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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Historical Insane Asylum Novel Heartbreaking, But Hopeful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco businessman, Charlotte Smith knows exactly what's expected of her.  She's to conduct herself as a refined young lady ought, marry the man her parents select, and hold her tongue should she have any complaints.  Charlotte's prepared to follow the predictable course set out for her life—until her beloved older sister is sent away.  Phoebe might be a little different, but Charlotte knows she doesn't belong at Goldengrove, "a Progressive Home for the Curable Insane."  Determined to rescue Phoebe, Charlotte schemes to get herself sent to Goldengrove.  Shocked by the deplorable conditions at the hospital and the horrifying treatments forced on the patients, she vows to get both herself and her sister out.  But that's not nearly as simple as it may seem ...

Both heartbreaking and hopeful, Woman 99 by Greer Macallister shines a harsh light on the misunderstanding and mistreatment that characterized mental health "care" in the late 19th Century.  Depictions of life inside Goldengrove are graphic enough to make a point, but not so explicit as to elicit more than a PG-13 rating.  Still, this is an eye-opening, thought-provoking novel.  It's peopled with a host of "inconvenient" women who are brave, loyal, and compassionate.  While I liked the premise of Woman 99 and its cast, I didn't end up loving the book.  Macallister's prose is clunky, more tell than show, and the story wraps up in a way that feels convenient and inauthentic.  Overall, then, I didn't adore this one like I thought I would.  It's still an engaging read, just not as satisfying as it could have been.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. Oh this sounds like a tough subject matter. That's too bad about the clunky prose. I think given the horrific subject matter I'd want the writing to really pull me in and fly by.

    1. I agree. The writing just didn't flow as seamlessly as I would have liked. Overall, though, I liked this one.

  2. You already know I pretty much felt the same way as you about this one. Especially about that ending! It was way too conveniently wrapped up for my tastes. But I did like many of the characters Charlotte met in the asylum.

    1. Yes, I totally agreed with your review. I liked the characters, too, as they were smart, brave, resourceful women who were easy to root for.

  3. Novels on this subject are scarier and more horrifying than novels by Stephen King. Women in those institutions were often sexually abused and otherwise mistreated after being parked there, as you say, because they were "inconvenient" to their husbands.

    I still vividly remember that old Jessica Lange movie, Frances, about movie star Frances Farmer whose mental problems saw her locked up - and abused while being "treated" for mental illness. And that was in the 1930s, not the 1890s.

    1. Agreed, although as far as novels on the subject of the treatment of inconvenient women (as well as those who are legitimately mentally ill) in mental asylums goes, this one was definitely tamer than others I've read. Like I said, the author showed enough of the horror to get her point across, but she kept it to a PG-13 level. It's a horrifying subject regardless, but WOMAN 99 isn't nearly as dark and grim as other novels I've read on this subject.

      I haven't seen Frances, but it does sound illuminating. It's so sad that these women were so misunderstood and treated so cruelly.

  4. Such an interesting topic! Too bad the book didn't live up your expectations. Clunky writing can just make it tough to get through.

  5. Nice, honest review Susan. This sounds like a tough topic to read, but the writing itself might not take it to the top. I like to be shown and picture something, so not sure if this author is for me or now. Great share.


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