Everyone and her mother is reading 50 Shades of Gray. But I’m not. I have made a conscious decision to sit this one out. Honestly, I was more worried about my ability to get through horrible prose than anything else. Some of the first things I heard about the book was the low quality of the sentences, and I heard this from people who I didn’t really consider the most picky readers. If they’re complaining, I figure, I wouldn’t be able to stand it.
Actually when I first heard about this book, the first thing I thought was, haven’t I already read that? I think it was back in 2008 or 2009, when I was in a phase of reading Twilight fanfiction. There was a novel-length fic called The Submissive. And it had sequels: The Dominant (alternate point of view) and The Training. They have the same basic premise as 50 Shades (which also began as Twilight fanfiction): naive Bella enters into a D/s relationship with experienced, damaged Edward. In fact, for about 5 minutes, I was hoping 50 Shades was The Submissive, because it would be gratifying to see this writer, who I know only by her screen name, tara sue me, make some money from her work. But what I remember of The Submissive is much, much superior to 50 Shades. And I feel I can say that because I’ve read a summary of the book.
Here is the first entry on Bizzybiz Blog, where a sassy, opinionated writer who actually does have experience in BDSM summarizes, corrects, and rants about 50 Shades of Gray. So far, she’s gone through the whole first book of the trilogy, and has plans to finish it. I’ll be continuing to read her summaries because they’re much more entertaining than the book could possibly be. She makes fun of the schizophrenic personalities who speak to the main character because that’s the only way James can think of to portray inner turmoil: her “inner goddess” when she’s enjoying her sexual awakening and her “subconscious” when she’s worried and anxious and judgy. Bizzybiz goes on about the overly obvious innuendos and transparent plot “twists.” She counts the number of times James uses annoying descriptive tags like “his pants hanging off his hips.” Honestly, where else are his pants supposed to be? Little things like that are the reason I could never have lasted through this novel. Making fun of them is the only way not to cry about how much money this book is making.
Apparently, consent isn’t all that important in the world of this novel, and Bizzybiz just spews well-deserved vitriol all over scenes that are supposed to be hot and sexy but are actually creepy and rapey. At one point, Ana sends Christian Gray an email breaking up with him. His response is to show up at her house to get her to change her mind by having sex with her. Another time, he gets her drunk specifically so that she is impaired while discussing and signing their (non-legally-enforceable) D/s contract. All kinds of morally wrong.
The things that Bizzybiz hates most about 50 Shades are much improved in The Submissive. Edward is not an abusive, controlling stalker. There is a lot more real D/s play. The contract is handled much more professionally. There is less whining. The sex scenes actually explore what could be sexy about giving up control to someone else who you trust completely, which is kind of the point of D/s, right? Tara sue me actually did do some research into BDSM. Though she does somewhat perpetuate a stereotype that people interested in sex play are damaged or have been victimized, the portrayal is much more positive and normalized than in 50 Shades. The prose is better, though not amazing. Honestly, reading Bizzybiz’s summary made me wonder if E. L. James had read the first couple chapters of The Submissive and decided to rip it off.
So for everyone who wants to read D/s erotica, I recommend The Submissive. For everyone who wants to know what happens in 50 Shades of Gray, I recommend Bizzybiz Blog. For everyone actually enjoying 50 Shades of Gray, God help you.