In 1952 a pregnant Marylou Ahearn was spoon-fed a radioactive cocktail as part of a government research project she didn’t know she was a part of. The effects are devastating, and 50-plus years later she’s still not ready to forgive. And so, the snarky 77-year-old uproots her life in Memphis, changes her name, and settles in the same Tallahassee neighborhood as Dr. Wilson Spriggs. He’s the man who spearheaded the deadly experiment, and now, finally, Marylou is going to retaliate in Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s quirky second novel Revenge of the Radioactive Lady.
Marylou doesn’t know how she’s going to do it, but infiltrating Wilson’s family is a good start. In alternating voices, readers meet his daughter, Caroline, her husband, and their three teenagers: attention-starved soccer star Suzi, Elvis-obsessed Ava, and Otis, whose passion for atomic energy fuels a top-secret project. Though it’s clear from the beginning that Marylou’s scheme won’t go according to plan, nothing else is obvious about the unusual plot’s proceedings.
Stuckey-French expertly builds each character, even, eventually, the mysterious doctor’s. The family’s oddities are aftereffects of larger circumstances – Asperger’s syndrome, guilt, and resentment – but the author sticks with a light, humor-infused voice throughout the book.