Entering the World of Smut: Hate-Reading Fifty Shades of Grey


I’m no stranger to smut. Like many girls, my earliest sex-ed experience was thumbing through my mom’s Jude Deveraux novels, trying to decipher all the euphemisms in the sex scenes. I’m not personally one who, ahem, needs a lot of back story when it comes to this sort of thing — I prefer the short-form stuff (like BUST’s One Handed Reads!). But I’ve always respected the genre. I’ve always assumed that erotica is like poetry or horror movies — particularly tough to get right, but the good stuff must be transcendent.

A friend at Random House was nice enough to send me a review copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, and I started reading it this weekend. I’ll admit that I really wanted to like the book. Most people I knew who were trashing it hadn’t even read the thing — it was like Twilight all over again. Despite how increasingly disturbing Meyer’s series got (by the end I was turning the pages saying “Oh no. Oh, NO” like I was watching Trapped in the Closet), I maintain that the first book is a masterpiece. It massaged the exact part of my brain where my inner 12-year old lives, tapping into all my naïve notions of love and romance. True love is always hard-won, and if it’s easy and pleasant it isn’t worth it! Don’t listen to your family, or even his own warnings to stay away — your redemptive love will save him!

Fifty Shades started as Twilight fan fiction, and takes the latter's themes and turns them up to 11. My inner 12 year-old wants no part of it this time around, and it’s not because she’s freaked out by Christian Grey’s sex lair. After 200 pages, I can say that this is probably the most horribly written book I have ever read in my life. Is repetition a convention of the genre? If Anastasia Steele bites her lip one more time, or if her friend José says “Dios mio!” again, or if Christian Grey doesn’t stop running his hands through his copper hair, I am starting a fire and then throwing this book into that fire. 

It’s not the BDSM sex scenes that I find hard to stomach. It’s more that I’m expected to believe that an American couple in their 20s constantly pepper their speech with the words “divine,” “delicious” (rarely pertaining to food), and “exquisite.” They’re like the younger version of Rachel Dratch and Will Ferrell’s “lovers” on SNL. Gross!

I am going to keep reading. I need to fully understand this book’s appeal to such a huge audience of women — intelligent, well-read women among them. Sure, the sex scenes are…imaginative, but I think the appeal is more about the way love can change a deeply damaged man. The Rehabilitated Heathcliff Model might be the most beautiful dark, twisted fantasy of all. 

-By Samantha Vincenty. Follow her on Twitter here