A mysterious disease is gradually sterilizing men, and a federal health worker struggles to find out why in this debut novel.
Al Jackson is a project manager for the Federal Office of Health and Disease in Atlanta, and he’s accustomed to being assigned dreary, uninteresting cases. However, this time he’s been given one that turns out to have high stakes. There’s a significant drop in pregnancies in a small town in Massachusetts, and the culprit seems to be male infertility, though it’s bafflingly unclear what the root cause of it is. Al pores over piles of potentially relevant data to no avail. Meanwhile, Massachusetts resident Mary Alice Hennigan tragically loses her daughter, the victim of a brutal rape, to a botched abortion attempt. Mary joins an activist group called the United Anti-Abortion League and zealously ascends to its top position. She radicalizes the group quickly, darkly casting their mission in the language of war and candidly condoning violent resistance. She interprets the sterilization epidemic as a punishment from God: “He told me He is not pleased with America....He no longer can tolerate our self-centered ways. And so He had taken away the gift of procreation.” Although this is ultimately a mystery/thriller, Meehan doesn’t neglect the development of his characters. Al, for example, is lost in personal chaos—he’s habitually unfaithful to his wife, discontented at work, and struggles to cultivate meaningful connections to his children. Meanwhile, his wife, Julia, is having an affair and considering leaving Al for her paramour. Also, Mary’s extremism seems to stem from not only recent tragedy, but also from past trauma. Overall, this is a thoughtful, intelligently crafted narrative. However, the plot often skips jarringly from past to present, and it takes far too long for its basic elements to become clear as Meehan crams in too many ancillary themes. The main mystery develops suspensefully, though, which compensates for the surfeit of drama.
A skillfully rendered but overly ambitious medical thriller.