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Saturday, June 24, 2006

***½ The Nerd Who Loved Me by Vicki Lewis Thompson. Contemporary romance.

This was rather disappointing. I love brainy characters, and I enjoyed the first book in the Nerd series: Nerd in Shining Armor, but this one fell flat.

Harry, the Nerd from the title, has, according to the cover: "...an I.Q. higher than Einstein's..." We get told this very often, but the only evidence we see of it is that he works as an accountant, and can lose at chess to a 4-year-old. Most of the time, he's just a stereotypically unathletic doofus, except when he gets protective about Lainie, the heroine.

Likewise, his big problem is that he hasn't found a woman he's attracted to who can keep up with him intellectually. I actually like this problem, because I think being able to communicate is hugely important in a relationship. But again, we never really see it. A couple of times, he tries to convince Lainie (and himself?) that her photographic memory and intuition means she's smarter than the rest of her fellow showgirls, but we never, for example, see him trying to talk to someone who just can't keep up.

The bulk of the story is taken up by Harry's retired-showgirl mom, her maybe-mafia boyfriend, and their group of friends while they try to keep Lainie's ex-boyfriend and father of her son from catching up to them.

There are some funny moments in the book, none of them really having to do with the apparent main characters. The laughs are worth the reading time, and if you subscribe to the notion that smart people are really doofuses, you'll probably like the book a lot better than I did.


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'we never, for example, see him trying to talk to someone who just can't keep up'.

I suppose that's possibly because (a) the author is not, herself, brainier than Einstein, so it's impossible for her to truly demonstrate this level of intelligence (b) if she did, it might put off her readers because it would make them feel stupid, (c) they might be bored by long, intelligent monologues on a very erudite/abstruse topic. (d) if his IQ level is due to mathematical ability, then his conversation may not really be all that different from that of any 'normal' person. After all, mathematical ability doesn't in itself give someone emotional insight, linguistic ability etc. Someone who's a genius in one area isn't usually also a genius in many other areas (though it can happen).

(d) doesn't seem applicable to this particular story because you say that the hero's 'big problem is that he hasn't found a woman he's attracted to who can keep up with him intellectually', which, unless he just wants to discuss maths, suggests he must be brilliant in other areas too.

Re (b), I've read reviews of Jennifer Crusie's books where the reviewer comments on how intelligent the characters are, and that you really need to concentrate or you miss the point of the banter. So it seemed that Crusie's books were maybe verging on the brink of making some readers feel a bit stupid, except that they didn't because the readers did get the jokes and therefore felt smart for having done so.
I suspect it's (b). You gave the objection to (d), and as for (a) and (c), she wouldn't have to actually write long intelligent monologues on obscure subjects--just show him being impatient with someone who only wanted to stick to small talk.

Part of my disappointment is that I spent the entire book waiting for his great big brain to come up with a solution to their problem, and he never did (it was the secondary characters who saved the day--which seems like an odd choice to me).

The other part is that I really, really hate the stereotype of smart = stupid. It might make some readers feel superior, but I think it's underestimating readers to assume that we wouldn't enjoy a book about a character who's smarter than us, or that smart people don't read romantic comedy.
Ah, is this the 'crazy professor' sort of thing, where he (usually it's a 'he') is very intelligent, but has almost zero common sense? That sometimes comes across as anti-intellectualism.
Yes, exactly, to both statements. :)
Here's how I would have solved the problem. One feature of intelligence is quickness and wit. As a reader, you don't have to be a brainiac to appreciate wit, and you can also perceive that the speaker has to have a lot on the ball to deliver those lines. As you've described it, it's a show and tell issue. The author here tells you know one can keep up with him. It would be dead easy to show it simply in the course of conversation -- and think how satisfying it would be when he finally met his match.
This presupposes, though, that the author is witty. And if 'you don't have to be a brainiac to appreciate wit', then one would expect those he meets in the book to appreciate his wit, so it still wouldn't demonstrate the problem of other people being unable to keep up with him intellectually.
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