The naivety that was so obvious in the beginning became less so with each ensuing scene. This was brilliant writing, and I want to discuss some aspects of the way Ana was presented.
A plethora of one-star ratings involved Ana’s juvenile utterances. Okay, they weren’t right up there with something we’d expect from Norma Kuzma in her youth, but considering Ana’s background, and the way a typical college-age person talks/thinks, is her language out of line? I don’t mean this in the “don’t write like a person talks, and don’t talk like a person writes” axiom; what I mean literally is this: How off base are her “holy cows”? Especially when a phrase such as this is subliminal? I still say “dad gum” or “dummy” when I do something stupid (hence, I use these phrases several hundred times each day). Most of us have pet phrases we say to ourselves that are childish. It’s for this reason that I’m giving Ms. Leonard a free pass on all of Ana’s expressions. As for the writing itself, I also find the book far from poorly written, and while it could use a bit of cosmetic editing, such as eliminating all the times he or she “murmured,” and there are some redundant lines, none of this is deadly to a book that’s designed to be a fast read–and arouse the senses.
So, in finishing my analysis of this story, it’s Ana who sold the book, and I accept the comment from the woman in the tavern who said she was going to read the second book in the series solely to see what happens to Ms. Steele. I do, however, have one question: What if E.L. James were not Erika Leonard but Erik Leonard? Would a publisher have even considered this book if written by a man? Granted, men write lousy sex scenes, but ignoring that guys dwell on the sexual and not the sensual, let’s say a man got this right, would a mainstream publisher have signed the book? A genuine bias exists related to who should write what, and while I find this genuinely abhorrent, I can assure everyone that it’s not make believe. So I ask again, could a man, as its author, have gotten GREY published? Also, if a male had written the book, where would the women’s rights and feminist groups be with respect to their positions? Frankly, if I were a woman I’d find the book offensive from the perspective of Ana’s “programmed” methodology for falling in love. Even if this is covered in a satisfactory way in the next two books in the series, readers are still left with what’s in book one. However, yes, this does make a reader of the first story want to learn more about Ana, so that’s indeed very clever writing. Although I have to wonder if Ms. Leonard, or any writer for that matter, is really this smart.