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by Judy Bailey
Five Star, November 2014
274 pages
ISBN: 1432829483

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Judy Dailey's second novel, FORGET YOU EVER KNEW ME, is set in small-town Zillah, Indiana in both 1952 and 1992. A murder from the earlier time, inadequately hidden, leads to a series of increasingly desperate murders forty years later. The protagonist, D. Margaret (Maggie) Kendall, struggles to fulfill her dream of providing her best in medical care to expectant mothers regardless of race or status by opening a free clinic for those who cannot afford to pay a doctor in private practice. Her husband, also a doctor, has moved the small family from Chicago to Zillah to live near his newly widowed mother and to take over his father's practice and his position on the staff of the local hospital. Maggie's hopes of continuing the work she did in Chicago are quickly and unfairly dashed by a set of rigidly conservative hospital board members who disapprove of female doctors and fiercely reject her care for the poor as creeping socialism if not outright communism. Somehow, all of the poor in Zillah are black which adds racial bigotry to the McCarthyite political picture. Determined to do what she believes is right, Maggie outwits and outmaneuvers just about everyone who tries to block her and actually gets a free clinic opened, but it does not exist long before it is destroyed by an arsonist and the local black man who helped her is murdered.

The narrative is delivered from two points of view: Maggie's in the earlier period and her daughter Ellie's in the later. The flip-flopping from one era to the other and back again fails to serve its purpose (I am guessing that it is meant to link the two time periods dramatically) and is instead simply confusing and badly done. Maggie's relentless sense of injustice is unfortunately coupled with her own total lack of perception or generosity in dealing with others who do not agree with her. Everything with her is personal and she confronts and insults those in a position to block her path without taking the time to think through what she is doing and how its results are likely to affect her and her family, not to mention that she manages repeatedly to solidify her opponents' judgments of her goals by her own bad behavior. As the story unfolds and unfolds and unfolds, Maggie's own foolishness and lack of respect for others becomes annoying. In Maggie's mind, the only good guys are Maggie herself and the underprivileged for whom she wishes to be a hero. In Dailey's hands, the bad guys become cardboard cutouts of badness, painted with so thick a brush that somehow the reader is supposed to accept Maggie's moral lapses in dealing with them.

Couple these flaws with a tale that cannot be described as anything but maudlin, and the book is difficult to complete.

I grew up in the Midwestern United States in the 1950s. My impression is that Dailey may be venting about injustices she did not experience but is quite angry about. I do not argue with her anger, but her outlook is so skewed to the negative that I cannot relate to it.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, December 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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