This is a fiction book with a very novel premise. Marylou Ahearn lost her daughter, Helen, when she was 8. Marylou attributes Helen’s death to a radioactive drink she had at her doctor’s office when she was pregnant. It is now more than 50 years later and Marylou is obsessed with finding and killing the doctor in charge of that unbelievable study to give pregnant women radioactive drinks.
Dr. Wilson Spriggs was in charge of the study. He’s now living in Florida with his daughter, her husband, and their three children. Marylou moves to their neighborhood in Florida, changes her name, and insinuates herself into their lives. She first approaches Suzi, their youngest daughter, while out on a walk. Soon she is over at their house quite a lot. Suzi is vulnerable because she feels her mother, Caroline, never pays her attention. The two older children, Otis and Ava, have Asperger’s. Caroline spends most of her attention on Ava while Otis is left to his own devices, which involve a lot of science experiments in the backyard shed.
The story seems to take some incredible turns, but it is enthralling. It is unclear to Marylou if Wilson Spriggs remembers the study at all.
“Okay. She’d tabled her initial plan to murder Wilson, because there wouldn’t be any satisfaction in murdering him if he didn’t know, or understand, why he was being murdered, but it wasn’t that she felt any sympathy for the wretched old coot.”
So, Marylou turns her attention to the rest of the family, but much of the trouble that ensues is due to the problems in the family in the first place. An affair, a hurricane, a pedophile and, least-likely, a home-built breeder reactor all overwhelm the family and Marylou.
Incredibly, the two most unbelievable events in this fiction book are actually based on real life. I’m trying to track down Eileen Welsome’s book The Plutonium Files, which details studies that actually took place at Vanderbilt University where pregnant women were given radioactive cocktails. And, I’m currently reading The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein. This is a non-fiction book about a high school boy who got enough of a start on building a reactor in his shed that an EPA clean-up crew in full protective gear descended on his neighborhood. They’d discovered radiation high enough to endanger 40,000 nearby residents.