Jane Heller – “Female Intelligence”

24 Aug

GENRE: Contemporary fiction / Humorous
PUBLISHED: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2002

WHY THIS NOVEL: can’t remember why I bought it; I read it during my “contemporary high” earlier this month

The back blurb:
“Lynn Wyman has a wildly successful practice in sensitivity training, teaching men how to communicate better with the women in their lives. Little does she now that her sensitive husband has been “communicating” with another woman – in the bedroom …

With a marriage on the rocks and a career in nose-dive, Lynn is in desperate need of a life make-over. She finds it in Brandon Brock, the macho CEO on the cover of ‘Fortune’ magazine’s ‘America’s Toughest Bosses’ issue. To restore her reputation, all she as to do is snag the notorious chauvinist as her new client, take a cue from ‘My Fair Lady’, and turn this pig into her own Pygmalion…

The perfect plan? No so fast. Somebody has been out to sabotage Lynn’s happiness, and before she can reclaim her career – and her heart – she’d better figure out who it is …”

Female Intelligence is one of the novels where the author’s voice works so well for me that I’m tempted to overlook the problems on the larger scale. I had fun reading Female Intelligence. I liked Heller’s humorous way with words and the chatty way Lynn narrates this story although Lynn is not necessarily a person you can like. She has (big) faults and seeing her realizing them and coming to grips with them plays an important role in this story. At one point in the story, Lynn’s assistant tells her that Lynn herself is a prime candidate for her sensitivity training because she doesn’t practice what she preaches; that Lynn resembles the men she has as clients in the way she speaks and behaves.

The back summary already delineates the three-part structure of the story. In the first part Lynn’s life goes down the drain because someone told the press about her marriage trouble. She’s left with no marriage, no career, no money, and comes up with the plan to make Brandon Brock undergo her sensitivity training called the Wyman Method. At the end of the first part, Brandon, “America’s Toughest Boss,” is Lynn’s client under one condition: he doesn’t want to make that public (which of course was the goal of Lynn’s plan to get her career back on track, but oh well). Part two is about the two of them battling it out over her sensitivity training. Of course, that’s also the part when they fall in love. But whoever is out to get Lynn isn’t done, so her life takes a nose-dive again. In part three, Lynn is in way deeper than before because she lost 1. Brandon (the love of her life) and 2. she can’t ignore any longer that someone is out to get her. The focus in this part shifts to ferreting out who’s behind this second sabotage (and was behind the first one as well).

My favourite part was easily the second part where Lynn and Brandon come head-to-head over her therapy (some nice banter there) and fall in love with each other. But then, that’s the most “romance-like” part of the story. The introduction of the mystery element in the third seemed sudden and jarring because of Lynn’s obliviousness before that someone was out to get her and the tone of the story shifted from romance to mystery. I was a bit confused what this novel wanted to be. A (satirical) take on all the men-women psycho babble books? A romance? A mystery? Neither was really successfully realized in the story. The best fit I could come up with, albeit not a smooth one, is to look at this novel as a story about a woman finding herself.

Aside from my impression that this novel didn’t know what kind of story it wanted to be, I thought the characters either underdeveloped or over-the-top. For example, Lynn’s husband and Brandon are so extreme they’re more caricatures than real characters. The ex-husband is whining wimp and I asked myself what Lynn saw in him and Brandon’s transformation from chauvinist pig into sensitive man is equally over-the-top (and as I said, I didn’t see Female Intelligence as a satire).

But my main problem with this novel is Lynn’s sensitivity training. It operates on her assumption that changing a man’s speech changes his character. To achieve that, Lynn developed her sensitivity training which relies heavily on men learning “Womenspeak.” While I’m certainly on board with the viewpoint that the way a person says something goes a long way to how the message is received, I have a huge question mark when it comes to the assertion that making a person parrot certain sentences will change this person’s character. Especially when the parroted sentences (suggested for use in a professional situation) are as silly as the following: “Susan, I don’t know how you metabolize desserts, but that chocolate mousse I had last night went straight to my thighs.” Huh? Aside from learning “Womenspeak,” the sensitivity training means listening to Michael Bolton or going out on a field trip asking for directions. To make it short: I thought this element of the novel rather insulting to female intelligence and a bit too cliché-ridden. I didn’t catch the fun-making/satirical spin, not really.

– banter between Lynn and Brandon
– chatty way of narrating with funny turns of phrases; helped me enjoy reading this novel despite all the irritating stuff
– liked the irony that a communication expert is a textbook candidate for that training

– the sensitivity training: the lines the men are to learn to master Womanspeak are utterly inane. If they are meant as tongue-in-cheek in relation to all the popular psycho babble books, it didn’t completely work. / Michael Bolton?
– mystery plot rather sudden and weak
– either rather hazy or overdrawn (secondary) characters

– I think this novel works best when viewed as a woman-learns-about-herself kind of story

Would I recommend this novel? Maybe.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 3 + / 5


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