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New Jerusalem by Len Jenkin (Sun & Moon: $16.95, hardcover; $10.95, paperback; 214 pp.)

May 04, 1986|Schuyler Ingle | Ingle writes about food and crime in Seattle, Wash. and

Len Jenkin's "New Jerusalem." "I am your reporter," he tells us, "the best, the last, laying it out on the live wire." What Faber means is that in a future world where newspapers are all just so much make-believe, he's the only reporter around ready to tell the story the way it has really happened. In other words, he's obsolete.

His last big story--the book at hand--is about the closing of New Jerusalem, an island penal colony established 50 years earlier by the United Nations. Criminals were dropped by parachute. There was no escape. They worked things out for themselves. But now that a simple drug therapy has eliminated all crime, New Jerusalem is as obsolete as Faber. Our intrepid reporter covers the last five days of island life before a U.N. ship comes to take one and all from the civilization they created to the one that always existed.

Lo and behold, there is a drug on the island, the king of all drugs, made from the squeezings of dolphin brains. Most of the book revolves around who has and doesn't have the last stores of the drug. Whoever that person is will be fabulously wealthy back in the real world.

In the hands of a brilliant visionary like Philip K. Dick, the leaden ideas that try to float in "New Jerusalem" would soar. But Jenkin is not a writer of anywhere near Dick's stature. The book reads like sketchy field notes, the kind of shorthand a reporter might resort to when he knows it doesn't matter if he gets the quote right or not.

"New Jerusalem" first existed as some kind of staged drama. Maybe Jenkin's novel is what is left of the stage notes.

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