One fairly cool thing about being a Creative Writing major at USF this past school year was the amped up reading events they hosted. My professor, Rita Ciresi, hosted several very interesting authors, one of which was FSU’s own Elizabeth Stuckey-French.
Ms. Stuckey-French read to us from the first chapter of her book. Amidst the clanking of her acrylic bangles as she continually tucked hair behind her ear she read to us some of the funniest lines I’d heard belonging to fiction. The novel was inspired by two non-fiction books about Cold War medical experiments and overly inventive adolescents.
The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady starts out strong:
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.
Marylou turns out to be an almost 80 year old woman, slightly obsessed with Nancy Archer (of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) whom Wilson Spriggs secretly experimented on in the 50s. Obviously she’s out for revenge and equally as obvious the revenge fails to play out as Marylou hopes. Wilson suffers from dementia, so he doesn’t exactly squirm as much as she’d like. And he’s the patriarch of a screwy, oddball family that Marylou finds herself endeared to.
To sum up the novel simply, it’s basically about lonely people re-discovering how to be nice and share life with other people. There’s a well-rounded cast of adults and teenagers all living as though they are incapable of any foresight or selfless understanding. As well as a few hinky plot turns that I’m not really sure about.
Each chapter focuses on a different character. The list rotates throughout the story. Refreshingly, each section doesn’t bother with re-telling what has happened in previous sections, they just continue throughout the story uninterrupted. Ava and Otis provide interesting perspectives since both are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and this causes them to be slightly dissociative and frank. The tones change a bit from character to character, but unlike All the Sad Young Literary Men and The Help the rotating cast of characters do not narrate their own sections. That task sticks with the third person omniscient narrator.
I think what makes this novel interesting can be summed up by that famous Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoi –
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady focuses on a very unhappy family. I’m still debating whether or not I was rooting for them to become happy. At the end of the novel Marylou is rooting for their happiness, but I was left a little dissatisfied by the ending. I found myself thinking of my best friend, Pam, who has a hard time finishing novels after they reach the zenith. It took some focus for me to pull through the end of this one.
This is probably the most summer-y of the novels I’ve read yet this season. If you’re looking for something that features the screwy homegrown nature of Florida, an homage to lots of pop-culture, and takes on the humorous side of murder plans then this is the novel for you. On Thursday I’ll spend a little more time explaining the elements of the novel and what I took away from it in regard to writing.