Rosen (Joy to Levine!) has chosen a sterile, often horridly futuristic setting (a Manhattan abortion clinic) for the...

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AT THE CENTER

Rosen (Joy to Levine!) has chosen a sterile, often horridly futuristic setting (a Manhattan abortion clinic) for the high-octane dialogue and soliloquies of her characters here--most of them tormented, all with bent psychic fenders. But though Rosen's restlessly composting prose reaches for psycho-metaphysical insights, her people usually seem to talk themselves into faceless abstractions and verbal excess: ""Like a pendulum that is blocked, she thinks--like some fault wind-shield wiper!--the arc of her sympathy, greatly narrowed, returns again and again to the deprived, past or present, and withholds from their more prosperous progeny, the extended curve of her concern."" Among the wretched who indulge in similar cranial scrapes: Dr. Edgar Bianky, head of the Family Center, which performs over 50 abortions a day; and his associates--Dr. Charlie Brodaw and Dr. Paul Sunshine. Edgar, haunted by his sister's death from a botched abortion and the nightmare that it might happen at the Center, is married to childless Dr. Ellen, who cauterizes his hurts but will recognize the marriage's cross-currents of blame. Charlie, married to self-sacrificing Sylvia and father to drifting Daniel, feels that life is a void (residue of his father-hatred). Paul is obsessed by beautiful, enigmatic Hannah Segal--a ""God-drunk, wild girl"" who naively offers sex and then allows Paul to read her ""journal,"" in which she meditates on good/evil, birth/death, and abortion (which her former Orthodox community is sternly against). And all three men are attracted to young clinic assistant Amy--whom Charlie impregnates. Will Amy keep the baby or not? Will Hannah persuade Sylvia, Ellen, or Paul to adopt this endangered child-to-be? The outcome is predictably shrill: Charlie tricks Amy into an abortion, will die himself; the Center is burned by anti-abortion arsonists; and while others' angsts subside, Hannah disappears, leaving a tiny fetal hand holding a straw in writing position (a relic from the grisly ""assembly room"") to point to herself as ""a fragile hand unequal to the task of judgment."" True, Rosen does manage to touch on both the anger and the anguish in the deeper reaches of the abortion controversy. But most readers won't get past the noisy, bloodless characters or the restless, pretentious prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 1981

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981