Does an author have to have it all? Do they need to weave an interesting story with characters you care what happens to and be able to write with some level of competence? Can you be satisfied, as a reader, with just one of those criteria being met?
Earlier this month, I stepped outside of my traditional genres of choice and, at the behest of a friend, read 50 Shades of Grey. I don't do erotic novels. Don't get me wrong. I spent plenty of time in my youth reading my mom's Harlequin books (hi, mom!) and devoured Danielle Steele, Judith Krantz, and even some Jackie Collins*; however, it's just not my thing anymore. Still, my friend was persuasive in her arguments for reading it, and frankly, I feel bad for always turning down so many of her reading suggestions.
The book was entertaining**. I can appreciate the fact that, for a book classified as erotic, it took more than 100 pages before the first sex scene. The author was able to draw me in with characters and a relationship I felt compelled to follow along with. That's pretty much where my positive critique ends though. Any leeway I gave the author was continually eroded away by a combination of her writing tics and, at times, what came across as simply weak technical skills. Honestly, I can't figure out why so many found it titillating or even all that risque. Once you've read the first sex scene, you'll find very little variation in any subsequent scene. Again, I've never read an "official" erotic novel before, but is it so wrong that I expect some variability beyond location and type of tie?
I've managed to avoid much of the hype about this book on the blogs and in the media, but the bits that have seeped in have me questioning whether I'm less of a prude than I thought going into this. I just don't think the book and its sex scenes were that incendiary. Is having your hands restrained***, eyes covered, or some light spanking still that verboten? Perhaps society and the modern media has beaten the shock right out of me?
I'm still curious about my initial question. Are interesting stories and characters enough? Judging by the million dollar publishing deal the author recently scored and the women clamoring to get a copy of the book, I'm guessing so. Me? I need more. I appreciate being entertained and will certainly gravitate that way every now and then. However, I want the complete package. Anything to avoid cringing every time someone writes, "laters, baby."
*Not that any of these are considered erotic novels, but I contend they were erotic before erotic became a genre of fiction. Retro erotic ;-)
**Entertaining in Serena-speak is another way of describing candy or fluff. Potentially fun to read but will never be classified as good or great in my world.
***For a novel that discusses the potential relationship between a dominant and submissive, there is talk of agreements and the consensual aspects of each act throughout the book.