Monday, May 20, 2013

The Law Versus Love, Life: Liz Rosenberg, THE LAWS OF GRAVITY

In a perfect world, the law of the land would echo what our hearts tell us: Love and peace, and friendship above all, would determine what's right to do and how to give.

But as Liz Rosenberg makes clear in THE LAWS OF GRAVITY, even the most caring and tender judge must wrestle with what's been written down. And for Nicole and her adored older cousin Ari Wiesenthal, the weight of the law may fracture the family bonds that have kept them close into adulthood, into the years when each is a parent.

Nicole, worrying about a lump in her neck as she talks with her best friend Mimi (very pregnant), is already having a tough time seeing her daughter Daisy enter kindergarten. She mentions to Mimi an overheard conversation about yet another woman who'd received a cancer diagnosis when her child entered school:
She knit faster, as if she could push the story away with the clicking speed of the needles. "That mother died before her daughter even reached third grade."

"There's nothing scarier than having kids," Mimi said, her dark eyes wide. "Halloween can't touch it."

"I know. But just think --," Nicole began.

"I can't," Mimi said. "I won't. And you shouldn't either. Everything to do with having children is terrifying. You can't afford to sweat the details."
But for Nicole, the details are suddenly front and center, as the lump turns out to be an aggressive cancer, and treatments don't work well. Luckily, her cousin Ari stored the cord blood -- that special blend of magically fertile stem cells that hesitates in the umbilical cord at birth -- of one of his children, deep frozen for emergencies, should that kind of crisis ever arrive. And the cord blood could help Mimi survive after all.

But Ari, at first glad to contribute, confronts an emergency for one of his own children and suddenly realizes he needs to keep that cord blood for them, just in case.

Mimi actually has a contract of sorts that Ari provided, saying he'd donate the blood. What will it cost her at the level of her soul, if she takes that document to court to sue for the cord blood?

Liz Rosenberg is known as a poet and a thoughtful reviewer of young-adult novels. Here she spins a lush novel of women's friendships that tackles the legal and medical issues usually found in the high-stakes thrillers written by, say, Jodi Picoult. But Rosenberg shifts the pace as well as the setting -- to Long Island, where she grew up, and to the cultural frame of modern Jewish life -- in order to deepen the issues and test their costs.

Readers with some experience in terms of Jewish thought will already have pricked up their ears at the surname Wiesenthal for Nicole's cousin Ari. Even more pressing is the name of the judge who accepts the case that Nicole brings: Judge Solomon Richter. "Richter" is German for judge, based on the word that means what is right; Solomon, of course, is often remembered for his wisdom in deciding which of two claimants was actually the mother of a baby being fought over. And Rosenberg is a poet -- not only the names, but each word in this powerful novel has been selected by eye and ear. To reach the eventual resolution, not only the characters but also the reader will test what justice means -- and also love.

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