Stem-cell research and big government’s intrusion into everyday lives take center stage in a debut novel by journalist Peikoff.
Arianna is a physician and fertility specialist who operates a New York clinic that specializes in implanting harvested embryos in women who have been unable to get pregnant by conventional means. The year is 2027 and Arianna’s one of many medical-clinic operators terrified of a shadowy government agency known as the DEP, or the New York Department of Embryo Preservation, a super-right-wing effort to ascertain that embryos are legally protected from misuse, which includes research. Clinic operators like Arianna must endure monthly embryo counts from the agency’s armed representatives, who have the power to exact huge fines and worse consequences from those who violate their rules. Trent Rowe, an inspector with the DEP, suspects that something is off with Arianna’s clinic, and his boss, Dopp, wants the evidence. The DEP’s survival could depend on a well-timed investigation, and Dopp instructs Trent to go undercover and find the proof that will allow the agency to close Arianna down. Trent, the product of deeply religious parents, manages to insinuate himself into Arianna’s life, eventually finding out her deepest, darkest secret and meeting Sam, her old friend and champion, who works diligently to help her through a personal crisis. But as the man who originally set out to destroy Arianna finds himself increasingly attracted to her, Trent also fights his upbringing and indoctrination by the DEP to view people like her and Sam as the enemy and themselves as the arbiters of right. Peikoff shows a deep understanding of the issues she explores, but she paints the future with a shallow hand, never quite convincing the reader that her version of 2027 is possible. Her characters, in particular Trent and arch villain Dopp, come off as over-the-top, thoroughly evil and unforgivable, but never interesting enough to justify the reader’s time.
Peikoff may have serious reporting chops, but this book roils with manufactured melodrama and presents a future that comes across as anything but plausible.