Although I was a bit late to the book club, I did read the 50 Shades trilogy. How could I not when so many were talking about it?
I am a voracious reader — often juggling two or three titles at a time. Non-fiction is usually devoured in traditional book form, although a few reference titles are electronic for easy access. Fiction requiring more thought is also read traditionally, as are books by the few authors I want when they hit the shelves. Most everything else — books my Canadian friend appropriately dubbed “brain popcorn” — is on the iPod. I keep costs down by paying a monthly membership to an audiobook service, which is basically a Netflix for audiobooks.
You get the idea. I like books. A lot.
When 20- and 30-somethings began to talk about the “50 Shades” books, I mentally categorized the novels as more lengthy versions of the “True Story” magazines my mother bought — condescending, simplistically written confessionals with sensationalized themes.
When some began deriding the trilogy for the graphic sex that was key to its plot, I shrugged it off, assuming they were reacting more to the publicity of the book than from their own reading of it. Then I overheard some senior citizen ladies discussing it in detail in the gym locker room. The final blow, no pun intended, was when some friends I respected as readers discussed it during our weekly trivia night.
But, after two years of listening to buzz around the trilogy, I’m saddened and also concerned to report my original instincts were on target. The books could have been lifted from the pages of “True Story” magazines, which were also considered quite risque for their time.
The sex scenes didn’t shock or offend me, since I’ve read my fair share of bodice rippers and beyond. The supposedly graphic scenes populating and driving the 50 Shades trilogy aren’t too different from those currently sprinkled, often willy-nilly, within the pages of most “women’s” literature.
The staccato, simplistic writing style was sadly expected.
The true horror of the books is the combination of their reliance on the “sin, suffer and repent” formula made so successful by the earlier magazines, and a newer theme of normalizing dangerous and dysfunctional relationships.
For women, the lesson is we will mentally and physically suffer for our sinful ways — something we will deserve and secretly crave. Men learn that the right woman will rise above any and all forms of neglect, control and abuse to ultimately drive away demons and serve as salvation. Being nice looking and having a fat wallet increases the chances.
Child molestation is glorified as a life lesson. Shunning if not normal than at least typical relationships is akin to sainthood — and likely the key to an otherwise drab, broken girl landing a self-absorbed, abusive and broken CEO, if you’re taking notes. Having unresolved daddy issues is a must.
The silver lining is that these books are, of course, only fiction — fiction that will, unfortunately, soon fill the big screen at a theater near you on Valentine’s Day 2015.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Aug. 2, 2014.