WITH "THE PROCEDURE," the Dutch writer [Harry Mulisch] joins Cynthia Ozick and Michael Chabon in a recent fictional fad: He, too, makes use of the Golem, a figure from medieval Jewish folklore. According to legend, Rabbi Judah Low of Prague created the Golem, a sort of robot or Frankenstein monster, to defend the Jews against persecution. In the first section of his short novel, Mulisch retells this story, but with a twist: Here the Golem is made imperfectly, murders one of its creators and must be instantly destroyed. Mulisch has turned the story into a parable for the age of biotechnology. Only God can safely create life; when man turns creation into a mere technique, the "procedure" of the title, he runs a terrible risk.
[Victor Werker]'s fate will be to erase the lines between the two kinds of birth. Perplexingly, Mulisch does not devote much space to Victor's scientific breakthrough, the creation of the "eobiont," a living organism produced spontaneously from nonliving matter. The eobiont is Victor's Golem, a new creation of life, and a trespass on Divine authority; thus it should be at the center of Mulisch's fictional web. Yet when we meet Victor, the breakthrough is in the past, and his mind is elsewhere: on his daughter, Aurora, who died at birth, and his ensuing separation from Aurora's mother.