Fifty shouts of ‘I don’t get it!’


I’m not a fan of the romance novel, but as an editor, I’m always interested in literature (I use this term with trepidation here) that breaks through and becomes a best-seller.

Think “Twilight.”

So, for the sake of RESEARCH, I borrowed a copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” from my friend (who may or may not choose to remain anonymous) to uncover the mystery behind the madness.

Unfortunately, after wading through — or rather, tiptoeing — I’m no closer to understanding why E L James’ tome made it to the big time. In fact, from an editor’s point of view, it shouldn’t have.

The overabundance of cliches (I want to #@*% you, Oh my!), the predictable romantic character names (Christian, Anastasia), the outdated reference to Mrs. Robinson for the “older woman/younger man” relationship (aren’t they cougars?), the ridiculously trite conversations (“Would you like some tea?” “Yes, please.”), and the almost comical name of the publisher in the story — Mr. J. Hyde — don’t add up to blockbuster to me.

True, the proven “formula” — rich, handsome man meets young, beautiful virgin — is something romance fans count on — and publishers count on for profits. Like the mystery formula — with clues, red herrings, multiple suspects — readers come to expect certain elements. I get that. But I still can’t comprehend why this particular book (yikes, trilogy!) stands taller.

I thought, perhaps, that there was more sex or more explicit sex in this story than is typical in other romances, but my friend (yes, there really is a friend who loaned me the book; I did not buy it under an assumed name) assured me that this is not unique. I thought, perhaps, the fact that the entire story is in present tense (“He takes me into his playroom” as opposed to “He took me into his playroom”) was more appealing, but it turns out my friend (and other friends) did not even notice this.

Is it that this story — based on a dominant/submissive relationship — is one that women secretly desire? That the glass ceiling we have fought so hard to break through, the academic shackles (I did not say handcuffs!) we have struggled to release ourselves from, the kitchen (and bedroom) we have escaped from are all for naught (please, do not think “naughty”)?

Obviously, the advice I give to aspiring writers — be unique, don’t be repetitive, etc. — does not necessarily guarantee success either. My new mantra? Submit manuscripts using initials. E L  James —  JK Rowlings. Hmmm.

Jami Carpenter is a freelance editor for Stephens Press, host and executive producer of Vegas PBS Book Club talk show and co-author of “Education in the Neon Shadow.”