With friends like Condon, the Equal Rights Amendment sure doesn't need enemies: in this cartoony, ugly-silly thriller, the...



With friends like Condon, the Equal Rights Amendment sure doesn't need enemies: in this cartoony, ugly-silly thriller, the issue of women's rights gets slimily entwined with--and obscured by--precisely the kind of bedroom politics and liberated-woman stereotypes that fuel ERA opposition. Jean Henstell (born 1938) is a beautiful heiress, genius, and orphan who grows up guided by her dead mother's shrill diaries--which warn her against men and urge her to lead the battle for sexual equality. So Jean becomes a top Wall St. lawyer and then a N.Y. Police Department commissioner--building her political base--while endeavoring to control men instead of vice versa: she marries and funds social-reforming minister Amos but refuses to let his mission interfere with her career; she has purely exploitative sex with hairy, smelly, ""degrading, bestial, insatiable"" Police Dept. aide Umberto Caen. (""Mama would have been so proud of how she had taken her pleasure, then. . . had gotten rid of this sexually exciting oaf."") But as Jean--now U.S. Attorney-General--builds up the ERA campaign and eyes the VP spot on a White House ticket, scandal threatens. Husband Amos, who's seeking a divorce so he can wed Jean's promiscuous college roommate ""Slutsie,"" is found shot to death; Slutsie herself (a Senator's wife) is also killed; and a woman claiming to be a member of the radical ""Matriots"" group pays Jean a brief visit, taking credit for the murders. Worse yet: Umberto Caen (who has never forgiven Jean for her sexual use of him) is heading the homicide investigation, is out to nail Jean, and has photos of the couple's animalistic sex. ("" 'I am so sick!' she sobbed. 'We are covered with filth, you and I.'"") Can Jean survive all this and go on, destined to be the first woman Prez? Yes--thanks to another murder or two--and she'll also discover the ugly truth about her crazy mother, who hated men insanely. . . but nonetheless was right about equality-for-women. But this right-minded conclusion--that ERA doesn't equal man-hatred--comes far too late in a book that features nothing but warped relationships and skewed females (a psycho, a near-nympho, and a lesbian, as well as Jean's ""talons of lust scraping a hole in her stomach"" whenever gross Umberto appears). And, as in most recent Condon thrillers, the minimal suspense here is undermined by the self-indulgences: silly names (actor Thane Cawdor), conspicuous-consumer padding (fancy food, wine, etc.), gratuitous swiping at John Le CarrÉ (ah, envy!). Half-serious, half-satiric doodling on a trendy theme, then-occasionally lively, mostly arch and unattractive.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Marek--dist. by Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1980