Spring this year seems to be taking its time, except for that one day last week where we all pretended it was the middle of July. So I initially picked up The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French because of its setting in steamy hot Florida. Plus the sprightly yet ominous (check out that knife!) cover design caught my eye. But within a few minutes of reading the first chapter, I was hooked on the dark humor and interested in finding out how this revenge story would play out.
Or at least it starts as a revenge story. Marylou is 77 when she discovers the whereabouts of Dr. Wilson Spriggs, who headed up a radiation study in the 1950s that had devastating personal consequences for Marylou. She has hated him ever since, so she moves to Wilson’s current home town of Tallahassee, takes on the assumed name of Nancy Archer (from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) and starts to plot his murder.
But Marylou doesn’t find it so easy. She has to fight her own squeamish and basically nice nature and discovers that revenge isn’t so sweet when the villain can’t even remember his crimes or victims because he is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Marylou also quickly gets sucked into the dysfunctional yet lovable lives of Wilson’s extended family. Daughter Caroline struggles with depression and practically ignores her husband, who is obsessed with hurricanes. The two oldest grandchildren both have Asperger’s and are fighting for more freedom from their overly-protective mother. And youngest granddaughter Suzi starts to show cracks in her quest for perfection.
This is a hard book to quantify: is it a family drama or revenge story? Or a heartwarming tale of people coming together and figuring out their destinies in life? Well, of course, it’s all of the above! The story is multi-layered, offering chapters from the minds of each character. I had a hard time predicting what would happen next (except for the actions of a certain youth pastor) and I was fascinated by how one family tries to function when two of the children have Asperger’s.