Fifty Shames

Fifty Shames of Earl Grey

Fifty ShamesThere’s no such thing as too much Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, especially when it’s in the form of a savvy, fun-poking parody. Fifty Shames of Early Grey by Fanny Merkin (AKA Andrew Shaffer) is the first (but certainly not the last) Fifty Shames spoof to emerge.

The first three chapters of its existence were serialised on as Fifty-One Shades—another example of the increasingly occurring self-publishing-major-publisher pick-up. And, despite its speedy release, the book of Harper’s Lampoon style is surprisingly insightful, intelligent, and well done (especially given the shabbily written original from which it draws its inspiration).

Erotica writer Alyssa Palmer nails the book in her one-sentence testimonial: ‘I’m laughing as much as when I read the original Fifty Shades.’ In fact, it’s chuckle worthy just a few sentences in:

As I brush my long brown hair, the girl in the mirror with brown eyes too big for her head stares back at me. Wait … my eyes are blue! It dawns on me that I haven’t been looking into the mirror—I’ve been staring at a poster of Kristen Stewart for five minutes.

Soon afterwards, Anna Steal somersaults into Earl Grey’s office and Merkin/Shaffer works in the first of many Twilight–poking references: ‘HOLY MOTHER EFFING SPARKLY VAMPIRES HE IS HOT.’ From thereon in, while relatively PG-rated compared with the Fifty Shames books, Fifty Shades does venture into plenty of deliberately cringe-worthy territory (if you’re squeamish of stomach or easily offended, I’d suggested ceasing reading right about now).

Steal’s Walmart boss tells her:

‘I’m just glad you’re here. You know that Anna—I’m always happy to see a full set of teeth around here.’
I smile.
‘Anyway,’ he continues, ‘someone dropped a massive load in the women’s restroom and I need you to clean it up. It’s the biggest damn thing I’ve ever seen come out of another human being.’
I head to the women’s restroom with a plunger and a pair of gardening shears, and I’m soon lost in my task.

TwilightOf course, Grey soon arrives on the scene to sweep her off her feet and provide us readers with endless opportunities for author jibes. He gives Steal a first edition of Snooki’s Jersey Shore-inspired debut novel, A Shore Thing.

The entrance to his ‘Room of Doom’ is exposed ala moving bookcase seen only in the movies by pulling on a shelved copy of Twilight. He plays a mournful tambourine, and there’s also later a reference to his—and this is one for the editors among us who can testify that it never gets old—‘dangling participle’.

The only thing I want is you, Grey emails Steal. Oh, and the latest Apple products. His survey also provides us with some gems.

I am:
Team Edward
Team Jacob
Team Edward Does Jacob

In a relationship, I prefer to be:
a.      Submissive

An extracurricular activity I’ve always wanted to try is … Well, let’s just say I had to google them.

While Stephenie Meyer’s/EL James’ stories provide plenty of low-hanging fruit ripe for picking parodying, it’s the subtle, timely pokes that make Merkin/Shaffer’s spoof worth reading:

‘Let’s get comfortable, shall we?’ [Grey] says, removing his calculator watch and setting it on top of the nightstand by the bed.
I take a cue from him and remove my yellow LiveStrong bracelet, setting it next to his watch.

Fifty ShadesIt contains some fantastic trivia too: The Starbucks logo used to feature, apparently, a topless mermaid.

That’s not to say Fifty Shames got it absolutely right. One grating fact is that Merkin/Shaffer replaced the annoying lip biting of the Fifty Shades books with stomach-turning nose picking. The sentiments don’t marry up and this element disgusts and jars.

Likewise, the plot is sometimes a little thin and I found my attention wandering. Then again, he had to work with Meyer’s/James’ work, so I could arguably blame for them for the plot weaknesses.

But those are small irritations rather than outright flaws. And they’re more than compensated for by Merkin’s/Shaffer’s wicked sense of humour at his riding-the-coat-tails-of-others publishing contract good fortune.

‘I wasn’t lying when I said I would sell out, change the characters’ names, and hide from y’all in my brand new McMansion. Good luck getting past my alligator-filled moat!’ Merkin/Shaffer writes in the credits, making him (as if he weren’t already) a writer whose future works I can’t wait to read.

A Shore ThingEspecially as Merkin/Shaffer continued to surprise me even after the story officially ended. He finishes the book with a Boardroom Hotties feature (AKA an article in the mag the parody originally sent Steal to interview Grey for) and ‘the complete, unexpurgated list’ of Grey’s 50 shames. These include, in no particular order:

  • having a mancrush on Tom Cruise, even after all the Scientology/Katie Holmes BC
  • crying when Oprah went off the air, but never finding time to watch her 24/7-running cable channel
  • not understanding why everyone hated the Star Wars prequels so much
  • using a PC laptop with an Apple sticker covering the Dell logo
  • supporting Team Jacob
  • making frequent references to Snakes on a Plane, even though it wasn’t even funny to do so when the movie was in theatres.

I should probably also mention that it appears there’s going to be a sequel …

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.