DEFECTS OF THE HEART by Barbara Gordon


Email this review


Documentary-film producer Jessica Lenhart, 35, battles to expose a dangerous drug while sorting out her problematic love-life--in this slickly predictable first novel by the author of I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can. Jessica is a resident filmmaker for a public TV station in N.Y. (not WNET, it is stressed); ""for years she had traveled with lights and cameras through the dark tunnels of social injustice. . . ."" But her newest project turns out to be her most controversial, when pro bono lawyer Doug Weber reluctantly lets her in on his forthcoming case against McCampbell Pharmaceuticals: the company is about to market Styralon, an anti-miscarriage drug that (judging from results abroad) can cause birth defects. Jessica eagerly joins the investigation--filming interviews at McCampbell, at the FDA, at the labs where Styralon was tested (and declared safe); she tracks down the old, defeated test-lab scientist who was fired for his negative views on Styralon; she goes to England to film a Styralon victim. (Typically, an effective moment of introspection here--""she recognized, to her horror, that she wished he could be more pathetic, more damaged""--is then inflated into a mushy wallow: ""What kind of woman am I, what kind of woman have I become, that I am disappointed not to find this family drowning in despair? What have I done to feed the monstrous mouth of television?"" Etc.) But, in the novel's weariest contrivance, it turns out that McCampbell is owned by a conglomerate that's giving Jessica's station a $20 million grant: the smarmy station head cancels the documentary series; Jessica quits. Meanwhile, she is forced to reassess her one-day-a-week affair with married Ben Nevins (the documentary-series chief)--while becoming more and more attracted to surly Doug (who usually prefers non-achieving women). And finally there's a flood of self-discovery rhetoric as Jessica breaks with Ben, takes a chance with Doug, and goes off to England to re-make her documentary! ""She had left the magic circle, the white light of Ben's love and protection, and her course seemed as unpredictable as the sea. There would be moments of calm, moments of tumultuous motion, but never would she be the still, tideless body of water she had always feared."" Some bright TV/documentary atmosphere--but the investigation is too pat, the dialogue is often dreadful (""He lingers in my mind like the one good song from a show that closed on opening night""), and Jessica's fuzzy soul-journey offers only a modest, glossy appeal, even for admirers of I'm Dancing.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1983
Publisher: Harper & Row