Remember that time I read 50 Shades of Grey because I am a masochist? (Kinky!) And then complained about it for an entire post?
Okay, here’s the thing. Despite the utter terribleness of this book, it does, actually, have some redeeming qualities. Ana is likable, though not for the reasons James thinks; it taps into a curiosity about BDSM that people need a non-threatening way to explore; and it’s actually a really excellent example of how easy it is to get sucked into an abusive relationship. It is not that far away from being an interesting, insightful book. It isn’t. Here’s what it would take to turn the fail train that is 50 Shades around.
1. Do some basic research
Nothing kills a story faster than not doing your homework. If you are going to set a novel in Seattle, you had better do some fucking research on how people in Seattle behave, or you’re dead in the water. Saying things like “Interstate-5” when everybody on the US West coast refers to it as “I-5” are a dead giveaway that you are lazy as fuck as an author, and you’ll be laughed out of the room.
This goes double for the sex stuff. Despite being erotica, 50 Shades is just dead wrong about many aspects of how sex works. Leaving aside the fact that virgin Ana can have mind-blowing orgasms from nipple stimulation and penetrative sex on her first try when only about 20% of women are even capable of that and 43% of women suffer some form of sexual dysfunction (read: inability to orgasm), this book is just littered with sex-related inaccuracies. Christian is suppose to have gone to full-on Dominant sex school, and yet he thinks Ana can’t get pregnant on her period, and that it’s 100% cool and safe to have sex in water (spoiler: IT SUPER DUPER ISN’T). Ana also describes the taste of her own vaginal juices as “salty,” which–girl, get thee to a doctor, because your PH balance is fucked up. I realize that erotica is selling a fantasy version of sex, but that doesn’t excuse perpetuating straight-up wrong ideas about how sex works. And don’t even get me started on how wrong this book’s ideas about how BDSM works are. Christian Grey is not a Dominant; he’s a sexual predator.
2. Get rid of Ana’s internal monologue
Just. All of it. There’s nothing usable here. 90% of her thoughts are just “whoa” or “holy crap” and nobody needs to hear that. Then you have the subconscious and inner goddess shoulder angels, who just need to be taken out round the back of the barn and put down. They contribute nothing to the story, but oh boy do they get in the way of it. This story should just be written in third person, because James has proven herself untrustworthy with thought dialogue.
3. Introduce a knowledgeable BDSM character
Wherever you go, BDSM is a tight-knit community. They know and look after one another, and they police would-be abusers hiding in their skirts. I guarantee you if Christian Grey were a real person, he would have been ex-communicated from the Seattle BDSM community for his abusive behavior, and they would be watching him. If 50 Shades were at all concerned with communicating a safe, healthy message about BDSM, it would include a kinky character to serve as Ana’s ally, who would help her to understand what BDSM is really about and to recognize Grey’s dangerous departures from the basic principles of Safe, Sane and Consensual. Ana is naive, and her innocence is what allows Grey to predate on her. To be a responsible tale of BDSM, 50 Shades needs to give her an ally, instead of cutting her off from her support network with a not-even-legal NDA. Maybe that ally can point out feminism to her, too, because frankly, the constant slut-shaming other girls and excusing men for depraved behavior is getting old.
4. Tone down Grey’s evil
He’s an abuser. That much is obvious. All he ever does is get angry at Ana for having relationships apart from him, criticize her, order her around, and then have really furious sex that he later tries to make her feel guilty about. Frankly, his manipulative evil-ness is cartoonish. If Ana were a real person, she’d have run screaming for the hills the moment he tracked her phone to find out what bar she was at, not giggled about his “stalker tendencies.” He has to be at least a little bit charming to begin with, to win her over, in order for the rest of the story to proceed believably.
5. Ana has to leave him–permanently
Okay, so she does leave him at the end of the first book. But then she doesn’t get therapy and that’s why we wound up with two more books. If 50 Shades wants to be a responsible goddamn text that doesn’t perpetuate fucked-up notions about how sexual relationships should work, there is no version of the story in which Ana and Christian end up together. There are lots where Christian ends up in jail. That’s the book that this should have been, because there is nothing romantic about LITERAL ABUSE.
6. For the love of god, PACING
We do not need a detailed depiction of Ana’s entire college graduation ceremony. Neither do we need two different instances in which the entirety of the Sub/Dom contract is printed in full in text. We just don’t. What is this, fucking amateur hour? THIS BOOK IS 514 PAGES LONG. CUT THE FAT. CUT IT CUT IT CUT IT.
Do all of the above, and you might have something that looks like a useful, interesting, not-completely-socially-backward novel.
“He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light?” -NO YOU FUCKING CAN’T, ANASTASIA. YOU CAN GUIDE HIM TO JAIL THOUGH. PROBABLY YOU SHOULD DO THAT.