"Is Calendar Girl the next Fifty Shades?" asked USA Today last month. To put an end to the suspense: If USA Today has to ask, the answer is obviously: "Yes, because we, the press, have deemed it to be so."
Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, though. A few obvious questions spring to mind: What is Calendar Girl? Who wrote it? How is it qualified to be designated the next Fifty Shades? Do we need a next Fifty Shades? Are we totally sure about that?
Calendar Girl, a 12-part series written by newcomer Audrey Carlan, follows the erotic adventures of Mia Saunders, a self-described badass biker babe with tits and junk in the trunk. At 24, she's emotionally battered by past relationships, including one with a sleazy loan shark who has now ordered her father beaten into a coma over some gambling debts. If Mia doesn't come up with $1 million in a calendar year, her ex will actually kill her father. To pay off the debt, Mia becomes a high-class call girl, paid $100,000 each month to spend all her time with a new man (sex optional, for an additional fee under the table). All very simple and plausible, as set-ups go.
Fortunately, as it turns out, every man who hires her -- or one of his available sidekicks -- is not only rich enough to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for escorts, but blisteringly hot, emotionally layered, and interesting in a totally unique way. There's the brilliant screenwriter, the (credulity-stretching) French artist, the bad-boy ballplayer, the world-famous hip-hop artist -- all hot, all well-endowed, all unlikely to spend good money on a month with an escort.
But hey, this is a fantasy! And to me, it seems like a better fantasy than the long-ubiquitous Fifty Shades fantasy of female naiveté and submission to a volatile master. Over the months, Mia gets to drool over plenty of sexy man bodies -- she doesn't even bother pretending she's an "only have eyes for you" sort of sap -- and even sleeps with more than one of them.
The love story woven into her adventure, by necessity, demands of her swain that he loosen his grip; unlike Christian, he's unpossessive, grudgingly willing to let her see other men in order to (by the twisted logic of the plot) win her father's life and her own independence.
Plus, the sex scenes are way better than Fifty Shades. (I know, I know, the bar is basically on the floor.) Like the classic erotica that stocked romance shelves long before E.L. James, Calendar Girl doesn't constantly cut the sexy tension of a romantic scene with a muttered "holy cow," and the sex itself seems more fun and sensual than the interludes we saw through tentative, scared Ana's eyes.
So, what's my problem, right?
In between the steamy scenes and the (slightly) more empowering angle, there's something very Fifty Shades-ish about the wide-eyed, first-person writing style, labored metaphors, and laissez-faire adherence to basic grammar rules. None of this should be too surprising, right down to the traces of mimicry: Carlan told Today she was inspired by E.L. James. "I read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I loved it," she said. "I thought, if this woman, a mother, could leave the corporate world, write her story -- a story people could connect to -- why couldn't I?"
Like Ana, Mia spends a lot of time describing her outfits and the decor of the lavish homes she's working in -- kitted-out kitchens and luxurious living rooms that sound suspiciously more like a middle-aged woman's fantasy of remodeling without a budget than the likely digs of an escort-frequenting, 20-something rich dude. Like Ana, Mia is depicted as innocently unwitting of her own charms, which are nonetheless universal and absolutely devastating. Like Ana, Mia has totally independent inner urges, like her "libido" and "feminine side," which are exceedingly active and don't answer to her super-ego whatsoever.
Is this what erotic literature is coming to? Given the perfect storm by which Fifty Shades took the publishing world, Carlan is unlikely to be the only successful amateur-to-professional imitator. Thanks a lot, E.L. James.
As evidence, here are 20 of the most James-worthy passages from Calendar Girl, sourced from her website's excerpts (and, in a couple cases, the actual eBooks). Um, we'll just skip to the sex parts.
"His eyes went from a normal Crayola green to a bright forest green in an instant."
"That libido I’d kicked to the curb and stuck in a hidey-hole peeked out and was paying close attention to the finer details of the man before me."
"I nipped at his lips like a starving animal would a steak."
"Alec Dubois was bizarre. Who the hell even talks like that? ‘A physical manifestation of our joining?’ He may have spent too much time reading Ask Jeeves online."
"This guy was ripped, and not in that gross body builder way where the muscles bulged and veins stuck out of the skin like ropes."
"Oh man, I wished he hadn’t done that. Instantly, my sexy feelers flared and I had to slow my breathing in order not to pass out at the sheer male perfection before me."
"'Well, hey there, sweet thang,' were the first words out of his sexy assed mouth."
"His tongue came out and wet his full bottom lip. The space between my legs took notice instantly, twinging delightfully."
"There was one lone surfer wearing a pair of black board shorts catching some serious waves out in the distance. He definitely had mad skillz."
"Lust swirled in those inky depths, and my feminine side jumped for joy and did the chicken dance."
"He leaned a bit closer, enough that I could smell the sweet notes of apples and expensive leather from his cologne. 'And what are you used to?' His tone was alluring and spoke directly to the woman in me."
"He was definitely stellar at the art of seduction."
"We entered an open floor plan kitchen; white cabinets spanned an entire wall, each with a unique black scrollwork handle, as if each one was individually made. An obscenely long counter stretched in front of the cabinetry and top notch appliances. Ten stools with rounded tops sat in a perfect line under the black granite slab counter."
"Frustration and anger hit me with a wallop. 'You gonna talk to me?' I smacked my own chest. 'What's up with you and food, Anton?' I shot back."
"'No, it’s not possible because I’ve already been wooed. I’ve already met the most amazing man I’ll ever meet, and I’ve already been so completely swept off my feet that the ground now feels wrong to stand on.' He smiled that sexy-surfer-boy smile I wanted to look at every day for the rest of my life."
"Like anything life had thrown my way, I pulled on my big girl panties, not the sexy lacy ones I enjoyed teasing my guy with, but the kind that said, 'This ass means business.'"
"Now that I was free, well, as free as anyone could be, I decided to pursue something for me. To grab life by the horns and ride that sucker until I found my place within it."
"'Come in, Shandi,' said a smooth-as-hot-chocolate-dripped-over-an-ice-cream-sundae-type voice."
"Not in a million flippin’ years would I deny sealing this man to me for eternity."
"He grabbed my bum and squeezed. I could feel him hardening underneath me. 'Nope. You see, this woman was special. Not only was she beautiful with a smokin’ hot bod and a golden heart, but she had a gift.'"
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