Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Few Shades of Revo

I can’t help it. I root for the underdog. The problem with that is ‘underdogism’ (trademark pending) remains open to conjecture. Was Darth Vader an underdog because he was surrounded by white plastic clad buffoons that that couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat? It’s all a matter of perspective, in my book.
Yes, I rooted for Vader, the cool black clad one-not the whiny emo one.
What’s my point? I’m glad you asked. I’m here to offer my unflinching review of what may be the most popular book of the year. That’s right. A person with a Y chromosome has read 50 shades of Grey and lived to tell about it.
Wait a minute, you point out. A story that at this point has been on the New York Times bestselling e book list for 23 weeks, will likely soon be on a Burger King glass, a Wii game and trigger a line of kinky fashion accessories, is a victim of ‘underdogism’ (trademark still pending)??
The short answer is…yes, depending on point of view.
First, a little background; I spend far too much time on a writer’s site. They’re a fun bunch and it’s great to be able to hang with people who share pain, victories, and the occasional realization that whatever we’ve written has been done a hundred times before. That said, I hang with the fourth perceived looniest type on the planet (behind Musicians, actors and pro-athletes) so take my views with a fist-sized grain of salt.
I also spent time in the real world, i.e. working, shopping, waiting at Jiffy-Lube, pumping gas, etc. People are social animals at heart and I’m a people kinda’ guy. So I get into a lot of conversations. I’ve only been pepper sprayed a couple times.
I’ve discovered, using a little informal sociology experiment, that the world is split into two groups. They are writers that despise the ‘book’ with the heat of a thousand suns and haven’t read it, versus readers who have and enjoy it enough to gobble it up like E.T. on a cannabis-induced Reese’s Pieces bender.
Let me share with you the results of my study:

Group One; Writers.
Method - using a chat environment typing the following words; “I’m reading 50 Shades of Grey”
Mode - written interaction
Objective – gauge response from a sample grouping, incite snide and snobbish snickers.
Feedback statistics;
70% - “I read excerpts online and it disgusted me.”

15% - “Friends, family and/or coworkers have read it and they now disgust me.”

10% - “I clawed my eyes out after 40 pages, soaked my e reader in gasoline and burned it.”

4% - “I’m thinking of reading it too; tell me what you think when you’re done.”

1% - “I read it.”

Summary – “People just don’t recognize quality writing no matter how much we try to inform them what it is. This whole writing thing would be a great gig if it wasn’t for those pains in the ass readers. Why can't they just get into elf sex? At least that's not icky."

Group Two; Readers
Method – feigning random conversation, make a trivial statement to my wife about the book in a supermarket checkout line.
Mode – verbal interaction
Objective – gauge response from sample group, ignore screaming spoiled brat two rows over that wants gummy worms.
Feedback statistics;
72% - “Oh my goodness…I’m reading the sequel now. Don’t you love it?”

13% - “My daughter gave me the book and I just have to finish since I started it. She loved it”

8% - “You’re reading it? But…you’re a guy!” (Looks at embarrassed wife who is avoiding eye contact)

6% - “I’ll give you ten bucks right now if you club that screaming brat’s parents with your Kindle.”

1% - “I am never taking you grocery shopping with me again.”

Summary – “Sex is fun to read about, kinky sex is better. Plots that move fast are entertaining. The store brand of that chili is just as good. Give that damn kid his stupid friggin’ gummy worms then get the hell out of the store before we strangle him.”

As you can see, telling figures indeed. Added bonus; I got out of grocery shopping.

The Review:

Since I promised others I would venture forth and provide my unvarnished opinion of this opus, I feel it is necessary to include my take on this cultural phenomenon affront thing. I shall break it down into separate components, using a number system ranging from * (Horrid) to ***** (Superb)

The Writing – (**) The first fifty pages or so are *. After the fog lifts, the repetition parts and it works rather well. I enjoy first person perspective when done well. Alas, there are better examples of this approach. Still, the writer gets the point across clearly.

The Pace – (***) Again, get past the rocky start and it moves along quickly. Chapters are broken up well to capture each progressive stage of the story and most are short enough to be read in the bathroom or while the wife lingers in the produce section.

The Characters – (**1/2) Sure, they inhabit the extreme ends of the spectrum in regards to stereotype, but they are clearly defined and consistent. In fact, they even grow a bit and get smarter as the story progresses. In the case of the MC, it’s hard to imagine her getting dumber but I have to give credit where credit is due.

The Quality – (**) Make no mistake; this is box wine, pepperoni pizza and Twinkies as opposed to a three-star Michelin Guide eatery, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s readily consumed and seating is always available. You try living on foie gras and Dom Perignon for a year with a baked Alaska chaser. You’d be dead before the six-month mark. Equate that to reading nothing but ponderous but oh-so-eloquent over-description for a few month and most readers would end up in a rubber room, begging for an Archie comic. The story has a few logistical holes you can drive a truck through and the written reality is shaky at best but never has it been said that Bestseller = Epic Quality.

Overall – (***) Like an intercontinental ballistic missile, this story was built for a purpose. It does not advance the state of the art, excessively challenge a reader or explore new perceptions and realities. It is a delivery vehicle for titillation and a mild taboo break-room conversation starter. In this role, 50 Shades succeeds marvelously.  If you don’t look too close, give up your pre-conceived notions and make your thoughts and vision go slightly fuzzy, one can even enjoy the overall read.

I could delve into the plot but I am not a person that gives ‘spoilers’. I will say that, contrary to many of the puritan complaints I’ve heard, the MC is hardly a victim and the sex is consensual in the extreme (it’s written in contract form, open to negotiation). In fact, there’s even a well-executed psychological tug of war going on as well.

That said, I’ll have to mull for a week or four if I want to read the next two.

The upside: I didn’t feel like I needed a long shower and Comet scrub upon finishing the book. If you don’t believe it, read it for yourself.

Revo’s Final Rating - based on average – (**1/2)

Okay, Smart Ass. What does all this mean?

-          As a writer you can blog, social network, read trade papers, hump agent’s legs, surf the net, get a restraining order placed against you by the local book store, even (heaven forbid) interact with actual analog people and still not have a clue what the reading public will embrace - and buy.
-          As a reader, one tawdry cheap pulp still has more appeal than some highbrow period piece that describes a tree in just over twelve breathtaking pages.
-          Blaming this book for degrading sexual proclivities makes as much sense and blaming Peter Benchley for hunting certain breeds of sharks to extinction, Mario Puzo glamorizing the mafia, JK Rowling for brainwashing young reader to practice pagan rituals or Ronald McDonald for the quality of Happy Meal toys.

-          Sex is one consistent sell and MOST EVERYONE is buying. Romance is nice too but we don’t get all freaky about it.

-          In the interest of peace, either buy the little monster gummy worms or leave him with the sitter before you shop…please.