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The Boston Phoenix Apocalyptic

"Son of Rosemary" Gets By On Plot Alone

By Ted Drozdowski

NOVEMBER 3, 1997: 

SON OF ROSEMARY, By Ira Levin. Dutton, 255 pages, $22.95.

Son of Rosemary doesn't really get fascinating until the Apocalypse becomes imminent. Maybe real life won't either. Imagine the scene -- at least as it's been historically presented. The dead rising from the earth, angels and demons making like Jackie Chan in the streets, sinners trying to scam one last chance at repentance, and the righteous acting smug as bugs, not understanding that arrogance is also a hell of a sin.

At least that's how I imagine it based on my Catholic upbringing and what I see on the streets and the tube. Ira Levin, masterful rogue that he is, has a different vision: the Apocalypse as a carefully orchestrated act of terrorism, pulled off by the king of deep-underground revolutionaries, Satan. For the inhabitants of Earth, he's cooked up a beautiful demise -- perhaps inspired by George Bush's cockamamie "thousand points of light." (I always thought there was a link between Bush and the Devil. And I'm fairly confident that any one of Reagan's speeches run backward would somewhere reveal the phrase "Come, my dark children, and nurse at the teat of Beelzebub." But alas, I digress.)

The instrument of the Devil here is Andy Castevet, a/k/a Rosemary's Baby, all grown up and emerged as a spiritual leader who's united much of the world under an umbrella of good will. He mockingly calls himself the "Great Communicator" (shades of Evil Ronnie). And for a bonus, he's the spittin' image of the popular white Christian visage of Jesus Christ -- at least, when he keeps his horns tucked in.

As you've probably gathered, Levin's new novel is the sequel to his classic 1967 spooker Rosemary's Baby. And you'll recall that that book's main character, Rosemary Reilly, is a young newlywed who's tricked into bearing the Antichrist by her no-good husband and the coven next door. At the end of Rosemary's Baby, she's seen fondling the furry little horns of her Devil child. In the sequel, we find Rosemary snapping out of a 27-year coma to discover her lad is now a man who's undergone a few cosmetic changes and holds the position of most-beloved being on the planet. Her challenge in Son of Rosemary, as she assimilates herself into 1999 and the countdown to the millennium, is to determine whether her son is a lying prick intent on annihilating humankind or the nice guy he appears to be, truly set on unifying all peoples.

There are some clues. Despite his claims of having rejected Papa Satan, Andy still has a fondness for arcane rites and seems hell-bent on having sex with Rosemary (still a taboo in '99). There's also the ritual slaying of his girlfriend, Judith S. Kharyat, just as she's about to rat Andy out to the media. She's found split asunder in Tiffany's, with 30 pieces of silverware placed in and on her body. Then there are the 12 aides who attend Andy as sort of anti-apostles.

Truth is, it's all fairly clear that what's on the front burner is a healthy serving of fire and brimstone for mankind. All that stands in its way is the reaffirmed bond between mother and child -- a bond of love that could just be enough to make Andy turn toward his human side and spare the world.

Levin's prose is spring-water clean, devoted to the craft of storytelling rather than the art of writing. His language is simple and direct, with as few surprises as his tale. Such utter dependence on plot alone makes Son of Rosemary a one-trick novel, but it's a good trick: a countdown to the destruction of all life on Earth, synchronized to Greenwich Mean Time. Better yet, there's a twist at the end that casts the storyline of Rosemary's Baby in a different light.

Actually, there's another sort of plotting at work here in Levin's seventh novel. Like his Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys from Brazil, Son of Rosemary screams for the big screen. Call Mia Farrow. Who says nobody's writing good parts for women of a certain age?

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