A Tale of Two Books
Since I know my mother and possibly my in-laws are reading this, I will refrain from including the details of Fifty Shades of Grey. If you have read it, you understand why. If you have been living under a rock for the past few months and have no idea what all of the fuss is about, then let me just say this: the book is graphic. Well, that's an understatement. It's explicit. And erotic. And sometimes downright disturbing. It contains lots of S-E-X. Stop, Amianne. Your mother is reading this.
Now that I have gotten that uncomfortable detail out of the way, let me just say this--I did not like the book. If you have followed my blog, then you know this a monumental moment: Stop the presses, she actually didn't like a book! But before you roll your eyes and say, "Oh, she's such a prude," please hear me out. It's not because of the explicit S-E-X that I did not like it (quite the contrary), it was because of the B-A-D writing. Seriously, bad. Actually, it became quite comical to highlight how many times Ana used the phrases "Jeez" (75) or "Holy cow" (17) or "Wow "(33) or "Crap" (92). For a well-written, dead-on review, read "Did a teenager write this??" on Amazon. Hilarious. And Oh So True.
I know that women are not reading this book for its literary merit. I know that it's perfect summer fare--brain candy. I have many intelligent friends who devoured this trilogy; I am not smugly looking down my nose at the ladies who liked this book. I am not a book snob, and I love my mind candy as much as the next girl (I just devoured a Nora Roberts book in three days, people). As an ambassador of reading, I am all for reading any kind of book as long as people are reading.
Nor do I want to appear as an E.L. James basher. I admire her courage to write such an explicit book. I envy her ability to run the metaphorical marathon of the writing process, reaching the ultimate finish line of publishing. As a frustrated, would-be writer who is searching for THE idea that will morph into THE book, maybe I'm just jealous. But I have to question the fact that her story is obviously not original, and why is Stephenie Meyer not upset about her plot being STOLEN?!?
In case you didn't know, Fifty Shades began as Twilight fan fiction--basically the story of Edward and Bella in an alternate, extremely ADULT universe. When I looked at this book through a Twilight lense, then the similarities screamed at me. Christian Grey is not a vampire, but he is a dark, too-gorgeous man with a tragic past to overcome (50 shades of Edward?). Ana is a whiny, annoying, clumsy Bella-type (hence her use of so many lame phrases), who has no idea of her beauty and the power that she possesses over this piano-playing, helicopter-flying, French-speaking, Adonis of a billionaire. There is even a Jacob character (Jose) and and an Alice (Mia) and a Jessica (Kate) and a flaky divorced mom who lives in the south (Ana's mom--can't remember her name), not to mention Christian's super-rich parents who live in a museum-like house in of all places--Washington. Oh, and the cover art that focuses on one central object that is symbolic of the novel? I could go on, but I won't. For more "similarities," read this blog post: Fifty Shades of Plagiarism.
So when I put it all together--bad writing, lack of character development (James was obviously more concerned about developing other things in this book), and lack of an original plot, then I can't help but wonder HOW was this published?? And WHY is it still riding high at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list week after week?? One word--S-E-X. And so that makes me wonder: Are we going to see a whole new genre emerge from this? Erotica has not been a main-stream genre, but is this the "next big thing" in publishing--poorly written "Mommy Porn?" Honestly, I hope not. We are too smart for that, my fellow literary ladies.
I love it when books collide by happy accident. I love it when I see connections between books that I had no intention of connecting. That is what happened while I read The Fault in our Stars by day and Fifty Shades of Grey by night. Both books share the same basic conflict: both are love stories in which the characters struggle with problems--extremely different problems--but still conflicts that could keep them apart. That's where the similarities end, and the differences made for interesting comparison. Fifty Shades is all about the physical relationship, while Fault concentrates on the mental and emotional relationship, and that is what I find more compelling to read. I noted words and phrases from Fifty Shades for their nails-scratching-down-a-chalkboard effect while I dog-eared and penciled whole paragraphs of Fault for the shear beauty and ability to take my breath away. Here is one of my favorite lines in the book. It was so hard to just choose one:
"I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful." (p. 260)
The Fault in our Stars will not appeal to everyone. It won't be at the top of the bestseller list, although it is at the top of YA Fiction lists. I am not sure if I would have loved it as much if I was not starving for good writing. But reading these two books together made me realize some things about myself as a reader: I prefer strong writing over explicit sex. I prefer original, flawed characters over stereotypical carbon copies. I prefer an original, heartbreaking plot instead of a recycled one.There should be only one Edward and Bella.