Review: Test Me by Dee Tenorio

12 Jan

Let me start on a positive note: although I didn’t like this book, there were things I liked about Ms Tenorio’s writing. There is an energy to her prose that is appealing, and she is funny (always helpful when you write romantic comedies). However, for me, this book just didn’t work: the story was weak and I didn’t believe in the two main characters.

The Plot

Travis and Vetta are research scientists who have known each other since college. They are ‘best enemies’. You know the kind: they bicker and fight all the time but there’s a strong underlying friendship. They share lab space and have neighbouring apartments. Vetta is researching whether men are driven by sex or money and Travis is researching the effect of hormones on ovarian cancer.

Vetta comes from a phenomenally wealthy family. Her father owns a huge pharmaceutical company and her mother is a Swedish actress and all-round sexpot. Vetta lives with her ‘nanny’, Jade, a manipulative mother-hen. Travis, by contrast, comes from an ordinary background and has recently run out of research money.

At the start of the book, we learn that Vetta is gathering questionnaires from potential subjects. To annoy her, Travis submits one with snarky answers and obscene cartoons. We learn that Vetta intends to select a candidate from the questionnaire respondents and offer him a million dollars if he will agree to have no sex for a year. The candidate in question will have to give regular sperm samples and keep a diary.

Of course, at this point I was thinking that Travis was bound to become the subject of the study. If that had happened, it could have thrown up some potentially funny scenes. I liked the idea that – despite needing the money very badly – Travis might eventually prefer to shag Vetta than get the million dollars. But my hunch was wrong. Not only did Travis not become the subject of Vetta’s study, there was very little further mention of the study at all, except at the end when Vetta decided that the whole thing was fundamentally flawed. The way this issue was never followed up on was, for me, symptomatic of the whole book which suffered from a distinct lack of plot and an absence of believable conflict.

Travis and Vetta start their sexual relationship early on in the book and from then on it’s just a case of Vetta wanting Travis to commit, but bravely staying silent, while Travis hums and haws about how he’s all married to his work and has no emotional energy to spare on a real relationship. There’s lots of hand-wringing over how they can’t be together but frankly I couldn’t see what the problem was.

The Hero

We are told that Travis is dedicated to finding a cure for ovarian cancer. We also learn that his dedication arises from a promise he gave to his mother on her deathbed, and that achieving this goal is the single most important thing in the world to him. So, having read this, I had certain expectations about Travis’s character. I thought he would be intellectual, driven, obsessive. I thought that his obsession might have made him too serious; too focussed on his work.

I was wrong.

Travis’s character as described was totally inconsistent with his stated role of obsessively driven research scientist. He didn’t seem to have any difficulty dragging his mind away from his research. In fact, all he seemed to think about was Vetta’s vagina. His essential personality seemed to be fun-loving, feckless and spontaneous. I wasn’t surprised he ran out of research money. As far as I was concerned, Travis was about as convincing a dedicated scientist as a chimp in a white coat.

There was nothing wrong with a feckless, spontaneous Travis. In fact, he was quite likeable. The problem was, he wasn’t convincing in the role he had been assigned and that affected my reading experience.

The Heroine

If Travis was a chimp in a white coat, Vetta was Jessica Simpson in a white coat and glasses. Oh, and with a big thought-bubble coming out of her head saying “Poor me! Why am I so ugly?”

Yes, Vetta is one of that vastly annoying breed: the heroine who thinks she is ugly but is gorgeous under the unflattering clothes she wears. This rarely convinces me and particularly not in this case. Just take a look at the cover of this book. That is a pretty good representation of the Vetta described by Ms Tenorio. If that woman came up to you in a shapeless grey dress and complained that she was ugly, what would you say? The words ‘off’ and ‘fuck’ spring to mind and not necessarily in that order.

The other difficulty is that Vetta seemed to me to be pretty much an airhead, yet we were constantly being told that she was super-intelligent with a brain the size of a planet. Well, one person was convinced: Vetta herself:

Vetta spared him a casual smile over her shoulder. “I don’t sleep very often either.”

Travis stopped, turning to her, holding the dish he meant to hand her slightly out of reach. “You some kind of mystic?”

“Hardly.” She grabbed the dish from his hold, turning to put it in the sink with the others. “I’ve read it’s common among geniuses. I get a little carried away thinking and forget to sleep. I’ve never needed much.”

Wow. A genius you say? And so modest!

I would query the genius status. Bizarrely, at twenty five, Vetta is a virgin (though an enthusiastic onanist). Yet, when Travis accuses her of trying to use his sperm to get herself pregnant (don’t ask) she tells Travis:

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Travis. My father owns a pharmaceutical conglomerate, remember? I get a birth control shot every three months, just to show my support. You’d be more likely to impregnate one of those lab monkeys you so enjoy playing with.”

Yes, you heard right. A virgin who takes birth control to support her billionaire father’s business. What next? A fortnightly rubella vaccine? A course of anti-cholesterol meds?

Genius. Right.

The Verdict

Apart from the unconvincing characters and the lack of conflict/ plot, there was one other major problem for me with this book and that was Ms Tenorio’s continual misuse of words. I have to give some examples:

1. A pearl of wisdom imparted by Travis to Vetta:

“Sex is best when we can appreciate what the other has to offer. I have more experience. You have a body and a proclivity that I want to explore.”

A proclivity. Erm – for what? Yodeling?

2. Vetta looks around Travis’s lab:

He gestured broadly at the vast emptiness with an angry swipe of his palm. “Would you be proud if you were her [his mother]?”

Vetta followed the scope of his gesture. From the refrigerators to the files and the books and computers. It was modest, some would even call it all eclectic, but there was nothing there that should have brought him shame.

Can I just repeat that? It was modest, some would even call it all eclectic. What? Remember, this is referencing ‘the vast emptiness’. What precisely does Ms Tenorio think ‘eclectic’ means?

3. Travis and Vetta feeling uncomfortable in a fancy restaurant:

When the waiter began waning eloquent on filleted snails, Travis knew it was time to call a halt.

Waning eloquent‘? I would never have thought in my most fucked-up dreams that I would ever read those two words together. Now, if she had written ‘waxing eloquent’ , fair enough. But waxing and waning (as of the moon) are exact opposites. So if this expression had any meaning at all, which it doesn’t, it would not be the meaning Ms Tenorio presumably intended. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, we are advised that the dish upon which the waiter is ‘waning eloquent’ is ‘filleted snails’. Snails? Snails as in gastropods? As in boneless creatures? As in creatures that cannot be filleted seeing as they have no skeleton?

Despite all my issues with this book, I’d like to end this review on a positive note. She might not know what ‘eclectic’ means, but I actually quite liked Ms Tenorio’s writing voice. The best bits of the book were to be found in the sparky and often funny dialogue between Vetta and Travis (even though I didn’t believe in the characters who were supposedly spouting it).

I suspect there are lots of readers out there who won’t be at all bothered by the things in this book that troubled me and who will just treat this as an enjoyable bit of mildly erotic froth. And fair enough. But it wasn’t for me. D.

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4 Responses to “Review: Test Me by Dee Tenorio”

  1. lisabea January 12, 2008 at 8:12 am #

    To annoy her, Travis submits one with snarky answers and obscene cartoons.
    Sounds exactly like something my husband would do.

    The way this issue was never followed up on was, for me, symptomatic of the whole book which suffered from a distinct lack of plot and an absence of believable conflict.

    Goddamn it T. Why couldn’t I come up with this effing sentence earlier today when I was writing up my review of a certain boring book? Sigh. Hey. Wait a minute. That whole plagerism thing is ringing a bell here….cut….paste…

    Brilliant, as usual.

  2. lisabea January 12, 2008 at 8:15 am #

    *plagiarism. Bam, you know what would be AWESOME? One of those 1 minute to edit features for those of us who are mentally challenged when it comes to spelling. sigh.

  3. Dee Tenorio January 12, 2008 at 9:02 am #

    LOL, I can honestly say, I’ve never been able to spell plagiarism right, either. (Are you SURE that’s how it’s spelled? Can I blame the french for the unneccessary iar? Please? I like to categorize all the words I can’t possibly spell and most of them are French.)

    Believe it or not, that didn’t hurt as much as I feared. :) Thanks for the positive notes, Tumperkin. :) I can handle any review as long as I know you still got to laugh.

    Thanks!
    Dee

  4. Tumperkin January 13, 2008 at 6:42 am #

    And thank you for the gracious response, Ms Tenorio. As I said, I liked your writing voice and the fact that I didn’t like this particular book will not stop me reading another of yours.