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by Lucy Ferriss

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-80092-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 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.