If the biggest question on your mind this weekend is, “Where can I get my hands on a Jewish version of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey?’” well, you’re in luck — sort of.
“Fifty Shades of Schwarz” has “parody” stamped right on the cover. However, a more accurate description might be “inspired by,” since the title, fortunately, is where the similarities between the two end.
In case you missed out on the last three years of literary pop culture: The original “Fifty Shades of Grey” began as Internet fan fiction based loosely on the “Twilight” series. It took the basic, screwed-up characteristics of Bella and Edward’s relationship, gave them different names and jobs, changed the environment and circumstances, then shot them into beginner BDSM territory — providing tons of detailed sex scenes and focusing on the sexual nature of the relationship.
Naturally, this was hugely popular and wildly exciting for “vanilla” folks. For many, “Fifty Shades of Grey” became the gateway drug into erotica and experimentation. Erotica enthusiasts rolled their eyes and the BDSM community yawned as the book became the fastest-selling paperback, ever. Ever. EVER.
“Why not cash in on this massive trend and write a Jewish version?” Ed Harris, a local tech entrepreneur and author, probably asked himself. So he did.
Let’s cut straight to it: It’s actually pretty entertaining. In fact, as a self-proclaimed “parody” of an already terrible book, it could quite possibly benefit from being more, well…terrible. For — unfortunately — in “Schwarz,” the action is driven by plot rather than sex.
The main character, Maya Stein, lives in Brooklyn and has a boring boyfriend named Jeremy. She meets a man named Aaron Schwarz through JDate (yep!) and they meet up for coffee. They go out several times, then things get mildly kinky: He wants to spank her during sex! So he does. But only if she doesn’t answer Jewish trivia questions correctly. It’s a game, see? Never has remembering stuff from Hebrew school been so critically important.
At that point Harris, surprisingly, takes a progressive turn in his writing and introduces another love interest into Maya’s life: A rabbi whom Maya meets through her mother. This is a pleasant diversion from the original “Fifty Shades,” where the main character is completely enveloped by a single controlling man with whom she is involved.
That is not the case here. In “Fifty Shades of Schwarz,” Maya is totally mature and in control. She juggles three men: A boyfriend, a businessman into spanking, and a sexy rabbi. That “juggling” portion of the book is really as exciting as it gets, for at the end (spoiler alert) Maya ends up married to some guy she went to high school with, pregnant and settled down and happy and boring.
Yawn-inducing ending aside, “Fifty Shades of Schwarz” is fun. There are plenty of (tame) sex scenes, and some comedic, I-know-people-just-like-this characters. If you’re stuck at a family reunion this weekend or need something to breeze through while sunbathing, you could do worse. And if your mom or 12-year-old cousin happens to be reading over your shoulder, it will only be mildly awkward.