Is this another lost cause? Like Gerda Stein's defense of Emma Goldman when Gerda was a self-educated young lawyer of 30-emigree Gerda, a victim/survivor of anti-Semitism and particularly of parents who never spoke. Now over 70, she has worked for years in and out of New York criminal courts and represented the law with passionate, uninflected rigor. But as her friend, one of those do-gooding ameliorists says, has Gerda ever loved one of the people who turned to her in need? Has she indeed shown any sign of feeling toward Renata, the incidental child of an incidental marriage? Renata who's now had a baby, Tippy, virtually imposed on her during her eight years away on the macrame fringe of the California scene. And while Tippy encroaches tentatively on this gaunt and awkward woman, Renata still finds her mother ""colder than a terrapin."" But Renata does show signs of life, of living again, when she appeals for help for their Puerto Rican cleaning woman whose boy has died of negligence in a city hospital--only to have Gerda citing the no-recourse letters of the law. After that, Renata drifts on from day to empty day, working on her career of ""transparency. Nothingness"" until it's clear, even to Gerda, that she's almost not there at all and perhaps she should appropriate Tippy. Rosellen Brown knows a lot about city life from the slum stoop to the stairwell; but her high-powered novel is really about trapped lives within closed circuits, the exactions of discipline and conscience which deny the heart. A tough, vulnerable, bitter-bright book, asserted with both truth and talent.