The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

by Elizabeth Stuckey-French


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A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year

Marylou Ahearn is going to kill Dr. Wilson Spriggs. In 1953, the good doctor gave her a radioactive cocktail without her consent, and Marylou has been plotting her revenge ever since. When she discovers his whereabouts in Florida, she hightails it to Tallahassee, moves in down the block from where he resides with his daughter, Caroline, and begins the tricky work of insinuating herself into his life. But she has no idea what a nest of yellow jackets she’s stumbled into. Spriggs is senile, his daughter’s on the verge of collapse, and his grandchildren are a mess of oddballs, leaving Marylou wondering whether she’s really meant to ruin their lives … or fix them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400034864
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/10/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of the novel Mermaids on the Moon and the story collection The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. Her short fiction has also appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Five Points, and other literary journals. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, where she teaches fiction writing at Florida State University.

Read an Excerpt


By the time Marylou Ahearn finally moved into the little ranch house in Tallahassee, she’d spent countless hours trying to come up with the best way to kill Wilson Spriggs. The only firm decision she’d made, however, was that proximity was crucial. You couldn’t kill someone if you lived in a different state. So she flew down from Memphis to Tallahassee and bought a house on the edge of Wilson’s neighborhood. Doing so had been no problem, because she had a chunk of money left from the government settlement as well as her retirement and social security. She furnished her new place quickly with generic “big warehouse sale” furniture. Back in Memphis she rounded up a graduate student couple she’d met at church—a husband and wife who both needed to give their spectacles a good cleaning—to house-sit, and then she transferred her base of operations to Tallahassee, informing friends only that she’d be taking an extended vacation.

Completing her task in Florida, unfortunately, was taking a while. Every morning when Marylou and her Welsh corgi, Buster, left their house at 22 Reeve’s Court and set out on their walk toward Wilson Spriggs’s house at 2208 Friar’s Way, Marylou chanted to herself: Today’s the day. Today’s the day. Today’s the day he’ll suffer and die. Every morning she fully believed that by the time she’d walked the three blocks to Wilson’s house she’d have figured out how to do him in, despite the fact that she’d been setting out on this very walk a few times a day for the past two weeks and it was nearly May and the best method and right time had yet to present themselves.
She tried to spur herself on with angry thoughts. Would she feel better after she’d killed him? Darn tootin’. She didn’t expect to go around giddy, not after all that had happened, but she expected to feel relieved, to have a sense of accomplishment, like when, fifteen years ago, she’d stepped out the doors of Humes High School, never to have to spoon-feed Chaucer to tenth graders again. It must be a good sign that she was now living in a neighborhood where the streets were named after Chaucer’s characters. The Canterbury Tales had returned to mark this next big passage in her life.
It didn’t help that the walk to Wilson’s house was so pleasant. Canterbury Hills was once a suburb of Tallahassee; but the city, moving northward, had swallowed it up, and it was now spoken of by Realtors as Midtown. The homes in Canterbury Hills, mostly ranch houses from the fifties and sixties, weren’t as stately as the houses in her Memphis neighborhood, but they all sat on spacious lots full of flowering shrubs and well-tended flower gardens, shaded by live oak trees; and Marylou enjoyed looking around so much that she was always rattled when she found herself standing, again, in front of the evil yellow house where Wilson Spriggs lived with his daughter and her family, so rattled, in fact, that it took her a minute to reenter the murdering frame of mind.
She would stall in front, while Buster sniffed around in the grass, and stand beneath the magnolia tree that bloomed with fantastically white blossoms, hoping that Wilson himself would pop up in front of her and ask to be killed, please, and hurry up about it. When this failed to happen, she hoped to at least be struck either with the courage to storm the house or with a clever idea about how to sneak in undetected.
But she was struck by neither courage nor inspiration, and by the time she got back home she was so hot and weak and discouraged she had to lie down and rest.
In the evenings, after she’d eaten some dinner, usually a fried egg and slice of toast, a kind of Chaucerian meager repast, she’d hook Buster’s leash to his collar and they’d walk over to Friar’s Way again. Sometimes she saw a gray Volvo turn into the driveway of the yellow house or a navy blue minivan pull out of it, but she was never close enough to make out who was actually in the car. One time she saw a middle-aged man in a grungy black T-shirt—must’ve been the son-in-law—mowing the grass in the front yard, but he refused to look up at her; and one time she saw a girl and a little white dog running down the driveway. It was like they, the Spriggs family, were purposely keeping their distance from her—but how could they, when they had no idea she was nearby and looking to get even?
The whole being-in-limbo thing, the looking-to-get-even thing, was getting old. She was growing weary of wanting to kill Wilson, of imagining herself killing him; she was itchy to actually do it.
At first all the planning to kill Wilson had been, well, she had to admit it, fun. The idea started forming in her mind six months earlier, right after she’d stumbled across the article about Wilson Spriggs on the Internet. She’d been googling “Dr. Wilson Spriggs,” as she did every so often, without ever finding anything recent about him, and one day there was a link to a little piece in the Tallahassee Democrat about Dr. Wilson Spriggs helping his teenage grandson Otis Witherspoon win a science fair prize. As she read the article, which had an accompanying picture of Otis holding the blue ribbon he’d won at the Leon County Science Fair for his poster about the upside of nuclear power, she knew she had to do something, that Grandpappy Spriggs could not be allowed to go on living the way he had been, untouched by his cruel deeds.
Marylou and her former husband Teddy had recently stopped corresponding, so there wasn’t anyone she could talk to about how she felt when she found the article. She began to scheme all by herself. She didn’t tell another soul what she’d decided to do, and she wrote nothing down, but she made the plot she was hatching into a story in her mind, a horror story, like that wonderfully dreadful old movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
In the summer of 1958, when Helen was five, she and Teddy had gotten a babysitter and gone to see that movie at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Memphis. Teddy had howled with derision all the way through it, as did most of the audience, some of whom began throwing their popcorn at the screen, but Marylou thoroughly enjoyed it, trashy and badly made as it was, especially the scenes of the giant (much taller than fifty feet) vaguely annoyed-looking heroine, Nancy Archer, stuffed into an unexplained bikini top and miniskirt like Jane of the California desert, scooping up a police car and throwing it, tearing apart electrical towers, ripping the roofs off buildings, slapping her weaselly husband and his tarted-up girlfriend and their drinking buddies across the bar like so many pesky insects.
After she’d found the article about Wilson Spriggs and gotten swollen up with rage all over again, she remembered the fifty-foot woman. She and Nancy Archer were sisters in some strange way, sisters who were involved in parallel stories. They had both been poisoned by radiation; they both desired to get even with a man who’d done them wrong. Unlike Nancy Archer, Marylou hadn’t been touched by a giant hairy alien hand, but she’d swallowed a deadly radioactive cocktail and she was walking around, very much alive. Marylou wasn’t fifty feet tall, but the radiation she’d swallowed had surely given her supernatural powers. If she only knew how to use them! She could be the Radioactive Woman! She really didn’t like the word woman, though, because of the way her grandmother used to say it: “ whoa-men.” So she thought of herself as the Radioactive Lady. Close cousin to Nancy Archer and the Wife of Bath—lusty, powerful, ready to get hers.
Of course, the radiation she’d swallowed had made her sick. Weak. Anemic. Dizzy. Prone to headaches. Bleeding gums. And because she’d swallowed it, she’d killed Helen. After Helen’s death she’d had to focus her anger somewhere, and since the government of the United States as a thing to hate was too unwieldy, and all the idiots who got caught up in cold war paranoia—the morons who devised and funded and carried out the radiation experiments—were too numerous and anonymous to collectively despise, she focused her hatred on Wilson Spriggs.
She used to hate herself as well, hence the need for electroshock therapy, but these days, whenever her thoughts drifted again toward blaming herself, she steered them in another direction—toward the fact that she did not know what she was doing when she swallowed the poison. She was young, she was pregnant and vulnerable, she was ignorant, she was naive, she was a hundred million other things; but the fact remained that she did not know, because she was tricked. Wilson Spriggs had instructed his minion to trick her into drinking poison, and now, finally, when she and Wilson were both old and he was least suspecting it, she was going to play a deadly trick on him.
But exactly what sort of trick should she play?
For a time she daydreamed about a much younger, fifties- looking version of herself, looking like pre–alien encounter Nancy Archer in a black-and-white film, clutching a fluffy white pillow to her ample bosom, tiptoeing in a slinky dress and high heels toward an old man in his bed Wilson had aged while she, miraculously, hadn’t—but when she tried to imagine the ensuing struggle, she turned back into a frailish old lady and it seemed too risky.
She entertained another fantasy that was just as delicious as the Nancy-with-a-pillow fantasy. She would sneak up behind him with piano wire (whatever that was) and garrote him. However, the thought of his old head rolling on the ground, blood gushing, eyes staring, was so hypnotically alluring that whenever it popped into her head she forced it away by singing a hymn, as she was afraid that even allowing herself to imagine such things meant she was teetering on the line between avenger and sicko. Same with stabbing him. She didn’t want to enjoy herself too much.
She considered poisons. Poisoning him, in some ways, would be the ideal revenge, because it was so tit-for- tat. You could find anything on the Internet these days. She’d googled “how to poison someone” and got more than enough information. She was thrilled, and horrified, to discover that you could order chunks of radioactive uranium ore “for educational and scientific use” from There would be a nice symmetry in poisoning him with the same stuff he’d given her, but she had no idea how to go about forcing him to ingest a chunk of rock, so she crossed radiation poisoning off her list.
One of the most appealing methods of poisoning was described in a book she’d read to Helen years ago, when Helen was sick, a Nancy Drew book, the one set in Hawaii, The Secret of the Golden Pavilion. In that book, Nancy receives a lei from one of her enemies, a lei made with purplish black funereal orchids, and hidden among the flowers are tiny tacks “soaked in poison.” She couldn’t get this image out of her head, the image of a wizened old man with a garish lei around his withered neck, being poisoned while simultaneously looking frivolous and stupid. Of course, it would be impossible to make such a lei and force someone to wear it. What did it mean to “soak tacks in poison”?
As far as poisons went, given her in-and-out time frame and lack of round-the-clock access—in other words, she wasn’t his long-suffering wife—it seemed like putting antifreeze in something sweet would be the best option. But after more research, she had to admit that, on the whole, poisons weren’t such a hot idea, because they were all readily detectable these days, not like the good old days when someone at the coroner’s office would write “heart failure” on the death certificate and be done with it.
And now, here she was in Tallahassee, so close to her quarry, but she couldn’t decide. She and Buster walked up and down Canterbury Hills and her thoughts went round and round. What about “accidentally” running over him? Knocking him down stairs? An “accident” like that might not kill him, though, and injuring him just wouldn’t be the same. She could push him off a cliff! Were there any cliffs in Tallahassee?
Canterbury Hills was certainly hilly, and the hills were much bigger than any hills in Florida had a right to be, but there was nothing resembling a cliff, not even any large rocks. She did see a Merchant’s Lane, and a Nun’s Drive, and Cook’s Circle, Prioress Path, Knight’s Way, but no Wife of Bath anywhere. Where the hell was the Wife of Bath? Did somebody have a problem with the Wife of Bath? Bath. On TV, people were always killing people by drowning them in a bath. But how would she happen to be there when he took a bath? What about a swimming pool? She enjoyed swimming, but she was no Esther Williams, and even a man in his eighties could probably fight her off.
And so it went, until, one evening, when she and Buster arrived at the yellow house on Friar’s Way, she spotted an elderly man watering a flower bed in the side yard and felt a jolt in her brain like electroshock therapy, but instead of knocking her out, it woke her up and set her tingling. Was the old man Dr. Wilson Spriggs? The devil himself? This old man, who might be him, who surely was him, didn’t glance Marylou’s way. Arrogant prick. He was standing sideways, near the bottom of the sloping driveway. She could see only his profile, but it was him, all right; she recognized his insolent slouch. “The very one,” she muttered to Buster, who was too busy nosing at some dried poop to care. She’d seen this man twice before, once on the happiest day of her life and again on the worst day, and he’d been a jerk both times. Memories of those two times wouldn’t leave her. Even electroshock therapy hadn’t dulled them.
The first time she met Wilson she was three months pregnant with Helen, in 1953, when she was visiting the University Hospital OB clinic for her first checkup, and she’d just been told, by the older doctor with a crew cut who’d just examined her, that everything with the pregnancy looked fine and that she was past the danger stage when miscarriage was common. She was only twenty-three, but she’d had two previous miscarriages, and those first few months she was pregnant with Helen she could barely breathe she was so worried. (Years later she’d wondered if they’d chosen her as a subject for their experiment because of those miscarriages, because they thought that she’d probably lose this baby, too, so it wouldn’t matter what the radiation did to it. But after the hearings in Washington she read that they’d just chosen the eight hundred women at random—all poor and powerless, though; they’d made sure of that by conducting their study at a clinic with a sliding fee scale.)

Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s lively, intricately plotted, and laugh-out-loud funny new novel.

1. Do you believe that revenge is ever justified, and under what circumstances?  To what extent do you sympathize with Marylou’s decision to move to Tallahassee and stalk Wilson Spriggs? What do you think you would have done in her situation?

2. Are there ways in which Otis and Ava’s having Asperger’s Syndrome is similar to the radiation experiment that Marylou experienced?  How are the two situations different?

3. Asperger’s Syndrome affects Otis differently than Ava. What do you know about Asperger’s and other neuro-disorders on the autism spectrum? Does the book seem to speak authentically to the ways in which Asperger’s Syndrome affects both boys and girls differently? In what ways do you think Suzi’s problems are a consequence of having two siblings with Asperger’s?

4. What’s the biggest problem in Vic and Caroline’s marriage?  What do you think’s going to happen to them?

5. What does it mean to forgive someone?  How important is it to forgive, and to be forgiven? What role does religion play in this novel?

6. Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

7. Quite likely you were surprised by the change in Wilson and Marylou’s relationship, but did you find their relationship believable? Understandable? Why or why not? Why do you think it takes the turn it does?

8. As the novel’s acknowledgements reveal, the radiation experiments in this book are based on actual experiments carried out on U. S. citizens during the Cold War. Do you think such experiments are ever justified? Even if you don’t, how do you think scientists and government officials justified them to themselves?

9. The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady is told from multiple points of view. Though always third-person limited, the point of view shifts from character to character with each chapter. Did you find this technique effective? What does it allow that first-person or third-person omniscient would not have allowed?

10. Stuckey-French is known for her dark humor. Do you find this novel humorous? If so, what parts did you find funniest and what are the sources of the book’s humor?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit

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The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had the pleasure of reading this book for my book club. It was listed as a dark comedy but i found it dark and not funny. Very well written book that i would recommenf to anyone who has some time to read a good book!
risuena More than 1 year ago
It started off slow and then got interesting, but ended rather anticlimatically. The alternating view points, each chapter from a different character, was a nice style. You learned about sacrifices made for family, living with autism, living with someone with autism, forgiveness, temptation, and love. But somehow I was not hooked by the story, it came off rather slow and boring; the ending leaving me unsatisfied. I can see it has good intended themes, but the delivery is just not there for me.
jenniwrenn More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the different perspectives.
Jessica Morris More than 1 year ago
The books characters were quite interesting and the plot was fun and different. I genuinely enjoyed the book until the last 20 pages. I felt like the author tried to finish everything as quickly as possible and the ending ruined my reading experience.
eenerd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Entertaining read about a woman who was an unknowing test subject for a radioactivity experiment in Memphis in the 1950's, when she was pregnant. Her child died of cancer at age 8, and ever since she had dreamed of getting even. Now retired and 70-ish, she goes for it, locating the doctor who ran the study and determined to kill him. When she finds she can't kill him, she decides just to ruin his family's lives. She wheedles her way in and discovers his miserable house frau daughter, her disinterested-obsessive husband and their kids--all beautiful and brilliant, the oldest two with Asperger's and the youngest a soccer phenom. Mad-cap, complex and ultimately heartwarming.
cinnyi1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This nifty book was a pleasure from start to finish. How Elizabeth Stuckey-French accomplished this story with all the characters, back-story, elements, and plots and tied them up into this wonderful package is quite a feat. This is quite a different novel. Marylou Ahearn, aka Nance Archer, aka The Radioactive Lady - moved to Tallahassee for the sole purpose of revenge. The recipient of the revenge is a doctor she'd had an experience with years ago that altered her life, however, the old man lives hidden inside of a household full of his dysfunctional family members and is going senile. Vic, his son in law, buries himself in his work and has an odd obsession with hurricanes while his wife, miserable and unhappy cares for their two nearly grown Asberger children, Otis and Ava, and their youngest 'normal' daughter Suzi. Wilson Spriggs, the old doctor who Marylou is fixated on killing lives a life of day to day confusion in their midst. Marylou or Nance, as they know her, has moved into a house in their neighborhood and weasles her way into becoming a family friend. Nance schemes of ways to destroy them all, well, inbetween helping them in some form or another. It's all pretty crazy, and you'll have to read the book to find out what exactly happens since there is a story about each one of them. This book is just a fun read which is hard to admit with the seriousness of the underlying reason that Marylou goes to Tallahassee with her Corgi, Buster, to enact her revenge on an old man, that and some of the other monstrous things that occur in this book are of a serious nature, but Stuckey-French manages it all with a more than human edge and wonderful sense of humor and a good grasp of marital and family relations. This story is a touching read, funny and sad, relatable at most times and just a good all around read. Only a talented writer could weave such intricate subjects into such a heart warming, fun tale of revenge and family angst with a backdrop of people just trying to survive the world.
GRgenius on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While some found the characters to be ¿endearing¿ , I on the other hand, had the darnedest time getting into the book and staying there. For me it was like a house of distant relatives that you hardly know and yet still visit from time to time. Great for a quick stay, but anything over an hour and you¿re ready to fake amnesia and run off into the night. We have Marylou, newly christened as Nancy Archer with her life long (as in 50 years in the making) vendetta against Dr. Spriggs moving to Florida to carry out her dastardly plans¿and yet the plan isn¿t really a plan at all. It¿s got a goal but no concrete means to carry it out by making all her actions appear as reactions to the situation she encounters¿and what a situation it is. Dr. Spriggs, who's little more than a shell of his former self thanks to the natural aging process not being so kind to him....Vic and Charlotte in a marriage that needs WAY more attention than it's getting... and their children, Otis, Ava, and Suzi, making bad choice after bad choice as they try to fill the emptiness they are left to dealt with. Story wise, while the premise was ¿interesting¿ I gotta say the follow through was simply odd. It wasn¿t the writing style as that was fine and the author definitely gets points for imagination (twisted though it is at times) but the actual steps that got our leading lady from point A to point B, especially the conclusion, just seemed unrealistic to me. Then again, the book is starring a ¿radioactive lady¿ so I suppose it might fit the situation, just perhaps not this reader. When matched with the right audience, I can certainly see this one being enjoyed far more, but for me, not a good fit. Call it a case of curiosity gone wrong. Recommended reading for older teens and adult readers that enjoy multiple points of view in their literary wanderings with a large dose of craziness in the mix. Be prepared for those ¿WTH¿ moments and you¿ll do just fine.
ErikaReadingBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a crazy book. Elizabeth Stuckey-French has created a hodge-podge so rich that I barely know where to start. I¿m having trouble even coming up with ways to explain what it¿s about that the unread (ie. those who haven¿t had the opportunity to read it yet) might understand fully. But I think it might be fitting to call this an ¿onion book¿. There are layers upon layers upon layers and you just have keep reading until the very end to see how exactly everything fits together.So here¿s a taste of what you get when you read The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady:There¿s 7 different points of view. Or is it 8? There were so many I may have lost count! There were people dealing with Asperger¿s syndrome, issues of pedophile, a middle aged man contemplating an affair, a senile old man (or is he?), a kid playing around with radiation, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, hurricanes, beaches, kids in love, photo shoots, secret government projects, aliases, churches and church groups, and to top it all off, a 77 year old woman who is determined to get closure by getting revenge.I didn¿t know this book would have multiple points of view before I started reading. I do happen to love multiple points of view but there were so many people while beginning that it was a bit overwhelming learning about a new person every time I started a new chapter. But as the seasons changed I got to know each character a little bit more and get a better feel on where Stuckey-French was going with this. And this is one of the reasons that I do adore books with multiple points of view. Because as readers we have no idea what all these different things have to do with one another but when done right the ending is usually one big convergence of brilliance. And it was. I was impressed by all the ways Elizabeth Stuckey-French handled all these different points of view but even more so I was impressed with the way she handled all the various issues the characters had to deal with in the story. The story is told very much in the style of Carl Hiaasen ¿ with quirky characters and that weird sense of humour that actually makes you laugh at things that don¿t always seem appriopriate to laugh at in real life. Because it¿s just the way the characters are and the situations they find themselves in and you just have to laugh at the oddity of it all.Overall a good solid book that I enjoyed very much. I will definitely be on the look out for more books like this from Elizabeth Stuckey-French in the future.
BrokenTeepee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Marylou Ahearn wants revenge.Badly.When she finds the target of her hate living peacefully in Florida she sets up housekeeping under a different name and starts to integrate herself into the family. Only there is one problem - her tormentor has Alzheimer's and doesn't remember a thing. Or does he?This book was a total hoot! Despite the dark topics involved in the plot it is written with a wry sense of humor that makes all of the murder/kidnapping/secret government testing seem justifiable. The characters build slowly as they tell their stories in chapters told in their voices. The plot was fun - there is no other word for it. There were twists and turns and a hurricane to boot. Marylou is a bit touched but she has reason to be - whether that reason is how her life turned out or the radioactive cocktail she drank I have no idea but it sure made it a blast to follow her story. If you are looking for a good book that will make you chuckle and think, this is the book for you.
fredamans on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this book with a capital L!Ava is my kindred spirit, being the Elvis freak that she is, and I connected to her immediately.The whole crazy family is awesome though, in their own way. And the Radioactive Lady herself, is as intriguing as they get.I really appreciated this humorous approach to this family, and their lives. The way the author conveyed the story made it all the more interesting.While I think she did a great job of finishing this story, if she continued into a series, that would be okay too. Any way, I look forward to more from this author.
ericnguyen09 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are not enough campy books. I'm a fan of pulp novels, the types with damsels in distress looking not so innocent for whatever the got themselves into (mainly murder and lesbianism). Most of time, these were more or less morality tales: bad actions gets punished, sex in excess if fun but really wrong. Contemporary novels that are inspired by pulp usual take this concept and parody it. Camp, according to Wikipedia (the most trusted source, of course) "is an aesthetic sensibility wherein something is appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value." Susan Sontag emphasized the key elements of camp as being artifice, frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness, and `shocking¿ excess.The question with Elizabeth Stuckey-French's novel is: is it camp?The cover and trailer says so. With a green housewife on the front, the picture is classic iconography of the 1950s; but with a knife held behind her back, here's the irony. The plot in itself is twisted: a housewife (Marylou Ahearn) of the 1950s in contemporary America taking revenge on a wrong done to her. The premise is Charles Busch-like melodrama that is supposed to grab readers. Stuckey-French promises humor.Indeed, her humor--as mixture of irony and straight-faced honesty--is her strength here. From the first sentence of the novel, readers get this: "By the time Marylou Ahearn finally moved into the little ranch house in Tallahassee, she'd spent countless hours trying to come up with the best way to kill Wilson Spriggs."Stuckey-French wastes no time to throw the reader into this quirky and twisted world of radioactive experiments, dead babies, and broken families. The nuclear family of Ahern's target--Wilson Spriggs the grandfather, with his daughter's (a menopausal train wreck) family (the Witherspoons): her husband (a cheating professional test grader), and their children (two with Aspergers, one who has an overactive schedule)--becomes symbolic of how such ideals are foolish, that no such thing exists. Setting up the family, Stuckey-French, like Marylou, like other character trying to reclaim a past they never had, is bent to make them fall apart.Perhaps a strength here is that we see it fall apart in so many directions. Each chapter is devoted to a member of the family and it is through their lens of vision that we see the things that they don't and it is through this omniscient ability of the reader that we see an evitable destruction of a nuclear family--any nuclear family--any family.The ironic coupling of a model nuclear family and a family on destruction as presented here is not mutually exclusive. The Witherspoon are both. As Ava, the older daughter thinks, "Why did the good and the bad have to come together? It seem often, that they did." In the end the Witherspoon family, while falling apart is neither bad nor good. Each character has their fun quirks that make them likable--Ava's Elvis obsession, Vic's want to become a better father, Marylou's eventual inability to do the task she sets to do. The multiple point of view works well.Yet as a novel, the strategy works against it too. As a whole work, the book acts like a puzzle. Something happens in one scene, we don't know the full story until the next chapter. Suspenseful in a way, but the bigger picture is lost. Readers are left with too many voices, too many perspectives. The unserious tone of the novel make the work seem less important, rendering strategy of the masterpiece of so many voices (because a masterpiece needs to span voices!) It leaves the work like a puzzle that is quite hard, but not impossible, yet one has to ask, why do so much work on such a fun novel?The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady is a fun novel. The writing is compared to Carl Hiaasen, and like Carl Hiaasen, Stuckey-French does try to discuss major issues: family, forgiveness, history. Yet, how much of this is lost in the jigsaw pieces, in a happy ending that borders on cliche and parody? Stuckey-French attempts to go beyond camp,
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book cover compares this to Little Miss Sunshine. But, the comparison does not seem that apt to me. It is somewhat alike in that it is about a dysfunctional family and it has good humor that pokes fun at society, but that is about the limit of the similarity.The books deals with rather serious matters in its second half, so it is not a full rollicking spree, if that is what you are looking for. It does address the subject well, I thought.The format is to tell the story from the point of view of each of the main characters, switching back and forth. The differing perspectives gives more richness to the characters, as we see what they think about their actions, which has already been presented from a different character's view point.Overall, I enjoyed the book, although I was disappointed by the ending.
UnderMyAppleTree on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Marylou Ahern wants to kill Dr. Wilson Spriggs. Fifty years ago he was in charge of a secret government study that exposed pregnant women to radiation without their knowledge or consent. Marylou thought she was taking vitamins when in fact she was getting much more. The consequences were devastating. Her daughter died of cancer and she and her husband divorced.Now Marylou has found Dr. Wilson and he is living with his family in Florida. She changed her name to Nance and moveed to Florida intending to befriend the family and ultimately kill Dr. Spriggs. When she meets the family she finds Wilson is suffering from dementia, Caroline, his daughter, is having a midlife crisis and Vic, her husband, is on the verge of an affair. Two of their three children suffer from Asperger¿s syndrome, one is obsessed with building a nuclear reactor in the yard and the other with Elvis, and the youngest daughter seems all too normal.Nance manages to cause a lot of mischief and create problems for everyone. Eventually she realizes that Wilson has dementia and doesn¿t even remember who she is or why she is upset even though she tells him over and over again. And besides, she is growing fond of the family.Using a humorous and engaging style the author delves into serious subjects. The story is told from the alternating point of view of each of the main characters and takes place over a few months. At times serious and other times laugh out loud funny, there is much clever dialog and many over the top situations.I had fun reading this little gem of a book. It¿s one I might have overlooked had I not been offered a chance to review it for Doubleday and I¿m excited to have discovered it. Recommended.
lisa1121mass on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really got a kick of this book. ~ Marylou (aka Nance)is planning the death of the dr that killed her child, by giving Marylou an experimental 'cocktail' while she was pregnant. Now in her 70s she tracks down Wilson (dr)moves from TN to FL to plan her revenge. Moving down the street from Wilson who is now living with his daughters family. She starts by befriending Suzi Wilson's grandaughter to get assess to Wilson. I really enjoyed this book. -
claudiachernov on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book, especially the chapters from the point of view of the older characters.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first stumbled across Elizabeth Stuckey-French's novels with Mermaids on the Moon several years ago. I even dragged my children to see the mermaid show fictionalized in the book when we were visiting the area. Quirky kitschy and fun, I was looking forward to something similar with this latest offering. And while the premise is interesting and the little known underlying historical incident is horrifyingly facsinating, the book failed to strike that cord in me that would have me searching Florida for this tale's equivalent of mermaids.Opening with Marylou Ahearn leaving her settled life to move into a Florida suburb and stalk the doctor on whom she blames her eight year old daughter's cancer and death decades before, the narrative takes off on a crazy, careening ride. Marylou changes her name to Nancy Archer, from the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, as she plans out ways to kill Dr. Wilson Spriggs. As Nance, she plots Wilson's demise even while befriending his family, with whom he lives. But Nance's plans have to undergo a change as she realizes that Wilson is suffering from Alzheimer's and he has no recollection of the dangerous, toxic experiments he used to run. As a young pregnant woman, Marylou and her unborn child were used in an experiment without her knowledge and consent. Marylou was given a radioactive cocktail to drink "to help the baby" as the government explored the effects of radioactivity on the poor and unsuspecting. When her daughter developed childhood leukemia and died even before her tenth birthday, a part of Nance died as well and when she found out years later that she had been a part of the study pumping people full of radiation, she is convinced that her daughter's death was in fact a long drawn out murder, orchestrated by Dr. Spriggs, on whom she intends to seek revenge.And so as Nance, she buys a home and spies on the good doctor and his family, discovering that their life is fraught with challenges, problems, disappointments, and unhappiness. Since she can't make Wilson Spriggs pay for his crime if he no longer remembers it, she will get to him through his struggling family. Wilson's two oldest grandchildren have Asperger's and the youngest, Suzi, is all but neglected because of older siblings Ava and Otis's need for more parental attention. As Marylou posing as Nance gets to know the family better, she keys in on each person's weaknesses and their specific needs in order to egg them on inappropriately. Just how far will Nance go to revenge herself on the good doctor and can she continue using his family once she discovers in fact just how much she really likes them?Nance's original purpose and the tale behind it get lost in the present day goings on, making that plot line, which was ostensibly the reason behind the novel in the first place, too weak. And the continual addition of problem after problem for Wilson Spriggs' family made it feel like one thing too many for me. Nance was hard to like and she should have been likable, still grieving so many years later and extracting deserved revenge. Instead, she came off as mean spirited and nasty. I still think the idea underpinning the novel is fascinating. I suspect that other readers will appreciate the humor as black humor, a variety of humor I have long had trouble finding entertaining, and will appreciate the tempering of the quirkiness to which I had so looked forward. Not a bad book at all, I just didn't connect with it like I had hoped.
ForeignCircus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite a wonderful title, entertaining premise, and funny opening, this book ultimately fell flat for me. Billed as a comedy, this book takes too many dark turns for me to find it amusing. Plotting and maybe even carrying out revenge on the doctor that tricked you into participating in secret government research- perfectly fine and potentially funny. Turning your attentions to ruining the lives of his already fragile grandchildren when you discover he is afflicted with Alzheimers- not OK and not at all funny.This read like two separate stories to me- one a serious and interesting look at family disfunction, one an amusing tale of revenge. When combined into one book though, neither story as allowed to live up to its potential. 3 stars.
porch_reader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the mid-1950s, Marylou was an unsuspecting subject in a medical experiment to test radiation treatments. Fifty years later, she is still angry about the consequences of the radioactive cocktails she drank and moves to Tallahassee to get revenge on the doctor who ran the experiments. But Dr. Wilson Spriggs is suffering from dementia and lives with his daughter, her husband, and their three children, all of whom are facing challenges of their own. This is definitely serious subject matter, but Stuckey-French approaches the story with a bit of irreverence. Marylou is not your typical criminal, and her attempts to plot a murder are somewhat humorous. The relationships that unfold between the characters are tender. And it soon becomes clear that nothing is as it appears. In the hands of a lesser author, I'm not sure that the story would have worked as well. But, no worries. With Stuckey-French, you are in the hands of a master.
kjwernz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Seventy-six year old Marylou Ahern moves to Florida on a mission. She is in search of the doctor who subjected her to radioactive treatments decades earlier during her pregnancy, which led to the death of her only daughter. She hasn't decided on a method yet, but is determined to kill him. She finds the now-aged doctor living with his daughter's family and, donning an alias, Marylou inserts herself into their lives. Her plans are altered time and again as she gets to know the dysfunctional family and sees they may self-destruct without any help from her, and soon her plan of revenge changes direction altogether. The story ranges from hilarious to heart-breaking, but is always entertaining. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, providing deeper insight into each person. The story remains somewhat lighthearted, despite the heavy issues it deals with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok. <p> Cobweb(Kit)~ A small, white shekit with grey splotches. Around her neck she has a black stripe. Her tail is long and wispy. Completely black. Her left eye is Beautiful blue, her right eye is outstanding green. <p> Shattered(Kit)~ A large, tabby tom who has Thistlefang's pelt color. His paws are tipped black, and his nose is salmony pink. His fur is fluffy, and his tail is shorter then his sisters. His eyes are a Sunset orange color shaded with golden.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Actually, I was quite surprised by how good this was. It was funny and a little sad in spots. A quick read. The ending was a little too pat, but I liked the evolution of "Nance/Marylou" and the wisdom and forgiveness she found along the way. I normally would not have even picked up this book...that's the beauty of belonging to book end up reading a lot of books you would never consider (can also have a downside as well). This book is worth a look
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