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'50 Shades of Grey': Just How Smutty Is It?

Plenty, but it's also unintentionally humorous and so badly written it hurts (and not in a good way).

In keeping with the number theme in the title, here's what you need to know before buying "50 Shades of Grey."

Number of times the protagonist, Anastasia Steele, says "Crap" or "Holy Crap": 86.

Number of times Anastasia refers to her lover Christian Grey and his moves as "hot" or "freaking hot": 37.

Number of times a specific part of the female anatomy is referred to as "down there": 6.

If fine writing is like bittersweet truffles, this book is like a wad of Gummi Bears stuck to your back teeth. To use another food metaphor — and I'm not sure this author knows what a metaphor is — it's the literary equivalent of eating Sugar Smacks for dinner.

Author E. L. James gives us the first-person perspective of a naive 21-year-old college graduate who is also — wait for it — a virgin who has never really been kissed. She is thrown into the presence of a young and extremely handsome billionaire who is powerfully attracted to her but has a dark secret life that involves riding crops, rope and something he calls "The Red Room of Pain."

Substitute vampire for billionaire (some advice to the author: billionaires generally look more like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett than Ryan Gosling) and we're right about where "Twilight" begins. It's no surprise that "50 Shades" began as fan fiction for that other nonsensical best-selling series.

Here's a little taste of James' clipped writing style:

"Why won't he look at me. Perhaps he's changed his mind? A wave of unease washes over me. Perhaps walking out on him last night was the end for him, too. He's bored of waiting for me to make up my mind. Oh no, I could have completely blown it. I remember his email last night. Maybe he's mad that I haven't replied."

The world of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is as believable as a fairy tale, which apparently appeals to a great many people since the book is selling faster than condoms on spring break. Anastasia keeps asking herself why she'd even consider seeing a man who wants her to sign a written contract including her willingness to be suspended from the ceiling, but somehow talks herself into more and more encounters. Her learning curve in certain departments is steep, to say the least.

As for the sex scenes, they're frequent, explicit, and full of breathy descriptions of how "hot" bondage and spanking can be. If that's all you're after, go ahead and plunk down the money. You won't be disappointed and you'll have two money-printing sequels already waiting for you.

But there is most certainly better written and less ridiculous erotica or even "mommy porn," as this has been called, out there. This is one fad you can excuse yourself from joining, unless you're looking for a good laugh.

Author E.L. James will be appearing in Connecticut at an event in New Haven sponsored by Madison's R.J. Julia Booksellers on May 2. Tickets are $25, which includes $5 toward the purchase of a book. For reservations, call 203-245-3959 or visit R.J. Julia's website.

Jay R. Worsham April 29, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Holy crap, Susan, you sure stirred up a hornet's nest, if I may use that metaphor. I don't think your remarks "wreak" of jealousy, or even reek of jealousy, but that's just my opinion, and some people can't stand other people's opinions. I respect yours, though, and your willingness to swim against the tide. (That makes two metaphors in one response.) I was unaware that "intrigues" had become a verb. I must thank Clarice for enlightening me.
MisterSpuddy April 29, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Way to go, Susan! I wouldn't read this gar-bage either. If people want erotica, maybe they should try Anais Nin or D.H. Lawrence- or are there too many big words, complex sentences?
Paige April 30, 2012 at 04:12 PM
For shame. How dare this woman offer more than brainless praise for such a popular work. Literary critics are supposed to be shills for utter crap that has already achieved commercial success, and nothing more. Shun the dissenter!
Corey Fyke May 02, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Best. Comment Thread. Ever.
Tina May 02, 2012 at 05:43 PM
The author is getting rich from idiots like me who read all three books, in hopes the books would get better and to see what happened. I wish I'd have spent the money on a nice evening out and the time wasted, in bed with my husband, doing something besides reading! This trilogy could have easily been one book. The sex/BDSM scenes ran together, almost seeming copied and pasted. One might be jealous of the fame and fortune of the author, but certainly not the quality of writing. Then again, we do live in a world where Walmart is a kingdom with many worshippers, so it doesn't surprise me.

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