THE MISCONCEIVER

A pleasantly unpolemical, if plodding, novel about a 21st-century abortionist who's haunted by the memory of her political-activist sister. It's the year 2026, and the world is a Gingrichian vision of high-tech gadgetry and conservative social values. Abortion is illegal and birth control scarce—as much from fear of declining birth rates among the white middle class as from Christian moral precepts. In this repressive but nominally democratic America, Phoebe has a day job as a computer debugger; secretly, she performs ``misconceptions,'' as illicit abortions are called. No abortion- rights crusader, Phoebe refers to her work as ``killing babies'' and continues mainly to carry on the legacy of her spirited older sister, Marie, a ``misconceiver'' who died in jail. Phoebe's brother and mother are also dead, and her father suffers from advanced Alzheimer's, so when the suicide of a 12-year-old incest victim throws her into a moral crisis, she turns to her widowed sister-in-law, Roxanne, for a place to lie low for a while. But while visiting Roxanne in California, Phoebe is moved by the plight of Roxanne's teenage daughter, Christel, who's facing an unwanted pregnancy. With the help of Roxanne's fiancÇ Arthur, a doctor, Phoebe performs an abortion on her niece—and Phoebe and Arthur begin an affair. Arriving back home in Utica, Phoebe is immediately arrested and must figure out who has betrayed her. Was it Arthur, one of the friends or colleagues in whom she's confided, or perhaps a traitor in the underground community of abortion providers? Then a fellow prisoner helps her escape, and Phoebe has to consider how far she wants to go in service of Marie's cause. Ferriss (Against Gravity, 1996, etc.) worthily acknowledges the complexities of the abortion debate, and her dystopia, if not wildly original, is thoroughly imagined—yet ultimately the tale remains constrained by its narrow focus and muddled plot.

Pub Date: July 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-80092-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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