50 Shades of Hamster Wheel

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

I’ve reached the point where I’m not sure I can take any more of this story.  It’s on an endless loop of screwed up interactions followed by intense sex.  Both Ana and Christian seem to have on-off switches in their personalities, enabling them to have only two possible positions options.  She’s either thinking about having sex with him or actually having sex with him; he’s either controlling and abusive or a sex god.  Every chapter contains Ana and Christian in both modes, but I think this penultimate chapter is possibly the worst because it’s more distinct.

After Ana’s mother, sounding like a Hallmark card, sends her home, we have to endure pages of Ana in “thinking of you” mode.  All she does for the entire trip is worry about Christian’s “situation” and his lack of warmth when she emails him.  Doesn’t she have anything else to occupy herself, such as her new job?  I remember what it was like to be in a new relationship (or even just have a new crush).  Yes, I spent plenty of time thinking about the other person.  However, I was also capable of training my mind on other things.

Meanwhile, when Ana returns, we get Christian in Angry Control Freak mode.  It’s not directed at Ana this time–he’s preoccupied with his business.  I suppose this is probably one of the things that’s put him ahead in business, but it’s pretty much standard operation for him outside the bedroom (or the Red Room of Pain or the bathtub or the kitchen…).

Naturally, once Ana’s back, there are pages and pages and pages and–yep, you guessed it–pages of the two of them having sex in a variety of ways.  We get it; it’s “erotica.”  And if I didn’t want to read endless and repetitive sex scenes, I should have picked up a different book.  It’s not the sex that bothers me, though–it’s the fact that it isn’t just sex scenes with some semblance of a plot for filler.  It’s the layers of absolutely terrible commentary on relationships present throughout.

I’ve read other erotica for comparison (yes, really; I don’t care for erotica).  Most of the time, there’s some excuse for the sex woven into the narrative: circumstances, an established relationship that experiences a change of some sort, and so on.  What troubles me is the narrative in Fifty Shades that provides the excuse.  A naive young woman being preyed on by a controlling man with a troubled past could be done well, if the writer were to tread carefully.  E L. James does it with all the grace of an elephant in a tea shop.  What we should read is screwed up people screwing up and then just screwing.  Instead, we skip the “screwing up” part entirely–which just makes it appear that “fucked up” is a desirable state of being in a relationship and “fixing you” is an admirable way to handle life.

The second-to-last chapter is nothing more than a recap of the previous chapters.  I probably could have skimmed the rest and simply read this one, and I’d still have the general plot of the book down.


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