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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-12-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Glowing with dark humor, Stuckey-French's fabulously quirky second novel (after Mermaids on the Moon) spotlights a wild would-be killer: Marylou Ahearn, a 77-year-old retired teacher in Memphis, Tenn. She's obsessed with killing Dr. Wilson Spriggs, who gave pregnant Marylou a radioactive cocktail in 1953 during a secret government study. Helen, the daughter Marylou gave birth to, died in 1963 from cancer. Accompanied by her Welsh corgi, Buster, and as "Nancy Archer" (the heroine of the 1958 movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), Marylou moves in 2006 to Tallahassee, Fla., where Wilson lives with his daughter, menopausal Caroline; her husband, Vic Witherspoon, who's contemplating an affair, and their children: 18-year-old Elvis-obsessed beauty Ava; 16-year-old science geek Otis, who's secretly building a nuclear breeder reactor; and overachieving, attention-deprived 13-year-old Suzi. As "Radioactive Lady," Nance creates mucho mischief for Wilson, but her revenge plans mutate after discovering the old doc has Alzheimer's, and dang it, she really likes his kinfolk. (Feb.)
Radioactive cocktail brings on 50 year hangover
There’s a killer stalking the streets of suburban Tallahassee. She’s exacting her revenge for a 50-year-old injustice with cool, calculated steps—well, more like a shuffle. It is only a matter of time before Dr. Wilson Spriggs will die at the hands of his killer, be it via a gleeful stabbing or a poisonous pineapple upside-down cake.
The killer is Marylou Ahearn, a batty 77-year-old retired teacher from Memphis. Dr. Spriggs gave pregnant Marylou a radioactive cocktail in 1953 during a secret government study, which ultimately led to the death of her daughter. Now she takes her Welsh corgi Buster for a few walks each day to scope out Spriggs’ home and pumps herself up with self-motivations of “Today’s the day. Today’s the day. Today’s the day he’ll suffer and die.”
However, Marylou’s homicidal plans change slightly when she sees an opportunity to destroy Spriggs’ entire family. She introduces herself as Nancy Archer (the heroine from the 1958 movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) and pleasantly weasels herself into the family, who find her annoying but interesting enough to keep around. Mischief ensues, and it gets downright dirty. Were it not for Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s puckish voice, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady could have been a drama. Luckily for us, it’s not.
Much of the book’s whimsy comes from the varied perspectives of the nutty cast, not only Marylou but also Spriggs’ entire family: Spriggs himself—now afflicted with Alzheimer’s—his menopausal daughter Caroline, her cheating husband Vic, two kids with Asperger’s (one a science genius, the other Elvis-obsessed) and overachieving youngest daughter Suzi. They are a modern dysfunctional family, and the bumbling interactions between them and Marylou have dark—and darkly hilarious—effects.
The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady is surprisingly chipper as the neurotic and lovable cast turns a macabre tale into a wildly compulsive read.