September 11, 2000 12:00 PM

by Rona Jaffe

Warning: Those who take this Road may fall asleep at the wheel. The latest novel from bestselling author Jaffe (The Best of Everything, Five Women) is a numbing tour of the culture, social movements and medical advances of the 20th century as witnessed by schoolteacher Rose Smith, born Jan. 1, 1900.

Rose weathers seemingly endless crises as family and friends are struck down in turn by influenza, breast cancer and AIDS or crippled by polio, Alzheimer’s and alcoholism. In the days before penicillin, for example, her stepbrother dies after a rose-thorn scratch becomes infected. She also frets a lot over society’s ever-changing moral standards. Jaffe, too, seems to wear a deepening frown as she motors through the decades, and her flappers, beatniks, hippies and yuppies meet life’s challenges with often depressing results. For those willing to stay with it, Jaffe’s tale offers an occasionally engaging picture of how far science has advanced. Others, though, may want to choose a road less traveled by. (Dutton, $24.95)

Bottom Line: 100 years of lassitude

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