Written by Jan Kline on March 30, 2011

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

radioactive lady book jacketMaybe the misery and destruction in Japan kept me alternately picking up and putting down this book. I checked it out before the earthquake and tsunami hit. Once possible meltdowns were all over the news, the appeal of a book with the word “radioactive” in the title took a steep downhill turn. But blurbs on the back cover from Robert Olen Butler (Tabloid Dreams) and Dan Chaon (Await Your Reply) keep me coming back.

The radioactive lady of the title is Marylou Ahern, who was , while an expectant mother, an unwitting guinea pig in a 1950s government study. The experiment later took the life of her only daughter, and the collateral damage included her marriage. Late in life, she decides to find and murder the doctor who gave her the radioactive cocktail that unraveled her life. It doesn’t exactly sound like the makings of a comic novel, but it is, though the comedy is definitely black. Marylou insinuates herself into the doctor’s family, but ends up caring about some of the family members she sets out to destroy.

I wanted to like Marylou’s character better than I did. There was a little too much of the stereotypical spunky, pissed off old bird for me to get too involved. I thought Stuckey-French did a better job with the doctor’s grandchildren, two of whom have Asperger’s. The relationship between the three kids and their parents is complex and real, funny and tragic by turns. They kept me reading, and so did the plot, which picked up momentum in the last third of the book.

author photo: Karen Lucchini

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