Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin

The title warns you not to expect high art and, in case you were ever in doubt, the cover confirms it. Yes, this is a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. Of course it is. But there is a surprise or two left in store: in a market that seems clotted with mashups and parodies, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey (Da Capo) actually exceeds all expectations.

This is due entirely to the rapier wit of author, Andrew Shaffer. Though he writes this one as Fanny Merkin (and not everyone will get the double chuckle in that pen name, it’s there, though Americans may have to use Google for a bit to work it out) he's proven his mettle in other works.  The author of Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love, Shaffer is better known by his Twitter alter egos: EvilWylie, who comments on the publishing industry, and EmperorFranzen, a satirical send up of author Jonathan Franzen (Freedom, The Corrections). (“Chicks dig me,” EmperorFranzen’s Twitter bio proclaims, “I was on the cover of TIME. That's TIME magazine, bitches. ALSO: NO I AM NOT THE REAL J. FRANZEN. HE DOESN'T EVEN OWN A CLOAK.”

So clearly, Shaffer does funny for fun. Not only that, though everyone knows writing humor that is actually funny is difficult, Shaffer makes it look simple. The author has said that Fifty Shames of Earl Grey took him about 10 days to write and yet the writing is sharp and seemingly effortless.

The plot here seems immaterial. We have an arrogant rich dude named Earl Grey who seduces sweet young thing Anna Steal. Though the heroine -- if one can call her that -- of Fifty Shades of Grey is called Anastasia Steele, the two women couldn’t be less alike. Where Anastasia is -- let’s face it -- a bit of a milquetoast, Anna has been around the block a few times… and rather liked it.
Earl is only six years older than me, but sometimes the gulf between our ages seems like something I can’t bridge. It’s like he’s a 104-year-old vampire in a twenty-seven-year-old’s body.
“So you’re into some kinky shit,” I say. “That’s your biggest secret?”
“You don’t know the depths of my perversion,” he says.
I’ve already seen him at what I figured was the depth of his shame: buying a Nickleback CD. Do I want to know how deep his perversions go? Does he want me to follow him down that rabbit hole, into the dark recesses of his kinky mind?
Does she? Well, of course she does. But those who read the original books will already have been able to tell from that tiny snippet that the writing here is sharper, at least.

Shaffer has done a splendid job here. It’s like he went over Fifty Shades of Grey with a microscope and inflated and/or distorted everything in it that held the potential for humor. ◊

Aron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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