*Finalist for the 2021 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction*
From the author of Girls on Fire comes a “sharp and soulful and ferociously insightful” (Leslie Jamison) novel centered around a woman with no memory, the scientists studying her, and the daughter who longs to understand.
Wendy Doe is a woman with no past and no future. Without any memory of who she is, she’s diagnosed with dissociative fugue, a temporary amnesia that could lift at any moment—or never at all—and invited by Dr. Benjamin Strauss to submit herself for experimental observation at his Meadowlark Institute for Memory Research. With few better options, Wendy feels she has no 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 Wendy’s identity—as well as her struggle to construct a new self—Wasserman has crafted an “artful meditation on memory and identity” (The New York Times Book Review) and a journey of discovery, reckoning, and reclamation. “A timely examination of memory, womanhood and power,” (Time) Mother Daughter Widow Wife will leave you “utterly riveted” (BuzzFeed).
Wasserman's shrewd, beguiling follow-up to Girls on Fire unpacks the ways three women's lives are affected by a sexual predator. In 1999, a woman arrives in Philadelphia on a bus with no memory of who she is or where she came from. Dubbed Wendy Doe, she is placed into care at the Meadowlark Institute for Memory Research. Lizzie Epstein, the research fellow tasked with observing her by Dr. Benjamin Strauss, a semi-famous scientist and philanderer, spends her days conversing with Wendy and mulling over the implicit bargain of her affair with Benjamin, who promises to advance her career. The story flashes forward two decades, when Lizzie, mourning the death of Benjamin, who she'd married after he left his first wife, opens her door to Alice, the 18-year-old daughter of Wendy. Alice is looking for information about her mother, who has disappeared. Wasserman's prose starkly conveys the power sought and held by Benjamin ("Strauss believed in knowledge by colonization, understanding a subject by spreading across every inch of its territory until it was wholly possessed"), and she methodically moves the story toward a disturbing revelation about the connections among Wendy, Lizzie, and Alice. This examination of how one man in power can abuse the women closest to him delivers the goods.