cover image The Misconceiver

The Misconceiver

Lucy Ferriss. Simon & Schuster, $23 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-684-80092-9

Definitely not for the squeamish, Ferriss's (Against Gravity ) fourth novel opens with a graphic depiction of an abortion, or a ""misconception,"" as the banned procedure is known in the year 2026. Narrator Phoebe Masters, the misconceiver of the title, struggles to fill the shoes of her mother, dead in a blast at an abortion clinic, and her older sister Marie, a misconceptionist who died in jail while awaiting trial. Although Phoebe is thoughtful enough to see a connection between her day job as a hunter of computer viruses and her illicit role as terminator of unwanted pregnancies, she doesn't have any true political conviction until she, too, is arrested and begins to understand the price of liberty. There's little apparent technological progress in this futuristic setting where married women do not work outside the home, amniocentesis is illegal and the worst punishment for rape is a paternity suit. It is as if social regression has also induced intellectual stagnation. While the repression of women in this society is at first presented matter-of-factly, the accretion of detail concerning their emotional and physical pain makes this far more than a merely political novel. ""Sometimes... the decision is only about what way your heart is going to break, not whether,"" Phoebe muses. Phoebe's eventual understanding of how she will gain the courage to struggle against the complex web of inhumane policies adds tension and emotional catharsis. And her knowledge of how she will share her life has real poignancy. If in this novel Ferriss makes you think, she will also make you feel. (July)