Mark Bennett's Reviews > Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
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's review
Aug 05, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: erotica
Read from October 08 to 15, 2012 — I own a copy

I was nearing the end of 50 Shades when a writer I adore posted On The Comfort Of Bad Books. She opened her essay referring to Salman Rushdie's snarky comment at the recent New Yorker festival declaring that 50 Shades of Grey "made Twilight look like War and Peace."

Michelle Dean went on to reveal that whole and huge heart of hers, a developing critic/author who is inclusive, someone who routinely uses her keen intellect and force of will to deconstruct the most convoluted, ego-absorbed, self-righteous literati, and the aspirants thereto.

As I was coursing through 50 Shades I kept coming back round to Henry Miller, how he pushed boundaries and was banned in the early-mid 20th Century. The books he's known for, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, are tame when compared to his Under the Roofs of Paris, a bit of the raunch, no pretense of story, pure pornography.

50 Shades exists because of authors like Miller, and honestly, James gives us what Miller could never give us, a woman's perspective, a woman's unfettered passion, a libido unleashed, a rebel fearlessness lost in pure pleasure seeking, a moment of fierce exploration, and in the midst of this crazed carnality we see young Anastasia desiring and imagining "more." She understands what intimacy is, what it means to be vulnerable and trusting, honest and forthright. She gets the difference between lovemaking and fucking. Yes, she wants more, and so do I, and I think this is why I blew through this rip-roaring bit of erotica, why I will engage the rest of the James' trilogy.

One more thought, inspired again by Michelle Dean, on what we readers bring to a book, and what all writers ultimately give to us if they write out of a love for their readers. Any book that finds its way to the marketplace of ideas, whether "very fine," "good," "bad" or "otherwise," if we're exploring and willing readers any writer worth her salt can touch us in profound and unexpected ways.

Ms. E L James, at the end of 50 Shades, got to me. One of those scenes all readers know and love, they're why we keep reading. A simple moment, Ana's been crying, she's distraught and doubting, unloosed and grieving, and out of the blue, unexpected, a gentleman hands her a handkerchief, it's a gesture done in silence, one human being seeing the pain and suffering of another and offering solace, a gesture of empathy and recognition. The handkerchief. And tears welled up for me, it took me back to a moment in my youth, my grandfather's funeral, a surprising and revealing moment. I had imagined it would be manageable, that death was no big deal, that I'd have control over my emotions, that I'd not give in, not realize that he was my closest friend and ally in the family, that he and I were similar, neither of us like my dad or his brother, that I was going to miss him, that I wanted more time with him, and when I approached the casket, when it was clear he was gone, I broke into tears and began to sob, and I turned away, unprepared for the depth of feeling, uncertain what to do and where to go, and my father, standing nearby, stoical yet empathizing and kind, handed me a handkerchief, no words, just a look, a recognition, an act of love, revealing intimacy and connection, from father to son: wipe away your tears young man, this is life, wipe away your tears.

This is why I read, this is why I turn to writers over and over again, this is why I will read 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed.
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