Sofi Papamarko introduces us to a bundle of reality mixed into the fictional world of a dozen individual stories in Radium Girl.
It begins with “Margie & Lu,” the Bathurst Twins, who are very distinct young ladies. Margie is wild, willful, and loud. Luna is shy, quiet, and introspective. These two completely different people are trapped together in one body.
Other stories feature equally interesting characters dealing with their own oppressive circumstances: Min, a woman obsessed with providing for doomsday who discovers that for her, not being able to have children is as bad as experiencing the end of the world; Mavis, who seeks happiness at funerals; Lizzy, whose love may cost more than she’s willing to lose; and a fictionalized Marie Curie, among others.
These characters deal with dark circumstances, including loneliness, injustice, grief, and death. It’s alarming to know what women must sometimes endure, and chilling to realize the lengths they will go to in order to survive, or to be loved or accepted.
Fighting for survival with empathy and kindness is a lesson well learned in different stories. As one woman says in the titular story, “And thank you for teaching me to be kind like you. Empathy is the best possible trait you could have instilled in me.” She learns that dreams invite hope to stay and help us build great memories.
The lessons are not all happy. In “Serpentilia,” young Marie Curie learns not to cradle the snake in her bed: No matter how tamed, it will stay true to its nature, often when least expected.
The stories are well written. They are unique and intriguing, and effectively blend reality with fiction in portraying the trying life many women do experience. But reality is arduous, and I found reading this book full of difficulty exhausting.