I took Tom Perkins’ just-released first novel, “Sex and the
Single Zillionaire,” on my skiing trip over intersession for a light
read. As I sat in the condo reading, my fellow skiers caught the
flamboyant title of the novel and asked me what it was about. I started
reading part of the novel aloud.
In only a few seconds, a circle of guys formed around me,
highly amused—and bemused—by their first exposure to romantic fiction.
“Do people actually read such things?” one asked.
Perhaps the inability for men to understand the genre is why
Perkins did not succeed in crafting a quality romance novel—“an
oxymoron,” another boy remarked.
In his defense, it was the Harvard Business School alum’s
first attempt at writing a novel, after having spent the past few
decades building the famous Silicon Valley venture capital firm,
Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, & Byers. According to Perkins, all
profits will be donated to HBS.
This project is less astonishing in light of the fact that Tom
Perkins was briefly married to famed romance novelist Danielle Steel.
Steel’s writing experience and editing did not turn “Sex”
into a quality piece of literature by any stretch of the imagination,
but it is exactly what it was meant to be: a predictable, easy-to-read
novel that gives women a hero who is not quite Mr. Darcy—ok, not even
close—but is still rich enough, and with good enough taste in wine, to
make things a bit interesting.
The protagonist, Steven Hudson, is a powerful N.Y. investment
banker. Like Perkins, Steven receives a letter asking him to be the
star in a reality television show called “Trophy Bride” where young,
female 20-somethings compete to marry a “zillionaire.” After repeated
assertions about the absurdity of the offer, Steven ends up agreeing to
do the show—partially because he is lonely after his wife’s passing and
partially because he falls in love with the producer of the show,
After 280 pages of trials and tribulations—including Steven
being conned by a girl pretending to be on the U.S. Olympic ski team,
being pursued by a nymphomaniac, and pacifying his extremely
conservative colleagues who were outraged by his “sex frolic”—the
obligatory happy ending is duly set down.
One does not read romance novels expecting great literature,
and fittingly, most of the characters in this book are simplistic and
one-dimensional. Steven Hudson is rich, handsome, cultured, nice, and
boring. Jessie Jones is beautiful, well-dressed, successful, and
confident. They are the obvious “good guys.”
Steven’s children are dull, trust-fund children. His daughter
studies art and lives with her erudite, left-wing professor, and his
son is a playboy who is initiallly afraid of commitment but finds
love—incidentally, with one of the contestants of the show— and is
The minor characters are similarly superficial, but they are
actually quite hilarious. Willard D’Arcy, the British TV producer who
comes up with the idea of the reality show, is regularly described as a
manic elf, with “spikey hair dyed royal blue on top with a pink tinge
around the sides, gold earrings, and royal blue fingernail polish.” He
is Perkins’ idea of a TV’s Austin Powers.
While the descriptions are repetitive and rather
over-the-top, one conversation Willard has with an elderly female
sponsor has a certain poetic brilliance. When the confused woman asks
what the word “shag” means, Willard exclaims, “It’s the term we Limeys
use. You know, bulls serve, stallions cover, dogs line, chickens tread,
sheep tup, foxes clicket, and people shag, Agnes. They fucking shag!”
Another shallow but fun character is the first contestant
vying for Steven’s heart, Crystal Style, whose real name is Emma
Zarkowski. Perkins cannot get enough of poking fun at her lack of style
and culture by noting that her coat was not fur but “the pelt of the
rare endangered American Rayon, probably,” and that she called crepes
suzette “pancakes.” Amazingly enough, she not only believes in spirit
animals, crystal power, and being abducted by aliens, but she also
protests anti-globalization: “I’m against killing baby seals and
McDonald’s and the CIA and everything that’s wrong with the planet.”
The poor girl, apparently, doesn’t have a normal gene in her body.
Gregory, Jessie’s dense but handsome fiancé, encompasses more
of what Perkins looks down upon. Gregory is an assistant to a self-help
guru who only talks about the “inner child.” When Jessie asks him how
he sees their relationship, he says, “I see myself in a mirror of
enlightened awareness, which reflects not only me but you and the
others impinging upon our resonance....The essence of our relationship
is the absolute trust....shaped by knowledge of the inner self
dynamic.” One cannot help but laugh at this meaningless declaration,
and yet feel a bit horrified that one has actually heard people say
similar things before.
One would expect the sex scenes to be particularly great in a
romance novel. However, “Sex” is a curious mix of shy and yet lurid
descriptions of the subject, like a teenager excited by strange
fantasies but too awkward to express himself properly.
Steven frequently thinks about “knowing,” a quaint euphemism
for sex that is funny but not very sexy. On the other hand, when he has
sex with Eve, one of the contestants with apparently boundless energy,
the description gets progressively crazier.
Sean Darling-Hammond ’06 volunteered to read the sex scene
aloud for the entertainment of everyone on the ski trip. He did so with
great dramatic flare, though he was frequently interrupted by laughter.
Everyone lost it when Eve offered Steven some Vitamin V, after a few
rounds of rather short-lived lovemaking—the poor guy is in his late
sixties after all.
“Vitamin V? What are you talking about? There’s no such thing,” Steven says.
“I know,” Eve replies. “We girls don’t need much more than
shopping for shoes to make us feel sexy, but you guys need a little
help from time to time. It’s Viagra...I’ll join you and take one as
So much for his prowess in bed.
But even Viagra was not enough. After the pills, “She slipped
off the plastic sheath on the end, exposing a very sharp looking
She tells Steven, “It works much faster than Viagra. You just inject half of the syringe in each side of your penis.”
All the boys’ jaws dropped and they cringed in sympathy. More
laughter ensued with the less-than-brilliant simile that followed: “the
thought of the sharp needle...hit Steven like a fist.”
“Sex and the Single Zillionaire” is a romance novel, I
suppose, but I regret that it was not written as a satire. It has great
moments of humor that were more convincing than the supposed love
between Steven and Jessie, and better written than the odd obligatory
In any case, it is great for entertaining friends and is a
quick read. Before you can say “At last!”, “The whole thing was over in
—Staff writer Yan Zhao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sex and the Single Zillionaire
By Tom Perkins