Mother Daughter Widow Wife, by Robin Wasserman, 2020
In the past: Wendy Doe, the amnesiac and Lizzie, the research scientist studying her.
In the present: Alice, Wendy’s daughter who is looking for her after she has disappeared a second time; and Elizabeth, who is Lizzie all grown up
The Plot (from the publisher):
Who is Wendy Doe? The woman, found on a Peter Pan Bus to Philadelphia, has no money, no ID, and no memory of who she is, where she was going, or what she might have done. She’s assigned a name and diagnosis by the state: Dissociative fugue, temporary amnesia that could lift at any moment—or never at all. When Dr. Benjamin Strauss invites her to submit herself for experimental observation at his Meadowlark Institute for Memory Research, she feels like she has no other choice.
To Dr. Strauss, Wendy is a female body, subject to his investigation and control. To Strauss’s ambitious student, Lizzie Epstein, she’s an object of fascination, a mirror of Lizzie’s own desires, and an invitation to wonder: once a woman is untethered from all past and present obligations of womanhood, who is she allowed to become?
To Alice, the daughter she left behind, Wendy Doe is an absence so present it threatens to tear Alice’s world apart. Through their attempts to untangle the mystery of Wendy’s identity—as well as Wendy’s own struggle to construct a new self—Wasserman has crafted a jaw-dropping, multi-voiced journey of discovery, reckoning, and reclamation.
I listened to this book as an audiobook, which was possibly a mistake. It was difficult to figure out who was speaking sometimes–the voices and tone changed, but not drastically, so for the first few chapters I got Alice and Lizzie mixed up and thought Gwen was Alice’s friend from before she went to find Elizabeth. The whole Lizzie-before-and-Elizabeth-after thing confused me too. I probably would’ve had a better time keeping everything straight if I could flip back in a book to check details.
Once I got my head around the changing perspective, I enjoyed the plot and the writing. The characters were compelling–I enjoy characters that are morally ambiguous in realistic ways since everyone has their flaws. I especially enjoyed seeing Elizabeth come to terms with her new station in life and find something she could be passionate about.
Overall it was a good book, and could definitely spark some interesting book club discussion.