Thursday, December 13, 2012

Guest Post: Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever

When my tweep 'Ro Mania from Ramblin' Ro's tweeted about a book called Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever, of course I immediately needed to get the scoop on it. Here's the review, and it's about 100% more professional than anything else you'll ever see on this blog. Much thanks to 'Ro for making it through what sounds like a thoroughly frustrating book.

Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever
(A Parody – The Ghetto Girl Romance Quadrilogy)
L.V. Lewis
Jungle Fever Press 2012

I’m sure by now everyone has been, in some way or other, exposed to the literary phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey (FSoG). For those three of you who haven’t, I will give a brief synopsis.

Brief synopsis: FSoGis a fanfic of Twilight wherein Bella Swan and Edward Cullen have been…reimagined…as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey: a virginal college grad and the multi-millionaire BDSM dominant who wants her as a submissive. From what I understand the story is just as awful as the source material.

(By the way I haveread Twilight, but I’ve only read part of FSoG so most of what I know about it comes from numerous in-depth critiques and reviews).  

So, now that we know where we’ve come from, let’s see where we’re going, eh? I recently stumbled across Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever (FSoJF) in one of my ‘free-kindle-book” e-mails. As soon as I saw the title, I had to click on the link and ‘buy’ it. How could I possibly resist the potentially massive sh*tshow this book could turn out to be? Please recall the subtitle – “A Parody – The Ghetto Girl Romance Quadrilogy”! (So there’s more coming…)

I actually saw the ‘ghetto girl’ part first (and was excited) and then I saw the ‘parody’ and was a little saddened. I was really looking forward to reading an attempted ‘urbanization’ of FSoG and I felt that a parody would be too self-aware to be funny; I find the best parodies to be the fully unintentional ones – the possibilities for humor are much higher.

And of course, for the culturally un-hip amongst you, ‘jungle fever’ refers to the time-honored act of ‘miscegenation’ – or, for those of you born after 1852,  ‘interracial relationships’.

I decided, however, to take a chance and read the book anyway. And now that I have…I’m not too sure how I feel about it…

Let me back up and start with the characters. Instead of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, we have Keisha Beale and Tristan White. She’s a well-educated singer/songwriter from “the ‘hood” who’s trying to start a recording studio/music business with her best friend. He’s the multi-millionaire venture capitalist she goes to with a business proposal hoping he’ll become an investor. He ultimately agrees on the condition that she become his submissive.

On its face it’s an interesting enough premise and – standing on its own – it could have made a decent story. Actually, it could have been a really intriguing story: a smart, professional black woman, not only entering into a D/s relationship as a submissive to a wealthy white man, but doing so willingly and then learning how much she enjoys her submission. In the hands of a skilled writer, that would have been fascinating.

Unfortunately L.V. Lewis is not that writer (not yet anyway), and, as a parody this story mostly falls flat. The major situations that the author parodies are done poorly and the minor ones are seemingly chosen at random.

Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever has many of the same trappings of FSoG: the ‘dungeon’ sex room, the non-disclosure agreement, the bestowing of ostentatious gifts, etc. But everything is, of course, done with an “urban” twist.

For example, in FSoGAnastasia has her subconscious and her Inner Goddess, her angel-/devil-on-the-shoulder…except that her subconscious seems reallyjudgmental and her Inner Goddess is overly-dramatic, doing somersaults and dancing about. Keisha has her own versions of these:

There are two entities that war inside me, but I’m the only one who sees them manifested physically. […] On my right shoulder is my Ghetto Good Girl or Triple-G for short. She keeps me out of trouble and generally roots for me to do what’s right. The mischief maker, my Fairy Hoochie Mama aka the bad girl, resides on my left shoulder. She generally wants the exact opposite of what my Triple-G finds to be prudent. Yeah, I have an angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other, as good and evil has been depicted over the centuries, but who doesn’t?

Now, while there are a fewamusing moments with these two (especially when her Fairy Hoochie Mama does a little song-and-dance to Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” as Keisha and Tristan dry-hump in his office) they show up way too often, and they’re normally not funny. And, while their frequent appearances are in keeping with the source material, other parallels are not. For example, the ‘gay’ issue. 

During Keisha’s initial meeting with Tristan she questions his sexuality, much like Ana did with Christian. Unlike Ana, who was mindlessly reading interview questions written by her roommate, Keisha has no reason to do so. Her sole intent is to unnerve him because she’s annoyed with him; not the smartest move to make when trying to woo an investor. And, in the greater context of the story, it makes little sense.

This, unfortunately, is a recurring theme throughout the book. The plot will start to get interesting, and then Keisha will do something that Anastasia did, only because Anastasia did it; there’s no logical reason behind it. And that is really a shame, because it really detracts from what could have been an interesting story.

Another example of the odd things the author chooses to parody is the way the main character expresses herself. In Twilight, Bella Swan was constantly referencing Wuthering Heights; in FSoG, Anastasia had Tess of theD’Urbervilles. Keisha’s corollary? Ebonics! Seriously.

While Bella and Anastasia are meant to be literary-minded and upper-ish middle-class, Keisha is more the “educated urbanite” who’s had to master the art of code-switching as she navigates between the “hood” and the business world. And she tells us this over and over. It becomes rather tedious, actually.

At one point, she runs into her ex-boyfriend on the dance floor of the hip-hop nightclub, Wicked. Unsure how their meeting will go, she greets him and then says of the greeting, “I speak ebonically to put him at ease…” And, even after she learns that Tristan happens to be the owner of Wicked, she still feels, “…compelled to use my sometimes dormant, proper English vocabulary I learned in high school and college [when speaking] with Tristan.”

In addition, the author uses the lazy habit of name-dropping to circumvent the need for actual description. How does Keisha describe her arms? “…my petite biceps, which I am proud to say are more toned than Michelle Obama’s”. And, as for Tristan’s facial expressions: “He raises one eyebrow, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is famous for doing, but he doesn’t look comical”.

And later, the reader is offered this:

“Ms. Beale, fancy seeing you here,” [Tristan] says, his tongue caressing my surname in a succinct purr, like a lion. His smooth baritone does weird things to my nether regions. My Fairy Hoochie Mama jumps up off her chaise and does an African dance, shaking everything her mama gave her.

 “Yeah, fancy that”, I say flippantly, like Maggie Gyllenhaal said to Christian Bale, in The Dark Knight.

I honestly have no idea what that refers to, and I’ve seen TheDark Knight several times. I’m not even going to touch the “African dance”…

The story is peppered with current pop culture references – movies, tv shows, celebrity names, and famous products – in a way that, while it is clearly meant to “connect” with the reader, only serves to cheapen the reading experience. If I wanted commercials and celebrity sightings, I’d watch tv; I read to avoid such things.

We later learn that Keisha is apparently a *big* movie buff. The movie references she makes throughout the story, however, are often either poorly chosen, obscure, or both.

Of course, numerous references to popular music/musicians fit the framework of the story as Keisha is a singer/songwriter, Tristan owns a nightclub (among many, many other things) and their plan is to open a music store/ recording studio.

Despite these shortcomings, the characters are actually rather believable and likeable. There are some definite differences between Bellastasia and Keisha, not the least of which are age and sexual maturity. Keisha is clearly an adult who is making informed decisions – and she actually makes the decisions herself, she is not coerced. And we learn that she has a solid support base in the form of her best friend/roommate Jade who ends up in a similar situation with Tristan’s twin brother.

And Tristan, though he is controlling and demanding, does not exhibit the level of stalker/abuser creepiness that so completely defines Chedward.

As far as the sex scenes: they were pretty good. Not worth slogging through the rest of this mess to get there, especially when there’s so much more BDSM erotica and porn out there that’s better written and more engaging, but they were ok.

Overall, I’d say this was a decent effort. As a parody it fails, mostly because it makes the same blunders as the source materials, which could all really be boiled down to one thing: lazy writing. As a story on its own, however, with a good re-write and some heavy editing, it could definitely be worth purchasing. If you’re bored and you can find it for free on Amazon, it’s worth a look.


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