Carpe Librum: Elizabeth Stuckey’s ‘Revenge of the Radioactive Lady’

The cover of "The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady." Image courtesy of


That’s why she’s doing all this. That sweet little 8-year-old girl. Her daughter. Helen is the reason she’s picking up everything and moving from Memphis to Tallahassee. It’s all for her.

Because she’s got to get to that doctor, Wilson Spriggs. She knows what she’s got to do, because she would do anything for her daughter.

Even commit murder.

That’s why she’s here. She’s got to kill him, because he killed Helen.

Marylou Ahearn has packed up and moved to Florida all for the sake of one thing: love. Well, you could say that, but the more accurate word here would be revenge.

In the 1960s, Marylou had been part of a cutting-edge medical study. It was all part of Cold War efforts to create a stronger generation, and it began with a medicinal cocktail that was given to a couple hundred pregnant women—without their consent.

What’s worse, the “prescription” was made of the very stuff the world was fighting: radioactive elements.

We can only guess why doctors assumed that the same thing that forced an entire country into submission would benefit a growing baby, but Marylou knows the result.

Her innocent daughter died of bone cancer at only 8 years old.

That’s why she’s going to kill the doctor who gave her the radioactive concoction.

Elizabeth Stuckey’s “The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady” details Marylou’s efforts to destroy both the man—Wilson Spriggs—and his family. Along the way, however, she discovers that her work is not only cut out for her, but already laid out and practically stitched together.

Spriggs’s family is like a teetering Jenga tower, and all she has to do is rock the table a little—but when the time comes, will she want to?

It all sounds very exciting and a bit dark, but to review this book honestly, I have to say that it wasn’t exactly my taste. The subjects tackled in different chapters are no doubt relevant, but, well, uninterestingly written.

Mostly, this is because the book tries to tackle every tough topic out there: death, marital problems, family problems, children with disabilities, theft, illness, sex, loneliness. It’s all there, and that means that no single issue is focused in on enough for the reader to make a real connection.

That said, even though I didn’t enjoy it, I would still recommend it as something of a beach read—a book you can pay only half your attention to and still come out knowing what happened. The somewhat psychotic main character is relatively endearing, and the story is simple enough to slip into.

In the end, if you aren’t in it for ultimate literary fulfillment, the result is not quite so deflating.

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