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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 15, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

KIPPER'S GAME: A Novel by Barbara Ehrenreich (Farrar, Straus, Giroux: $22; 310 pp.). Given the plot line, this novel should be a spy thriller. A computer hacker disappears: a university administrator asks a biologist to dig up obscure Nazi research; a mysterious Mexican philanthropist offers to give the university a lot of money, and suddenly the biologist is being followed, threatened and pressed to reveal his findings. A thriller, though, "Kipper's Game" is not, for Barbara Ehrenreich, best known for her political essays, is much more interested in character than plot. And for a time that's enough: the biologist, Alex MacBride, is appealing as a drunken has-been, and so is the missing boy's mother, housewife-turned-lab-assistant Della Markson. Ditto for the bad guys: the president of the university research complex, the deconstructionist guest speaker, the millionaire research "angel," and Della's exploitative husband Leo are all charmingly, convincingly hypocritical. "Kipper's Game" doesn't really go anywhere, however, for although we eventually learn that the hacker has discovered a way to access the mind's "pleasure center," first gruesomely explored in human patients by Nazi scientists, the book meanders on with little tension or direction. The best parts of the novel have to do with the politics of science--Ehrenreich knows all about them, having earned a doctorate in biology from Rockefeller University--and those of relationships, as when Leo attempts to explain his reasons for walking out on Della a few weeks earlier. He says, insincerely, "I just wasn't growing anymore," and she replies, letting him twist, "Well, you must be enormous by now."

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