There is something haunting about a novel that engages in a manner such that the reader feels the story to be her story, seducing to a degree wherein the experience conveyed comes to flow through her veins and beat with her heart until it leaves her all but trembling with emotion, eventually settling within the very marrow of her bones. Having surrendered to the intensity, the reader’s breath quickens as she teeters on the cusp of long-awaited climax — only to find herself utterly deflated upon finding the tale hijacked by an author who betrays her characters in favor of the propagation of her personal agenda. In spite of the rapturous buildup, the reader is left frustrated, forsaken and ultimately dissatisfied. I was that reader, and this was my experience of Tell Me by Deanna DiLorenzo.
After breaking up with her rockstar boyfriend, Meagan Summers finds herself under the spell of the beautiful and talented poet, Amber Reed. From the start, their relationship proves nothing less than high-conflict as Amber shifts from adoration and seduction to vengeance and retribution in the blink of an eye while Meagan struggles merely to wrap her head around the fact that she has entered into relationship with a woman, mortified by the subtlest public display of affection. Vacillating between the most passionate expressions of love and sinister acts of betrayal, Meagan and Amber nonetheless view themselves as soulmates, bound by the moonstone that symbolizes the depth of their connection.
After several emotionally exhausting months, Meagan ends the relationship under the pretext of sparing Amber any further pain and shortly thereafter begins a friendship with Ken, who she later marries but loves rather platonically; Amber becomes involved with the gorgeous and mean-spirited Gwynne, who Meagan and Ken hire as their interior decorator. Although they don facades intended to convince the other that they have moved on with their lives, their mutual obsession remains as strong as ever; and, just when Meagan touches upon the courage to abide by her own truth, tragedy strikes, leaving not only the couple’s destiny but Meagan’s very survival in the balance.
In spite of the undeniably compelling storyline, the looseness of DiLorenzo’s writing frequently steals the intensity from the emotional maelstrom brewing on the page. On several occasions, when I was rapt and eager to ride the next wave, the moment would be lost to a tangent that appeared either completely irrelevant or unsubstantiated by events prior or yet to come. By the time I recovered from the shift in trajectory, another instance lurked in the near distance, stealing the momentum that had so skillfully been cultivated up to that point.
Although the novel’s secondary characters come to life fully and vividly (especially Jenna, Meagan’s hippy-chick best friend), when it comes to the construction of Meagan’s personality, the culmination of traits simply does not make sense. It’s not a matter of contradictions within Meagan’s internal landscape or her oft-referenced neuroticism; rather, the incongruity feels to be more a result of a forcing on DiLorenzo’s part to make Meagan into something that she simply is not.
This dissonance extends to the relationship between Meagan and Amber as well, which never really embraces the essence that one would expect to find in soulmates; instead, the dynamic between them appears as the manifestation of the crazy-making nature of a relationship between one woman who cares about appearances more than she does her partner and another exhibiting a textbook personality disorder. Whereas the narrative paints Amber as a victim of Meagan’s reluctance to identify as lesbian, it completely disregards Amber’s manipulative and highly volatile borderline traits that would make any partnership a challenge. Somehow, the idea that Meagan is the sole perpetrator becomes central to the storyline; however, I was never convinced that there was any reason for her to assume the guilt that she feels her due. Although there are surely challenges inherent in being with a woman who is unable to accept her own sexuality, there are more productive ways of working with the issue than through rage, guilt-trips and aggression.
In spite of flaws in characterization, it was with the shift in tone toward the end of the book that the author abandons the novel’s integrity completely, giving Tell Me a propaganda-like feel as DiLorenzo contends through the voice of an astral guide named Victor that women who resist labels and embrace their sexual fluidity are more spiritually evolved than those who identify as lesbian. I would never dare invalidate another’s sexual identity, thus I found myself rather put off by DiLorenzo’s judgment. This aside, such a contentious assertion devalues Amber’s identification as lesbian and elevates Meagan’s process, which throughout the tale has been guided by fear and a healthy dose of cowardice.
DiLorenzo is without a doubt an extraordinary talent, creating a story of intense psychological impact and complexity; however, I can only assume that the breadth of her vision for this work was so vast that it would have been virtually impossible to carry it out without stumbling. That being said, I’d have given anything for the story to have proceeded on an earthly rather than astral plane, where spiritual guides spout opinions and pithy wisdom, for up until that point, DiLorenzo had me in complete surrender, begging for her to whisper nothing more than two charged yet simple words: “Tell Me.”