Summer Reading – The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, pt. 2

So, having just finished The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady it’s time to type up a list of things I learned from Elizabeth Stuckey-French.

1. How to write about Florida – TRotRL is CHOCK FULL of Florida weather. It even features a fictional hurricane set in the summer of 2006 (remember when we all thought that summer was going to be worse than the 2005 season?) that serves as a sort of deus ex machina which might be an homage to The Mill on the Floss (in which a storm destroys everything but saves the story). Every other paragraph or so discusses the cloying, heavy summer weather we native Floridians know and love. It’s especially interesting to hear the perspective of Tallahassee weather. Being situated about four hours south of “Tackalackee” we experience different winter weather and their summer weather seems a bit more oppressive. Tampa’s at least on the water. There are the ever-present bugs, summer fires, and concern over sunburn. Summer in Florida is distinct and one professor suggested I attempt to incorporate this into my writing. I’m still mulling over this advice. A lot of Southern Literature seems concerned with the weather and atmosphere of the South and it seems that Northern Literature (if that distinction really exists) is not as much concerned with their weather. I’ll be honest, I found it a little annoying, but that could be because I’m reading it in the summer and it seemed like an over-anxious reminder of how easy it is to sweat in the good ol’ Sunshine State.

2. Murder is funny guys – I don’t think I’ll ever be much of a big murder-mystery writer… and comedy as a genre seems a bit difficult to sustain throughout a novel. This one seemed to inexplicably shift gears on me. It reminded me a bit of this movie :

Man of the Year

For those of you who haven’t seen it Man of the Year starts out as a pleasant romp through a “what-if” alternate universe where a comedian news-anchor (sort of like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert) becomes the actual President of the United States. Robin Williams is kind of funny and then all the sudden there’s dark lighting and the dun dun dun murder plot is revealed to have deep roots in every level of the government. Essentially, it’s a movie a bit confused in its identity. Same with TRotRL. There’s only so much humor to be had in an 80 year old woman plotting the murder of a senile old man and the destruction of his daughter’s family. It’s a little twisted.

3. Everyone’s basically a screwy, irresponsible adolescent – though Stuckey-French writes these characters better than the whiney 20 somethings of All the Sad Young Literary Men, I still found myself rolling my eyes a bit. Reckless behavior, especially when it will impact a marriage and offspring is never excusable. I was a little tired of it before it even became an apparent plot device.

The mother is apparently suffering from a mid-life crisis, menopause, and empty nest syndrome (while all 3 of her kids still live at home). She’s basically given up on being a person in her own life. She just made me sad. The father frustrated me. The kids were brats. The only one I really liked was supposed to be the villain. Irony? I guess that’s comedic. It was just a little too much like an overly depressing reality.

 

All in all, it was a much slower pace than Unwind. And though TRotRL is an adult novel I found it a little more juvenile than Unwind, at least the characters anyway.

Summer Reading – The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Elizabeth Stuckey-French

  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.