Woman 99
by Macallister, Greer

Going undercover to rescue her wrongly committed sister from a notorious asylum, Charlotte uncovers a dangerous secret about the institution and why their fellow inmates were put away. By the author of The Magician's Lie.

Charlotte and Phoebe Smith lived pampered lives in bustling San Francisco, filling their days with shopping, social calls, and galas. But although the Gilded Age had much to offer the sisters when it came to high society, the era's ideas and treatments of mental illness were sorely lacking. When Phoebe is committed to the infamous Goldengrove Asylum, Charlotte realizes that she's the only one with the power to bring her back. After faking a suicide attempt and denying her true identity, Charlotte finds herself committed to the same institution as her sister. Though her original plan now seems exponentially harder to pull off, Charlotte knows that she's Phoebe's only chance at a life outside the asylum. Exploring sisterhood, trauma, and the power of shared experience, Woman 99 is an undercover glimpse inside a late nineteenth-century treatment facility. Macallister fearlessly probes the dark corners of the era, exposing barbaric treatments and backward thinking surrounding mental illness. Fans of Yara Zgheib's The Girls at 17 Swann Street (2019) and the novels of Anne Tyler will appreciate Macallister's strong narrative style. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

A young woman sneaks into a California insane asylum to rescue her sister in Macallister's (Girl in Disguise, 2017, etc.) third novel. Charlotte Smith, the 20-year-old daughter of a San Francisco shipping magnate, is about to be thrust, for her parents' convenience, into a marriage she did not choose; the groom's identity is not immediately revealed. Arguably worse, the Smiths have committed Charlotte's beloved sister, Phoebe, who suffers from what today might be classified as bipolar disorder, to Goldengrove, an asylum for the "curable insane." What's a sheltered, finishing school-educated debutante to do? Follow Nelly Bly's notorious example and infiltrate Goldengrove under an assumed identity, that of a suicidal vagrant, while her parents think she's off on a six-week sojourn in Newport, Rhode Island. The novel's backstory unspools in flashbacks, revealing that Charlotte has a crush on Henry Sidwell, the son of her father's chief investor and creditor. The present-time act ion focuses on Charlotte's search for Phoebe while chronicling life in a mental institution, which, though progressive for 1888, seems to assign treatment regimens according to class. Goldengrove is controlled by the Sidwell family, and the branch least concerned with inmate well-being has been left in charge, with the result that the asylum's mission morphs from therapies (albeit some very primitive ones) to contracting out the patients as slave labor. Although insights about the limited choices afforded women of all classes, and suitably gothic plot twists, keep us reading, too many improbabilities disrupt the narrative flow. The Smiths are portrayed as overanxious yet allow Charlotte to embark unchaperoned (and without luggage) on a supposed cross-country journey and make no effort to inquire about Phoebe's welfare. Since suspense is plentiful there is no need to postpone certain disclosures, such as the identity of Charlotte's fiance. Withholding information is particula r ly problematic in the first-person narrative of a protagonist as self-reflective as Charlotte. The denouement, with its concessions to period conventionality, removes any hope that this novel will deliver on its feminist leanings. A gripping melodrama that may leave readers feeling gaslighted. Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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