HARPOONS by Arthur Rosenfeld


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A baby theft leads to two gifted West Coast siblings growing up apart, in this failed attempt at black comedy from Rosenfeld (the nonfiction Exotic Animals as Pets, 1987). Roman Loon is a Californian cat-burglar and philanderer who cannot make babies with his wife Marian: he is sterile. The leader of a baby-stealing gang steers him to the home of wealthy Bel Air lawyer Adam Steinberg, from whom he steals little Bernard, unfazed by the baby's 11 fingers and toes ("more fingers to burgle with, more toes to climb with"), and renames him Scooter, for Roman is a motorcycle freak. Scooter has a happy childhood in Santa Barbara; though a brilliant student, he considerately stays close to Roman, a high-school dropout, by reading his "vast motorcycle library" and helping out in the shop (Roman has now quit burgling and started his own business, servicing classic machines). Meanwhile, lawyer Adam's wife Sharon has given birth again; daughter Biji turns out as precocious as Scooter but, unlike him, obnoxiously self-centered. Her combination of stunning looks, natural acting ability, and ruthless ambition lands her a coveted role in a movie about, whaddaya know, a baby kidnapping. By now Scooter has completed postgraduate work at Yale and got his first job, working for an L.A. ad agency on the promotion of (surprise!) the kidnapping movie. The siblings finally meet on their way to the same movie party, when Biji cuts into Scooter's lane and damages his bike; soon they are best friends and, before the slow-moving Roman and Adam can intercept them, lovers. As Roman at last breaks the news to Scooter, the prodigy floods the shop with carbon monoxide fumes. . . A brittle piece of whimsy; and the author's snickering preoccupation with Scooter's condition (described ad nauseam as "mistoed," "misfingered," and "malformed") leaves a nasty aftertaste.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1989
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