I’ve not read the blockbuster erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, but I took notice this week when one of my favorite authors, Chris Bohjalian, mentioned in a Facebook post that he was grateful that his new novel landed with both feet on the New York Times bestseller list. This, he noted, despite no vampires, no erotica.
Sandcastle Girls, perhaps Bohjalian’s most heartfelt work, gives us true love that triumphs despite war and genocide. It’s a love story of epic style. Not epic pages and bondage.
Should authors have to compete with the sensational? Couldn’t there be fiction, non-fiction and “other?” I admit that I have my favorite easy reads…loved, still love, anything by Robert Parker, John Sandford, PD James, even Janet Evanovich, though she has fallen into a bit of rut. I even appreciated Interview With a Vampire, the first of Ann Rice’s series, though I stopped after one, plus the movie version with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. At the end of the day, or sunning on the beach, I want escapism. The one summer I re-read Anna Karenina, I felt virtuous, but in need of a quick mystery.
Then, there’s my weekend ready. Bohjalian is in on that list, along with the likes of Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, Alice Hoffman, Ha Jin, John Irving and many others. There was a time when the Times top ten was, top to bottom, my Amazon shopping list.
I have theories about why Fifty Shades is such a smash hit, but I leave that to the psychologists and sociologists. E.L. James deserves credit for success in an industry that is both byzantine and capricious. I never finished the first volume of Harry Potter, but I am a fan of the millenium trilogy–genuinely sad that Stieg Larsson died before his time. He didn’t avoid violence or salacious details. He did however have a lead female character who embodied self-determination; a lead male with a dedication to truth; and serpentine plotting set against the chill beauty of Sweden. In other words, big ideas.
I’m not sure that bondage is a big idea. Clearly it sells. I’m glad there is still room in the top 10 for authors with heart and humanity.