Name Dropping

Princess Charming

Sis Boom Bah

Female Intelligence by Jane Heller
(St. Martinís, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-312-26159-4
Iím not sure why I keep reading Jane Hellerís books when Iíve never rated any of them higher than three hearts. Maybe Iím so desperate for humorous contemporary novels that I overlook her shortcomings, while desperately hoping that her next book will live up to its book jacket. Hope springs eternal, but once again, disappointment reigns supreme. Female Intelligenceís insulting premise and self-centered heroine make it a major letdown.

Heller uses the ďMen are From Mars/Women are From VenusĒ pop psychology fad as a starting point for her story. Lynn Wyman is a successful linguist who teaches boneheaded, clueless men the essence of ďWomenspeakĒ to improve their marriages or professional relationships. She encourages her clients to share their feelings, empathize with their wives about their diet failures and pay attention at the breakfast table instead of reading the newspaper. Her ďWyman MethodĒ has been featured in books, television and radio. But when Lynn discovers that her Sensitive New-Age Guy husband has been cheating on her, she faces a personal crisis. How can things have gone so wrong with a man who communicates so well? And when the media gets wind of her marital problems, a professional crisis strikes as well, as her reputation is tarnished beyond repair.

A despondent Lynn hits upon a potential solution to her professional woes. She will convince Brandon Brock, a highly successful businessman who is known as ďAmericaís Toughest Boss,Ē to hire her so he can get in touch with his feminine side. Of course, thatís easier said than done, especially when the thoroughly chauvinistic Brock turns her down flat (but compliments her legs). Lynn is determined, though, and she eventually gets her man - in more ways than one.

Frankly, Female Intelligence insults my female intelligence from the get-go with its ludicrous assertion that womenís communication focuses primarily on diets and fashion, as well as endless discussions about our emotional temperature. Some of us have been known to discuss current events or modern cinema, you know. I might have been able to maintain a sense of humor about the plot if I liked the heroine, but I didnít. Lynn Wyman is a self-centered character who shows no evidence of caring about anyone but herself. Heller should have given her some kids or a pet to prove that she has the capacity to give or share. True, Lynn has four female friends, but she spends most of the book commenting on their shortcomings.

The novel does feature some funny Pygmalion-like scenes, as Lynn doggedly tries to reform her one remaining (and reluctant) client by forcing him to buy a gift for a woman at a department store (the horror!) and ask a stranger for directions (gasp!). There are spirited interchanges as Lynn butts head with this Real Man who canít tell a woman he loves her but can wax poetic about a baseball game. But these sparkling scenes are replaced in the last third of the book by a long, drawn-out search for the person who keeps leaking Lynnís secrets to the media, and an unnecessary Big Misunderstanding between Lynn and her true love.

If you consider Female Intelligence a satire on male-female relationships, itís not half bad. But if youíre supposed to care about the characters and their romance, it fails. Twenty-five dollars is a lot of money to spend on a few chuckles and an annoying heroine. Iíd advise you to use your own female intelligence and spend it on a different book.

--Susan Scribner

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