A slow, downbeat story of a young girl arrested for drug trafficking under the federal court system’s mandatory minimum sentencing rules.
Waldman leaves behind her relatively lightweight Juliet Applebaum mysteries (A PlayDate with Death, 2002, etc.) to tackle a legal nightmare. Although Elaine Goodman has been a painstakingly responsible single parent, motherhood has always been a chore for her, and her daughter Olivia’s needy, passionate personality hasn’t made the job easier. Now, having dropped out of college, politically idealistic Olivia enjoys thumbing her nose at Elaine’s hard-won bourgeois respectability. (After working her way through pharmacy school, Elaine now owns a store in Berkeley and lives with Arthur, a stereotypical bloodless accountant.) Working as a waitress, Olivia lives with Jorge, who arrived on her doorstep after they’d had a fling in Mexico that Olivia had assumed was over. Not really in love, she remains with him in part out of guilt, in part because it galls Elaine. Meanwhile, Jorge, who’s been expelled from his Mexican university for political actions and feels humiliated by his inability as an illegal immigrant to support Olivia, makes the desperate decision to participate in a drug deal. Olivia discovers his involvement when the bartender from her restaurant leaves him a mysterious message. Although she passes the information on to Jorge, she begs him not to participate. One thing leads to another and suddenly police are knocking down her door and arresting Olivia for conspiracy. Worse, she soon realizes she’s pregnant. At first Elaine, thanks partly to cold and unfeeling Arthur, resists helping Olivia, but as prison becomes an inevitability, Elaine’s heart opens while Olivia finds a new calm maturity. It doesn’t hurt that Olivia’s lawyer is the handsome half-African-American, half-Jewish Izaya Feingold-Upchurch. Olivia’s final statement at her sentencing hearing is a no-holds-barred indictment of the evils of mandatory minimum and the absurdity of the current drug laws.
Waldman explores the mother-daughter relationship with a sure touch, but her didactic political stance is wearying.