What Lisa Knew

Joyce Johnson, Author
Joyce Johnson, Author Putnam Publishing Group $22.95 (302p) ISBN 978-0-399-13474-6
Reviewed on: 03/31/1990
Release date: 04/01/1990
In 1989, Manhattan attorney Joel Steinberg was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in the death of his six-year-old illegally adopted daughter, Lisa; his live-in lover, Hedda Nussbaum, was granted immunity for testifying against him. Although the book covers ground already well trod by the media, Johnson's ( Minor Characters ) recap of the sordid domestic tragedy makes absorbing if depressing reading. She builds a persuasive case for Nussbaum's jealousy of Lisa and culpability in her death, posits that Steinberg and Nussbaum's relationship was sadomasochistic and mutually satisfying; that Lisa may have been sexually abused; and that Nussbaum's absolution as a battered woman is a setback for the feminist movement. The book bogs down with legal jargon and is disrupted by occasional soapboxing (on Nussbaum's first beating from her lover: ``Rather than fearing Joel Steinberg, she only worshiped him more devoutly. But perhaps Hedda was also worshipping herself. Was she not God's handmaiden, the martyr/heroine of the Hedda Nussbaum drama?'') Johnson's indictment of New York's adoption and child welfare services is convincing, but aspersions cast on Sylvia Haron, Lisa's teacher, and on Nicole Smiegel, the birth mother of Lisa's brother, Mitchell, also adopted, are questionable. BOMC alternate. (Apr.)
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