crazyjane: (bitch_please)
Holidaying in far north Queensland does strange things to one's brain. At least, that's my excuse for picking up my sister-in-law's copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and actually reading it. I may never be the same again - and so, because misery loves company, I intend to take you all with me.

If you haven't yet heard of this 'phenomenon', you've probably been hiding under a rock in Antarctica with your fingers in your ears going, 'La la la'. Everyone's talking about the smash hit bestseller that's sparked a wave of 'Mummy porn' novels hitting the bookshops.

Hold up a second. Mummy porn? Just what is that? Before you get intrigued, though, I've got bad news for you. This isn't some ancient Egyptian fetish bandage-wrapping technique we're talking about here. Nothing so interesting. No, 'Mummy porn' is, apparently, an insult on a par with 'Mummy blogger'. It's not real porn, you understand, oh no - that's for guys. This is soft porn for sad-sack housewives who don't get no lovin' and spend their days pining for a tall, dark handsome stranger. When they're not washing their husband's dirty sweat socks and running the kids to soccer practice, I guess.

You know what? I'm a Mummy, and if I'm going to read porn, it's going to be the real thing, thank you very much. But I digress. Let's get to the review.

First, the title. It's evocative. It's provocative. It promises a delicious tussle with moral ambiguities surrounding sexuality. Is it sick? Is it 'normal'? Is your kink my kink? I can hardly wait to get my teeth into these issues.

Oh. That's not it at all. The title's a pun. It's all about the gorgeous, assured, yet somehow conflicted Christian Grey. Grey, get it? Get it?

Sigh. Okay. Right about then I knew this was going to be excruciating.

Meet Anastasia Steele. Steele, get it? Get it? (Oh god.) She's a lovable literature grad student who is so socially awkward that it's a wonder she can order her coffee at Starbucks in the mornings. She's good-hearted, pretty in an understated kind of way, and klutzy.

Hello? E.L. James? Stephenie Meyer called. She wants her character back.

Through a truly amazing set of coincidences, Bella Ana meets the aforementioned Edward Christian Grey. While he doesn't exactly sparkle, she's mesmerised by his commanding presence (and not a little, erm, moist, as she tells us). On the basis on this one meeting, Grey decides that he must have her. Oh yes, she will be his - but there's nothing romantic about this desire. It's all about - gasp - BDSM. He wants her to be his submissive. He even wants her to sign a three-month contract giving herself over to him.

Hello? E.L. James? It's probably a good idea to learn some kink terminology before you go cutting and pasting a 'sample slave contract' from the internet. Grey doesn't want a submissive. He wants a slave. Someone he can control utterly - what she wears, what she eats, how much sleep she gets, and even how often she gets her 'down there' waxed. (Yes, Ana refers to her vagina as her 'down there'. Over and over again.)

Ana is titillated, but frightened. Seriously, if this were a Harlequin romance, her bosom would already be heaving. Suddenly acquiring the negotiating skills of an international diplomat, she talks him down to one month, and no controlled diet, but still won't sign. Wow. What a tease. She actually castigates herself for being 'cowardly'.

Now, your kink is not my kink, but everything surrounding Grey and his proposed 'contract' is just damned creepy. This isn't a loving relationship in which partners agree to adopt roles that satisfy deep sexual urges. This is a domineering man using his force of will to pressure a naive young woman into sexual slavery. Urgh.

We're about 100 pages in, and still no sex. C'mon, I was promised porn, dammit! All I've got are a few description of Ana's nipples tingling. Get to the good stuff, already!

Finally, it happens. Finally. Ana visits Grey in his opulent apartment and is morbidly fascinated by his 'Red Room of Pain'. AKA his BDSM dungeon.

I pause for howls of laughter. Red Room of Pain. Oh, dear. But hey, at least we're seeing some kink here.

Oh, but wait. No kink yet. First we're treated to Grey's announcement that he will 'make love' to Ana. Yeah, it's probably worth getting that out of the way before we get to the real stuff, right? And so he sets about this with workmanlike precision. I mean, really. It's like reading an IKEA manual. All it needs is the alun key.

This is where James drops a bombshell. Ana is - gasp - a virgin! Not only that, she's never been to second base! She's never even masturbated! She bleeds on the sheets and everything. Apparently Ana has never gone swimming, ridden a horse or had a vaginal exam. But that's okay. She still gets two mind-blowing orgasms, and is only 'a little bit sore' the next day.

Oh, and for a virgin, she gives mighty fine oral, it seems. She could probably be an instant star in the adult video indusry - if she could get over her obsession with Daddy Grey.

Ah. Now I know what's going on here. The book was obviously mis-classified. It should be listed as 'Fantasy'. Seriously, this is unbelievably embarrassing. It's every stereotypical description of the 'perfect woman' for misogynists - completely untouched until the 'right' man awakens her desire, which is insatiable and only for him. But I plough on. I've crossed the Rubicon, there's no going back now.

It's the last third of the book, and still no kink. We've had an attempted sexual assault by Ana's 'best friend', for which she blames herself. (Hello? Ms James? Stephenie Meyer wants her plot back.) We've had ample evidence of Grey's wealth and power, complete with personal helicopter (which, of course, he flies himself). We've seen how controlling Grey really is, after he buys Ana a new car and has her beloved old VW bug towed away. We've had the IKEA sex. But no kink. Not even a handcuff, or a light spanking.

What we did have was one truly mind-boggling moment where Grey 'sensuously' pulls out Ana's tampon.

Yeah, you read that right.

I had to stop for a bit after that one. Just how does one 'sensuously' remove a tampon, anyway? Does a guy with a saxophone appear and improvise a soulful solo while Grey fumbles between her legs? Does Grey take a leaf out of the Old Spice Man's book and do it while on horseback? Does he wax lyrical about how beautiful the blue string looks, glowing against the creamy white skin of her thighs?

Nope. Can't see it.

Ah, but James has been teasing us. She's saved up the kink for last. And what a doozy it is. Grey takes Ana into his 'playroom' (snicker) and ties her up to a complex apparatus of ceiling track that allows him to push her around the room in much the same way a meat carcass gets moved around an abattoir. He indulges in a bit of sensory deprivation, including making her wear headphones that blast classical music into her ears. And then choreographs his playtime to the music.

Okay, that's kinda interesting. I could see how that - oh. He's just tickling her? Never mind.

Ana, of course, is incredibly turned on. Guess once that hymen was broken, years of pent-up orgasms are just clamouring to get out. But then comes the whipping, and she doesn't like that at all. Except she does. But it's wrong. But she feels so good.

Bitch, no one is interested in your moral wibbling. You alienated all of us about the time you got upset at your hairdo, back in Chapter One. Just shut up and let us get to the good stuff, already.

Sadly, the good stuff never arrives. Ana 'arrives', several times, loudly. So does Grey. But the rest of us? The train never left the station.

The porn is terrible. Just awful. People who write in to the Penthouse Forums can write better porn than what's in this book. Hell, I've read fanfic that's turned me on more than this apparently 'scorching' book. It's not just that it has all the passion of an anatomical textbook. It's also Ana's inner monologue. Honestly, if she'd thought 'oh my,' one more time ...

Oh, and Grey himself is prone to crying out hackneyed lines when in the throes of orgasm. 'Oh, Ana, you feel so good!'

I shit you not.

At long last, the awful kink scene is over - whereupon Ana, despite her clear enjoyment and love for Grey, realises that she can never be his submissive, and runs back to her tiny apartment to cry. It's all over. It's not the life for her. She'll just have to curl up in her bed and wait to die.

But wait. There's a sequel. Two, in fact. And here's where I admit defeat. I started Fifty Shades Darker (otherwise known as 'Fifty Shades Worse'), but I just couldn't make it. I foundered about the time Grey's ex-submissive escaped from a psych hospital, obtained a gun and concealed carry permit (I know, I know), and started stalking the (naturally) reunited couple. I just couldn't go on.

I was in danger of losing my will to enjoy sex ever again.

So, if it's so bad, just what's with this 'phenomenon'? And yeah, I'll go with that word, because it sure ain't 'literature'. It all boils down to on word.

Hype.

This book's had an incredibly effective publicity campaign. It's been marketed as 'new', 'naughty', 'dark' ... hitting all the marks to guarantee curious readers will give it a try. And let's not forget, it's written by a woman. Sex written by a woman. Gosh. Guess people have forgotten Jacqueline Sussan by now ...

In conclusion, I really only want to say this - if you're tempted to read this book, just remember one important fact.

Fifty Shades started out as Twilight fanfic.

That should tell you all you need to know. Don't risk it. Don't endanger your sex life. There's much better porn around to tickle your 'down there'.

Oh, my.
crazyjane: (poetry)
The LZ Sally Poetry Page – Tales from the I Corps



‘Tales from the I Corps’ is a collection of poetry written by veterans of the Vietnam War (and one by the daughter of a veteran who suffered from chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). The poems themselves speak directly to the experience of the writers, both ‘in country’ and after the war, as they tried to settle back into their old lives.

Each poet’s signature contains both his name and his division assignment, underscoring their common background and experiences. Some also include their military nicknames (‘Doc’, ‘the Greek’, and so on).

The poems are self-published, and there’s little evidence of an editing process at work. As such, they suffer technically at times. The rawness of the poetry, however, lends a directness of communication that can be missing from more polished works. The reader is constantly reminded that these are real experiences, written by those who lived through violence and trauma. The poets’ struggle with language, form and rhyme can be read as part of their struggle to fully articulate ‘the anguish of just living or trying to stay alive in the midst of combat and the pitiful conditions of life in a war torn country that was thousands of miles away from home’ to those who remained in their home countries.

Each poet brings a distinctive voice. ‘Another Good Morning from Vietnam’, by Paul Cameron (1st Inf. Div.) is full of wry humour, marrying the banalities of a DJ’s patter with the almost offhand observation that ‘It’s been raining rockets all week up in Lai Khe’. In ‘We Regret to Inform You’, that same flippant tone is dramatically undercut in the last stanza, where the poet speaks directly and bitterly to those veterans who survived:

‘Dear combat comrades of these dear fallen men
We regret to inform you that your memories never end
The sights and sounds of their death keep pounding away
Their names carved on a wall as you kneel down to pray’.

Ken Hornbeck (D/1/501)’s ‘Black Panther in Ambush’ tells the chilling story, delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, of a veteran so haunted by the war that he turns his own backyard into a battlefield. The short poems of Mark Regan (B/1/501) serve as snapshots that place the reader firmly in the physical reality of Vietnam – narrowly avoiding being bitten by a green bamboo snake (‘Reprieve’), looking up at a single cloud in the sky and wondering if it portends anything (‘Omen’), and lying alone in a foxhole remembering a loved one (‘End of July’). Each short sketch has a restrained quality to it, often featuring objects in the natural world; these evoke echoes of Asian poetry, especially Japanese haiku and Classical Chinese ‘Beyond the Borders’ verse.

The raw power of these poems is perhaps best illustrated in ‘After Nam’ by Pete ‘Doc’ Fraser (3/187):

‘After Nam
it took me a long time to realise
that every time it thundered
someone did not have to die’.

Confessional poetry of any kind walks a fine line; it’s all too easy to tip over into dramatically overblown descriptions of pain, alienating the reader. Conversely, a reader can be left without empathy for the poem if it is too restrained. Many of these poems manage that balance beautifully, adding only enough detail to fully ‘place’ the reader, and trusting that fewer words can convey more than a whole stanza dedicated entirely to ‘feelings’. Often the poems lack a visible narrator; this absence, far from undermining the impact, actually heightens the emotional tension.

The collator of ‘Tales from the I Corps’, Mark Regan, urges the reader: ‘Don't read this stuff fast... it needs to be thunk about’ (sic). He’s right, of course – but one of the beauties of this collection is that we can’t help but think about it. The poems stay with us long after we navigate away from the web page, giving us both perspective and empathy for those who lived through the Vietnam War, and who still carry it with them.





Rating: 4 stars

November 2016

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